Kara Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

8 Articles from July 2010

  1. The census controversy: a travesty of Galilean proportion

    In 1633, Galileo was found "vehemently suspect" of heresy. His heretical opinion: holding and defending the belief that the Copernican, heliocentric model of the solar system was true in contravention to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life and forced to recant, verbally and in writing, any belief in the Copernican model. His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was banned. All because the Copernican model contradicts Biblical scripture. Well, mostly that. The conflict between Galileo and the Church was as much political as scientific or religious. Galileo had made some powerful enemies, people who also opposed Pope Urban VIII, accusing him of being too soft on heretics. So Galileo was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Nearly five centuries later, the entire affair is one of the most stark examples of the conflict between science and religion.

    It was an unfortunate conflict, an unnecessary conflict. Whether science and religion are irreconciliable or incompatible is a much larger debate than I can discuss here, but in this case the conflict seems minor. Galileo was not a villain attempting to derail the Church; he…

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  2. On romance and genre in literary criticism

    Hello, my name is Ben, and I am a genre snob. Or at least I was. I'm trying to quit, but as fellow genre snobs can attest, it is not easy to surrender culturally-inculcated notions of genre and embrace a more nuanced approach. Still, I need to try. For the children!

    This week I read Amanda Scott's Tempted by a Warrior, which I won in a Goodreads giveaway. Had I paid more attention when entering the giveaway, I would have noticed that the book is historical romance, not merely historical fiction, and passed. I didn't notice, however, and I won the book. As I prepared to write my review, I discussed the book with a friend--who, as it happens, reviews paranormal, romance, and even paranormal romance((You didn't see that one coming, did you?)) for one of those review sites to whom publishers send books with the eager trepidation marketing people perfect after too many years in college.

    I opened the conversation by quoting one of the sex scenes in the book:

    Me: There is a list of words that automatically ruin sex scenes for me, and "tempestuous" is one of them. Her: I can't imagine why. Me: Aside from

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  3. CUMC 2010, Days 3 and 4

    It is Saturday, but it doesn't feel like Saturday, mostly because I'm . . . at school. This is the last day of the CUMC. I'm in the last talk of the day, having chosen to attend "Perfect Matchings and Shuffling." Afterward, there is the final keynote, which Ram Murty will deliver on the Riemann hypothesis.

    Yesterday I went to a talk on fractal image compression. The talk itself was not stellar, but there were some good questions on the applications of this type of lossy compression, and the speaker addressed those well.

    In the afternoon Aaron, Rachael, and I took a bus--yes, a bus--down to King St. This was my first time riding public transit, and it wasn't in my own city! Aaron wanted to visit a small record store, Orange Monkey Records, and then i checked out a used bookstore known as Old Goat Books. I bought more books than I should have, considering they need to fit in my sparse luggage--but I couldn't resist.

    The final keynote of the day was delivered by Greg Brill, of Infusion. Although titled "The Evolution of Technology," Brill's talk was not what I expected. He has a…

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  4. CUMC 2010, Day 2

    It is Thursday, July 8.

    After the first talk this morning--on set theory, particularly ZFC--I spent time caressing the lovely wireless network by way of uploading some photos to Flickr. When attempting to geotag them, however, I ran into the slight problem, in that typing "University of Waterloo" into the Flickr map's location finder produced no results.

    So, Yahoo!, in case you are wondering why people drool over Google and its products, here is a hint: we are lazy. When I type in the name of a major university, your map should be able to find it for me. I should not have to go find a postal code on my own, enter that, and wind up in the general vicinity of the campus. (I used Google Maps to find the postal code too, which just seems wrong). It is not that I am a Google fanboy, Yahoo!--they just do it so much better.

    At lunch, I did something completely out of character and chose to be adventurous, purchasing bubble tea for the first time. My less adventurous self was soon vindicated. We went to a fast food place called "The Grill" for food. I attempted to…

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  5. CUMC 2010, Day 1

    It is Wednesday, July 7. The CUMC talks began today.

    I went to four talks today. Rather than summarize them all--I enjoyed them all--I'll mention some highlights. The first talk of the afternoon was both my least favourite and most favourite talk. Entitled "The Ontology of Mathematics: Do Numbers Exist?," the presenter read from dense slides, which did not make for the most riveting experience. There was some lively discussion among the audience, however, and I enjoy talks like that.

    Comparing CUMC to the Combinatorics & Optimization workshop that preceded it, I prefer the student talks of the former. The topics are so varied--there is so much choice within each time slot, that it is difficult to decide which talks to attend. The atmosphere is less intimidating, because it's undergraduates talking to undergraduates. I almost regret not giving a talk myself--almost, for it would involve public speaking, and long gone are the days when classes made that mandatory.

    There were two keynote speakers, one at lunch and one at the end of the day. First, Frank Morgan, from Williams College, gave a talk on densities and the Poincaré conjecture. As I have never studied differential geometry, most of the mathematics…

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  6. Combinatorics and Optimization, Day 2

    It is Tuesday, July 6.

    Today's four talks began with electrical networks and random walks. That is, suppose you have a graph that describes a network through which electricity flows. Starting at a vertex x, what is the probability that, when walking at random along the graph, we will arrive at a vertex s instead of a vertex t? This talk was very easy to follow (for which I am thankful), even though I don't have any engineering or physics background with which to understand the electrical current aspects (like voltage law).

    Unfortunately, the second talk involved probability. Probability is great, but I find it very difficult, so this talk was hard to follow. The third talk was about embedding locally-compact metric spaces on surfaces (it is not as scary as it sounds). Finally, the fourth talk was about matching polynomials. The speaker went rather briskly, so it was difficult to take detailed notes, but I enjoyed the subject. Before this summer, I had no idea that polynomials and graphs went so well together. Now it seems like they're inseparable.

    And that concludes the Combinatorial and Optimization workshop. There was a banquet for CUMC at the Huether Hotel,…

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  7. Combinatorics and Optimization, Day 1

    I wrote this last night at my grandparents' house, which has no Internet connection I can feasibly use (dial-up does not count), so I had to wait until today to post it from the University of Waterloo campus. All references to "today" refer to Monday, July 5.

    This week, Rachael, Aaron, and I have travelled to Waterloo, Ontario for two math conferences. The first is the Combinatorics & Optimization Summer School, a two-day event consisting of several talks and, yes, food! The second is the Canadian Undergraduate Math Conference, which also entails much talking and eating. I was reluctant to attend at first, because I dislike travelling. However, my grandparents live in Waterloo, so this was a convenient way to visit them for a week while still getting paid. With that incentive, I managed to convince myself that these conferences would be interesting and probably even useful to my research. This was only the first day, but so far I remain convinced in those respects.

    I've been up since 4:30 in the morning. Let me take a moment to reflect on the fact that we flew from Thunder Bay to Toronto in an hour and a half, traversing--or…

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  8. No sugar tonight

    Stanley, prior to a paint job

    Last week, I discussed how maths is hard, but I spent plenty of time solving a Rubik's cube anyway. At this rate, you are going to get the idea that I don't do any work at all. Nevertheless, a desire for accuracy and lulz requires me to remain truthful regarding how I spent this week in the office.

    We made a piñata.

    We named him Stanley the Resurrection Pig.

    I don't recall who came up with the initial idea. As with all good, crazy plots, it starts off as an innocuous hypothetical scenario: piñatas equal fun, fun equal good, we could make a piñata! This is the last week all four of us will be in the office together--Aaron, Rachael, and I are going to Waterloo next week for a conference, and Jessica is off to Ireland, returning only after Aaron and Rachael's contracts are finished. So if ever there was a time to set aside the math papers and construct a papier-mâché animal, then savagely beat it to a pulp, this was that time.

    None of us are piñata-making experts, and that was probably for the best. Rachael had some experience with papier-mâché--also for the best--so we made…

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