Monday, December 25, 2006

End of FoxTrot Dailies

Nooooo! Last week of Foxtrot dailies :-(

Starting from Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006, we'll only have the Sunday Foxtrot comics to look forward to.

Hopefully, the last few dailies will be memorable!

-- Arkajit

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Yes!!! The moment we've all been waiting for... the title for Harry Potter 7. While there's no known release date yet, speculation over at Mugglenet is that a 2007 release date is likely.

Well, after 17 months of speculation (since HBP came out in July 2005) over Book 7, we finally have a title to further fuel the theories.

An interesting note, googling "The Deathly Hallows" at around 9 p.m. PST tonight still yields no Harry Potter related hits at all! (Only exception is the lone google news link at the top to a news article about the book's impact on the market which is not really a true search hit.) Check out the top five hits below, all regarding All Hallow's Eve or Halloween.

Wonder how long that will last before the page fills up with nothing but Harry-Potter related sites?

But still it echoes what I first thought about when I heard the title - Halloween. After all, it's such a crucial date in the HP books, the most memorable being Halloween 1981 when Lily and James Potter were murdered by Lord Voldemort, the day before the story picks up in Sorcerer's Stone.

First, though we must determine if Deathly Hallows is referring to a place, a time or date - what exactly? I'm inclined toward thinking that its a place - perhaps the location of the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. I'd also think that if it is a place, it has some special historical significance for Harry. Could the story possibly end where it began, at Godric's Hollow? After all Hollow, Hallow - sounds similar.

And why "Deathly" rather than "Deadly"? I'm not sure if that's more common in Britain, but it seems to me "deadly" is the more commonly used term. This further leads me to think that it's a proper noun as in the name of a place.

Also since hallow means to consecrate or make holy, there's probably something sacred about this place. Perhaps even a deeper significance for all of magic, maybe the source of all magical power in the world or something crazy like that.

Ok, let me just end by making a list of a few questions that I would like resolved by the end of the series: (I tried to restrict myself to just the main burning questions. Of course, there are lot's of other interesting questions as well, but I have to wonder how much J.K.R. will leave open at the end.)
  • Peter Pettigrew: How did he turn to the Dark Side? Life debt to Harry?
  • Severus Snape: The most complex character in the series - What's his game? Which side?
  • Generally more Marauders Era backstory - maybe it will help in the horcrux hunt...
  • The Veil: I've got to believe that we're going to see it play a role again. anyone? (actually surprised that no one has taken that domain name) :)
  • Harry: Horcrux or Not? Will he survive?
  • Shipping: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione ?- had to add that in just for completeness' sake ;P
Can't wait!!

-- Arkajit

P.S. Oh, I just thought about what the old title may have been. Some time back, J.K. Rowling had said that she had come up with a new title that was a vowel and two consonants ahead of her current title. Well what if the original title was "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hall"? Then adding a vowel, 'o', and two consonants 'w', 's' gives "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"! If this is true, then the theory that this is a place seems even more plausible.

Monday, December 18, 2006

You Are...

...Time's Person of the Year!

Yes, you, me, everyone. Did we call it or what? Keep up the blogging, podcasting, web 2.0 spirit!

-- Arkajit

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sci-Fi Spaceship Lengths

Ever wondered how long Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer The Executor is? Almost 20 km! Compare the lengths of spaceships across many different sci-fi series at Starship Dimensions.

Compared to The Executor, most of the other ships don't even match up. The rod-like spaceship Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey is only about 113 m in length. The regular imperial star destroyers are only about 2 km in length, though. The size disparity is clear in the picture.

And of course, if you remember the scene from the ROTJ where Admiral Ackbar says to "concentrate all fire-power on that super star-destroyer" before The Executor crashes into Death Star II, it's no surprise that the spacestation could contain a few hundred thousand super start destroyers.

I was, howewer, surprised to find out that the Death Star II had a radius about five times that of the first Death Star. While the original Death Star had an impressive radius of 160 km, the Death Star II trumps that with a whopping 800 km radius! Incidentally, that's only slightly short of the radius of Pluto which is 1180 km. And considering that there are several well-known moons in our solar system that are smaller than the first Death Star, Han Solo's characterization of it as "a small moon" seems justified as well.

- Arkajit

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Math and Happiness

There was an article on CNN today about a study done that relates students' confidence and happiness to their success in math.

On the surface, I was surprised by their findings that less happy students with lower confidence were better math students; conversely "confident students do worse in math". At the very least, they were contrary to my experiences, and I would have liked to see some of the actual analysis rather than the simple report of the raw data.

But I do see some possible ways to reconcile these results. From my own background, I can distinctly recall three major phases (thus far) in my mathematics education.

In the first phase - think back to your first contact with math :) - it is still a very novel thing, pretty cool and different from most other subjects you're used to, still very puzzle-like and playful. It's like learning a new language - at the beginning the new words and phrases are foreign, mysterious - you're fairly engaged.

The second phase is the downer. It involves much more rote computations and you start to get bored, frustrated, unhappy. Keeping with the learning a new language analogy, I liken this phase to learning the "grammar". Basically, this is where you pick up many of the fundamental computational tools you'll need in more advanced mathematics.

The third (final ?) phase, for me, began at the moment when I started higher mathematics and the now ingrained tools were applied in various contexts: pure mathematics, physics, engineering, computer science, etc... For example, I found myself drawn to the beauty and elegance of proofs, the synthesis of topics I've learned previously, and the amazing satisfaction of finally solving the problem. In this respect, this phase is very much like the first phase again where it becomes much more enjoyable again. In the language analogy, it's like finally being able to talk and use the language for extended periods of time - that's when the true beauty comes out.

Of course, I'm still very much in the middle of my mathematical journey and there may be more phases. Also, the phases sometimes tend to oscillate :P

So, anyway I think this is a possible confounding variable that needs to be considered when analyzing the results of the study correlating success in math and student happiness. For example, I can certainly relate to the phase two feeling of being very proficient at math from a pure computational standpoint yet not being very satisfied with the overall experience. On the flip side, proficiency with these tools, like a firm grasp of grammar in English, is essential to fully appreciate the language of mathematics. But in the end, the ability to imagine and play are just as vital for happiness in mathematics as in other fields.

-- Arkajit

Thursday, October 05, 2006

More Products from Google Labs

New product of Google Labs is out today: Google Code Search! I just started experimenting with it and it looks like it could be quite useful. It indexes many open source code projects and allows for regexp pattern matching (what else?). This is great! Now it's easy to find all the examples I need to learn how to use new functions or features. One thing I would have liked to see was a searchable index of library functions from popular languages, such as C, C++, Java, etc... It would be really nice to have that all in one place.

Incidentally, I also started using the new Google Reader, another product of the Google labs, last weekend. It is now a permant fixture on my home page - I actually don't even have to visit the actual Google reader site that often unless I want to add or change feeds. All the snippets appear right on my home page!

For now, I can only wonder what will come out of the labs next?

-- Arkajit

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Space Blogging

Blogging has broken new frontiers: Blogs in Space! Ansani, the Iranian space tourist, begins her blog "A long, long time ago in a country far, far away ...". Awesome Star Wars reference!

As far as I know, there haven't been similar blogging milestones from other extreme parts of the world. So here are some new challenges for the blogging community:
  • Blogging From Under the Sea
  • Blogging From Atop the Summit of Mt. Everest
  • Blogging From the Moon
  • Blogging From Middle Earth
  • Blogging From Hogwarts
  • Blogging From Tatooine
So maybe those last three are best left to fantasy (I can just imagine Hermione saying "Honestly, are you ever going to read Hogwarts, A History. All those Muggle substitutes for magic don't work around Hogwarts!") :P .

But at least there could be records for highest/lowest elevation blogging, etc... It would be interesting to see how it would turn out. Though I'm not sure how feasible it is currently :)

-- Arkajit

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Man Who Saved The World

Today is the 23rd anniversay of the day Stanislav Petrov a USSR colonel averted a potential nuclear disaster by refusing to believe computer warnings that the US had launched a missile attack against the Soviet Union. His judgement to disregard the warnings as false proved sound; the warnings were in erorr. But had Petrov acted on the warnings and notified his superiors, it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the anxious Soviet command would have launched a full "retaliatory" counterattack and ensuring MAD.

Anyway when I first heard this story, my first reaction was that it seemed that it was straight out of War Games or any other Cold War era film built around the nuclear war hype. Another more recent movie that came to mind was Denzel Washington's Crimson Tide. I was shocked. These scenarios which sound so fantastical and hilarious when you're watching a movie were appallingly real. What was most disturbing was the eery similarity between reality and fantasy. Those who have watched War Games will remember that the plot also centered around a human decision to not accept a computer warning which was later shown to be in error.

Petrov's story was only declassified eight years ago and it is now set to appear in a documentary: "The Red Button & The Man Who Saved the World". Here's to Petrov and the hope that our luck will hold out.

-- Arkajit

Friday, September 08, 2006

Thirteen Digit ISBN

The days of the 10 digit ISBN are winding down! Starting 1/1/2007, is ISBN-13. Luckily the new ISBN system has been made backwards compatible with the old one. It seems there was always a 3-digit EAN code prefix which was always 978. Now, they're just introducing another series 979. Since the last digit in the ISBN is just a check digit, that really only gives 1 billion extra ISBN numbers. Which makes me wonder, how long can the 13 digit ISBN last before it is exhausted as well? 2100? 3000? Will we still be relying on books at that time or will all our data have become digitized and books obsolete? Or will there be some new medium by then? Just some interesting questions to ponder.

On a side note, the method of computing the check digit of the ISBN is quite interesting as well. For the 10-digit ISBN, the check digit has to be chosen such that the dot product of the vector [1..10] with the 10-digit vector representation of the ISBN (including the check digit as the first entry) should be congruent to zero modulo 11! If the check digit has to be 10, the letter X is used as the digit. Now obviously the check digit is not foolproof, but since 11 is prime, it does a pretty good job. So I wonder if for ISBN-13, the check digit will be computed modulo 13+1=14 or 13, also prime. I'm inclined to suspect that it would use modulo 13.

Anyway, this leads me to my idea for an ISBN game. So one person picks a favorite book and then finds its ISBN. He gives the other person the ISBN without the check digit and he has to go and figure out what the book is. Right now the game is fairly trivial, but you can probably add some extra steps along the way to add to the challenge. Maybe the book title can be part of a clue for a larger puzzle and maybe one other digit (besides the check digit) could be hidden as well. That at least expands the number of possible matching ISBNs - there could be other hints given to narrow down the choice. I'll have to try this sometime :)

-- Arkajit

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Beginning of a Journey

According to Wikipedia, "the term weblog was coined by Jon Barger on December 17, 1997". The more familiar shortened form of "blog" didn't get coined until around 1999. So why did I decide to start my own blog now after nearly a decade?

I admit, though I'd heard of the concept fairly early, I didn't find it too appealing.
I did experiment with running several group blogs, but none for my own personal use. I was fine with reading other people's blogs, but I never really had much of a desire to create my own. Why someone would want to share their entire life's story on the web was unfathomable to me.

That was until now.

After following quite a few blogs for a long time, I began to realize the benefits of publishing my own blog. First, it is strangely liberating to be able to write about whatever you want. Second, it is an easy way to gain perspective and defragment your mind. Finally, it creates a unique digital footprint for posterity's sake.

For most veteran bloggers, that's probably no epiphany. But now, I'm definitely ready to take the plunge and overcome my aversion to blogging. I'm giving it a shot. Web 2.0 is here - I might as well embrace it.

About the blog name: Lord of the Rings fans probably already realize the reference. But, yes it is a reference to the one ring to rule them all. Perhaps it sheds some light on one of my favorite books.

-- Arkajit