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Comment What is Mathematics? by Courant and Robbins (Score 1) 467

The book "What is Mathematics?" by Courant and Robbins, despite its cushy-sounding name, would be my recommendation. First of all, it's written by two world-class mathematicians. Second, it's not a textbook; rather, it's what you might call a celebration of how awesome math is. If you want to succeed in college math without being miserable, why not try to see the subject as thing of beauty, rather than a burden? This book will definitely help you do that. If you read through the first half of the book (it shouldn't take long) you will have a chance to warm the math parts of your brain back up, and you'll learn some extremely cool shit along the way. (A bit of geometry, a bit of topology, a bit of algebra, etc.)

When you get to the authors' lucid explanation of the main ideas behind calculus, you'll realize that (1) calculus isn't scary, (2) the computations you need to learn how to do are fun, not hard, and (3) everything comes down to a few very intuitive ideas -- it may have taken geniuses like Newton and Leibnitz to come up with them in the first place, but they are part of our common intellectual heritage, not erudite ideas reserved for mathematicians and physicists.

And, although it's not a textbook, there are some exercises which will give you the chance to test your understanding. Again, though, they are fun, not grueling.
The Military

Submission + - One of Our H-Bombs is Missing 4

Hugh Pickens writes: "Jeffrey St. Clair writes that on the night of February 5, 1958 a B-47 Stratojet bomber carrying a hydrogen bomb on a night training flight off the Georgia coast collided with an F-86 Saberjet fighter at 36,000 feet destroying the fighter and severely damaged a wing of the bomber. The bomber's pilot was instructed to jettison his H-bomb before attempting a landing dropping the bomb into the shallow waters of Warsaw Sound a few miles from the city of Tybee Island, where he believed the bomb would be swiftly recovered. "The search for this weapon was discontinued on 4-16-58 and the weapon is considered irretrievably lost," said a partially declassified memo from the Pentagon to the AEC, in which the Air Force requested a new H-bomb to replace the one it had lost. That's where the matter stood for more than 42 years until a deep sea salvage company disclosed the existence of the bomb and offered to locate it for a million dollars. "We're horrified because some of that information has been covered up for years," said Rep. Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican. The bomb is most likely now buried in 5 to 15 feet of sand and slowly leaking radioactivity into the rich crabbing grounds of the Warsaw Sound. "If someone looks for it, they could set it off and cause an explosion," said Lt. Col. Frank Smolinsky. "There could be a major inferno if the high explosives went off and the lithium deuteride reacted as expected," says Don Moniak, a nuclear weapons expert with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. "Or there could just be an explosion that scattered uranium and plutonium all over hell.""

Comment freedom (Score 1) 417

I detest the ludicrous prices of internet service as much as anyone. I'm all for new players entering the market and shaking up the monopolies' crappy (in the sense of evil, albeit profitable) business models. But I am somewhat uncomfortable with a local government being this player.

Now it's true that certain industries are natural monopolies (in the sense of economics: they require large capital investment in infrastructure, which results in high barriers to market entry and enables the sort of tactics other commenters have described, pricing competitors out of the market when they do crop up. Many of these industries seem to work better for society when they are government-regulated utilities, e.g. sewage, electricity, water, police and fire protection. But that doesn't mean that the government should be allowed to run any industry which is a natural monopology. In particular, I think it's best to maintain a healthy distrust of government when it comes to running media of communication which are necessary for political speech and dissent from government policies. Internet, phone, and cable services, I believe, fall into this category.

Another example might be newspapers, which are obviously about to go out of business, because website redistribute for free the content produced by the papers' journalists. Some people have proposed endowing newspapers as nonprofit organizations. Another possible model, I suppose, would be having the government pay journalists to do their reporting, which would then be delivered to citizens, e.g. online. But no one (I hope) would seriously consider this a good idea for "saving" journalism --- we would end up like with a state-controlled media of questionable objectivity, not really worth a damn.

The moral? Be wary when the government owns the flow of information. It's a Good Thing that the ISPs are being challenged. But hopefully private enterprises can accomplish the same thing, too.

NASA Tests Heaviest Chute Drop Ever 226

Iddo Genuth writes "NASA and the US Air Force have successfully tested a new super-chute system aimed at reclaiming reusable Ares booster rockets. On February 28, 2009 a 50,000-pound dummy rocket booster was dropped in the Arizona desert and slowed by a system of five parachutes before it crashed to the ground. The booster landed softly without any damage. This was possibly the heaviest parachute drop ever, and NASA is planning to perform even heavier drops of up to 90,000 pounds in the next few months."

Comment Re:Courant-Robbins (Score 1) 630

I've got to agree that Courant-Robbins is the place to look. It's got pretty much everything -- a nice taste of calculus, some elementary number theory, and even a bit of knot theory. It's the elementary math book which comes closest to capturing the spirit of of the mathematical world as I grasp it, now nearing the end of my undergraduate math major and set to go to graduate school next year. It was also one of the better Bar Mitzvah presents I received, in retrospect.

At a lower level, Conway and Guy wrote an excellent book called "The Book of Numbers". It's got enough in it that a bright middle school or high school student could read it cover to cover four or five times and pick up something new and interesting on each read.

Another good book, written at an elementary level but sophisticated in content, is "Geometry and the Imagination" by Hilbert and Cohn-Vossen.

Comment Weizmann Instittute of Science in Rehovot (Score 2, Informative) 87

The Weizmann institute outside of T.A. runs a summer program (two versions actually, one for HS students and one for undergraduates) called the Karyn Kupcinet International Science School for Overseas Students. At least, that's the part of the program I participated in, as an American undergrad. But there were a lot of Israeli HS students around, so I think you would be eligible. You get to troll the institute's websites and rank the distinguished faculty members you would like to do research with in order of preference. If you get into the program, they'll assign you one of your choices, and that advisor will help you with a research project. The CS/Math department is very strong. I don't know much about the other departments, But it's worth pointing out that Weizmann has its own particle accelerator (!), now used mostly for nMRI I believe.
Democrats Uses Google Moderator System 436

GMonkeyLouie writes "The website for President-elect Obama's transition team,, has unveiled a section called Open for Questions, which lets users submit questions and vote them up or down, in an effort to let the collaborative mind produce the questions that are the most important to the American populace (or at least the web-savvy portion). The page is powered by Google Moderator. It was unveiled yesterday, and CNet reports that when they went to post last night, '159,890 had voted on 1,986 questions from 3,255 people.'"

UK ISPs Are Censoring Wikipedia 668

Concerned Wikipedian writes "Starting December 4th, Wikipedia administrators noticed a surge of edits from certain IP addresses. These IPs turned out to be the proxies for the content filters of at least 6 major UK ISPs. After some research by Wikipedians, it appears that the image of the 1970s LP cover art of the Scorpions' 'Virgin Killer' album has been blocked because it was judged to be 'child pornography,' and all other attempts to access Wikimedia foundation sites from these ISPs are being proxied to only a few IP addresses. This is causing many problems for Wikipedia administrators, because much of the UK vandalism now comes from a single IP, which, when blocked, affects potentially hundreds of thousands of anonymous users who intend no harm and are utterly confused as to why they are no longer able to edit. The image was flagged by the the Internet Watch Foundation, which is funded by the EU and the UK government, and has the support of many ISPs and online institutions in the UK. The filter is fairly easy to circumvent simply by viewing the article in some other languages, or by logging in on the secure version of Wikipedia."

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