...Prove Their Worth...

"Problems worthy of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back." - Piet Hein

A kind of running diary and rambling pieces on my struggles with assorted books, classes, and other things, as they happen. You must be pretty bored to be reading this...

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Damn. I'm having a hell of a lot of trouble with the intro to Lie algebras stuff I'm reading. It's very frustrating. More later, probably.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

This is very interesting, IMHO, but first, I
must warn that it is unconfirmed rumor-mongering, and that all
of my information is coming from a newsgroup thread and the links
therein. I recommend taking all this into account when evaluating
the reliability of this stuff.

Physics seems to have been hit with a reverse-Alan-Sokal-style hoax.
In 1996, as you may remember reading, Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU,
wrote an article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a
Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", in which he parodied
cultural studies, postmodernism, and so on. The hilarious thing was
that Sokal sent it to a leading (at the time) refereed cultural
studies journal, Social Text, and they published it, not noticing
that it was intentional gibberish (and hilariously obvious, to a
freshman physcs major and/or to someone with half a brain). After
Sokal revealed the parody, scandal ensued, the main result of which
was that cultural studies and postmodernism got a nasty black eye (in
my opinion, anyway), and scientists got to do lots of giggling. You
can read a lot of the articles involved on href="http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/#papers">Alan Sokal's
web site

Well, it seems that it's payback time. There are href="http://groups.google.com/groups?%0A%0Adq=&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&threadm=ap7tq6%24eme%241%40glue.ucr.edu&rnum=1&prev=/%0A%0Agroups%3Fdq%3D%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26ie%3DUTF-8%26selm%3Dap7tq6%2524eme%25241%%0A%0A2540glue.ucr.edu">rumours
that two brothers, Igor and Grichka Bogdanov, have managed to publish
about five gibberish papers on high-energy physics in peer-reviewed
journals, and what's more, they managed to get PhD's in physics from
Bourgogne University in France in the process! You can find links to
their theses in the above-referenced newsgroup post by John Baez, and
the PDFs of the theses contain appended copies of a few of these
papers. Alternatively, here are some direct links to the papers in
question, taken from here:

Space-Time at the Planck Scale
, G. Bogdanov, I. Bogdanov , Nuovo
Cim. 117B (2002) 417-424.

State of Space-Time at the Planck Scale
, I. Bogdanov ,
Chin.J.Phys. 40 (2002) 149-158.

e Metric and the KMS Condition at the Planck Scale
, G. Bogdanov, I.
Bogdanov, Annals Phys.296 (2002) 90-97.

Topological Field
Theory of the Initial Singularity of Space-Time
, G. Bogdanov, I.
Bogdanov, Class.Quant.Grav. 18 (2001) 4341-4372.

I can only personally vouch that the "Topological origin of inertia"
paper looks bogus. The others are sufficiently complicated that I
don't know enough to judge them. However, there's a fair number of
(far more qualified) people that have already posted messages on the href="http://groups.google.com/groups?%0A%0Ahl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&group=sci.physics.research">sci.physics.research
newsgroup confirming that the other papers are indeed gibberish.

Who are Igor and Grichka Bogdanov? Well, they're French TV
personalities, and they might be semioticians, if I'm interpreting a
Babelfish translation of href="http://www.liberation.com/page.php?Article=58973">this french
(again, link taken from newgroup thread) correctly. That's
a big 'if', though, since Babelfish's translation smells, well, fishy.

Apparently, when one of the Bogdanov brothers was contacted by a
reporter from the New York Times, he denied it was a hoax. This
makes it much less likely that a serious journalist can write a story
on this, because, as John Baez points points out in the previously
referenced newsgroup thread, it's one thing to report on a hoax, and
quite another to write a story "about some papers that are so silly
people *think* they are hoax". So it's not really all that clear
whether it's all a hoax/joke or some impressive incompetence. If
it's a hoax, the motives are unknown. It could be a joke, or, if
Messrs. Bogdanov are indeed semioticians, it might be a creative
counter-attack on physics flowing from the Social Text affair. Or
something else entirely.

Whether it's a hoax or incompetence, of course, it exposes some
nasty holes in the peer-review process! The referees and PhD
examination commitee members need to be taken to task, in my opinion,
and perhaps the peer-review process in physics needs fixing.

Again, please take all of the above with a large grain of
salt. It might somehow all be some sort of misunderstanding. (I
don't see how, though.)

I've also sent this into the news-box for a tech website that I like. Perhaps they'll write about it. Perhaps not - certainly, it's off-mission for a tech site.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Did I ever mention that I am a bloody stupid retard*? Well, in case I haven't, I am. Tonight I uncovered more impressive data to support this characterization. You see, only a bloody stupid retard (with delusions of grandeur) would spend about three days filling page after page with matrix calculations, making errors, crossing things out, writing snarky notes to himself about what just happened, and starting over again, ad nauseam. Mind you, the problem doesn't call for any of this. It positively cries out for a five-line solution using elementary properties of determinants. But noooooo. That would have been too easy. Much better to completely forget about the very existence of said properties, and to do things the hard way.

Doing things the hard way builds character, or so the saying goes. Amusingly, the saying doesn't specify what sort of character.

Oh, and to the chap who, according to my referrer logs, came to this page in search of "butt firming exercizes"**, Welcome! (If you come again, for some reason.) May I recommend a combination of linear algebra and Lie group exercises? They do wonders for producing a firm, well-worn arse, I assure you. Proper use of the arse is essential for reproducing my spectacular results, by the way, which should be all the motivation you need to get started on an intensive program of butt-firming.

* - 'Stupid retard' is not repetitive, provided it is properly interpreted. Here, I'm using the phrase to mean 'stupid, even among retards'.

** - According to Google, this page is the number one site on the entire Internet when it comes to "butt firming exercizes"***.

*** - The careful reader will have noticed that it's also the only such site on the Internet.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Oh yeah. I promise I'll get back to fun-filled posts about math and physics now. No more "waah, I was in an accident" blabber.

Fuck yeah. I win. Allow me to explain.

As I wrote earlier, I got into a fender-bender car accident on Tuesday. The idiot I collided with pulled out from a shopping center onto a road without making sure there wasn't anyone on said road. Clearly, he is the liable party, morally and legally. Right?

Well, so I thought on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I got a rather nasty phonecall from my insurance company, Geico. They wanted to do an audiotaped statement of what I claim took place, because my account of what happened was "significantly at odds" with that of the other guy. Of course, I gave them the statement. They refused to tell me what, exactly, the other guy said, pending Geico getting a similar taped statement from him. They explained to me that since there were no witnesses, the case could come down to a 'word against word' situation, in which I would have to make my claim through my insurance, and he through his, and we'd both pay our deductibles (500 smackers for me), and wouldn't be able to get them back. Which would blow. Especially since I was not at fault!

So I started thinking about ways for him to lie about what happened. That is, what COULD he have said, that would be "significantly at odds" with what actually happened, and yet seem plausible? I came up with just two things.

One, he could claim that I was wildly speeding. I could prove this to be highly implausible, if not impossible, due to where the collision took place. Simply put, my car, a '96 Geo Prizm could not accelerate to more than at most about 30 mph in the space it had available to do so. It ain't a very beefy car. Not only that, but in such a scenario, he'd still be liable, because it doesn't matter much if I'm speeding, he's still supposed to yield to traffic. So this option didn't worry me much: I could deball it easily.

The other option was nastier. He could rotate the accident picture through ninety degrees, and claim that it was I who pulled out from the parking lot and nailed him. In this scenario, he'd be on the main road, moving in the direction opposite the one in which I had been moving in reality. The point of doing it this way is that the damage patterns on the car would fit this scenario, as well as what actually happened.

Well, that scared me. Remember, no eyewitnesses, minor fenderbender, etc. He might be able to get away with it (I thought)! I drove back to the accident scene armed with a digital camera. Lo and behold, there was a bit of debris on the spot where the accident took place. (Shards of headlight plastic/glass/whatever.) Even better, they were in such a place that they did not support the ninety-degree-rotated scenario, thanks to the details of the intersection and turning pockets and whatnot. And, it turns out that there is a Stop sign where the guy pulled out, so it's a double-violation in that sense. So, I took lots of pictures.

Then, this morning, I attempted to find the police officer who had stopped at the accident scene, whose name I did not get thanks to stupidity. That didn't pan out, unfortunately. Due to the current sniper murders in my area (Maryland), the police departments are real flustered, and they couldn't figure out who had stopped at the accident scene. Ah well.

When I got home, I got a call from Geico. The guy admitted lying in his taped questioning by Geico! Now, his new account matched mine, meaning he admitted liability. See, yesterday, in a non-taped statement, he'd claimed that I hit him in a mall parking lot. Ha! The fucktard is dumber than I'd expected, since claiming that is a huge chance, given the possibility of me proving otherwise. At least the pi/2 rotation has some elegance to it, and it'd almost work if not for the detailed geometry of the intersection of the mall exit with the road!

He's still denying that he had a Stop sign - but I don't care. I'll prove it's there if need be, but all I really want is to get my car's bumber and hood fixed, and to have the moral satisfaction of feeding him his metaphorical balls, purréed. Which the whole "oops, I've lied" thing covers, so yay.

Now I just have to reach his insurance company! It seems to be rather small, and the number is always busy. And they take their sweet time returning calls. Luckily, in this case, I've a corporate giant on my side, and if they try to fuck with me, I'll sic Geico on their asses. Hopefully, that won't be necessary.

In other news, I'm making some real progress in Baez and Munian. I'm actually following their exposition about the double cover between SO(3) and SU(2), spin-j representations of SU(2), projective representations, and the applicability of the above to physics, which seems to come down to the distinction between fermions and bosons. It's great stuff, and I'll try to write more about it later.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Wow. Now this is what I'm talkin' about. First, I've now made up my mind about what (techincal) book I'm buying next. It'll be Victor Bryant's Yet Another Introduction to Analysis. Every review of it I've been able to find is glowing to gushing, with the exceptions being from people who hate humor in their math texts (really!). What pushed me over the edge was this review by David Tall, a mathematics education researcher. Dang. It sounds just about perfect, and a quickie browse I've been able to give the text at the local bookstore was quite encouraging.

But reading that review, I noticed that it referenced a bunch of fascinating stuff about mathematics education, and I backtracked to David Tall's home page. Talk of mathematics, learning mathematics and the psychology of the previous, all mixed together nicely... Well, it makes for great reading. Check it out!

Also, Dr. Tall has a page about whiskeys, a couple of which are so lovingly described that they've gone on my 'to find and/or buy' list.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

The upcoming elections better be good. And I sincerely hope my voter registration comes through on time. Else, I'm going to do something naughty, like take a long, cathartic leak on government property or something equally inappropriate.

I say this because said elections and registration for same have cost me a fair amount of nerves and time today, in the form of an auto accident. I was going to the post office to mail said registration cards and get some stampts. Luckily, it isn't my fault, morally or legally, seeing as the other chap decided to pull out of a shopping mall without making sure there was no one driving down the bloody road, coming out like five meters in front of me. Also luckily, no one is injured, and damage to my car is slight. The damage on his car is a bit worse, but not by much - it probably still qualifies as 'decidedly minor'. Thank goodness for watching the road, brakes, and steering. Well, and seatbelts.

Also, the Geico insurance lady on the phone was very nice. I suppose it's her job, but it was pleasant anyway. Probably because the telephone for me is mainly associated with telemarketers, who are mostly annoying and pushy - this was a breath of fresh air in comparison. Probably helps that she wasn't trying to sell anything, of course - and I was already a customer.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Referrer logs are wonderful entertainment*, though best enjoyed in moderation. See, every once in a while, there's Comedy Gold in them. For instance: in the last few days, according to said referrer logs, people have visited this page in the search for "hemmorhoid pictures" and "techinques [sic] to measure the penis". Now, thanks to this, I discovered that Google thinks that I am the #2 authority on the whole Interweb on "techinques to measure the penis". (If, for some reason, you want to verify that, note that bad spelling is important.)

I'm sorry to dissapoint, but I won't be posting any hemmorhoid pictures today, nor will I be writing about phallic metrics, or hairy balls (I've done that last in the past, and you can find it in my archives). Instead, I'll talk a bit about my current struggles with my reading.

I finally solved that problem with spin-1/2 representations of SU(2), though that's only true for a fairly liberal interpretation of the word 'solved'. Here's what I decided. Fact number one: If g is an element of a group, so is the inverse of g, g^-1. This is one of the basic properties of groups. Fact number two: for spin-1/2, j=1/2, 2j=1, and the space of polynomial functions on C^2 that are homogeneous of degree 2j then look like f(x,y) = x^1*y^0 + x^0*y^1 = x + y, optionally with constant coefficients thrown in just to be naughty. Now, the assertion is that for spin-1/2, SU(2) acts on C^2 by matrix multiplication - that is, take a vector in C^2, and feed it to an element of SU(2), and out comes another vector in C^2. Well, since the spin-j representations look like f(g^-1*v), where the f looks like the f(x,y) given above, and v is a vector in C^2, and g is in SU(2) (and therefore, g^-1 is too), everything comes out nicely. See, what I'd like is for g to just act directly on v, but that just ain't in the cards. But what is in the cards is that the inverse of g acts on v, and that's still 'SU(2) acting on C^2', and it's also very important to note that for spin-1/2, f(x,y) is of such a form that it makes sense to say that an element of SU(2) just acted on C^2 by matrix multiplication. But already for spin-1, f(x,y) looks like x^2 + xy + y^2, and you can't say that anymore.

Now, once I decided that, I could move to wrestle with spin-1 and all that. And it all actually kind of made sense. It made so much sense, I blitzed right through to the end of the material on Lie groups, and stopped when I saw Baez and Munian start talking about Lie algebras. However, I didn't stop to do any problems along the way, so I've still got things to work out. I'll probably talk about that later today. But for now, I'll just mention that one of the problem sets looks to be very interesting, but also hard: to work out some things about how SL(2,C) is the double cover of SO(3,1). Baez and Munian talk about how SU(2) is the double cover of SO(3), but leave the SO(3,1) stuff to the reader in exercises. Which, on the one hand, is frustrating and a bit scary, but is also very exciting, because this stuff is so very fascinating. (Bosons and fermions and cocycles and projective representations, oh my!)

* - but only if you don't have a life. Losers of the world, unite! Throw off the chains of capitalist oppression, and put down the running pig-dogs of your exploiters.