Archive for August, 2009

Probably one of them mysteries

August 31, 2009

Was, because of acute lazy, going through the archives of John Scalzi’s blog (someday I’m going to read the years before I started following it — and same for Pharyngula), and found this mention of the calculation of the mass and size of Jesus by the amount of crackers… er, communion wafers, and wine, consumed by Christians, assuming that the end is nigh, and the end comes when all of Jesus is eaten.

Ah, mathematics meets theology: the two great arts divorced from reality come together at last!

The calculations seem to result in Jesus having around 92 billion times as much blood as your average human being; but because of my perverse turn of mind, I don’t imagine a giant-size comet Christ of the Second Impact/Coming.

No, my first thought was this: “recycled Christ”. (Though one would need a theological opinion on when the eats stop being Jesus. Because if they don’t, certain unavoidable anatomical processes are going to lead to something that can’t be anything but sacrilege. Unless there are special toilets. Or is this the point where misogynistic men in skirts start to scream that this is a mystery and I should shut up?)

My second was a scene in Heaven, when the Savior’s left hand suddenly disapparates — and he mutters “ah, the masses of South America and their morning masses”, before slumping back in a bloodless swoon. And the jigsaw disappearance disorder doesn’t cease until mornings have moved on to the mostly non-Christian lands of Pacific Asia for the day. (And I’m bothered by the generality of the theological position: “flesh”? Which sort of flesh? Muscle? Flab? Skin? Brain matter? How come in science you find new wonders looking close, but in theology closer looks contain only madness, obfuscation and ick? And people solemnly saying ’tis a mystery and not to be inquired into, of course.)

(If you think this is silly — well, yes this is, but no more than the earnest Catholic pleas directed at an evil atheist professor that was holding the flesh of God hostage. Once you think your God is both all-powerful and a helpless little button (dual nature?) you’re pretty much inviting silliness of this caliber.)

Third thought: since all of the Eucharist doesn’t go through your system, but sticks in you and becomes a part of your flesh and blood, doesn’t this mean that each faithful is gradually becoming Jesus? Is this why all popes are so old — they’re time-refined and have the highest concentration of Jesus in them? (And this flesh and blood — er, is it all-human or all-human and all-divine — what’s the relation of the Eucharist and the monophysite controversy?)

(And why is it so easy to imagine a believer that’s gone beyond the commonly accepted bounds of crackedness, and spends all his time wolfing down wafers and wine and trying to walk on the waters?)

Then again this is all mere fun, since all reasonable people know transsubstantiation is not literal but symbolic, i.e. a sentimental lie.

On genes and cowettes

August 29, 2009

The proceedings of a conversation between me and my father.

  • Is the black-and-white patterning of (some) cows a side effect or something that has been bred for?
  • Considering how far you can breed dogs, for size and shape and all, could you arrange for similar variety in cows?
  • Introducing: Mini-size city cow pets — milk for your nature-missing skyrise yuppie?
  • If you’re talking really small cows, lap cows so to say, it would be a funny thing to see one in a carrying harness, like a small black-and-white suitcase.
  • Come to think of it, it might be too much to try to breed a cow with a handle sticking out of its back.
  • Unless you got a humpback cow to begin with.
  • But warm milk, egh. What biological way would there be to make the cow produce cold milk?
  • Well, dogs stay cool by wheezing with their tongue out. But that might be bad for the (sub)urban pet value of these cows.
  • “Honey, we did bring the cowette. Shut up and listen to the wheezing from the trunk!”
  • Warm milk, even hottish milk, would be easy. Just arrange some vigorous exothermic reaction in the cow; some internal stress reaction caused by the manipulation of the relevant parts. (Sounds udderly ominous.)
  • Pure milk is kinda dull. How about a cow that gives coffee milk?
  • Coffee’s a plant product, isn’t it?
  • Well, all animals have gut flora, don’t they? And cows have guts and stomachs… stomaches? Stomachii? Lots of them anyway. New flora could cause body biochemistry changes that flavored the milk (produced in different parts of the cow) differently, and voila! coffee milk!
  • Add different flora and you got chocolate milk!

It must be genetic, this way we think.

Also, a good thing that that was where our conversation got sidetracked, because the next step would have been me speculating on the possibly unspeakable procedures of adding different gut flora into a cow’s intestines.

Possibly with the help of a rubber glove and a hose. (“Yes, I have heard of this ‘good taste’ of yours. It does not appeal to me. Release the hounds!”)

Valhalla

August 29, 2009

Here’s something for you: my absolutely favorite band, Blind Guardian, doing “Valhalla”, from their live DVD “Imaginations Through The Looking Glass”, and through the legally dubious land of Youtube.

Gundam wedding

August 27, 2009

Once again the Japanese show us that things can be done differently: A wedding held beneath a giant robot statue.

Personally, if I had to choose between a droning clerk/priest and a giant battle mechanoid to oversee and overshadow my hypothetical wedding… it’d be an easy one. (“And, honey, I reserved the interior of the robot for two weeks for our honeymoon. Isn’t that awesome? Aw, why did you hit me?”)

There clearly may be a market for weddings themed after the devotions and obsessions of the people getting married, not their religion. (A Harry Potter theme — matrimonius initiatus, the Boy Who Married?)  Not just (or exactly) as gimmicks or jokes, but because that is what the people involved sincerely care about and want to flaunt; big marriage ceremonies are a production anyway. Why shouldn’t such a production reflect the people in the center of it? (Okay, “People’d call us loons and not come” is a pretty sharp answer. Apparently your special moment is the best if it’s the same as that of everyone else.)

You ask me, getting me into a suit and a noose tie is as much dress-up and false-facing as smearing glue to my face and throwing a rug over my shoulder to look like a Klingon. Though of course grannies all over the world might not agree with me on this; I have hard time imagining conservative grandmotherly types in a nudist wedding. (A Babylon 5 theme — “Who are you?” “Jack Lastname.” “What do you want?” “To marry this woman.”)

(First seen on Boing Boing.)

Acamedic

August 27, 2009

Liz was happy it wasn’t a physicist this time.

Physicists were usually bad cases. Not the way you’d expect — no weird glowing gadgets and radiation burns. Not even hazardous lasers. No; instead they were hollow-eyed quantum folks, human husks that lay curled on the floor muttering things a mind without a Ph.D. couldn’t understand. Basically the “Walls wouldn’t stand — planes wouldn’t fly” stuff with gradients and contour integrals thrown in, or the glassy-eyed drooling “I’m n-furcating into 10^6 \pm 10^4 worlds every second!” stuff, which was frankly creepy. Happened all the time once they really got into the quantum mindset; her guess was that it was three weeks of heavy speculative work and then, bing! a psychosis.

Or many years of calm, productive work, and then all of a sudden, bing! bing! bing! and a person flinging around hamsters, saying it would be a groundbreaking results if he could get macroscopic objects to quantum tunnel through the walls.

Biologists were almost as bad; not because of any animals (not since the incident of the chancellor and the hidden incontinent rabbit), but because things tended to escalate with them. She had contemplated putting up a sign in their lounge, saying “YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO POP YOUR OR THE PERSON NEXT DOOR’S SHOULDER BACK INTO PLACE SO PLEASE DO NOT TRY”; but that might be seen as disrespectful.

It was a mathematician this time; by Liz’s experience this could be a very bad thing, or then not. Could be someone who had gotten trapped under a falling bookshelf, and not called for help until all working pens were out of reach (one with a laptop had lain in place for two days before someone happened in); could as well be someone whose complaint was “my hand doesn’t open the door anymore”, and whose reason was (largely) unmedical, being a mix-up with the keys.

She knocked, entered, and took in the room. Shelves full of papers and some books; a plastic skull atop one; a few faded conference announcement posters decorating the walls; a battered wooden desk, an office chair so beat-up it looked like a gas-driven projectile enema just waiting to happen, and sitting on it, a shriveled man.

It was difficult to see his age behind the thick glasses and the chalk dust-covered skin; late thirties was her guess by the yellowing of the papers all around them.

“Academic medic Liz Riddell, hi. You called?”

The man frowned, blinked, then opened his mouth with almost childish glee. “Oh yes! That bothersome practical thing.”

She sucked in a breath — oh, no. Let it be just a coincidence that those were the very words that had began her introduction into the bothersome case of “I think I saw someone sitting in a room quite dead this morning; blood running out of nose and all. Is that, er, the sort of a thing I should tell someone like you? If this doesn’t concern you I’m sorry to have wasted your — er, are you all right?” Then, a case of spatial dementia and ninety-six offices later, the passed-out professor of statistics with hemophilia.

“Practical thing?”

“Ah yes. It is this, this swine flu thing. Matter. Event cluster.”

She took an involuntary step back.

“Or rather this” — the mathematician waved a sheet of paper — “this instruction about it. To quote verbatim, ‘Everyone is expected to wash their hands for at least 15 seconds for each toilet visit.’”

“Er, what of it?”

“By a conservative estimate of mine, during my childhood I visited the toilet roughly 6570 times, plus-minus 50 as I did not keep exact count; on roughly 10% of those visits, plus-minus 2%, I was in too much of a hurry to wash my hands. In addition to these, an estimated 1210 plus-minus 120 times I visited to pick up —”

“Wh-what does this have to do with…”

“By largely similar estimates I have calculated that to retroactively achieve the desired result of 15 seconds per each toilet visit I should have to wash my hands for at least eight hours, nine minutes and thirty seconds, plus-minus fifteen minutes and fifteen.”

“Erm…”

“Given, of course, certain trivial assumptions on the definition of a toilet and a toilet visit, and the exclusion from consideration of diapers, since I could not find a published, peer-reviewed paper laying out the necessary terminology; but I have a graduate student working on that. I am honestly surprised there hasn’t been a wider outcry about this frankly nonsensical and easily misinterpreted policy. I am a busy man, and I do not have the time to spare.”

A prophetically ominous one-star review

August 26, 2009

Found from Amazon, and just ten words long:

“one of the worst fantasy books you will ever read”

I especially like that grim sense of inevitability: One of the worst… and you will read it. Oh you will. And it will be akin to a cheesegrater on the Emmental of your mind.

Foot, meet mouth: exchange students and fees

August 26, 2009

The Finnish Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Liisa Hyssälä (a she, if that matters) recently said (link to article in Finnish, and in English) something I hope will cause a lot of uproar.

Uproar against her, I mean, because it was a stupid and hateful thing she said.

She wondered why Finnish universities and similar schools of higher education give space to 15 000 foreign exchange students, while there are only 4000 Finns studying in foreign countries. (Well, only 4000 that get the sweet governmental study-aid money.) Might not they be driving out poor Finnish boys and girls? She said this might be a “disproportionate” state of affairs, and something to think about.

I spent the next five minutes fuming and frothing and wanting to punch her in the face.

Look, minister and your kin: If you cannot stomach it any other way, think of it as a form of development aid. We are a benefactor, as Finnish universities have no tuition fees — indeed, the state basically pays you a bit (opintoraha) to attend. Do you think the lower middle class kids of lands far-off and close get exchanged to Yale or some other money-grubbing monster of a university, or might that be too costly? Might they just squat in their own places, never learning what a world of difference there is outside? Might that insular, isolationist, inbred mindset be a teensy bit of a bad thing? Even if there was no benefit to Finland from the exchange students (and there is), giving them free places to study and a calm, tolerant and high-class environment to do so, giving them this whole window into a different world, would be a great service to them individually, to their countries, and to humanity as a whole.

And to turn it around: can you honestly be so incredibly asinine you don’t see the immaterial benefits of having the classes seeded with people of difference and, to be supremely uncharitable and selfish, softly leading Finland’s young into the path of being at ease with people of different cultures and backgrounds? Or how about the academic and personal contacts and co-operation this all fosters? It’s a distastefully fishy populist red herring to wonder all innocent-like if 15 000 exchange students means 15 000 ostracized Finns, but even if it did (and I don’t think does), it would be more than worth it. It’s just as stupid to wonder whether the numbers of Finns out and foreigners in are “disproportionate”, or whether there should be any connection between the two.

I’m quite sick of all the other things I hear politicians saying about universities, too.

Maybe it’s just my fucking retarded and unfashionable view of a free university being the closest thing to holy in a secular world, and a university education being a desirable good thing in and of itself, and a service to all humanity, and a mind-broadener and a thought-provoker that is too fucking precious to be limited to just those few that by an accident of birth have cash cow parents, or those with luck at the drawing of sponsorships and stipends, or those acquiescing to the handicap of ruining themselves slaving to scrape just enough money together to keep at it.

It shouldn’t be a thing you have to pay for. A university shouldn’t in any way be considered through the avenues of money, profit and bang for your buck. Genuinely worthy politicians should pour all the money they can into the education of their people and all people, as universal and comprehensive as they can, and count them blessed even if that increase in intelligence and humanity resulted in the demise of their political parties and platforms — but then again it seems “a genuine politician” is an oxymoron, and the politics of issues are dead and replaced with those of sensation and glamor. As evidenced, I think, the comment above.

(Those that say “Nurdy nur nur, but look how Finnish people don’t value it because they don’t have to pay for it!” — fine, let’s attack Russia! Let’s have another war so we can pay for our independence with cripples and broken homes and smoking ruins and the bloodied dead, and reap the questionable moral benefits of that! Let’s pay! As if suffering was a good in itself. As if suffering was a lesser evil than complacency.)

(Those that wonder why we won’t follow the common trend — America is usually invoked here — should go perform anilingus on a goat. The popularity of a proposition is no argument for its desirability. I hear fascism was pretty popular in the Thirties, and that Godwinic comment is fully intended both to illustrate the fallacy and to insult all who fall for it.)

(And, to mention another popular delusion of these days, of course universities should never be viewed as PR machines, or things that produce profit or commercially profitable innovations, or bend over in a way that attracts push and pull and deposits from the outside — if that’s the case, then kill all departments of mathematics. Kill philosophy. Kill all the little departments. We won’t ever give out nice, uplifting stories of easily popularized foofaraw. We won’t ever do anything that’d give profit. Mathematical truths cannot be patented, and their applications are entirely unpredictable and irrelevant. We are in this because it is beautiful and worth doing, and because our curiosity drives us. Once you start angling for profit, you lose most chances of ever getting it — the free, curiosity-driven enterprise of science is spectacularly ill-adapted to producing regular results and desired inventions. Universities are hatcheries of open human minds and engines of truth and knowledge. If one cannot see the intrinsic good in that, one might as well re-legalize slavery because hey, that’d turn in a tidy profit too. Fuck ideals!)

What most worries me is that there have been occasional comments about fees for foreign exchangers; if that comes to be (“What, you paid for this lecture?”), once you put a price on education, I’m sure there’ll soon be American-style fees for all students, Finnish and foreign alike.

If the moral evil of student fees doesn’t touch you, consider the practical evils. Goodbye leisure, welcome pressure. Goodbye learning what you want; welcome scrambling through it all as fast and cheap as you can, and hello lawsuits because dagnabbit you will pass the course because you paid for it, and hello declining standards that decline a bit faster. And when it comes to laying down the cash, it’ll be goodbye to families like that of my parents. Two adults, single income, no particular savings, three children, all academically capable and inclined (blinding self-praise, I know), and it seems we all might go for doctorates. Ages within four years of each other.

I can’t imagine the hardship and likely the impossibility of ponying up the money for our educations if we needed to pay the universities for the privilege of studying. (“Sorry, you youngest one — we can’t afford a third.”)

I can’t conceive of the hardships of scraping together money during the time we should spend studying, or the kind of degrading, insecure jobs that would fall to students in such an economy of desperate need.

I can’t stand the thought of angling for a stipend, and then walking out or deep into the oppressive dungeon of debt when none is forthcoming. Oh, Finnish students do get loans easily, and many do, but with a bit of luck and careful asceticism I’m looking at getting my doctorate without any debt at all. I am insanely happy to live in a country where this can be done, and I’m equally furious at the fools, populists and mercenaries who would because of flimsy, shallow and false reasons take it away from the people after me, or any part of the people involved in this glorious pursuit of self-betterment, be they Finnish or foreign.

A cynic would call this whining and whinging from an entitlement brat; I’d say this is about universal good and human rights, and though that sounds exceedingly worn and overblown, I really believe that it is.

(And please, do not even entertain the thought that things should be harder and harsher because that builds character. It was funny in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, but it’s a terrible reason in real life. Not the least because such character-building would in many cases be character-breaking.)

Edit: Updated the article link and added one to the English version of the article. The link had died because the good people of Yle had edited the article, adding the righteous disapproval of Education Minister Virkkunen. (Who, though not in the English version, growls that Hyssälä’s remarks aren’t very far from the olden hysteria that suave, charming foreigners are a-coming and taking all of our women.)

Guessing at the future of books

August 25, 2009

I love books. Got library cards, own stacks, have passwords to online retailers and bonus cards for the bookshops; have tried bookbinding (operation unsuccessful), once actually on an own written work of mine; am a minor typography nerd, and even got a Bookeen Cybook Gen3, a shiny e-ink marvel.

Being thus moderately obsessed/in love with the written word and its delivery, I from time to time think up ill-educated guesses at the future of books.

People with more data, people that actually get paid for doing it, do the same, and now and then I come across their opinions.

Some times I do not agree.

Some say that paper is the best solution for books: it’s cheap, durable, disposable and needs only a light to use. Hence paper books forever. That seems a bit dodgy — I’d guess little over a century ago people thought there was just no way those newfangled electric lamps could ever be better than a torch or an oil lamp. The electric thingies were bulky, fragile, expensive… and worst of all, needed some bulky power generator to use.

Nowadays, I can buy an electric torch for three euros. (3.99 American, this day only!) I even got one that doesn’t need batteries because it has a crank. There probably are ones that have solar cells, despite how much like a bad idea that sounds.

Technology keeps getting better. Today’s books are cheaper and in every way more efficiently made than medieval codexes or Egyptian papyri. I can easily accept the thought of a future where having a book that is its bindings, no more and no less, is just as widespread as wood-covered codexes and papyri now: luxury items and extreme memorabilia, not vehicles of delivery.

(The most common analogy is horses and cars — horses haven’t gone away, but they’ve become a very marginal mode of transport. Saying that books have always been with us, that they are a superior tactile sensation, a fixed point in the human psyche, is no more of an insight than “But we’ve always ridden horses!”)

Insert here a vaguely conciliatory comment on how it’s just the content that matters. Also note how future books could just as well be biotechnical marvel monsters that decompose at the touch of a button — once far out, gross-out isn’t a reach.

I’d guess that in due time (a century?) a “book” will be a square of something paperish that you can stuff in your pocket (folded? crumpled? shrunken to a pill by a touch of the right corner?), but that can call up and display crisp clear more letters than the Library of Alexandria ever had. (Though it probably can’t be used to warm bath-houses.) You’d probably have several, just in case and just because you can afford several; but the content would not be bound to any particular book device of yours. (Well, except your copy of “My Life in the Danish Entertainment Industry” by Lascivia Hornee, which would be tied to just that book under your mattress.)

You just touch one side of the “book” and the letters dissolve and reform in an eyeblink. Unless — and now this is rank speculation — the machine tracks your eyes, and refreshes the top of the page while you’re busy reading the lower part. Or maybe the highly portable paperbacks will be replaced with small cylinders you just turn around and around, a never-ending, ever-refreshing roll of words. For more dedicated reading, you’d whip out a solid screen of bigger size. Maybe it’d play videos and sounds too. (Because of my love of books you can’t persuade me that the customized word delivery vehicle will be totally absorbed by the future mobile-computer. There will always be niches.) Since I’m suitably ignorant about machinery, I suppose with full confidence that eventually the deciding factor of book-devices won’t be “what can we make it do” but “what do we want it to do”. (Not supposing there’ll be a book with a chainsaw attached, unless you go custom; but something like the price of e-ink screens is a strictly temporary problem. Just wait a few centuries and it’s gone. As am I, so you won’t get to tell me I’m wrong.)

Some people have said that the devices currently marketed feel impersonal and cold — but hey, look at that computer you’re using. It’s a much more mature product, and if personal, it can be a very familiar and personal product indeed. (Or maybe that’s just me — now and then I almost find myself singing along to Bad Religion’s I Love My Computer with no irony at all.)

Once ebook readers grow up a bit, you can do all relevant things you could do with a paper book: scribble in the margins, tear out pages, and more: if the Dark Gods of DRM are cast down and hacked to pieces, you might actually take your copy of the Lord of the Rings and tell it to change all mentions of “Elrond” to “Agent Smith”.

The possibility of carrying Alexandria with you is not the end but the beginning: how about all the other upsides of not having your book be a collection of smudges of ink? There are a few paper-ish books that are water- and heat-resistant; no reason why the books of tomorrow shouldn’t eventually be the same and more. Fancy reading some Jacques Cousteau while diving? Or some Asimov while luxuriating in a sauna?

Or how about having the definition of each word in the novel a tap of your finger away — imagine what that would do to those learning a new language! Did you forgot who the devil this minor character was? Click the name and choose “search up”. Or alternatively have the relevant line of the dramatis personae pop up. Dear empty heavens, think of the possibilities for choose-your-own-adventure novels, snaking and coiling in ways that would push a paper book to note-taking and thousands of almost identical pages! Imagine all the exciting alien ways and forms of literature that will be!

And that doesn’t even touch on all the social stuff — “Do you want to install ‘Errata Pack 4′ for A. Schwarzenegger’s ‘The 28nd Amendment and My Path to the Presidency’? All, one-by-one, later, no.”

(“You have chosen ‘later’. I’ll be back.”)

The Internet part of it all is quite too awesome to be touched here; though it can go wrong in ways that make my blood boil. (Short-short: scammer sold ebooks of Orwell without having the copyright; Amazon got panicked and squashed it, in process deleting even the copies people had already bought — one of the unpleasant sides of the Kindle. Seriously, I’d be much happier if Amazon’s ability to do what they did — no matter how illegal the product was — was legally beyond them. No matter the refund, once the bookseller can come back and snuff out your books, you don’t own them no more.) And if I started on subjects close to the sad file format confusion and DRM, I’d end up trying to summon a shoggoth to do battle with the Sinisters Shadowslords of RIAA. (True, I’m Finnish, but a big fool’s a big worry though he be far away.)

Now, what was I going on about? Ah yes, books. I think eventually having enough room for your library is as silly a thought as having enough space for your computer. Was a problem for ENIAC, is no problem anymore. And saying that ebooks are more prone to destruction than paper ones is just breathtakingly dumb — pray tell me how you take your paperback and put it in a safe USB drive, your reader and your e-mail box at the same time? How you ask your bookseller for a second copy since yours got targeted by an incontinent canine? (Then again, this too can be crippled by DRM, that misconceived bastard child of the desire to prevent that which cannot be avoided.)

Ebooks don’t yellow with age; they don’t get torn, damaged by coffee or eaten by children or a bum with the munchies. Provided you keep copying them (provided you insist on a right to do so), they can migrate and morph wherever you go. Floppies and C-tapes are hard to read nowadays, but that’s not a valid consideration unless you open your library only once every decade or so. The vast majority of book-material is so trivial to convert (aargh typesetter hate mail bait) there’s no reason anything should be left behind. (Again the currently immense caveat of “unless them bastards don’t let you”.) I’d say figuring out a non-insane file format is a lot easier than piecing together rotten papyri; and pure text is so minuscule size-wise you could just as well keep ten formats rather than one.

I wonder if there will be some bifurcation of language, like a “book” being the device without regard to its content, and the content being called novels, short stories, poems, manga… but not books. Someone will have to come up with something, because “e-ink reader device” is a tad cumbersome.

It’s nice to imagine going for a walk, meeting a girl handing out commercial leaflets (dirt cheap, disposable and lightly scented) for the new place downtown, then tapping the single-sided disposable leaflet empty of the gushy promises (save the decal covering its ruggedized back), and into showing a map of the city, a garish cross showing your position courtesy of your portable computer, woven into the fibers of your stylish scarf — and then when a toilet break interrupts your walk and your ruminations of just how cool and with-it and stylish you are, tapping the leaflet into showing the chapter of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies you were in the middle of, because a book is not the paper but the words, and words can live free of the bindings.

As for short-range speculation, sorry, I don’t do that. Long range is much easier when you’re strategically ill-informed.

Ten most popular ordinal numbers

August 24, 2009
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10

And that was an astoundingly bad joke. For more of the same sort, except illustrated, why not visit my daily growing jar of doodles, Lemmata?

(And the tragedy of this list is that 1, 2, 3 and so on aren’t ordinal numbers in the mathematical sense, or in the linguistic sense: the first are monsters, the second are third, fourth and so on. Just that plain “arithmetic” meaning meant here. Also, is it funny or just weird that I feel compelled to add notes like this?)

Monday morning follies

August 24, 2009

Spent five minutes, five increasingly frustrated minutes, flipping through an uglily typeset pre-TeX book of mathematics in front of the copier. Was searching for Lemma 5.1; was hampered in this by the fact that the book had nine chapters and the numbering of all results got zeroed at the beginning of each: Lemma 5.1 could be the first in the fifth section of the first chapter; or in the fifth section of the second chapter, and so on.

Well, could have been, except that after all that flipping found out only one chapter had five sections.

It did not have the lemma it was supposed to have.

Curses, foiled again.

After a while of brimstone and keyboard-smashing, the reason became apparent: in my previous pursuits, I had written down the equivalent of “this result, here nicely proven for our current purposes, is basically Lemma 5.1 of RandomItalianMathematician’sBook” when I should have written “Lemma 3.1″.

The lesson of this is not that I should be more careful — a nice lesson of universal value that would be! — but rather that it is ugly, maddening, counterproductive and reference-killing to reset your result numbering at the beginning of each chapter. It is insane to use a method that n-furcates the easiest, simplest method of reference, and necessitates page number or some other contrivance for accuracy.

Also, it may be insane to use the word “n-furcate” without provocation, like I just did.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers