Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Mathematical Century

Note: I shall devote this entire post to Mathematics.

I have been reading a book - "The Mathematical Century: The 30 Greatest Problems of the Last 100 Years", written by Italian mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi. The one I have been reading is a translated version (from Italian to English). The Mathematical Century provides interesting insight into the development and history of Mathematics in the past decade. By looking at some of the most famous problems in mathematics (eg Fermat's last theorem, Abel's Impossibility Theorem), Piergiorgio Odifreddi traces the development of mathematics since ancient times, from the days of the Geeks, to Pythagoreas and then to modern day mathematics, the progress of which has been largely influenced by Hilbert's problems and perhaps the unification of which by the Bourbaki group.

The book is written in prose-style, free of technical details (this refers to equations, symbols, but does not refer to mathematical terms). (However, some of the ideas presented are rather abstract.) Odifreddi starts by discussing the four main philosophical foundations of mathematics in the 1900s, mainly - Sets (ZFC, etc), Structures, Categories and Functions.

While I admit that I could only understand less than 40% of what was written in the book, the book provided insightful breadth, (rather than depth). Indeed, modern day mathematics is no longer limited to abstract algebra or topology. With the birth of the PC, computer-assisted proofs have become acceptable (eg the Four Colour Theorem) and the P vs NP complexity problem is indisputably one of the most open problem in computer science and mathematics.

Overall, Odifreddi offers a sagacious bird's eye view on mathematics from the perspective of mathematical problems.

Anyone looking forward to appreciating/understanding mathematics should also read A Mathematician's Apology (PDF), an essay written by G. H. Hardy in 1940. It is an essay that is not only reflective, but personal as well. In it, Hardy made one of his most famous observations:
No mathematician should ever allow himself to forget that mathematics, more than any other art or science, is a young man's game.
While one may agree or disagree with the above statement, the essay certainly proffers intriguing views.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Segmentation Fault!

Fortunately, this post is not about the dreaded segmentation fault that many C programmers will be familiar with. It is instead about the 'dead' Segfault website. Segfault used to be a popular humor website which posted fake news reports on hacker-related topics on a near-daily basis.

Some examples will suffice to show what I mean...
For the first time in recent memory, someone actually clicked an Internet banner ad. This refutes a previous experiment, in which one thousand monkeys were placed in a room for a year with one thousand Internet-connected computers. None of the monkeys clicked a banner ad (one did write a Shakespearean play, however). (See Infinite monkey theorem)


Assembly: You crash the OS and overwrite the root disk. The system administrator arrives and shoots you in the foot. After a moment of contemplation, the administrator shoots himself in the foot and then hops around the room rabidly shooting at everyone in sight.

MICROSOFT C++ w/ WINDOWS SDK: You write about 100 lines of code to print "Hello, world!" in a dialogue box, only to have a UAE pop up when you click on OK. This shuts down the program manager, leaving you nothing but a screensaver. You then fly to Washington and shoot Bill Gates in the foot.

sh,csh,etc: You can't remember the syntax for anything, so you spend five hours reading man pages before giving up. You then shoot the computer and switch to C.

(more here)

So check out the archived Segfault website for a good laugh.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spell Checker for Windows Live Messenger

Inspired by Aspell's integration in Pidgin, I have finally integrated Aspell into Windows Live Messenger. The script, using Messenger Live! Plus, can be download from the Messenger Plus website. I have "aptly" called this script aSpellChecker (more information here).


By the way, this is the 400th post.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Flickr Photo of the Day: On the 1st of November

The Augur (pl: augures) was a priest and official in the classical world, especially ancient Rome. His main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the flight of the birds (flying in groups/alone, what noises they make as they fly, direction of flight and what kind of birds they are), known as "taking the auspices." The ceremony and function of the augur was central to any major undertaking in Roman society--public or private--including matters of war, commerce, and religion.

(from Wikipedia)
On the 1st of November, originally uploaded by xylonets is dead

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dreamhost Sucks?

It seems official - Dreamhost, the once popular web hosting service which offers relatively cheap hosting for a ton of features, sucks. Period. Indeed, a slew of articles on the blogosphere have confirmed this.
Sorry, guys, but your service is simply terrible.
Today, there were just 83.11% of uptime (3h23min offline until now!) - data obtained from
Since 4/9, there were just one day with 100% uptime.
In the sum of last ten days, I just had more than 9 hours of downtime (while my other servers had no more than 15 minutes).
Every day I see server problems in my server.
That is unacceptable!!!
Of course, it seems that their service has more or less reached tipping point. No doubt this is a quality vs quantity issue.

Going on to web server trends, it appears disturbing that the Apache market share is shrinking.
The newest Netcraft Web server survey shows again a shrinking of Apaches market share. It is now at 56%, followed by Microsoft with more then 30%.
A quick check at the Netcraft Web Server survey for May 2007 confirmed this:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Digging our Freedom

In a tour de force by the Digg community, the Digg team was forced to back down and stop deleting posts regarding to a possibly "illegal" decryption key for HD DVDs. When the Digg team deleted several stories regarding the decryption key and banned several users involved, a furore was created and what ensued was one of the most unprecedented in Internet history. The Digg community responded with overwhelming force and users took full control of the site by making sure that the enter Digg front page was posted with news of the decryption key.

Indeed, technology has democratised information.

Kevin Rose, Digg founder, gave his view on Digg the Blog:
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
In fact, what is even more interesting is that the supposed HD-DVD unlocking key is for Linux only.

Today's incident has shown the true power of the community. While the wisdom of the crowd may not be always right, at least freedom of speech was preserved. The particular act of making the decryption key free, perhaps 'free as in freedom', by a flourishing online community, has demonstrated the Internet as a platform for the plurality of diverse sentiments and is symbolic of a powerful pillar of liberal order.

This, is certainly a day to remember.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Pidgin 2.0.0beta7 (formerly Gaim) was released recently. An artist associated with the Tango project, Hylke Bons, was hired to do a complete graphical overhaul of the UI, and a logo designer was also hired to create a new Pidgin logo. This has resulted in a much better visual interface for Pidgin.