Month: October 2017

Predatory publishing

Many universities blindly want their faculty to publish. They measure productivity in terms of the number of papers, rather than their impact which is admittedly hard to measure. The easy street (“how many papers did you publish this year”) is however very harmful and costly for faculty, universities and the society at large. The outcome: Many Academics Are Eager to Publish in Worthless Journals. While it is difficult to measure long-term impact, this is what universities need to do.

Çetin Kaya Koç

Fate has no memory

Fate has no memory. The fact that you have suffered greatly in the past does not imply that you will suffer less in the future or you will be rewarded.

This is another way to counter gambler’s fallacy, which is believing if there is a succession of the same outcome, the next outcome will be different. However, when each event is independent and random, the dice can keep rolling the same number.

Total tyranny

The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back. — Senator Frank Church (1975)

The impossible happened

Richard Russell reports: Many years ago, when I was still living in NYC, I had a subscriber, a Swiss man named Jay Pfister. Jay owned a chemical company. During the early 1930s Jay sold his company to American Cyanamid. That sale made Jay quite wealthy, and he had a home in NYC and one in La Jolla. It was Jay who first told me about La Jolla. Jay suggested that I leave Manhattan and enjoy “a better life” in La Jolla. I thought a lot about Jay’s advice. In 1961 I followed his advice, and it proved to be one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.

One day I met Jay at the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street. We were sipping coffee, when Jay said, “I want to tell you an interesting story. My apartment overlooks the Hudson River. Last Sunday I was looking out over the Hudson, and I saw two large boats heading towards each other. They continued to close in on each other, and I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous’. The captains must be drunk. If they continue on this path, they’re surely going to crash.”

I looked wide-eyed and asked Jay, “So what happened?”

Answered Jay, “The ‘impossible’ happened. The two boats continued toward each other, and they crashed.”

RIM patents on ECC

RIM (Blackberry maker) purchased Certicom which was the company built purposely on a few ECC implementation patents by a few University of Waterloo professors. Not only owning the patents by these people at Waterloo, Certicom also stole every single idea by anyone who gave a seminar Waterloo as a graduate student, postdoc or just a visitor, and patented it under Certicom’s name!!! This is really true and I know at least one specific instance of it.

20 July 1969

July 20 is a summer day. My hometown Ağrı, a northeastern border town of Turkey, is not one of the warmest places on earth, however it is still warm in July.

I was only 12 then, just finished elementary school, heading to the the Middle School. There was no TV reception in Ağrı at that time; it was an invention that had not arrived my home yet. The newspapers came daily, but usually a day late due to the time it takes to bring them from Istanbul by bus. Everyday I visited my father’s hardware store and some other nearby places, reading yesterday’s papers and following one of the greatest stories: The landing of man on the moon. Quickly, it became my job to inform my relatives about this extraordinary story. It seems, I was the only person in town who knew what was going on. I knew the names of everyone, from the President JFK, members of his cabinet, the director of NASA, top scientists, engineers, to the astronauts who were locked in that small capsule and sent off of the earth. As much as a 12-year can claim to be an authority on the subject, I became the source of information for my family, my relatives, and our neighbors.

For many, this was an event to which they paid intermittent attention, and perhaps forgot afterward. For me, however, it was an event that shaped the rest of my life. I decided that I wanted to become a scientist or engineer who can be involved in projects like this; the moon may have been captured, but many celestial objects are yet to be reached: Mars, Venus, maybe even Pluto.

After 40 years, humanity still did not figure out an efficient way to send manned spaceships beyond the moon, but the dream remains and our robot machines are already digging the surface of the Mars or heading beyond the solar system. As for me, due to what was available or feasible, I studied electrical engineering and then computer science, but I am still a constant admirer and avid reader of space exploration.

I am grateful to those scientists and engineers who dreamed of and finally accomplished the landing on the moon; without their implicit encouragement, an unpretentious boy from a  northeastern town of Turkey would have never have the courage to dream about a doctorate in computer science from the University of California.

Did Einstein believe in God?

– Do you believe in God?
– If you ask me if there is a God, perhaps I can answer that.
– Is there a God?
– If there is, he erased all possible traces, making it impossible to construct a proof. I don’t know why he did that. He must know better.

On 22 March 1954 Einstein received a letter from J. Dispentiere, an Italian immigrant who had worked as an experimental machinist in New Jersey. Dispentiere had declared himself an atheist and was disappointed by a news report which had cast Einstein as conventionally religious. Einstein replied on 24 March 1954:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

Einstein generally spoke and wrote in German, definitely in his earlier years but even after he moved to the US and worked at IAS in Princeton. However, this comment was indeed in English. Page 43 in Albert Einstein, The Human Side: New Glimpses From His Archives, Edited by Banesh Hoffman and Helen Dukas.

Logical fallacies

My Erdös Number is 2

If you are one of the lucky mathematicians (there are 509 of them) who has written a paper with Paul Erdös, then your Erdös number is 1. If you wrote a paper with a person whose Erdös number is 1, then your Erdös number will be 2. And so on.

My Erdös number is 2, because I wrote a paper (see here) with Professor Charles Chui whose Erdös number is 1, because Charles Chui wrote a paper with Paul Erdös (see here: On changes of signs in infinite series).

Erdös number of 2 is the largest it can be for anyone (from now on) since Paul Erdös is no longer alive. Sadly, he passed away in September 20, 1996. The Wikipedia page about him is here.

The Erdös Number Project studies research collaboration among mathematicians. To find out more about it and possibly discover your own Erdös Number, please go to here. Also, the social graph of Erdös is found here.

PS: For a while, I thought my Erdös number is 3 since I wrote several papers with Ömer Eğecioğlu who wrote papers with Charles Ryavec who wrote a paper with Paul Erdös (see here: A characterization of finitely monotonic additive functions). Thanks to Emilie Menard Barnard and Keith Avery for pointing out my paper with Professor Charles Chui of Texas A&M, who by the way was one of the nicest persons I have ever met in my life. He is now retired. Long live Charles. My best wishes. My best wishes to Emily and Keith too, of course.