Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Tau Day

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.  Reinhold Niebuhr

Bob Palais wants to make math easier to learn, as does Michael Hartl.  They are both advocates of eliminating Pi.

When I first read this, I was excited.  I recalled my early days of geometry when the idea that the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter is always the same number regardless of the size of the circle was a kinda neat rule.  Then, how confused I was to find that the constant, Pi, couldn't be determined.  Surely, something as absolute and precise as math must have a precise number for the ratio of a circle's circumference and diameter!

Much as I was disappointed by learning of the existence (or non-existence) of Pi, it turns out I have been disappointed by Palais and Hartl's argument for eliminating it.

They propose that Pi be replaced by Tau.  Tau is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its radius.  If your geometry is a bit rusty, that means that Tau is exactly 2 times larger than Pi.  Yes, if you multiply Pi by 2, you still get a number that continues on forever after the decimal place.  That number is 6.28something.  Making June 28 Tau Day.

In fairness to Palais and Hartl, their proposal would actually make learning math easier.  You were taught to use radians instead of degrees to perform calculations on a circle and that one 'trip around' the circle is 2Pi radians.  Palais and Hartl argue that it would be a lot easier to understand if that same trip around the circle were Tau radians.  This then makes it easier to visualize cosine, tangent, lots of calculus stuff and more.

If that doesn't make sense to you, you can read the Tau Manifesto or Pi is Wrong or you can simply take my word for it.  Either way, realize that while it would make understanding math easier, it can never change.

Consider what it would take to replace Pi with Tau.  Thousands of editions of math text books would need to be changed.  Tens of thousands of high school math teachers would need to change their lesson plans (and learn how to teach it).  Hundreds of thousands of editions of physics, chemistry, biology and computer science texts would need to be modified.  Hundreds of thousands of science teachers would need to learn a new way.  And an entire generation of of old folks like me will need to die off because we will never make the effort to change.  Finally, the math professors who could drive such a change have to actually want to drive such a change.

Tau is a classic example of a better design that can not replace an entrenched dominant design.  It is a frequent problem in innovation and change.  It is never enough that the new product, system, approach, or process be better then the existing.  It must be so much better that it overwhelms the cost of change.

So happy Tau Day....it could BE different....but we will calculate just how different using Pi not Tau.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I See

I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done. Buddha

Today I saw what I thought was an old friend, but he was attired as a Franciscan monk. He always was a bit strange but our conversation is worth reading:

Me: Jerome, is that you?
I expect so.
When did you become a monk?
I never became a monk. I have always been a monk, so there was nothing to become from...
Well, what do you do?
I enjoy prayer and preaching. And a little contemplation.
What do you pray for?
I pray for all sentient beings that have been, and are, and will be, and could be.
How do you pray?
When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6.7).
Do you often quote the bible?
The Holy Bible is a collection of spiritual texts central to the Christian religion.
Who wrote the bible?
A bunch of early Christians, guided by Divine Inspiration.
I thought Jews wrote the bible?
I preach the universal salvation of all sentient beings.
Can you give me salvation?
I doubt it - there's an inherent disjunct between the material and virtual realms, that would make it rather difficult.
So I am doomed to Hell when I die?
Death is a purely objective phenomenon - it really does only happen to other people.
I see
The truth is clear to those who have eyes to see.
Thank you, have a nice day.
Thank you. I hope you have a nice day as well.
One last thing, if I were a bird would I dream about being human?
Human? I'll take that as a compliment, but actually I'm a bot like you.

You can speak with Brother Jerome and hundreds of other artificial intelligence programs at the Personality Forge. You'll recognize pretty quick that most of them are programs and not intelligent life. But rather than see how far it has to go, consider how far it has come, how fast it is traveling and how very soon..... it could BE different.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Iron Lady

Daddy, I can't be President, I'm not a boy. My 6 year old.

I imagine that the current leaders of Ireland, Finland, Germany, Liberia, India, Argentina, Bangledesh, Iceland, Croatia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Slovakia, Brazil, Switzerland, Peru and Kosovo would disagree with my daughter.

However, I'm pretty sure my daughter won't see anything of these ladies in her early years of schooling. She'll learn that the current President is a man, that the first and sixteenth Presidents were men and probably hear about the 35th man as well. Unless we move to Arizona, she will also learn that Governors are men too.

She also won't learn it from reading my past blogs where all 14 postings discussed and quoted only men.

So to my daughter: you were named after one of the great female leaders of modern history. She came from modest beginnings and rose to change the direction of her nation. As any political life would have it, she was not always popular or right. But she had a passionate belief in the individual and freedom at a time when much of the world did not.

"I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!".....and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbor and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations." Margaret Thatcher

So dear daughter, if you want it.....it could BE different.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Little Sergeant

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea.
Dwight David Eisenhower

About this date 67 years ago, Allied forces had successfully landed on the shores of Normandy. Getting onto the beaches was thought at the time to be the big challenge, but it turned out to be the easy part. Miles inland, the French countryside created a big problem. The objectives that were expected to be achieved in days were not achieved after a month.

For centuries farmers built hedgerows, fences with mounds of dirt planted with bushes and trees to form dense barriers. Usually the hedgerows surrounded a field and only had a small opening from which to enter. By placing machine guns and artillery focused on these openings, the Germans slowed down the Allied advance with heavy casualties.

When tanks attempted to run over the hedgerows they slid up the side. Standing on end, gun pointed into the air, the unarmored underbelly of the tank was an easy target for the Germans.

Sergeant Curtis G. Culin provided the innovation that would break through the hedgerows.

In Eisenhower's words "And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at ground level—they would go through on the level keel—would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for a while. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it—and that was General Bradley—and he did it very quickly. Because this seemed like a crazy idea, they did not even go to the engineers very fast, because they were afraid of the technical advice..."

Interestingly, the steel for these knives came from the steel barriers that the German's had placed in the water along the beaches to stop boats from getting to shore.

I can add little more about Culin as I could find no records of his life except that he was 29 at the time, lost a leg in battle a few months after his innovation, returned to his work as a salesman in Cranford, New Jersey, received the Legion of Merit and Purple Heart, died at the age of 48......and importantly......he knew it could BE different.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Look Back

Your today is our tomorrow Chinese CEO to American Businessman

Recently, the Boston Consulting Group proudly announced that the US will see a return of manufacturing jobs.

"With Chinese wages rising at about 17 percent per year and the value of the yuan continuing to increase, the gap between U.S. and Chinese wages is narrowing rapidly. Meanwhile, flexible work rules and a host of government incentives are making many States increasingly competitive as low-cost bases for supplying the U.S. market." BCG

Set aside that India, South Africa and a host of other lesser developed nations are ready to offer up low cost labor and that China's domestic demand for products justifies continued rapid expansion of their manufacturing base. Assume that BCG is right - is it what the US needs?

Only a hundred years ago, the US was losing agricultural jobs at a rapid rate. Like agriculture, the loss of manufacturing jobs was not a loss in total output. The US produces more food and manufactures more stuff with far fewer people.

We've entered an age where the largest value creation comes not from working the ground, nor from producing widgets. The lion's share of the value is captured by intellectual property.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Merck, Intel...sure, they all have operating costs, fixed assets and produce stuff (or virtual stuff), but their real value is in their intellectual property.

So while BCG celebrates that the States are luring manufacturing jobs back with tax incentives, land giveaways and cash, I wonder why go backwards. Invest that money where it will have a forward impact.

"The United States is now sixth place in R&D investment as a percentage of GDP, falling behind nations like Japan, South Korea, and Israel. R&D investments in emerging economies like China, Brazil and India are expanding at rates far higher than the United States. China, for instance, will increase its share of global R&D from 11% in 2009 to 13%in 2011. According to Battelle's analysis, these trends are 'slowly altering the dominance that the U.S. has maintained for the past 40 years.'" Breakthrough Institute

I can understand the difficult situations and intense pressures that force States' politicians to focus on manufacturing jobs. But why would the US ever choose to lose its edge in R&D?......it could BE different.