All entries for April 2009

April 24, 2009


Okay, here's something I wanted to write about a while ago, and then completely forgot about...

*MATHS WARNING: If you are allergic to Mathematics, please stop reading now.*

Around two months ago, the 27th of February to be precise, it was my birthday. On one of my birthday cards, the date had been written: 27.02.90. Upon seeing it, I paused for a moment, becuase it was as if there was something familiar, yet not quite right about this sequence of numbers. Then it dawned on me: it was a simple permutation of the daate of my birth, 27.02.90, a sequence I happen to see quite often. And that got me thinking... how many permutations of my birth date exist?

Now, mathematically speaking, there are 720 ways to permute a set with 6 distinct elements (digits in this case). In this case, two pairs of digits are the same, the 2's and the 0's, so in total there is 180 distinct permutations. But there's more to it. Indeed, not all of these 180 sequences are valid dates. For instance, 79.20.02 is not good, because there's is no 79th day in the Month of Octodecember. More generally, the days must be between 1 and 30/31, the months between 1 and 12, etc. Formally, the following restrictions are imposed on the sequence D1-D2-M1-M2-Y1-Y2:

-D1 and D2 cannot both be 0
-M1 and M2 cannot both be 0
-D1 cannot exceed 3                                                            [Less than 40 days in a month]
-If D1 is 3, then D2 cannot exceed 1                                    [At most 31 days in a month]
-If M1 is 0, M2 is 4,6 or 9, and D1 is 3, then D2 must be 0   [30 days in April, June and September]
-If M1 is 1, M2 is 1, and D1 is 3, then D2 must be 0             [30 days in November]
-If M1 is 0, and M2 is 2, then D1 cannot exceed 2                [Less than 30 days in February]
-If M1 is 0, M2 is 2, and D1 is 2, then D2 cannot exceed 8   [28 days in February]
-M1 cannot exceed 1                                                            [Less than 20 months in a year]
-If M1 is 1, then M2 cannot exceed 2                                    [12 months in a year]

Notice first that I have ignored leap years. Those can be taken care of "manually".

Now, with those rules in mind, we can get a computer to work out how many permutations of my birth date exist. Henceforth, I shall call these Co-Bithdates, or CBDs. An example would be 29.07.02. Note that the year, "02" could mean anything, like the year 2, or 1902, or 2502. So to make sure that each CBD points to a unique date, we'll take it to be the first date after my birth. In other words, all my CBDs are going to lie between the 27th of February 1990 and the 27 of February 2090.

The only thing left to do is to write the program that is going to work out my CBDs. Which I did. In Python (I'm always a bit ashamed when writing "simple" linear programs in Python, since it has so much potential as an object-oriented programming language that I feel like I'm abusing it, but it's such a handy tool when it comes to these kind of I-need-a-small-and-simple-program-and-I-don't-want-it-to-take-ages-to write-situation). If there the least interest from people, I'll gladly send the source code to you, print it in another blog post, or just tell you when your Co-Birthdays lie if you're not that much into programming.

The conclusion of it all, is that I have 26 CBDs, not including the day I was born (My potential leap CBDs are the 29.02.07 and 29.02.70, but none of these are leap years). I have already missed 9 of them, which means I've got 17 left in my entire life, assuming that I live for 89 years or more, thus experiencing my last one on the 20th February 2079. The next one is on the 22nd July this year. I'll try and make something special out of every one of them from now on.

April 13, 2009

Creationist Bingo

Writing about web page

I stumbled on this site the other day: it is a blog run by an american called Leo Emmanuel Lochard, and is full of arrogant pseudo-scientific nonsense. Leo's speech is rich and smooth, but the content is very questionable to say the least, and he updates his blog at a frightening speed. The first article I read (the one I'll go through in this article) is named "Post-Relativity Physics", and is basically an eloquent but weak refutation of the Big Bang Model. Now, I don't mind that people have their own opinions and beliefs, but the way this guy abuses scientifical notions that he clearly does not understand, to reach a far-fetched conclusion on a par with one of de Selby's hypotheses, makes me both frustrated and disgusted.

But before we delve into the blog post in question, let me introduce you to...


(Note: I have not made and do not own this picture. Credits to Skeptico from Skeptico Blogs)

Despite the fact that Leo is not trying to prove Intelligent Design or disprove Evolution in this post, the Creationist Bingo Board can still be applied to it. Let's have a look at how well he scores...

"One of the "theories" proposed by evolutionists is that the Universe started by itself with a so-called "Big Bang."  Meanwhile, like so-called "missing links," "Big Bang" is yet to be proven as scientifically valid."

Leo doesn't quite confuse Evolution with Abiogenesis, he confuses it with the Big Bang Theory... He deserves a point for that, doesn't he?
He mentions "missing links", i.e. gaps in the fossil record. 2 points.
The last part is another way of saying that the Big Bang model is just a theory. 3 points.
Also note the abundance of quotation marks.

"In the second place, the laws of Thermodynamics which states that "Energy is never created nor destroyed but always transformed," forbid that so-called "past radiation" would continue to "exist" in the present in the absence of a real physical source; Entropy - eventual degradability and decay end-result".

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is about Entropy. Also, let's give Leo the Joker for having quoted the 1st Law of Thermodynamics as well. 5 points.

"If we had the technology to ourselves travel into deep space with spaceships and position relays of astronauts with communicators in hand, every two lightyears or so, for example, each would report "by walky-talky" that every light we see comes from a present stellar body that exists in-the-now, and that, the Universe does not have any so-called "epicenter.""

No points here, but this part so full of rubbish that it's worth having a look at.
1. If one somehow managed to show that every light we see comes from a present stellar body that exists in-the-now, that would not say anything about the epicenter of the Universe.
2. The Big Bang model states that the Universe DOESN'T have an epicenter; Leo's got it the wrong way round.
3. To reach those deep space stars Leo is talking about, i.e. the ones millions of light years away, an excessive number of astronauts would be needed to create a living chain between the stars and the astronauts.
4. (This is the worst one) If one were to position a relay of astronauts like our dear Leo proposes, their walky-talky report would NOT reach Earth before the light from the star itself, since radio waves themselves travel no faster than the speed of light. Each astronaut would have to wait two years before receiving the report from their neighbour astronaut. The entire thought experiment is flawed, bizarre, and naïve.

"Theoretical and practical advances in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Electromagnetism were discovered by scientists who had a firm belief in a monotheistic God, from Newton to Maxwell and Farraday, from Bohr to Einstein who himself proclaimed "God does not play dice with the universe.""

Leo claims that Newton and other scientists were religious. Also, we have a clear case of quote mining Einstein. 7 points.

"In a rational universe, things do not happen by random chance or accident. From the standpoint of theoretical discovery, science, especially Physics, is at a standstill."

Leo doesn't believe random chance can influence our universe. Also, the second statement is tantamount to saying that evolution is a theory in crisis. 9 points.

"I do not believe other nations pose a threat to our scientific predominance in the world, since no scientist has gone past Einstein's Theory of Relativity, in terms of new theoretical discoveries in Physics"

This one made me moan out loud. First, there is no "scientific predominance"; Science isn't a sport in which you hold records. Second, there has been a vast number of theoretical advances in Physics since the appearance of Relativity in the early 20th century, like Quantum Physics and String Theory. Third, Einstein was born German, and had various nationalities throughout his life, including Swiss. To claim he was american is downright arrogant.

"Secondly, the way in which the Sciences are taught must be revisited in order to foster real inquiry rather than "toeing the line" with godless approaches that satisfy the ideological conformity of the "herd"."

Yes, let's teach the controversy. 10 points out of 25, in a debate that doesn't even have anything to do with Intelligent Design. Well done, Leo.


His newly appeared blog is like this in its entirety, a mix of right-wing politics and religious fanaticism, powdered with political incorrectness. He pretends to be a Physics savvy, but his obvious lack of scientific knowledge saddens me. If I ever hear a Christian talking about Einstein's "Uniform Field Theory of Gravity", I'll know what he or she has been reading.

I have disabled comments for this post, because I'd rather not start another internet argument about religion. May all arrogant atheists and believers be annihilated from this planet, so that the more moderate people among us may live peacefully and discuss things that truly matter.

April 09, 2009

Small Children & Big Numbers

Writing from Denmark. My uncle came by today, and I saw, among others, two of my cousins: one is 6 years old, the other is 4. And I'm proud to say that they both seem interested in numbers! Some day they will become great Mathematicians... (Right, in my dreams).

Somehow, the Fibonacci sequence comes up as a topic at the table. The oldest of the two kids asks me what that is, and I tell him it was complicated. He then insists that I explain it to him, and I answer that I can't do that without a pen and a paper. Whereupon he produces a paper and a yellow marker pen in front of me. So I think, 'Hell, why not', and I write two "1"s on the paper. I ask him to add them and write "2" once he has said so. I then ask him to add 1 and 2, and so on. He understands the idea pretty quickly. Together we then proceeded to write more terms. He starts giggling when we go past 100, but to my amazement, he continues all the way up to... 1597, the 17th term! I was stunned.
Then we went playing outside.

What To Do With Daisies

Later, the younger one tells me he can count to a billion. 'Show me,' I say. He then starts running in circles while counting: 'One... two... three... four...' For a split second, I worry that he is seriously going to do it, but I quickly dismiss the thought. Around fifteen, the counting becomes less and less distinct, until it is nothing more than an inaudible mutter. I can't tell if he is still counting or just pretending, but he is still gleefully running in circles. Suddenly I catch on to his counting again: 'thirty-nine... forty... ONE BILLION!'. And he stops and looks at me with a big smile. I ask him about forty-one, but immediatly regret it. My cousin just blatantly denies the existence of such a number.
And to think he was so close to the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything...

April 05, 2009

Review: The Long Walk

Not rated

First book review on this blog. My first review ever, for that sake. I won't give any kind of ranking, because I don't believe a mark reflects anything. I would never give 1 or 2 stars to a book anyway, I simply would stop reading it.

The plot in The Long Walk is very simple and can be explained in a few sentences. In a dystopic future, a marathon called the Long Walk is organised once a year. 100 boys between 16 and 18 start at the Canadian border in Maine, and walk south; we follow the steps of Ray Garraty, number 47. It is not immediately clear what the Prize for winning is, but it's clearly something big. Downside: if you stop walking, you "get the ticket"... I won't spoil anything, but knowing Stephen King, you can come up with a qualified guess as to what "getting the ticket" means. The winner is the last man walking, so keep your pace above the required 4 mph!

The Long Walk is a remarkable book. Just like Rage (another novel Stephen King wrote under the pen name 'Richard Bachman'), it had a profound impression on me. If you're just looking for a nice and realixing horror book, The Long Walk might not do the trick. It's slow, and filled with cryptic passages during which not much happen. Plus, the ending is unclear, but we'll get back to that. However, if you delve into the book, and try to make sense of the seemingly random comments and outbursts of some of the boys, the development of Garraty's thoughts, the symbolism of the road and the crowd, and so on, a whole new layer is added to the book. Every boy in the Walk must have a reason to be walking, and with a bit of close-reading and imagination the reader can try to figure these out. Look out for references to surreal worlds, like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

That being said, the novel can easily be read and understood without paying attention to small details. It's entertaining in a very macabre way. Here's an extract so that you may see what the book is like. Two Walkers, Pearson and Scramm, are talking to each other. Scramm has caught a cold.

"You don't sound so good," Pearson said, and there might have been careful optimism in his voice.

"Luggy for me I god a good codstitution," Scramm said cheerfully. "I thing I'be rudding a fever now."

"Jesus, how do you keep going?" Abraham asked, and there was a kind of religious fear in his voice.

"Me? Talk about me?" Scramm said. "Look at hib! How does he keep going? Thad's what I'd like to know!" And he cocked his thumb at Olson.

Olson had not spoken for two hours. He had not touched his newest canteen. Greedy glances were shot at his foodbelt, which was also almost untouched. His eyes, darkly obsidian, were fixed straight ahead. His face was speckled by two days of beard and it looked sickkly vulpine. Even his hair, frizzed upin back and hanging across his forehead in front, added to the overall impression of ghoulishness. His lips were parched dry and blistering. His tongue hung over his bottom lip like a dea serpent on the lip of a cave. Its healthy pinkness had disappeared. It was dirty-gray now. Road-dust clung to it.

He's there, Garraty thought, sure he is. Where Stebbins said we'd all go if we stuck with it stuck with it long enough. How deep inside himself is he? Fathoms? Miles? Light-years? How deep and how dark? And the answer came back to him: Too deep to see out. He's hiding down there in the darkness and it's too deep to see out.

"Olson?" he said softly. "Olson?"

Olson didn't answer answer. Nothing moved but his feet.

"I wish he'd put his tongue in at least," Pearson whispered nervously.

The Walk went on.

Then there's the ending. Some endings make you go "No don't stop now, I want to know more!"; others make you go "Oh, that was a perfect ending"; others "That ending sucked."

The ending of The Long Walk made me go: "what."

One the one hand, the ending fits perfectly the rest of the book, because it is left to to the reader to decide what happened and what will happen. The last few pages are crammed with innocent words that are loaded with special meaning (or maybe I'm just imagining stuff). On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded getting a proper explanation of the ending. It's the ending that could probably spoil this book for some readers.

Then again, it's a genre that doesn't use "Happily Ever After".

April 02, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire was a book

Every time someone mentions 'Slumdog Millionaire', and stresses how wondeful a film it is, I can't help feeling slightly smug. Because years before the film came out, I read the book!

'Slumdog millionaire' is based on a 2005 novel called 'Q&A', by Vikas Swarup. And it doesn't surprise me that the film became such a success, because the book is absolutely magnificent! I bought it on a whim in an airport somewhere, and it then proceeded to become one of my favourite books. I won't explain the plot, bacuse chances are you've already seen the film, and therefore know the story. If you haven't, all I will say is that it's an original plot, a fascinating story that depicts the different facets of modern India in a captivating way, and a twisted but perfect ending. It's up to you if you want to see the film or read the novel, but by all means, do either.

I haven't seen the film myself, so I can't say if they've stayed faithful to the book in making 'Slumdog Millionaire' - but given its immense success, I'd say they have. I don't really have anything else to say in this post, so I'll end it with an extract from 'Q & A', a part that supposedly has been left out in the film. In the book, the protagonist is not called "Jamal Malik", but something different. He's adopted by a catholic priest, Father Timothy, who names him Joseph Michael Thomas. One day Father Timothy is visited by two men:

'We are from the All Faith Committee,' the fat man said. 'I am Mr Jagdish Sharma. This is Mr Inayat Hidayatullah. Our this board member, Mr Harvinder Singh, representing the Sikh faith, was also to come, but he is unfortunately held up at the Gurudwara. We will come straight to the point. We are told, Father, that you have given shelter to this little orphan boy. [...] What name have you given this boy?'

'Joseph Michael Thomas.'

'Isn't that a Christian name?'

'Yes, but-'

'How do you know he was born to Christian parents?'

'Well, I don't'

'Then why have you given him a Christian name?'

'Well I had to call him something. What's wrong with Jospeh Michael Thomas?'

'Everything. Don't you know how strong the movement is against conversion in these parts? Several churches have been set fire to by irate mobs, who were led to believe that mass conversion to Christianity was taking place.'


'What do you suggest I do?'

'Change the boy's name.'

'To what?'


Mr Sharma and Mr Hidayatullah debated the respective merits of Ram and Mohammad for the next thirty minutes. Finally, Father Timothy gave up. 'Look, if it takes a name change to get the mob off my back, I will do it. How about if I accept both your suggestions and change the boy's name to Ram Mohammad Thomas? That should satisfy everyone.'

Luckily for me that Mr Singh did not come that day.

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