January 19, 2009
In praise of small things . . .
HMS Victory, fishbowl, reflections, reflexivity, micro, miniature,
May 16, 2007
Joshua Bell is one of the world’s greatest violinists. His instrument of choice is a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius. If he played it for spare change, incognito, outside a bustling Metro stop in Washington, would anyone notice?
Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment? (Weingarten 2007)
Weingarten, Gene. 2007. “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?” Washington Post. April 8. Page W10.
December 30, 2006
Pure mathematics is not so pure anymore. Power, politics and control . . . that’s just the way it is in the Faulty Ivory Towers. But a new Internet approach might alter the topology of hard and soft science. The deep Internet is that part of the Net where only insiders can access. The Public Library of Science PLoS is challenged peer-review system.
“It’s just the way it is,” isn’t anymore. As I read the Nasar and Grubermanifold New Yorker article (2006) I was deeply moved by the life story of Gregory Perelman who can live on a $100 a month and who managed to wipe out an entire branch of pure mathematics in a few years by working alone, even isolated in the slow world. He is described as an idealist, an ascetic, a Russian Jew who lives with his mother in a gray neighbourhood of gray apartment buildings. But in this article he shines brilliantly. He may be part of the answer to my own puzzle, the ethical dilemma of being an academic in the 21st century.
Henri Poincaré created a True Knowledge Gap in mathematics, giving rise to an entire branch in his discipline when he slipped in an offhand question that became the legendary problem of the 20th century (Nasar and Grubermanifold 2006).
By the nineteen-sixties, topology had become one of the most productive areas of mathematics, and young topologists were launching regular attacks on the Poincaré. To the astonishment of most mathematicians, it turned out that manifolds of the fourth, fifth, and higher dimensions were more tractable than those of the third dimension. By 1982, Poincaré’s conjecture had been proved in all dimensions except the third. In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute, a private foundation that promotes mathematical research, named the Poincaré one of the seven most important outstanding problems in mathematics and offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove it.
In 1992 when Gregory Perelman (b. 1968) posted his solution to the problem on the Internet on a site used by mathematicians working with advanced concepts, he supplied enough information for the handful of minds capable of understanding to know that he had cracked it.
It took me a few days to feel I had understood enough of their article to appreciate it. I used my new Firefox add-on Gnosis.
Why then did this story continue to unfold on some very messy battle Fields? Politics, power and control. To understand more fully, I worked out some of the ideas at Tim’s and in an easy chair playing with pictures. I also had to map out a brief timeline and the biographies of the main characters: Perelman, Hamilton, Yau, Tian, Zhu, Cao, Ball and Thurston. I played with the concepts of Knowledge Collisions in the Battle Fields of Mathematics but this was not about knowledge collisions on a level playing field.
Poincaré’s bagel, coffee mug handle, soccer ball and noose knot were great for starters. The table itself was easily transformed into a topology of Battle Fields. Cigars and necks protruded on the topological landscape like stalagmites. I laid a silk cloth over it all so it could drape over the edge of the table. I left a space on the table edge for a dented fender. The True Gap gaped like a crevice in an otherwise relatively level playing field. The coffee mug with its insignia of Stephen Hawkings casts a long shadow and the handle represented the branch of mathematics called topology. Since we are looking at a cross section of topological field the branch that has disappeared over the edge represents a small sorrow 
I didn’t know where to put Gregory Perelman my new hero, so I put a spoon in the coffee mug which he of course had stirred up. Then I balanced a swing at the top of it giving him a higher vantage point from which he can quietly survey the field. He swings slowly back and forth without those below noticing. All they can see is the spoon and the bottom of his swing. I turned him into a pearl and remembered a quote, “Not every sea has pearls . . .”
My early experiences in academia were entirely positive. It was only when I was in my fifth year of graduate studies, my second in my PhD that I began to realize the hidden power and politics behind the scenes in the ivory towers as one professor after another sought to gain control over academic and/or grant capital at any cost. I caught myself transforming campus towers into Freudian phallic symbols as I watched with dismay my PhD slipping away from me. I was disgusted mainly with my own naïvity, my lack of campus street-smarts but by then it was too late. It seems my university students in their twenties had figured it out long before I did. No wonder we all make fun of Ph.D.s!
So here I am typing away in my living room office with my old PC perched on this great glass-topped Business Depot computer desk, reflecting Mount Tzuhalem with the fire crackling off to my left and our family sound asleep. I’m emptying my PC into a dozen or more free Web 2.0 sites.
I’m not a Perelman but he is my hero. If you can only learn to live on $100 a month, keep access to the Internet, connect one’s PC’s memory to the free Web 2.0 you can sit back in the slow world and quietly watch a lifetime of experience upload to this strange virtual space we call the Internet.
Perelman’s copyright took the risk of losing his intellectual capital. For some Yau and his students really did deserve the Fields Award he received from Ball.
But for me I would rather face the perils of a Perelman Risk, tie my intellectual capital to my Creative Commons stake and at least let people share some of the amazing experiences I was privileged to have before the Fawlty Towers crumbled around me.
 See the article on ClearForest. I had to select a chunk of the article at a time for Gnosis to do its magic but undeniable it makes digesting lengthy, complex articles less cumbersome. At the most elemental level it is similar to the Google generated highlighted key words in .pdf files found in response to a user’s Google search inquiry. Gnosis uses a number of colour codes to highlight a number of themes which I am just trying to work out now.
 Its a bit like the death of a meteorite in a fiery explosion would be to the person who had named and followed the passage of the meteorite for decades.
[I have even heard on academic hearsay which is as reliable as Frank I suppose, so I should not repeat this but . . . this is not a journal it is a blog . . . an archaeologist explained to his First Nations guide (who later whispered this to me) that he would not reveal their findings in the field since it would be so hotly contested by his colleagues in his branch it would consume his entire career to defend it. Academic hearsay. Fireworks, not a meteor. Take away 5 credibility, legitimacy points from this author immediately!]
for its disciples.
Swaminathan, Nikhil. 2006. peer_review_is_sooooo_old_school
Scientific American Blog. December 22, 2006.
Nasar, Sylvia , Grubermanifold, David. 2006.”Manifest Destiny.” The New Yorker: Fact. Annals of Mathematics. A legendary problem and the battle over who solved it. Issue of 2006-08-28; Posted 2006-08-21; accessed December 22, 2006.
October 19, 2006
Frimr was the ninth free topographical tool I investigated in my exploration of the connectivity/content potential. On Hallowe’en 2006 we parted ways. Christophe from Frimr could not explain to me which of the feeds I had listed on my Frimr account were not mine. He could not explain why my score was too high. (I suggested to him that maybe the site urls that hosted my feeds were being counted in as my feeds because of their programming?) I know I’m not famous but I also know I play fair.
The size of the Frimr icon (which I had compared to a pumpkin) as it appears on a Frimring member has something to do with being a boastful frimeur or frimeuse. The idea behind this fictive service is that the user can map out their presence or absence on the web. The first time I realized I had a zero rating was a bit unsettling. Why would anyone expect anything else unless you publish or blog in a network or community hooked into the blogosphere?
Anyhow a couple of weeks ago the audio stopped working on our aging television, the VCR conked out and my beloved Kodak digital camera died after having been a hard working member of my team for many years. After having used up my two for a toonie budget of DVDs I took out a number of free public library DVDs on the centuries biggest storms, tours for tourists, Einstein, etc. Dave was able to hook up the sound from the DVD directly through the speakers which he borrowed from my PC so I can watch DVDs on our television but not VCRs. Leno and Jon are just not as amusing watching with captions. The timing is off and the spelling is impossible. So during this period where I am off on medical leave I began to explore what is free out there in this virtual space where smart people fix broken things and help me to find useful stuff including where I’ve put my own things. I don’t have any idea how it works. But if only a few people find something that I have done provides them with a pointer, an idea or a new word, maybe all that energy, passion and hard work teaching, learning and research can still be socially useful.
I had become more courageous in moving from my status as blurker (is that the word? I can check it on the glossary of blog terms I have bookmarked on my del.icio.us space) to searchable participatory citizen of the blogosphere. It was the rapture of deep space provided by Google Earth that lured me out of my security zone. It was the tagging on Picasa, then Flickr that enmeshed me even further. It was the seamless interconnectivity between certain sites (I’m still figuring out which are which) that compelled to get more deeply into it.
often half-filled or empty reflecting my own image and the subtle changes in light of my embodied living space became a visual metaphor for the complex reflexive way I see and live the world Strange it is that I am still unable after all these months to pick up the phone to call a dear friend or family member or to write them a personal email but I feel safe, solitary and satisfied while growing this strange, organic rhizome of virtual synapses from the security of my fish bowl here in this tiny but stunning island village. It is easier for me to compose the bulk of this reference letter as a blog than it is to open an MS Word document and write it. How can I be so verbiose and speechless at the same time?
Well, I’ve just gotten off the phone with a lawyer whose daughter was a former student. She’s now applying for law school and needs a reference. The letter would have written itself since she has such a stellar personality but I had asked to talk with someone who knows her well so I could refine adjectives and situate the fine qualities I had come to know within the broader framework of where she has been and where she is going. I had cautioned her that I am on medical leave and have not been doing teaching or research since 2005 and a letter from me might have no academic capital. But she still preferred to ask me. It is a bit ironical because that class was the last I taught at the university that turned me into a ghost, a non-entity in the department. Talking to her father reminded me of why I loved teaching so much. With or without my letter this young woman will become a fine lawyer with a fresh approach who will examine the law from a broader perspective. She isn’t afraid to ask “Why?” Her creative, original arguments will make judges blink without being disrespectful. Her clients will be in excellent hands. She will model ground rules of fair play by debating her arguments skillfully and forcefully without belittling her opponents or making personal attacks. She recognizes her God-given talents but they have not made her arrogant or boastful. Although she is a strong advocate of human rights she has a heightened sense of inclusivity and is therefore not blind-sided by the ‘we’ question. While she has the courage to take risks she is not rash or imprudent as it is in her nature to be reflexive in her thinking.
Her father acknowledged that the law itself is not rigid and timeless but organic and changing as we evolve. I understood that he was reminding me that something might be legal without being ethical. I found these useful citations through Google which I have added to my del.icio.us bookmarks.
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. Jacques Anatole François Thibault) (1894) The Red Lily
What does it profit a poor and ignorant man that he is equal to his strong antagonist before the law if there is no one to inform him what the law is? Or that the courts are open to him on the same terms as all other persons when he has not the wherewithal to pay the admission fee?” Vance, William (1926) “The Historical Background of the Legal Aid Movement,” The Annals from the National Equal Justice Library
The following is a list of my new navigational tools for the blogosphere. Unfortunately when I try to let my dear friends know about this they are made uncomfortable my the need to download a reader, etc for some of these:
- My blog Beached Wail on blogspot (October 2006 -)
- My photos on Flickr (October 2006 -)
- My blog Speechless on WordPress (October 2006 -)
- My social bookmarks on del.icio.us (October 2006 -)
- My bibliography from EndNote (8000 entries 1993?-ongoing) using Zotero is for now uploaded to PrintFree until I figure out how to put in on a blog (10 entries – October 2006 -)
October 16, 2006
Liz Finnegan manoeuvrs her 24-speed bike with speed and agility on the pathways and streets in and around Seattle. Wearing her shorts and carrying her backpack with a neat little cellphone belt around her waist, she may not look the part of a successful young lawyer, a fierce advocate for women’s rights, freedom of choice . . . By the end of the novel even I wanted her to cut back on the booze and coffee, to eat more and exercise less. She set the pace for this thriller filled with “surprising twists and turns” (Quill &).
I heard from another hiker that a chunk of land leading to Manley Creek park in Cobble Hill was named after Patsy Granfield, a spunky rifle-toter who protected her large acreage from hikers. Patsy loved deer more than people. Her land had a hydro right-of-way so she finally lost a wedge to the municipality. Now people walking their dogs along this trail first encounter a large panel bearing her name. She lost her battle but it seems like a nice gesture on the part of the CVRD. She sounds like she stepped out of one of Deverell’s novels. Read the rest of this entry »