Thursday, January 29, 2009

On phase-transition suspensions

Dear Slush,

I look on you, lying in the street, cold and obscenely fluid. I look on you thus, and think to myself "in the beginning, it was not so". Once you were fair and care-free, innocent and pure; now you have been stained with the grime underfoot, the soot of our automobiles and industrial transport. You, who have fallen not in the fields, not on the good earth, but in the road, you have been shoved together indiscriminately, you have been scraped apart without mercy, you have been poisoned with halides and alkali and akalines, in the hopes that your very constitution will be undone.

I don't know what to think.

A pedestrian

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Short on inspiration

Dear Blogosphere,

You've suffered it, too. Yes, you have. What else are we supposed to do? I'm just annoyed I shan't feel right using this specific conceit again for some time.

A man with nothing to say
echo <<eof >>/dev/null
Oooh! Mark Shea has posted a nifty poignant poem by one of his readers. Some handy exegesis is given in the comments that there follow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An apeal for clarity

Dear Fellow Mathematicians

Letters make Lousy Names For Theories! I mean, no-one goes around talking about "H-theory", it's Homology and Homological Algebra; analysis isn't "ε-δ-theory" even if within analysis "ε-δ-arguments" are a hugely fundamental skill to develop.

So, then, why have we got "q-deformation", "K-theory", or "π-categories", or "L-series"? (Unless π is some special value of n?) For one thing, when you hear it, how do you know that "q-deformation" isn't Q-deformation? Sure, "λ-calculus" is pretty special, but---accepting the Church-Turing [hypo]thesis---you might also call it "recursion".

On the one hand, "q" "K" "π" "L" and "λ" don't actually convey anything about what they signify. Within the cultures that give rise to these names, "q" is a number which might be prime, or might be close to zero, or close to 1; K is a functor to graded modules; "λ" is a piece of syntax, and could formally be replaced by "[" without loss of legibility. I don't even know what "L" and "π" are; though I do know many things that get called "L-series", and have my own ideas about what common ground they inhabit. And that brings up another thing: when the name for a province of research is an "in"-joke or otherwise obscure reference, it makes it intimidating for neighbors to take an interest in what you're really studying, and it's not clear to me that this helps you write grant proposals. Short, cultural nicknames are suitable for those intimately familiar with the subject; there should be better language for talking with foreigners.

On the other hand, there just AREN'T enough letters to reserve them for broad concepts at whim or out of laziness. So, if you're on the cusp of formalizing a grand new scheme of gadgets or tying together some ring of concepts, try to at least give them a decent, pronounceable, memorable name? It'll be very confusing when we have to re-name half of our things four decades from now, so be considerate.

From a crowded address space

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's about 1:30AM in Jerusalem

Dear Judah,

My parents were not yet born, I do not myself remember, but today I will remember the fact that, in so brief a time --- less than a generation --- millions, generations, were quietly hidden from view, and then packed up and shipped away, and then ever so stupidly slaughtered. Today I will remember that most of these were marked by claiming the inheritance of God's Chosen People, though many others were those who would claim no land as their own, or who suffered some visible illness, or who would oppose the quiet hiding and packing-up and slaughter.

O wounded and broken People, what must we do to heal your hurts, to bind up your wounds? At least, I will remember them.

Tears cannot express

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well worth a look

echo \
"Via the Whapster Drew, and well worth the five minutes, a beautiful exposition of contemplative life" \
> /dev/null

Just follow the link

Your Holiness,

What a joy to hear of our beloved brethren in the Eastern Churches!

But I want to hear more of your impromptu speaking, too! I seem to recall that you are very good at Quod Libet.

A very small child

Friday, January 23, 2009

What's wrong with the world?

Dr. Praetorius,

While the specifics of your example are perhaps less than generally transposable, I wonder if we oughtn't to haul you out of retirement and let the world hear more Oxford drinking songs, more tales of centrifugal force and skimming cream off of milk, more about little frogs that got mixed up, more about train schedules and whistles and "beep!" signals.

Most especially, the world needs more people of your readiness to forgive past foolishness, to accept and receive goodwill, and to really love even strangers unconditionally. For all such examples we indeed still have Him to whom none are strangers, but as He has cooperated with His Father to call and uphold even poor sinners like us finally persevering in goodness, so it cannot but help to have more examples such as yours.

Rx Sem Telemann

Thursday, January 22, 2009

O distant unknown friend!

Dear Mysterious Muse,

Wither wanderest thou between East and World's West?
From fell forests tall to fair flaxen fields,
Beneath North's dark Night, or Namib's Noon-Sun?
O'er Winter's white covers may you walk for a while.
For a time mayst thou tarry, yet I'll talk to thee still,
Awaiting in patience thou arise and return
Thy home --- this I know --- thou shalt not leave forever.

Watching the door

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I can hardly contain myself

Dear Plastic Bags of the World,

It's really creepy, you know? The way I can't find you when I need to take out the garbage, but the rest of the time you're getting in the way so awkwardly! It's as though you were lying in wait for my panic unto tidiness, and cleverly zip out of sight. What's up with that??? eh? I mean, you're just organic chemistry, not biology. For how long are we to put up with these things?

A dissatisfied customer

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In my own audacity

Dear Mr. President,

My congratulations to you. I have my hopes, even high hopes, for your term in office, and for the Republic in your care during that time. They are --- as it happens --- exactly the same hopes I have for every president, king, or revered chief, and for every Republic, Kingdom, or peopled wilderness. They are mostly not the hopes of the many who together have appointed you; naturally, you must think my hopes quite unrealistic. They may even be repugnant to you; but wherever our hopes coincide I hope above all that you do not void whatever goodness be in your goals through seeking it by ways reprehensible. The content of our character, after all, is reflected not only in what we do, but how we do it.

God's blessings be on you and all in your protection,

A foreigner in a world made small

Monday, January 19, 2009

Two children

Dear Gaza-Hamas,

You have become like the child who repeatedly punches his brother saying "stop punching yourself", meaning "go away", meaning "die". But haven't really strength to kill him, and he won't go away merely because you punch him.

Dear Israel,

You have become like the child who, so provoked, grabs a kitchen knife and cuts off his brother's fingers. You haven't prevented him punching you again, and you haven't enticed him into stopping. You maybe have strength to kill him, but you shouldn't want to.

Dear Abstractions both,

Grow up, please? Honestly. Set a better example for your neighbours.

Abraham's 7th cousin, 42 and 42 and 42 times removed

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Allow me to introduce

Dear Internet,

Like many other real people, I have for some time been fascinated by all the nifty information you seem to have collected, and freely dispose amongst the terminals of the world. Forgive me if I say it has, from time to time, been overwhelming! However, the time has come, I think, when I must introduce myself. Alas, this is somewhat difficult: I'm not quite sure I'm actually here. More precisely, I'm not quite sure where I am. Even more precisely, where are YOU? And how did you get into my house?

A concerned reader