The web bad/People using it bad.
19 February 2018 | 4:08 am

I was going to write a post about how hard it was to find what grades mean at different schools (e.g., at UMCP W (for withdraw) means the student dropped the course, but at UT Austin its Q (for Quit?)) but then I found that my Googling

Name of school grade key

I could find it.  Okay, so grade keys are not that hard to find.


However, course descriptions are. Both questions (what grades mean and course desc) came up when I do admissions for my REU program.  If a student has a course in Discrete Mathematics that could mean a course where you learn how to prove simple things OR it could mean a course where you proof  the graph minor theorem (actually I doubt that) or something in between. Similar for Principles of Programming languages and Software Engineering in that they could mean a variety of things. I think math and physics are more standardized, but even there you have the problem that Advanced calc could be either multivar or a course with proofs or something else. There is a great related XKCD here.


Fellow blogger Scott Aaronson recently posted about Vivek Wadhwa's Washington post column on quantum computing (the post is here) The article by Vivek told the tired and utterly false story that QC can be used to solve TSP by looking at all possibilities. Should Vivik have known better by looking at the web? At first I thought YES he should know better. But then I thought -- I should try to see what he might have done. Maybe the web has this one wrong. In fact, some of my students Iwho, I should add, are not writing articles on QC for the Washington Post)  tell me that they don't need to learn the proof of the Cook-Levin theorem since Quantum Computers can solve SAT anyway.  So I decided to pretend I didn't know anything about QC and went to the web to see what I could find.  First stop: Wikipedia. I found the following quote in the QC article:

BQP is suspected  to be disjoint from NP-complete and  a strict superset of P though this is not known.

So, the first place I look I find that BQP is suspected to NOT solve SAT or TSP or... Realize that Wikipedia is not some obscure source of  hidden knowledge. It is literally the first place one would look.  Hence, no excuse, even if other experts told him otherwise (which seems to be the case, though `experts'  should be in quotes) the Wikipedia quote should at least give pause.

So even when Wikipedia gives the right information, not everyone looks there.

Corporate Education
15 February 2018 | 1:09 pm

First of all read the #metoo testimonial going around the TCS blogosphere. Our field is not immune.

Last Sunday Frank Bruni wrote an op-ed column Corporations will Inherit the Earth, an article on how corporations have taken on what governments used to do. Quite a bit is focused on education.
The nimbleness of corporations gives them an edge over hoary, complacent institutions, including those in higher education...In an effort to make sure that employees have up-to-the-minute technical skills--or are simply adept at critical thinking and creative problem solving -- more companies have developed academies of their own. That's likely to accelerate. "I think enterprises like Amazon and Google are going to build universities that teach coding and things the nation needs" said Margaret Spellings, former education secretary and current president of the University of North Carolina system.
Already in the universities we've seen a move towards more majors and minors in STEM and computer science in particular. The changing corporate workplace has already changed academia, putting more an emphasis on technical areas and less on the liberal arts. Will companies though take the next step, running their own schools that focus on the needs of industry? If we see continued decreased government funding for universities and academic research, we may end up with a handful of rich universities and the rest of the population getting education on the job, a future that would be a loss for us all.

A ``new'' ``application'' of Ramsey Theory/A Truly ``bad'' math song
10 February 2018 | 3:14 pm

Ian Parberry once told me (though I doubt he originated it- The first link I found says it was Mark Twain)

to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Indeed. Since I am teaching a grad course Ramsey theory and its ``Applications'' (I got 24 students, which is more than I thought I would- including around 10 ugrads who are taking it because `all the cool kids are taking it' ) I have been taking the hammer of Ramsey Theory and looking for nails to apply it to. (I'm also using a webiste I found of applications of Ramsey Theory here and an survey article on applications of Ramsey here.)

Thinking about the infinite Ramsey Theorem I came up with this ``application'' :

If p1, p2, p3, ... is an infinite sequence of points in Rn then there exists a subsequence q1, q2,q3,... such that for each coordinate 1 ≤ i ≤ n the projection onto that coordinate is either (a) strictly incresing, (b) strictly decreasing, or (c) constant.

Proof:  For i< j color (i,j) with one of 3^n colors - indicating for each coordinate i if the ith projection is increaing, decreasing, or constant. The infinite homog set gives you the sequence.

End of Proof

One can also proof this from the Bolzano-Weierstrass  theorem (an infinite bounded sequence of points in Rn has a convergent subsequence). We leave that proof to the reader; however, the proof of BW looks like the proof of the infinite Ramsey Theorem, so I'm not sure if my proof is new or not.

I wanted to look into the BW theorem so I googled "Bolzano-Weierstrass"  I think Google knows me better than I know myself since the second hit was which is a Rap Song about the BW theorem (I am a fan of novelty songs, and of math, so does it follow I am a fan of Math Novelty songs. Not sure if its follows, but I AM!)

One of the problems on the HW was BW-rap- good, bad, or really bad?

Answers were:

1) Made my ears bleed

2) Lyrics good, singing really bad

3) So bad its good

4) No, just bad.

I'm in the Lyrics good/singing is `so bad its good' camp. The class was okay with the lyrics, but mostly thought it was so bad its... bad. One person thought it was awesome!

I would like to see  real rapper perform  it on you tube. I doubt I will. Oh well.

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