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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The hangover of a TMA completion

Just completed TMA01 for MS221. This was a hard one, it took me many hours to complete all six questions. TMA01 is all about recurrence equations and transformations of conics. I'll take some more review time later this week, the cut-off for this TMA is April 8th. This is my fourth TMA completion since I am doing OU courses and I can't say that I ever felt of having completed a task. It takes at least four weeks before the grading gets done ( by then I am most likely up to my ears in making the next TMA anyway ) so there is no relation getting the results and the effort. So now there is a sort of a void of being just in between TMA's. Sort of a hangover. I hope keeping a blog helps to create some perspective so that this empty feeling doesn't lead to procrastinating the next TMA only to avoid the next void. - Better get started right away on part B, TMA02.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The euphoria of solving a mathematics exercise.

The first part of exercise 1.10 in 'A Course in Enumeration' by Martin Aigner asks to evaluate the sum below by counting configurations of dots.
Although the answer can be simply taken from Pascal's Triangle as
the challenge of the exercise was to deduce the same answer by setting up a particular configuration of dots.

To make a long story short... that's how I spent my entire free Saturday. By not finding the answer that is. I did this ( Sunday ) morning though with great relief. I was close right away but I -sort of- forgot to finish it correctly, instead I kept searching for other, better dot configurations. In the rush of having solved another 'difficult' exercise I remembered an article with the title 'Addicted To Knowledge' which explains the feeling I had.

Aigner says in the preface: 'It is commonplace to stress the importance of exercises. To learn enumerative combinatorics one simply must do as many exercises as possible.' An exercise is only an exercise if it was a challenging exercise, I would like to add. And harder means deeper in the context of exercises.

Hint to the answer: find a dot-configuration for the sum of 1,2,3,...,n first.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Conics ( MS221 - A2 )


A conic is the intersection between a double cone and a plane. In the image we see from left to right an ellipse, a parabola and the hyperbola.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The math teacher and his chalk

I don't like to sit through math lessons. It's because of the lecturers of course. Every teacher is different but there sure is a pattern. Like when he/she turns around and starts talking to the blackboard instead of the people in the class. He isn't interested in people anyway otherwise he wouldn't have been interested in math in the first place. Then he usually starts to write a theorem on the board. The same which is already in the book! But in the book it's usually written complete and in a nice readable font. It takes ages before the theorem is on the board but still sort of incomplete. Mathematics should be beautiful at all times.

Math teachers should do what they are good at. Writing mathematics in books, correcting papers, exams and that kind of stuff. The process of learning and understanding math is usually not done in a classroom anyway. And if there is some form of knowledge transfer going on then it can't be to all students involved. For most of them it will be either too slow or too fast. Math should be read and not listened to.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Stephen Wolfram is a very ambitious person. As the inventor of Mathematica he already made it to the history books of software. But that is not enough for Stephen Wolfram, it seems. He wants his name in the ranks of the Great Scientists. Until SAGE ( The Open Source alternative for Mathematica, Maple etc. ) is on par with Mathematica we have to pay too much for Mathematica. I now know why: to fund Wolfram's obsession of becoming the Greatest Scientist of all times. It seems he is on to something huge though and is probably dreaming of Wolfram competing heads on with Google.

If someone can do it it is Stephen Wolfram. What he brought the world so far ( Mathematica, MathWorld, NKS ) is truly beautiful. Maybe his Next Big Thing is worth waiting for. It is called WolframAlpha.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Proving the existence of higher dimensions

In this Newsweek article I read that one of the goals of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is to prove the existence of higher dimensions. That would be fascinating indeed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

MST121 - TMA03 done

Today I finished MST121 - TMA03, the calculus stuff of MST121, books C1,C2 and C3. The algebraic workout videos for this book are excellent. There are three of them and in these videos they show all the tricks required for doing the TMA03 exercises.

I prepared TMA01 and TMA02 with pen and paper. For this TMA I have used LaTeX. It's a tool with a rather steep learning curve and several required software packages but it's all free and there are zillions of tutorials on internet as well as a lot of examples. LaTeX is what the publishers use for typesetting mathematics books. LaTeX is based on TeX, which started as a one-man project by Don Knuth, one of the great mathematicians born in the previous century. I used TeXnic centre a free IDE for LaTeX. On the TeXnic website you'll find stuff to get started.

At least preparing TMA03 wasn't a last-minute job. That's a major, major ( epic ) win for me. Actually finishing something on time. A self-confidence booster. I have learned that having a good place to do studywork is an important resource. I went beyond that and have been experimenting with brainwave entrainment which is a technique to stimulate concentration and focus. It requires a good headphone and the right software. I currently use Atmosphere de Luxe in which you can 'hide' the brainwaves in nice atmospheric sounds. I use a sennheiser headphone with Active Noise reduction to cancel out noise elsewhere in the room.

I'll work this month on MS221 book A.

One more issue, although the Open University materials are excellent I wasn't really happy with MathCad. I am sure it cost me points already. At least with Vista it is a buggy mess. I upgraded to MathCad 14 which is a different experience altogether. Sufficient for coursework. It is still far from Mathematica which is now at version 7. Besides using Mathematica for my own research I use it as a final check on my TMA work before I send it in.

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(Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion, colloquially aka Raumpatrouille Orion was the first German science fiction television series. Its seven episodes were broadcast by ARD beginning September 17, 1966. The series has since acquired cult status in Germany. Broadcast six years before Star Trek first aired in West Germany (in 1972), it became a huge success.)