Dr Hannah Fry; “Valentine’s Day Escape Plan”

This is such a crazy tale, with a bit of oniony irony. I originally wanted to keep it to myself until I realized that “This is the day” I must publish it – naughty minds will set it sacrilegiously to the Sunday school tune. It’s based on a piece on Yahoo! News I read plus subsequent research into the phenomenon, the scary things that schools shove down your throats for debates and essays. Before that, I need a quick digression for a postgraduate friend and fellow mathematician – a postgrad young man – who will keep spiralling down a blackhole of obscurity unless I turn it into a wormhole to prominence.

Yesterday my pure mathematics friend confessed that his theoretical knowledge is too removed from real life to be of any use, and it doesn’t pay as well as for applied mathematicians to learn his kind of algebra and geometry. He told me he actually wanted, not to be a dancer, but to identify with fellow humans in their struggles, especially a motivational speaker.

Yet Dr Hannah Fry also studied theoretical physics and certainly knew about homology theory, Lie groups, sheaves and bundles, but she is now threashing her wheat, milling her flour and baking her bread out of studying social behaviour. She is analyzing us and suggesting ways to improve how we interact with each other. On top of this, she has also just published a book based on her TEDx talk called The Mathematics of Love.

I don’t think she envisioned a people-centered job when she decided to study maths and physics just like my friend. That’s all for Dr Hannah Fry and some inspiration+encouragement for S. Chung to tug heartstrings with string theory.

Anyway, apologies for keeping the curtain down. Presenting my little Valentine’s Day short story.

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Continuity and peer pressure

“Show me who your friends are, and I will show you who you are.”
(Russian saying, in Karen Ehman’s Keep it Shut)

What is this dreaded thing called continuity, forcing a poor student like you to learn about infinity, limits and all sorts of wacky symbols?

Continuity is like peer pressure. If your neighbourhood is badness and you succumb to peer pressure, you’re no good either unless you’re a measure zero discontinuity way above your neighborhood. I recall a secondary school Chinese text 《愛蓮說》(Ode to the Lotus, literally, ”love-lotus-speak“)。 The line 「出淤泥而不染」means “[the lotus is] born of the grimy dirt yet is untainted”. In writing this, the author and philosopher Zhou Dunyi (周敦頤) praised the lotus for being unspotted from the world around it, that it is a singleton of beauty in an ugly pond. If I too have such force of character that my relational point-set topology is a singleton, I’m still continuous – trivially. 🙂

I have just lent the idea of “continuity being like peer pressure” to a mainland Chinese scholar (Qun, LIN 林群), who is passing by my university [for his mathematical talk 微積分動漫版†] and posited that calculus be taught in terms of ratios of measurement to reality being 0.9, 0.99, 0.999 approximating 1. “So, every day we work, we add a 9 to the end of our work, and we improve.”

I didn’t know that the mainland Chinese academia, like my English-speaking Twitter audience, also values math education and popularisation, and the importance of STEM. Whatever conveniences we enjoy today, such as procrastinating on F.T.I, come from the blood, sweat, toil and tears of scientists and engineers who made the day we call “today” possible. It is thus exceeding treachery to teach horribly our STEM knowledge to our next generation, so horribly that they’d rather skip the meaningless calculations and leap into more down-to-earth subjects like law* and the arts and humanities, drowning STEM in a sea of irrelevance, ignorance and romanticism. More on these ideas later, for if I ramble on, I’d sound like a page from an 18th century book…

† I think you may translate the title of Professor Lin’s talk as “Calculus in action”, but we Chinese could also interpret it as “The Anime Version of Calculus”. However it turns out to have nothing to do with the cutesy and shocking motion picture called Japanese anime! No wonder I spotted students falling asleep. They probably wanted to know about this book instead! Thanks Murray Bourne for reviewing the Linear Algebra version though.

* Math Forum has two excellent articles on why lawyers need math. In fact the Math Doctors could add that Pierre de Fermat, of his Last Theorem’s fame until Andrew Wiles shared it, was a lawyer. In Hong Kong, if you have great grades, you’d prefer to study law, business or medicine instead of mathematics in university – the two exceptions I know are Martin Li, a new math professor at my university specialising in geometric analysis, and my classmate Peter Chan, who got 5 A’s in the very last A-Level examination in Hong Kong in 2012 and is now investigating mathematical physics. It’s intimidating, yes, but sometimes it feels cool to be a contemporary of great people, and both of them are friendly.

I’m sad.

Nobody wants to hear from me anymore. As if I’m the plague.

I don’t want to wake up to a million faces. I just want one. Please wish me well.


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Where’s Podcast Publisher on Mac OS Yosemite?

I used to use Mac OS Lion, and I loved the Podcast Publisher app. In fact during my stay at the i-House in CUHK, I recorded a total of 18 episodes.

I updated my Mac on my birthday last year. But I didn’t back up my podcasts because I forgot that they were there. Now that I need to use the app again, I realised that no one on Google has ever considered the fate of this wonderful app, and now I have to face the brutal reality that my only surviving podcast is my only private film on YouTube 😦

I am so angry right now. It took me a long time to get those 18 records right – one of me dancing to Cantonese lyrics I wrote to one of my melodies, and some of me talking about funny topics. I also sang. It’s a pity I didn’t back up all of my goofs on Youtube, or else I could have re-downloaded them.

Since I have few friends, I’m very much attached to objects, so please forgive me for ranting. For you never know what you have lost until it’s too late.