Whining, politics and science

Gee, when people dismiss crackpot ideas (e. g. engage in global warming denialism) it gives Charles Krauthammer the sadz. No, Mr. Krauthammer: ideas have no inherent right to respect, including…well, some academic ideas like this one (forbidding “triggers”).

Speaking of dumbness: a few of the “in the future predictions” made by the film “Idiocracy” have come true. But…I should point out that some of these predictions were already commonplace prior to the movie. Remember how humans in “civilized” countries used to amuse themselves: public executions, burning animals alive, making people fight to the death, etc.

Yes, keeping control of the Senate will be an uphill fight for the Democrats, even if some of the “head to head” polls look ok now. There is the problem of the “drag” on the ticket due to the unpopularity of the President in the states in question, many of which are “red” to begin with.

But there is time, and the recent news for Obamacare has been good.

And maybe, just maybe, there is some attention being paid to inequality. Ok, that book by Piketty is rather highbrow.

It is interesting, but being slightly underweight and undereating seems to help with longevity. Is there an evolutionary reason why this is so? There is a new conjecture about this, but the conjecture has detractors:

Why did creatures evolve such a mechanism in the first place? Researchers have declared the most popular theory doesn’t make evolutionary sense, and they’ve proposed a new explanation in its place.

The most prominent theory involves what happens physiologically during times of food scarcity. When the living is good, natural selection favors organisms that invest energy in reproduction. In times of hardship, however, animals have fewer offspring, diverting precious nutrients to cell repair and recycling so they can survive until the famine ends, when reproduction begins anew. Cell repair and recycling appear to be substantial antiaging and anticancer processes, which may explain why underfed lab animals live longer and rarely develop old-age pathologies like cancer and heart disease.

Margo Adler agrees with the basic cellular pathways, but she’s not so sure about the evolutionary logic. Adler, an evolutionary biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, says this popular idea relies on a big assumption: that natural selection favors this energy switch from reproduction to survival because animals will have more young in the long run—so long as they actually survive and reproduce. “This idea is repeated over and over again in the literature as if it’s true, but it just doesn’t make that much sense for evolutionary reasons,” she says.

The problem, Adler says, is that wild animals don’t have the long, secure lives of their laboratory cousins. Instead, they’re not only endangered by famine but by predators and pathogens, random accidents and rogue weather as well. They also face physiological threats from a restricted diet, including a suppressed immune system, difficulty with healing and greater cold sensitivity. For these reasons, delaying reproduction until food supplies are more plentiful is a huge risk for wild animals. Death could be waiting just around the corner.

Better to reproduce now, Adler says. The new hypothesis she proposes holds that during a famine animals escalate cellular repair and recycling, but they do so for the purpose of having as many progeny as possible during a famine, not afterward. They “make the best of a bad situation” to maximize their fitness in the present. “It’s an efficiency mode that the animal goes into,” she says. Adler and colleague Russell Bonduriansky published their reasoning in the March BioEssays.[...]

This Scientific American article discusses “modular forms” and notes that a current mathematician appears to have solved a riddle proposed by a famous mathematician from yesteryear. As articles about mathematics go, this one is pretty readable.

April 18, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, economy, education, evolution, health care, mathematics, politics/social, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

A calculus problem for my students

A goat wants to give a social media party. Let’s call this goat “Admin” and suppose this party is to be held at a certain page.

If G(t) is the number of unique goats at time t hours after “Admin” gives the “calling all goats” sign


we assume that G(t) = \frac{L}{1+c e^{-kt}} .

We assume that at t=0 , “Admin” is the only goat present. We assume that the theoretical upper bound for the number of goats who will show up is 200.
So, if there are 100 goats present 24 hours after the “calling all goats” is administered,

a. When are there 50 goats on the page at the party?

b. When are there 150 goats at the party?

c. How many goats are joining the party per hour when there are 100 goats there?

d. If t_{100} is the time for the first 100 goats (total) to arrive, G''(t_{100}) =

April 9, 2014 Posted by | mathematics, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Spring Break: task one done, one to go

Ok, I finally got done with this vexing task of writing a referee’s report. In this case, I had the worst possible article: there was enough there to be worth publishing, but the article was poorly enough written to be a time suck to review.

Now I have 30 percent of two classes or a remedial math class (“off semester of “not-quite-calculus””) to grade. Though I have a few good students in these sections, some aren’t trying. And as to those who are trying: steps such as moving from xy=100 to x = \frac{100}{y} just confuse the heck out of them.

When I finish grading, I’ll treat myself to a short hike (either tomorrow or the weekend).

March 20, 2014 Posted by | mathematics | , | Leave a comment

On Being a New Republican: day one.

Well, Bruce Raunner won the GOP Republican primary by 3 points over Dillard. Now the real race begins in earnest.

2014 will not be kind to us:


Of course, the above is sanitized; the poorer people won’t show up either. Give the Republicans credit: they vote more often and that it a positive for them and a negative for us.

Metaphors and Mathematics

This illustrates a few mathematical concepts:

1. This is an example of a “projection map” in mathematics.

2. This shows how information is ALWAYS lost when one takes a projection. Something very similar happens when one does a statistical regression.

These different data sets have almost identical regression coefficients:


(more here)

Back to politics


March 19, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, mathematics, politics/social, social/political, statistics | , | Leave a comment

Today’s blogging….

I mostly wrote about math; you can see the post here. These notes took longer to write than it might appear.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | mathematics | Leave a comment

My main post of the evening…

You can find it here.

Have you ever used a drawing program on the computer? Well, the program that draws curved lines uses the concept of the Bézier curve and the post I linked to is from my math blog; I wrote up some notes for my numerical analysis students and decided to post them on my math blog.

Yes, I post about topics OTHER than: politics, football/basketball running/walking/swimming/weight lifting and women’s bespandexed gluteal muscles.

March 9, 2014 Posted by | blogs, mathematics | | Leave a comment

A fun “math/spreadsheet” problem

I saw this on Facebook:


Yes, I know, there are different formulas that work. So suppose we want ” 3 + 5″ to “equal” -28. What we want is the first digests (the constant coefficient upwards) to be the sum of the numbers, and the “leading” digits to be “a-b” with a correct sign; that is: a “+” b = (a-b, a+b) with the comma removed so as to make a single integer (the inputs are integers).

So the “cute” problem: get a spread sheet to do this.


To get full credit: you must get the correct answer for both a greater than b and a “less than” b.

February 21, 2014 Posted by | mathematics | , | Leave a comment

Different start and a couple of thoughts…Good Old Days and Bill Nye’s debate

Today, I woke up, checked some e-mail and yes, did some math. That might be a way to start my Tuesday/Thursday when I start to teach late: get up, start my duties and THEN break for a run/walk as I’ll take in a few moments.

It will be indoors, again:


Our neighborhood streets are solid compressed snow and ice.

What is going on: the jet stream is still either over us or below us and that arctic air mass is just parked over us.

What I am working on: it is somewhat technical. But imagine you want to find solve f(x) = 0 where the solution is impossible to solve “in closed form” (e. g. solve it like you did in algebra class). There are numerical techniques that you can use a computer for. If you’ve had calculus, you might recognize Newton’s method where if x_{n} is an approximation to the solution, x_{n+1} = x_n -\frac{f(x_n)}{f'(x_n)} where f'(x) is the derivative of f. Never mind that; the point is that one generates a series of approximations to the solution (provided certain conditions are met): x_1, x_2, x_3, .....x_n, x_{n+1}, .... which are hopefully getting closer to the desired solution. If you met the correct “starting requirements” and the solution exists, this sequence of numbers WILL get close to your desired solution.

One problem though: “how many times do you have to do this?” is an important question. One reason: the computer can’t store every number exactly; hence there is round off error, and that error grows with each calculation.
So, if it is the case where each approximation x_n has error inherently built in, it might be possible (if certain conditions are met) to take your series of approximations and manipulate them so that the larger “inherent errors” subtract off and one gets close to the solution in a fewer number of steps. One adds calculation early (adding round off error) to save many more calculations later (greatly reducing round off error).

One such process is called the Aitken Delta-squared process and that is what I was working on.

Two thoughts

Thought one: the Good Old Days:

A Facebook Friend (Rachel Portnoy Bradley) had this to say:

Okay, I’m just going to say this once more: No, I don’t miss the days when gas was 15 cents a gallon, and your curfew was “when the street lights came on,” and kids were more afraid of their parents than of the cops…..
Because back then, women, minorities, gays, and other marginalized people had even fewer rights than they have now. Crime is not really significantly worse now than it was then. It’s just than when a man beats his wife to a pulp, he can be convicted and jailed for it now, whereas back then, it was just seen as a domestic issue and no business of anyone else. People are still killing other people. People are still loving other people. People are still dying of curable diseases. People are still committing random acts of kindness.
And what a lot of conservatives don’t like to admit, but what the facts support, is that even the white, male, heterosexual population is better off when non-whites, females, gays, and any marginalized segments of society gain strength and power. Power is a renewable resource, increasing for the whole when it increases for a part; not a finite, limited supply.
In general, more of us are better off than we were 20, 40 years ago. I wouldn’t trade my penny candy memories for gas-guzzling over-poluting cars and institutionalized misogyny, not ever.

She is right, of course. I think that when we remember the past, we remember the good but not the bad. And change is NEVER all good; for example we live longer (most of us anyway) but that means there are more elderly who live long enough to lose their minds through dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What was curious though was one of the replies she got (she is religious and has religious friends):

In matters of the flesh, it certainly does seem things are better than they were.

But in matters of the Spirit, we are not better off, we are worse off and it is deteriorating from there.

We are abandoning God. That is never a sign that things are “better”, no matter the outward appearance that they are.

That leads to the next point. There are those who use religion to better their own lives in the hear-and-now, but to all too many, there is an inherent virtue to accepting some woo-woo supernatural claim (THEIR claim, of course) and rejecting it is a type of evil.

I can’t have an intellectual discussion with someone who is that delusional.

Which leads me to discuss the Bill Nye “The Science Guy” (educator) versus Ken Ham (owner of the creation museum).

I might watch the debate later

There are two schools of thought:

1. Bill Nye didn’t understand that this was an exercise in politics: hence he lost by merely showing up.

2. Bill Nye won the day by presenting some science to people who don’t see a lot of it. Maybe, just maybe, he planted a seed of science that might later germinate in a young mind.

Ok, there is a third, less popular school of thought: show up and insult the creationist as a charlatan. Here, the scientist started off by making some blunt accusations against the creationist and then offered the creationist a chance to electrocute himself:

Prior to the debate, I was in camp 1, but after the debate (which I didn’t watch), I thought ….well…remembered as a kid I once believed that superstitious nonsense….maybe? Then again, I kind of “evolved” out of it by basically living among more educated people. I have deep respect for those who manage to find their way out while staying in the same environment.

Ok, time to get it….

February 6, 2014 Posted by | creationism, evolution, Illinois, mathematics, politics/social, religion, science, social/political | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why mathematics shows that I am doomed to be a “put upon” spouse…..

My wife has recovered nicely from her broken foot. There was a time when she required quite a bit of assistance around the house. This has been too frequent for us; she has had some “assistance required” aliments over the past decade and a half (knee replacements, foot surgeries, trip to get coughing under control, etc.) Fortunately, they’ve always had a happy ending.

But when the “assistance time” was past, I felt “ok, now it is time for me to BE LEFT ALONE for a while.” But instead this meant that she could now do more….and she isn’t as introverted as I am. Grumble.

“But Honey, we are the only family that XXX can visit…he is so lonely.” Me: “lonely…what I wouldn’t give to be lonely for a while….”

So I thought about my “ideal spouse” who would be as fiercely introverted as I am.

Reality: I’d never meet her. :-)

I thought about the friends that I have; the ones that I visit and share personal stuff with.

ALL but one (an unusual case) are very much “people” people. They LIKE people. Me: my regret is that I didn’t go in to WMD research. (ok, just kidding there…)

Screen shot 2014-01-27 at 8.14.16 PM

Ok, I am not quite that bad. But with the exception of one good friend, most people I really talk to have been outgoing to everyone type people and I am anything but that.

Hence, were I to get another wife there is a good chance she’d be pretty much like the one I have, at least in that regard.

What I am describing is part of what is known as the Friendship paradox and is actually well studied.

On Facebook: if you are like most people, your Facebook friends have more friends than you do.

In your profession: those you have heard of are more successful than you are (you are mostly unaware of those who are less successful; you remember the lead speaker but probably not many of the minor ones and probably even fewer of the ones who weren’t at the conference.

At the running races: I know about the 100 who beat me, but often little about the 200 that I beat. My eyes are in the FRONT of my head. Ok, I don’t like how that ratio is changing with time….

But here is the easiest example: think of airports. Most are small that only fly to a few airports. But the airports that they fly to have connections to LOTS of airports. Hence most airports connect to airports that have MORE connections than they do.

It is just mathematics and statistics. :-)

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Friends, mathematics, social/political | Leave a comment

Not a problem for me in my department or at math meetings


Even when I do publish stuff (as I did recently), I get some feedback; recently I got a paper sent to me by a research mathematician which showed me some substantial extensions of the result I presented.

Sure, my paper wasn’t a wasted effort as it was, in part, bringing a higher level result to those who teach calculus, but in terms of the actual math, it was but the tip of an iceberg.

I LOVE smart people.

January 25, 2014 Posted by | mathematics | | Leave a comment


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