OKCathy

This week’s Aunt Pythia column features Cathy O’Neil’s take on what questions online daters ought to have to answer in their profiles:

How sexual are you? (super important question)
How much fun are you? (people are surprisingly honest when asked this)
How awesome do you smell? (might need to invent technology for this one)
What bothers you more: the big bank bailout or the idea of increasing the minimum wage?
Do you like strong personalities or would you rather things stay polite?
What do you love arguing about more: politics or aesthetics?
Where would you love to visit if you could go anywhere?
Do you want kids?
Dog person or cat person?
Do you sometimes wish the girl could be the hero, and not always fall for the hapless dude at the end?

I gotta say, thinking back to when I was single, during the second Clinton administration, I don’t think these are the questions I personally would most want to ask of my prospective dates.

On the other hand, I think the questions provide a near-perfect portrait of Cathy!  So let me offer my own suggestion:  maybe profiles shouldn’t have any answers.  Maybe they should just have questions.  And you contact the person whose questions you’d like to answer.

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Jordan and the Dream of Rogen

The other night I dreamed I was going into a coffeeshop and Seth Rogen was sitting at an outside table eating a salad.  He was wearing a jeans jacket and his skin was sort of bad.  I have always admired Rogen’s work so I screwed up my courage, went up to his table and said

“Are you…”

And he said, “Yes, I am… having the chef’s salad.  You should try it, it’s great.”

And I sort of stood there and goggled and then he was like, “Yeah, no, yes, I’m Seth Rogen.”

I feel proud of my unconscious mind for producing what I actually consider a reasonably Seth Rogen-style gag!

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Puzzle: low-height points in general position

I have no direct reason to need the answer to, but have wondered about, the following question.

We say a set of points $P_1, \ldots, P_N$ in $\mathbf{A}^2$ are in general position if the Hilbert function of any subset S of the points is equal to the Hilbert function of a generic set of $|S|$ points in $\mathbf{A}^n$.  In other words, there are no curves which contain more of the points than a curve of their degree “ought” to.  No three lie on a line, no six on a conic, etc.

Anyway, here’s a question.  Let H(N) be the minimum, over all N-tuples $P_1, \ldots, P_N \in \mathbf{A}^2(\mathbf{Q})$ of points in general position, of

$\max H(P_i)$

where H denotes Weil height.  What are the asymptotics of H(N)?  If you take the N lowest-height points, you will have lots of collinearity, coconicity, etc.  Does the Bombieri-Pila / Heath-Brown method say anything here?

Math Bracket 2014

It’s that time of year again!  Presenting the 2014 math bracket.  School with the best math department wins every game.  As always, all rulings were made by a group, so don’t yell at me if your department loses to one you consider worse.  Also, this year the bracket team was entirely number theorists, so the rankings are no doubt biased to overweight the people we know.  (Previously:  Math Bracket 2013.)

The way I am now

Inspired by this really wonderful Jody Rosen cut-up, made entirely of sentences written by David Brooks containing the phrase “we live,” I tried the same with my blog, using just sentences that assert something about the way I am.  Here’s what you get:

I am impressed by Biddy Martin’s political savvy.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book about cultural anthropology.  If I’d been born in New York, I might have been a Yankees fan, but luckily for me, I was born in Maryland, so I’m not.

I am away from my desk.

I am ahead of the curve on Carsick Cars.  I am pedantic about people’s Christmas cards.  I am not up to speed with modern methods of music consumption.  I am not the kind of guy who has opinions about DC hardcore.  Like everyone else, I am wildly cheering Peter Scholze’s new preprint.

I am not one of the most radical signatories to the “Cost of Knowledge” statement.  I’m not so sure.  So am I stuck?  I am not stuck!

Now, I am not a low-fat dude.  I’m a Jew married to a Jew.  I’m proud of Madison.  I’m wholeheartedly in favor of Barry Bonds.  And in that spirit of the early 1990s and inarticulate anxiety, I am listening to Veruca Salt.

Ask Uncle Quo: should I change my name when I get married?

Not relevant to this post, but curious to your thoughts: Debate is about a 26-28 year old woman who wants to keep her last name in marriage because of her professional identity. My response was to laugh, what identity do you have at that age? I said, sure there are a couple of hot shots – you came to mind – but I bet they could change their name to a peace symbol and still retain their professional identity. She’s not going into witness protection, FFS. curious what you think about name changes at marriage, reputation, and loss thereof? You seem like someone who would have considered it.

I wanna be like Cathy and answer random people’s questions on Sunday mornings!  In homage to Aunt Pythia I will answer as “Uncle Quo.”

Changing your name seems to me like it would be a massive gluteal agony.  Short answer, independent of any issues of professional identity:  Why would I ask my wife to do something I would never do myself in a million years?

Well, here’s one reason why:  there was a time and a place where not having the same name as your spouse was sufficiently weird that it carried with it its own long-term irritations.  But those days, in the social tranche where I hang out, are not just going, they are long, long gone.  As I said in the comments to the other thread, when I think about couples I know at UW, mostly in the “parents of young kids” demographic like me, it’s very hard for me to think of any who share a surname; the only example I can think of is a couple who both took a double surname (separated by a space, not a hyphen) with the wife’s original surname last.  When I think of couples I know in Madison outside the university, I do know some where the wife adopted the husband’s surname, but in each case they go by three names, no hyphen:  “firstname birthsurname newsurname.”

Professional identity:  in math, at any rate, of course this matters!  If you’re 28, you likely already have a Ph.D. and a couple of papers out, maybe you’re finishing a postdoc and you’re about to apply for tenure-track jobs, you’re going to be on a list of 400 applicants and you want someone on the hiring committee to recognize your name and look at your file, and you’re suddenly going to change your name to something nobody’s ever heard?

As for me and Tanya, we got married 10 years ago and never considered changing names.  We had some vague idea of using my last name “socially” but we quickly realized there was no social situation where that felt appropriate.  Occasionally we get invited to a bar mitzvah by my older relatives on which Tanya is called by my last name.  And I changed my middle name on the Harvard alumni list to her last name.  Our kids have two middle names, the second of which is Tanya’s surname, and their surname is mine.  Nobody seems to be confused about the fact that we’re a family.

What do Aner Shalev and Nike Vatsal have in common?

My mother-in-law was toting around a book of short stories translated from the Hebrew and I saw a familiar name on the front:  Aner Shalev.  Not the same Aner Shalev as the group theorist I know, surely — but no, I checked, and it’s him!  Good story, too, actually not a story but an excerpt from his 2004 novel Dark Matter (or I guess I should say Hachomer Haafel since it doesn’t seem to exist in English.)  It was good!

Sometime last year I was in a coffee shop in Berkeley doing math with Tom Church and on the bookshelf there was an old issue of Story, and in the table of contents I found Vinayak Vatsal.  Not the same Vinayak Vatsal as the number theorist I know, surely, but….  yep, it was him.  I only got to read the beginning of Nike’s story because I was supposed to be doing math, but that one was good too, what I read.

How many mathematicians are secretly placing stories in literary magazines, I’d like to know?

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This is not my beautiful pi

This post from It’s Okay To Be Smart got under my skin.  The pictures, generated from the digits of pi, are pretty.  But they should not be called “visualizations” of pi, because they have nothing to do with pi!  The page also shows the results of the same algorithm applied to e and the golden ratio.  They look kind of the same.  And they would look the same applied to random digits.  Because they are visualizations of random digits, not visualizations of pi.

Words that appear exactly 25 times in How Not To Be Wrong

15,18,20, along, Baltimore, calculus, check, completely, drawing, early, economic, else, extra, feel, geometric, holes, John, known, lead, nature, obvious, outcome, particular, pay, precise, principle, share, sphere, student, thus, wanted.

Sounds good, right?

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Is the modern high school a wretched hive of scum and villainy?

All the data show a generation far less ethical than their parents. According to a 2009 survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 51 percent of people age 17 or under agree that to get ahead, a person must lie or cheat, compared with 18 ­percent of people ages 25 to 40.

Not clear to me this means what she says it means.  I think teenagers are just more cynical than adults.  They’ve seen their classmates cheat on tests, get good grades, and get away with it.  By 40, you’ve seen the consequences for people who’ve spent their lives skirting the rules and shading the truth.  Maybe I’m too sunny, but I do think that as I’ve gotten older I’ve better appreciated the returns to virtue.