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Category: stories

diy psychoanalysis

After several years of total inactivity in the DIY-sector I managed to do the following over the week-end :

  • Replace two bedroom reading lamps (at least two years overdue). We had a two-lamps-in-one IKEA thing but ThePartner’s side broke off two years ago and mine followed a year later. Since then one lamp hung in very unstable equilibrium and in the end the only way to prevent nightly accidents was to position it vertically

  • Fix the halogen spots in the kitchen (at least one year overdue). Two years ago one half of the spots went dead because the transfo overheated. I spend a week trying to find the (totally unreachable) place where it was hidden by the installers, so I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat when the second half went dead last year. Yesterday, after replacing the transfo it became clear that this time it was just a matter of faulty spots

  • Rewire the dinner room (at least three years overdue). For years an outlet was lying around on the floor. It is now replaced by a state of the art cable tray

You do not need to have a master in psychoanalysis to figure out that I am subconsciously trying to regain some control over OurHouseSystem which PseudonymousDaughterOne gave a couple of blows this week. And, running electricity errands has a much higher effect-rate than parental interference.

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driven by ambition and sloth

Here’s a part of yesterday’s post by bitch ph.d. :

But first of all I have to figure out what the hell I’m going to teach my graduate students this semester, and really more to the point, what I am not going to bother to try to cram into this class just because it’s my first graduate class and I’m feeling like teaching everything I know in one semester is a realistic and desireable possibility. Yes! Here it all is! Everything I have ever learned! Thank you, and goodnight!

Ah, the perpetual motion machine of last-minute course planning, driven by ambition and sloth!.

I’ve had similar experiences, even with undergraduate courses (in Belgium there is no fixed curriculum so the person teaching the course is responsible for its contents). If you compare the stuff I hoped to teach when I started out with the courses I’ll be giving in a few weeks, you would be more than disappointed.
The first time I taught _differential geometry 1_ (a third year course) I did include in the syllabus everything needed to culminate in an outline of Donaldson’s result on exotic structures on $\mathbb{R}^4 $ and Connes’ non-commutative GUT-model (If you want to have a good laugh, here is the set of notes). As far as I remember I got as far as classifying compact surfaces!
A similar story for the _Lie theory_ course. Until last year this was sort of an introduction to geometric invariant theory : quotient variety of conjugacy classes of matrices, moduli space of linear dynamical systems, Hilbert schemes and the classification of $GL_n $-representations (again, smile! here is the set of notes).
Compared to these (over)ambitious courses, next year’s courses are lazy sunday-afternoon walks! What made me change my mind? I learned the hard way something already known to the ancient Greeks : mathematics does not allow short-cuts, you cannot expect students to run before they can walk. Giving an over-ambitious course doesn’t offer the students a quicker road to research, but it may result in a burn-out before they get even started!

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groen moet!

One week to go before the regional and European elections and tension is rising. For me there are two crucial questions : will a racist party get more than 20% of the votes? and will the green party get over the electoral threshold of 5%? If you are not Flemish both probably require some explanation.

A month ago, the extreme right party ‘Vlaams Blok’ was convicted in court for racism and discrimination. They can still participate in the elections because they appealed and Belgian courts are extremely slow. Many people think that this conviction only applies to the party and not to people voting for it. To me, anyone still voting for a party convicted for racism says “I don’t care about society, values and the law!”

Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 20% of the electorate will broadcast that message next week. But let us remain optimistic and look at the Vlaams Blog weblogs and their posters ridiculing the Vlaams Blok propaganda.

Then there is the Flemish green party groen!.

Usually they got between 5% and 8% of the votes with one exception in 1999 when they obtained 11%. In 1999 they went into government and among major environmental accomplishments they also voted silly laws such as introducing an electoral threshold of 5%. In last year’s elections they were the first party to be hurt by this when they dived under 4% and had not a single member of parliament left.

I have voted green at every election with one exception : early 80ties the Americans wanted to install cruise missiles in Belgium and with my twenties-naivety I thought to be able to avoid this by casting a strategic (socialist) vote. A traumatic experience because soon afterwards the missiles were flown in…

To me this partly explains the reluctance of groen! to form an alliance with the socialist party as (sadly enough) groen! is run by people of my generation (or older).

Still, in the long run there is no alternative but to form one progressive green-red party. So, I hope that, whatever happens, after the elections competent youngsters such as Tinne Van der Straeten and Els Keytsman will take control of the green party and find equally driven people in the socialist party (not entirely trivial as they seem to specialize in babes whose major accomplishment is the introduction of the sleeveless shirt ministerial look).

In case you wonder : I will vote Tinne Van der Straeten for Europe and Lieve Stallaert for the Flemish
parliament.

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capita selecta


Rather than going to the NOG
III Workshop
I think it is more fun to give a talk for the Capita
Selecta
-course for 2nd year students on “Monstrous Moonshine”. If
I manage to explain to them at least something, I think I am in good
shape for next year\’s Baby Geometry (first year) course. Besides,
afterwards I may decide to give some details of Borcherds\’ solution next year in my 3rd year
Geometry-course…(but this may just be a little bit
over-optimistic).
Anyway, this is what I plan to do in my
lecture : explain both sides of the McKay-observation
that

196 884 = 196 883 + 1

that is, I\’ll give
the action of the modular group on the upper-half plane and prove that
its fundamental domain is just C using the modular j-function (left hand
side) and sketch the importance of the Monster group and its
representation theory (right hand side). Then I\’ll mention Ogg\’s
observation that the only subgroups Gamma(0,p)+ of SL(2,Z)
for which the fundamental domain has genus zero are the prime divisors
p of teh order of the Monster and I\’ll come to moonshine
conjecture of Conway and Norton (for those students who did hear my talk
on Antwerp sprouts, yes both Conway and Simon Norton (via his
SNORT-go) did appear there too…) and if time allows it, I\’ll sketch
the main idea of the proof. Fortunately, Richard Borcherds has written
some excellent expository papers I can use (see his papers-page and I also discovered a beautiful
moonshine-page by Helena Verrill which will make my job a lot
easier.
Btw. yesterday\’s Monster was taken from her other monster story…

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25 years monstrous moonshine

Writing a survey paper is a highly underestimated task. I once
tried it out with \’Centers of generic division algebras : the
rationality problem 1965-1990\’ and it took me a lot of time and that
was on a topic with only 10 to 15 key papers to consider… The task of
writing a survey paper on a topic with any breadth must be much more
difficult. Last week, Terry Gannon posted a survey paper on the arXiv :
Monstrous Moonshine : The first twenty-five years
which gives a very readable introduction to this exciting topic. It has
a marvelous opening line :

It has been approximately
twenty-five years since John McKay remarked that

196 884 = 196 883 +
 1

Anyone who is puzzled by this line (“So what?”)
should definitely have a go at this paper! Still not convinced? Here is
the second sentence :

That time has seen the discovery of
important structures, the establishment of another deep connection
between number theory and algebra, and a reinforcement of a new era of
cooperation between pure mathematics and mathematical
physics.

For the remaining sentences (quite a few, the paper
is 33 pages long) I happily refer you to the paper.

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artistic and other frustrations

Yesterday, PD1 exhibited some of her paintings in the Antwerp Museum for Photography. Over breakfast this morning she was in a rare angry mood.

No, she was satisfied with the responses she got on her work, the room was not ideal (lighting etc.) but that was not what mattered…

Me : So?

She : There was this other work, a video-performance. I once saw by accident on Arte a short-film and this performance stole the whole idea of that film, from start to finish! The whole idea was nicked!

Me : Wake up! That’s the majority way of creating art, or science for that matter.

She : But it is so unfair! Why do people steal ideas ?

Me : Maybe they don’t see it as stealing. Maybe they believe they do a better thing with the original idea than the person who invented it.

She : Nothing can beat the original! Anyway, I find the most rewarding thing about art to come up with an original idea and work it out. It cannot be rewarding to steal other people\’s ideas.

Me (dry) : I think such people are after other rewards…

She : The same thing happens at school. Sometimes I come up with a suggestion to use a different technique or material and then a few weeks later, half of my class seems
to have worked this out too.

Me : So ? You still had the idea.

She : Yes, but the Jury doesn’t know that!

Me : So ? After the Jury you can still be confident to come up with new ideas, these others may fear they will only be able to repeat themselves.

She : But is it so unfair!

Me : What’s the alternative ? Are you going to lock yourself up in your room to
paint and let nobody see the result?

She : No, but I prefer to do my painting here at home, on my own with nobody looking over my shoulder constantly to see whether they can use some of my ideas. I will
paint on my own and only when it is fully finished they may see the result!

Me : That’s the spirit girl! You are much cleverer than I will ever be…

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the cpu 2 generation

Never
ever tell an ICT-aware person that you want to try to set up a
home-network before you understand all 65536 port-numbers and their corresponding
protocols. Here is what happened to me this week. Jan Adriaenssens returned from an extended vacation in New Zealand and I told him
about my problems with trying to set up WebDAV securely. He
stared at me with that look that teenage children have if they
find out their parents dont know how to handle the simplest things on a
mobile such as saving a number, writing an SMS let alone use the
dictionary… and asked ‘now why would you want to do that??? I just
use AppleTalk to connect to my computer securely’. Now I’m not such a
fool that I didnt try this out but I didnt manage to get matrix
mounted on my Desktop. ‘Oh, but thats probably because of the
firewall’ Jan said ‘just send an email to Peter (the guy running the
defenses here) and ask him to open up ports 548 and
427…’ And sure enough five minutes later the problem was
solved and I could trow my WebDAV-plans in the dustbin (although, I
think Ive found a use for WebDAV but will keep this a bit longer to
myself until I checked it out). If you think that was the end of it,
think twice. Never ever point an ICT-professional to your
computer. They then start looking at its firewall-logs and find all
sorts of things such as : ‘I noticed that traffic from port 53
was dropped to the firewall, could it be that you configured the
firewall as DNS-server. If this is the case, you better remove it and it
will increase your network-speed, I think.’ And sure enough that
IP-address was set on my machine as one of two possibilities for the
DNS-server so I quickly removed it and in the process thought that maybe
I should also remove the other one so I did send Peter another email
asking whether that was ok. It turned out that the second IP address was
the genuine DNS-server so I got a sec answer back ‘You better leave
this as it is otherwise not much will work…’ Oh, shame, shame eternal
shame on me!

My only defense is that I still belong
to what I would call the cpu 2 generation (I’m a few years too
old to belong to the more computer-aware generation X). When I
started out doing research in 1980 the single most important command was

cpu 2

which you had to type before you could run any program.
By typing this you asked to be given 2 minutes of central processing
time, so you had to write all your programs in such a way that either
they gave a result back within 2 minutes or to include lots of
output-commands giving you a chance to determine at which parameters you
would restart the program for your next cpu 2. I once computed in
this way all factorial maximal orders in quaternion algebras by spending
a couple of days in the computer room. These days any desktop computer
would finish this task in half a minute. Perhaps the younger generations
will appreciate all the hard computer-work we had to do back then if
they read a bit from the computer history museum page!

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one week blogging

So far I
found it rather easy to post one or more messages a day as I was
installing a lot of software or trying to get things working and was
merely logging my progress for future reference. These notes are useful
to me but probably not to the rest of the world. Another thing I noticed
is that I’m using this blog sometimes as a replacement for my
Bookmarks, merely listing interesting web-pages without too much
personal comments. I will continue to post both install-logs and
bookmark-logs but in addition I want to write (say weekly) a lengthier
post on a specific topic with more background, more details (such as
screenshots) and more personal comments. We will see how this works out
in the coming weeks…

Another thing that slightly
worried me is that people visiting my homepage and clicking on to my
blog may expect entirely different things there. But this cant be
helped, I’m sitting on an OSX-cloud at the moment but no doubt this
will change quickly. Beginning of february I have to give a talk on
Combinatorial Game Theory and soon afterwards the
Non-commutative Geometry Master Class starts in which I’m giving
a couple of courses, so mathematics will become more dominant in this
blog from next month on…

On a
blog-tech matter : I found a quite good editor pMpost
which is meant to write pMachine-blogs offline and upload them by one
click. It also synchronizes categories etc. on login. Further, it has a
spelling-checker but the thing I really like about it is that you can
save texts as a draft and continue at a later time (sadly, it remember
the date/hour when you start your post so when you finally submit it it
will be posted at the starting- rather than the posting-day. Still,
there is nothing that copy/paste cannot solve. I hope to use this
facility when (read if) I’m going for a more in-depth post. Another
matter that I will address to as quickly as possible (probably over the
weekend) is teh layout of this site. The main annoying thing is that the
text doesnt resize when you increase/decrease window width. So I will
address this matter first and probably leave a personal layout and
color-scheme to later. Fortunately, I did find a good site containg a
lot of CSS templates for pMachine weblogs. Another site I’ll have to
investigate over the weekend is pMtemplates. But don’t expect too much from the
layout-side, I still have other projects to worry about : SSL, WebDAV,
streaming iTunes, getting on Ethernet-DVD player to work and so
on.

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internet’s backbones

Did you ever wonder what hardware keeps the web running ?
Fibre-optic cables, cross-continent cables and the like seem to be a
dull subject but in the hands of Neal Stephenson. When he was doing research for his excellent book Cryptonomicon he travelled the continents
following the biggest backbone cable to be laid and wrote down his
journey for Wired Magazine in Mother Earth, Mother board. Here are his opening
lines : “In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and
wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the
customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the
U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island,
the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean
Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and
unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead
Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other
material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea
Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest
wire on Earth, which should not be without interest to the readers of
Wired.”

Probably this long text is a bit tiring to
read from screen so I made a pdf-file of it which should be easy to print out.
Enjoy the read!

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a blogging 2004


As it is probably better to run years behind than to stand eternally still, I’ll try out how much of a blogger I am in 2004. If you want to read more about blogging, Rebecca’s pocket is a good place to start. She has written an essay on the early days of
the weblog
, an article on weblog ethics and a couple of (pretty obvious) tips for a better
weblog.

But let us not talk about ‘better’ or ‘ethical’ at this moment, I’m just starting out. Give me a couple of weeks/months to develop my own style and topics and I’ll change the layout accordingly.

For now, I’ve taken the free blog-tool pMachine which uses only PHP and MySQL on the server-side so I should be able to get the layout suited to my own mood shortly. A major advantage of a weblog over a homepage is that you can feed it to programs called news aggregators by subscribing.

The program can then be tuned so that it ventures out on the net at regular intervals checking whether any of the blogs it is subscribed to has new material and reports back with the running title and opening lines.

If more people would turn their homepages into weblogs, the frustrating job of checking (usually in vain) whether their pages has been updated could be left to the aggregator. For now, I’m using Rancheros’s NetNewsWire as my Mac OSX news
aggregator.

Okay, now it is time to make some final preparations for endyear, but tomorrow I’ll wake up to become a blogger

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