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May 23, 2009

Student Quantum Uncertainty

Compared to the activity from a few weeks ago, my blog is a bit silent at the moment. And (sorry Vincent) it will remain so until the 9th of June, the day I finish my exams. Right now, I need to do some serious revision instead of spending my time in the blogosphere. After that, I should have enough time to post regularly, as long as I don't run out of ideas.

The reason I am nevertheless writing a post now, is that I had a sudden flash of inspiration a moment ago, when looking for my pencil. I think I have discovered an important truth that should be incorporated in the general theory of Quantum Physics. I claim the following:

If pressure is applied to a student, he cannot simultaneously know where his pencil and his keys are.

Quantum is next Thursday. 9 exams in 12 days. And one is on a Saturday, on top of that. At least most maths exams are 1-2 hours long, unlike some other courses, in which the exams all seem to be 3 hours long. First exam on the list: Linear Algebra.

Linear Algebra pun.

(Maths joke. Never mind)

Wish me luck.

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 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...

March 29, 2009

Pi Day and more

Accoring to Wiktionary, this is the definition of a blog:


blog (plural blogs)

  1. personal or corporate website in the form of an online journal, with new entries appearing in sequence as they are written, especially as dealing with reflections or opinion, and typically incorporating links to other articles.
  2. An entry in a blog.

And according to UrbanDictionary:

1. blog 2345 up444 down love ithate it
Short for weblog. 
A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today." 

Both definition seem to suggest that the entries in a blog should look like journal or diary entries. Hence, I apologise for the lack of details on personal events in my life. To make up for it, I'll write a small blog on what's been going on recently. It's not that I particularly enjoy writing such posts - indeed I'd much rather write something on the book behind Slumdog Millionaire, or an Anosmia FAQ - but I feel that posts like these ought to appear from time to time on a blog. Here goes.

Saturday 14th of March: start of Easter Break. And more importantly, International Pi Day! Given that the 14th of March would be written as 3.14 in American, this day has been chosen as an annual holiday in celebration of the mathematical constant pi. I had a Programming project due the following Monday, but I still managed to find the time to buy ingerdients and bake a pie (as any self-respecting mathematician would on Pi Day). I then proceeded to offer a slice to anyone still lurking around in Knightcote, and was very disappointed by how few people knew about this day. Some even thought it was something I'd made up myself. I must've loo ked like a lunatic. Anyway, here's the pie:

Pi Pie

Other Pi Day activities include learning digits of Pi, and doing the Pi Dance. One year, hopefully, I'll manage to gather enough other mathematician (or pseudo-mathematicians, like physicists, computer scientists or, God forbid, statisticians), so that we may have a true Pi Day Celebration.

Thursday 19th March: Going home. That is, back to Brussels, Belgium (is that still home? I honestly don't know any longer). The inexistant stalker who's been attentively reading every post of this blog, may wonder why my home is not somewhere in Denmark. Well, having Danish parents makes me Danish, but I was born and raised in Brussels. Danish is still my mother tongue. And no, I don't speak "belgianese". I speak French, but not Flemish.
So anyway, going back to Brussels means getting a bus to Coventry (20min), getting a train from Coventry to London (1h30min), walking from Euston to St-Pancras (5-10 min), waiting an hour or more in St Pancras because you're too early, getting your train from London to Brussels (2h30min), and then lose one hour because of time zone differences. But I'm not complaining, I actually quite enjoy riding trains.
This time, though, there was a problem at St-Pancras. I'd taken the wrong tickets with me. Don't ask. I'll spare you the details, but I managed to get a duplicate of my ticket got on the train just in time. Even though I'd walking around idly for more than an hour, doing nothing. Oh yes, I spent some time looking for a god-damned bin, in the entire St-Pancras train station, and concluded that there wasn't one. Minutes later I noticed that people were actually hired to walk around with wheeled bins. For anti-terrorism purposes, I presume.

Thursday 26th March: Finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion. Fortunately, I was prepared for the rather quizzical and open ending. And you know what? To me, the ending was just as I wanted it! I have my own interpretation of what happened after the attack of Tabris, the meaning and goals of Seele, the goal of Gendo Ikari, and why the Angels attack. What I especially like about the ending is precisely how open it is: it is up to the viewer to come up with a coherent and consistent explanation to various events and statements in the series; while in the same time, hints are scattered through the anime as to what the "true" explanation is. All that being said, I shall probably watch The End of Evangelion one day, and see how that ending fits with my ideas.

29th March: Finished reading The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen. It's an autobiography, and it's the first biography I've ever read that I actually enjoyed. Alright, I've only read two or three, but that's because biographies usually don't appeal to me, I need some fiction. But this one was a delight to read! Chances are that the reason I liked it is because I can relate to what he says, so I guess reading a biography is a very personal experience. Still, the book in itself is quite nicely written, it's both reflective and funny.

Next book on the list: The Long Walk by Stephen King (under his pen name Richard Bachman). Maybe I should use this blog to write book reviews...

March 28, 2009

The No Longer Missing N

Follow-up to The Missing N: Genesis from The Missing N

I knew this time would come eventually.

A kind soul named Matthew - sorry, Mathew - Mannion (I assume he's working for the IT department or something) read my first post, and informed me that I could get the url of the blog corrected and that the Student Records Office should be able to fix the typo in my name. I am, of course, talking about the N that was missing in my surname.

I followed Mathew's advice, and everything is now in order - except my email, which I don't want to change at this stage anyway. When I post comments my name is correctly spelt, when I log on to my.warwick my name is correctly spelt, etc. I won't cry victory too early, but it would seem that I've managed to eradicate the issue about the missing N. Which is really cool!

As a consequence, the name of my blog has now become meaningless and cryptic. Which was actually the way I wanted it to be in the first place... :)

February 13, 2009

The Missing N: Genesis

So, this is it. First blog ever, first post ever. I'm not sure why I'm doing this, what this is going to turn into, or if anyone is ever going to read any of this anyway.

But every journey begins with one step.

A good start would probably be to explain the title: The Missing N. No, first, brief word about myself. My name is Alexander Kermit Nørlund-Matthiessen, Alex Norlund for short. At the time of writing, I'm a first-year Maths undergraduate here at Warwick. There's an explanation as to why my surname is that long, but right now, all you need to know is that it reveals that I'm Danish.

So, The Missing N. It all starts a year and a half ago, when I'm signing up for 5 different English Universities through UCAS. The first step is creating an account online. Sounds be simple enough, and indeed it is, except there's one problem. They ask for my surname, but their software will only allow 18 characters - mind you, this is more than enough for most people. But 'Norlund-Matthiessen' contains exactly 19 characters, so when I reach the final 'e', it won't let me type any more letters. Now, I have several options:

-Drop the hyphen. Problem: this would turn my name into an illegible omelette of seemingly random letters.

-Drop the entire 'Matthiessen' bit. Problem: I might run into trouble later, when proving that I am who I am to some bureaucratic bank or institution, when the name on my ID-card is different from the name I've given.

-Drop a 't' or an 's' in 'Matthiessen'. Problem: that would mean deliberately spelling my name wrong (something which just feels... wrong), and I suspected that it would be spelt wrong for a long time, sonce the mistake would be hard to spot.

-Drop the final 'n'

I go for the final option in the end. It would be the easiest thing to explain and get corrected afterwards. Also, on every other form I have to fill in by hand, I write out my full name, so I am therefore convinced that someone, SOMEONE, will realise that there has been an error, and that '...ssen' is a more common ending for a Scandinavian surname than '..sse'.

Months later, I start receiving replies from the universities. And every single one is calling me 'Norlund-Matthiesse', without the 'n'. I just ignore it, thinking that I'll inform whatever university I end up in of the mistake, once I get there in September. In the end, Warwick University turns out to be the place. However, when signing up online for accomodation, an error message appears, saying that my surname doesn't match any name in their database. Alright, I send them an email explaining the situation, and get a very nice reply with these exact words:

"Thank you for your email. I confirm that you name has been changed on our admissions database and that we have also received your application for accommodation."

Relief. Trouble's over, that's that. No more missing n's. Or so I think...

A few days before the start of term, my certificate, guaranteeing my entry to Warwick University, is sent to me. And guess what? No N. 'Norlund-Matthiesse' again. I send them an email saying that I know it's kind of late, but there is (still) a typo in my name. No reply. Start of term, I go there, and tankfully no-one cares that there's an N missing on my certificate, no-one even notices. Only thing is, their database is still wrong, so anything prepared for me with my name on, is missing an 'n'. My University Card. My University email address. My student records. My pigeonhole.

And more to the point: the url of this blog. Take a look at the location bar. See what I mean?

They still haven't corrected anything. I guess I should go and tell them, but I suspect that part of the problem is that their database, as UCAS', can only hold a maximum of 18 characters. But still, I'd better get it sorted before I get my diploma, in 4 years. Somehow, I have the feeling that this missing N shall follow me a long time...

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