Saturday, September 13, 2014

Renewal of faith

The Internet has been more a source of chagrin than otherwise, of late. There are many reasons for this which we will elucidate coherently, at some point. As one ponders the changes over the past couple of decades, not all of the change has been progressive .
    To wit, we have legions of people already hooked with more clambering to join in the frey. What frey? Being tethered to masters (real and virtual) through a so-called "smart" device that can dumb one down considerably, but not by necessity (more below). 
    Bloomberg, this week, had an article about so-called, again, patent trolls who many want to hate. Yet, in one case, the leaders of the firm are quite technical and have related ambitions. They are not of the type who claim (I almost barfed): the cloud is a marketing space. No, one of these guys says that he is trying to do (as in, solve a problem with and produce) something that people want (as in, pay for and use) to use (again, more below).
Now, to the point. Below is a sequence that is chronological but which, as well, follows a logical progression. We are talking a little bit of information here that will be expanded upon, in time.

It was while visiting the TED site that I saw a page related to on-line courses. Not a new subject to me (see comment about Prof Osgood's take on Fourier's work). In fact, that such material is available, on the web (so far, I have dabbled with courses at Stanford, Harvard, and MIT - for one thing, the difference in culture is obvious, yet the underlying reality being taught is ONE - ah, yes -- of course, there have been other courses sampled, such as those that are based elsewhere, say, the U.K.), counters (can help counter), a little, the rest of the maniacal collective (aggregated idiocy). What I branched to, from TED, was a nice list of course options. We'll start there and continue in a bulleted fashion.
  • - Essentially, the sequence started with the openculture site. The graphic shows the list (shown here in that websites change, so we need a snap as of now). Notice the inclusiveness of the list, plus the mention of MOOC. Too, given that the autodidact's view is going to be the most important in many situations, that these things are accessible can calm things. 
  • - So, picking Math, we get this list of courses which is quite extensive. So, I picked Diff Eqs with Arthur Mattuck at MIT (Math 18.03). As with most courses, there are materials provided to the student that the web watcher does not typically have access to. In the case of this course, the students were allowed to use a program. The Prof mentions it several times in Lecture 1. 
  • - In Lecture 2, near the end (46:59), the Prof says that he wants to talk pitfalls (ah, my favorite subject - oops). He mentions two (this list I will enumerate, fully and completely, at some point). One of these the students are to work out. For the other he uses a particular equation and discusses the issues graphically (more below). He tells the students that the exercise won't cause them grief. But, the understanding that might come from doing the exercise will destroy their faith in the methods (I like that - there is too much love of abstraction and too many unwarranted pursuits for applying such; yes, big daddy data is a real big problem).  
  • - Later, I thought that I would see what the modern solvers do with y' = y^2 which the Prof says illustrates one of the pitfalls. Of course, Google was the starting point (could have been Bing or a number of others). But, an old friendly site pops up. Whose? Wolfram's. The company has been doing computational mathematics for a long while now (pre web). Too, the Alpha system is for knowledge searches. But, I got inspired on looking at their historical view starting at 20,000 BC. Naturally, there is something for recent advances with Wolfram on the list. But, note that the theme is computable knowledge (hence our friend Leonhard Euler is skipped over). BTW, the whole subject of computability will be coming back to fore.    
  • - So, let us go to Alpha: As one expects, there is an place to make a query. Otherwise, the interface has nothing that is noisy. All buttons that go away from this page are minimized (there if you want them, otherwise not intrusive). 
  • - Now, typing in y'=y^2 brings up a nice response. If you try other examples, you will see that the response can be quite lengthy. But, it returns quickly (letting you know if there will be more information coming later - after computing continues). Too, there are links to related material. 
  • - One final thing. Some links go to another Wolfram effort, MathWorld, which is a very extensive encyclopedia of mathematics started (and maintained) by Eric Weisstein (it is so good to see this type of effort).
Timeline of Systematic Data and
the Development of Computable Knowledge
This little sequence of events ending with Wolfram was so refreshing that it has motivated several things that will be added to my todo list. You see, news reports of Apple's little shindig last week talked swagger. Anyone who has bumped against hard problems knows that swagger does not bring anything to the table.

I have been following Wolfram's work (no swagger there), albeit from a distance, since the beginning (my life work has had computational mathematics at its core - see Truth Engineering, for one). Yes, swagger leads to failure and oops (ah, so many ways to address this).

However, even engineers can be tempted. Look back at the beginning of this blog, for instance. As one mathematician said: they just go by the book (nice, if the ground work was done well by the math and science types - otherwise, problematic).

As well, though, the main message is that there is no excuse to not know something if it is important to you and your life. That is, having a grasp of things of a knowledge basis (as opposed to the gossip-laden worlds that we see so much energy put into) is essential to coping with the current issues, such as that which ensues from complexity.

And, you know, folks, those who are the supposed best are not of any better capability, in this sense, than any other thoughtful, capable human. Perhaps, MOOC can help balance some of those issues related to the age-old problems of elitism (lots more on this).

Remarks:  Modified: 09/17/2014

09/13/2014 -- Seeing those who are tethered, I have to tell a story: supposedly, Newton was so involved in his thoughts that he did not eat his meal after it had been served. Eventually, his meal companion ate Isaac's food. At some point, Isaac noticed that his food was gone and mentioned that he must have eaten. ... Those with their nose to the devices are posturing in real life (think Rodin) as if their little brains are actively pursuing universals (when they are actually doing what? Playing a game, watching some video - tv included, reading some trashy novel, ... wait, it's elitistic to even think such thoughts). Like mentioned before, the management class started this with their love of the mobile (won't name the name) as indicative of their stature and status (tetheredness, 24/7).

09/13/2014 -- Have to mention Cyc and Doug Lenat. Alpha did not know the former; it knew the latter. ... Alpha's tie to equational parsing and processing is tremendously useful for those who are looking for such type of support.

09/16/2014 -- Is math discovered or not? Beside the quasi-empirical issues, we'll weigh in, soon (truth engineering).

09/17/2014 -- In a recent WSJ (letters to the editor), the writer rues that "smart" device tethering of a human's mind does contribute to shallowness. However, people were shallow before these mobile things came on the scene. What is new is that shallowness can now be broadcast far beyond what was the case before the new times. ... Message heard: the fact of the "smart" device is not the cause of (but, it is a contributor to) lack of depth (discussion: why is this important?).