Change my mind on what I expect to get from attending workshops and conferences

May 1, 2018

This week I attended a technical workshop. I always get both intimidated and depressed whenever I attend these kinds of events. The speakers go through their material way too fast for me to understand. They seem so smart, far smarter than I.

But I just had an insight: the purpose of conferences and workshops is not to teach you new stuff, but, rather, to give you flashes of ideas which can then be pursued afterwards. In other words, the purpose is to give you pointers to new ideas. Also, I need to remember that the speaker has been thinking about the subject for a long time, whereas I am hearing it for the first time. The speaker may indeed be very smart, but I shouldn’t make a judgement based on one brief talk.

For some people, conferences and workshops also provide a place to make new connections (meet new people). I suppose that I do make some connections, but being an introvert, I am terribly uncomfortable in such situations and don’t make much in the way of meaningful connections.

I need to change my mind on what I expect to get out of workshops and/or conferences.

People a few moves ahead of everyone else in humanity’s chess game against reality

April 29, 2018

Computer Scientist Scott Aaronson:

There’s plenty of mathematics that strikes me as boutique scholasticism [produced by a small, narrow-minded clique]. But there’s mathematics that looks to me like boutique scholasticism, until [mathematicians] Greg Kuperberg or Ketan Mulmuley explains it to me, and I say: “Ah, so that’s why [mathematicians] David Mumford, Alain Connes, and Edward Witten cared so much about this. Now that I understand it, it seems … almost like an ordinary applied engineering question, albeit one from the year 2030, being studied by people a few moves ahead of everyone else in humanity’s chess game against reality. It will be pretty sweet once the rest of the world catches up to this.”

Perfect practice makes perfect

April 22, 2018

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” However, that is not quite true. If one practices using sloppy form or practice is done mindlessly, then perfection will never be achieved. It is perfect practice that makes perfect.

Look longer and see more

April 14, 2018

Artist David Hockney:

“Most people don’t look much. They scan the ground in front of them so they can move around. I’ve spent my life looking.”

Talking about his portraits: “I’m trying to get the personality. I’m trying to capture something of them.”

The subjects sit in a chair on a raised platform in Hockney’s studio. The sittings last 20 hours over 3 days. “For most people it’s a strange experience to have someone looking, peering at you for such a long time.”  One of his subjects (Stephanie Barron) is interviewed and says this: “I found that it was exhausting. To be the subject of an artist who is concentrating so intently on you can be a bit daunting.”

Comparing the work to photographs, Hockney calls his portraits “20-hour exposures”.

“Photographs have a fraction of a second in them. Drawings and paintings, of course, have more time because it takes time to do it.”

The interviewer asked: “A lot of people think this is an old-fashion idea. Painting is old fashion. Portrait painting is even more old fashion.” Hockney responded: “It’s not really, I know the argument about painting is dead. But painting can’t die because photography is not good enough actually. It’s just a snap. Why not look longer at something? Look longer and maybe see more.

Loss of innocence about Yoga

March 29, 2018

When I was a child, I was enchanted by the stories I heard about Yogis. I heard they possessed supernatural powers. I heard they had such control over their bodies that they could live for several hundred years, or more.

Sadly, I’ve come to realize that the stories I heard were more fiction than fact. For their supposed supernatural powers, well, they were never scientifically proven. And as for longevity, the Yogis that I am aware of had surprisingly short lives:

  • Paramahansa Yogananda only lived to 59 years of age
  • Swami Vishnudevananda only lived to 65 years of age
  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lived to be 90
  • K. S. Iyengar lived to 95
  • Yogi Bhajan lived to 75

That is hardly an impressive longevity list.

Smarter when I have a cold

March 19, 2018

Today I have a cold (maybe the flu, I can never tell the difference).

I am not as restless as I normally am. I am able to stay still for hours at a time and focus with laser-sharpness.

I am definitely smarter when I have a cold. I wonder why?

Banana bread

March 4, 2018

Today I made banana bread. It turned out really well. The recipe that I followed called for 1 stick of butter, I replaced it with ½ cup Avocado oil and ½ ripe avocado. The recipe called for 1 cup sugar, I replaced it with ½ cup sugar and about 10 drops of liquid Stevia (I didn’t count the number of drops, I’m guessing it was around 10 drops). Here’s the recipe:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9-inch x 5-inch loaf pan (I use a cast iron loaf pan) with parchment paper.

Mash 3 medium-sized ripe bananas in a bowl. Add ½ cup Avocado oil, ½ mashed ripe avocado, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 10 drops liquid Stevia, and 2 eggs. Mix.

In another bowl add 2 cups flour, ½ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, and ½ cup chopped walnuts. Mix.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix until everything is just combined, don’t overmix.

Pour into the loaf pan. I baked it for 50 minutes and tested it, it was not nearly done. I baked it another 10 minutes, still not done. Another 7 minutes, finally done. So, I guess that it baked for about 67 minutes.

Take out of oven, remove from pan and let cool down for 20-30 minutes. Eat warm. Yummy!

Making everyday conversation less fuzzy

February 18, 2018

In everyday conversation we use words and phrases that are, at best, ambiguous and vague. Yet, despite the fuzziness we somehow manage to communicate with each other and get things done.

A cool thing about mathematicians is that they work really hard to give words and phrases precise meaning. Today I learned how they give precision to the phrase infinite set. I think it’s mind-blowing.

Consider the set of positive integers, 1, 2, 3, 4, …

Clearly it is an infinite set. But wait! What does “infinite set” mean? That’s one of those ambiguous, vague phrases. So, how to define it? Let’s approach the problem by identifying a characteristic of infinite sets.

Notice that each positive integer can be mapped to an even integer by multiplying the positive integer by 2:









For every positive integer there is a corresponding even integer. There is a 1-for-1 correspondence between the two sets.

Therefore the two sets have the same number of members!

This result is surprising in view of the fact that the set of even integers is a proper subset of the set of positive integers (3, for example, is in the positive set but not the even set). We are accustomed to thinking of a set as being “larger” than any of its proper subsets, but here we are inescapably led to conclude that sometimes a set and a proper subset of that set may have the same number of members.

That is really unusual behavior!

When we examine the sets that exhibit this unusual behavior, we find that they are just the ones that we would intuitively call infinite.

DEFINITION: A set is infinite if and only if it is equivalent to a proper subset of itself.



A New Goal: Aim to Be Less Wrong

February 16, 2018

At a conference last week, I received an interesting piece of advice:

“Assume you are wrong.”

The advice came from Brian Nosek, a fellow psychology professor and the executive director of the Center for Open Science. Nosek wasn’t objecting to any particular claim I’d made — he was offering a strategy for pursuing better science, and for encouraging others to do the same.

When Nosek recommended that I and other scientists assume that we are wrong, he was sharing a strategy that he’s employed in his own lab — a strategy for changing the way we offer and respond to critique.

Assuming you are right might be a motivating force, sustaining the enormous effort that conducting scientific work requires. But it also makes it easy to construe criticisms as personal attacks, and for scientific arguments to devolve into personal battles. Beginning, instead, from the assumption you are wrong, a criticism is easier to construe as a helpful pointer, a constructive suggestion for how to be less wrong — a goal that your critic presumably shares.

With my mind I shall heal my body

February 6, 2018

When I was growing up my parents didn’t have money. When one of us kids got injured there wasn’t the option of going to a physical therapist or a massage therapist or a chiropractor or an acupuncturist. I read a lot of books on the power of the mind, so when I got injured I used my mind to heal myself. And it worked. I successfully healed myself of a heart murmur. When I was young, my mind was powerful and strong.

Now that I am an adult, I can afford to hire physical therapists and massage therapists and chiropractors and acupuncturists. 3 months ago, I injured my shoulder. Since then I’ve undergone physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. I’ve given them a lot of my money and time. The pain in my shoulder remains. Recently I remembered how, as a child, I used my mind to heal myself. Sadly, I’ve come to realize that my mind has become weak in terms of its power to heal myself. But, I am determined, my mind will be powerful again! Deep inside, I know how to heal my shoulder – do the deep relaxation that I used to do as a child. I have started doing this and my shoulder is already improving.