Sunday, August 29, 2010

Down in the dumps

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit
- Author unknown

Sunday, August 15, 2010

358 Years of Inspiration


Name of the Book: Fermat’s Last Theorem

Author : Simon Singh

Price : Rs.425

Personal Rating: *****

“The sum of the squares of the two sides of a triangle is equal to the square of the third side. To put mathematically, x^2 + y^2 = z^2.”

Replace the number 2 in above equation with n, where n is a whole number greater than 2, and lo, we have the toughest problem in mathematics that took close to four centuries to be solved. This theorem was called Fermat’s Last Theorem, named after the creator of this riddle Pierre de Fermat, and it was the last of Fermat’s riddles to be solved. Inspired by the Pythagoras theorem, Fermat discovered that the equation x^n + y^n = z^n, where n>2, has no solution. Fermat’s proof of it never saw the light of day, but he did mention in a corner of a page of Book of Arithmetica that he had a proof. That was enough for many eminent mathematicians to embark on a search for the holy grail of mathematics.

It was Euler who provided the first breakthrough after almost a century. He proved that the theorem holds good for the case n=3. It was only an evidence in favour of the theory, and not a solid, infallible proof. Mathematicians accept nothing but infallible proofs. But Euler’s reasoning provided mathematicians with a much need shot in the arm. It gave them hope that Fermat’s Last Theorem was not insurmountable. French Academy of Science offered prizes and medals to the mathematician who could solve Last Theorem. Gabriel Lame, who had proved the case n=7, proclaimed that he was on the verge of cracking it, and so did Cauchy, and the race was on. In the end, neither of them succeeded; Ernst Kummer pointed out a flaw in both their techniques.

For the next couple of centuries, many mathematicians attempted to put an end to this theory in vain. Even though they could not solve the problem, they developed several mathematical tools in the process, some of which would later be used to solve the problem. After many unsuccessful attempts, it boiled down to two theories - Fermat’s Last Problem and Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. It was discovered that both the theories were inextricably linked. Proving the latter would mean the former was true, and vice-versa.This is where a mathematician named Andrew Wiles took charge.

Andrew Wiles, who had a penchant for puzzles from a young age, first encountered the Last Theorem when he was ten and cracking it became his childhood dream. Many years later, he set out to prove the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture and worked for seven years in secrecy. By the time Wiles began working on the problem, mathematics had developed by leaps and bounds. Although he had the benefit of intricate tools and hindsight to learn from the mistakes of all those who worked before him, it was his ingenuity and stroke of genius that gave the finishing touch to the problem. After 358 years, the Fermat’s last theorem was conquered.

The narration of the author Simon Singh is extremely lucid and racy. It could have well been a thriller novel. Barring a couple of chapters that covers elliptic cures and modular forms, which would be difficult to grasp if these are alien terms to readers, he has outlined mathematical concepts in simple and layman terms that will make for an interesting read even to those who dread mathematics. Besides concepts and proofs, the author gives an insight into the lives of many mathematicians like Pythagoras, Euler, Euclid, Cauchy, Galois, Wiles and many others. I was particularly intrigued by the account of Galois’ life. Galois had prodigious talent for mathematics but he always found himself at the center of political controversies and was killed when he was only 21. The night before his death, being sure that he wouldn’t live beyond the following morning, he scribbled hurriedly his discoveries and mailed them to his friend, requesting that, should he be killed, those papers be sent to Jacobi or Gauss. Little did he know that his discovery was going to play a major role in cracking Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Fermat’s Last Theorem is an enthralling saga about a riddle that confounded mathematicians for three centuries. But what took my fancy was the man behind the riddle. I couldn’t but marvel at the brilliance of this french mathematician. Mathematics was in it’s nascent stages, modular forms were unheard of and high-speed computers existed only in fantasy during his time. Yet, he claimed that he had a proof and it remained unknown only because that was too large to fit in the margin. A rare genius!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Comedy of Errors

Comedy of Errors. Was it Shakespeare who immortalized this expression? I am not sure about that but I first heard that expression when watching a cricket match, during the course of which a batsman, I guess, upon espying a bug sitting on the upper lip of the fellow team mate, walked down the pitch to apprise him of the same. But before the batsman could figure out that it was Hitler-esque mustache and not a bug, and make a bee-line for his crease, the wicket-keeper had done a neat job of collecting the ball and breaking the stumps, and he was declared run-out. It was a tragic moment indeed. One that knocks the sunshine out of one's face as one watches the batsman walk back to pavilion. But the commentator Ravi Shastri, who is well-known for saying 'the ball went like a tracer bullet" at least two dozen times a match, called it Comedy of Errors.

Since then I have come across this expression innumerable times and every time I end up making an ass of myself, which is a roundabout way of saying daily, causing people to laugh till their sides ache, it springs to my mind. Below mentioned are few events that fit the category, but since this is my blog and I can write whatever crap I want, I have carefully omitted the events in which yours truly was the source of entertainment.

What did you have for lunch, Jesu?
: If you are of type that prefers nicety, I recently registered for office bus service, putting an end to three-year sojourn with public transportation. This left me with a lot of leisure for watching the beauty of nature while commuting(read between lines, paras etc.), which was earlier spent pulling, pushing, pinching, kicking and sometimes even yawning in the face of co-passenger to gain a foothold in outrageously crowded buses.

During one of those nature-watching times, my sight fell on an Art shop. I cannot say anything about the quality of the pictures in that shop because all my attention was grabbed by the name board. The owner being a beacon of brevity, had decided to abbreviate the shop name to a goodish extent with the result, what should have been "Jesu Fine Arts" read as "JESU F.ARTS". :-D

That would have tickled even Narasimha Roa I suppose. :P

Man of Action? Ahem! : Of all the simple pleasures in life, the one that gives one a sense of superiority is reading the answer sheet of someone who is not as bright as one. Being fully aware that my friend's brother, a student of class IX, was as strong in Tamil as Ravindra Jadeja is with bat, I settled down on a chair with his answer sheet, hoping to have a whale of a time. And I was not disappointed in the least. His answer sheet was replete with glaring grammatical errors, egregious spelling mistakes and what not. Making complete use of the opportunity to dole out free advices, I was telling him how I used to wake up at 4am everyday during my school days for studying and all that stuff, when I caught sight of another spelling mistake and almost fell off the chair. The chap had written an essay about one of the greatest politicians Kamaraj, who is known by the sobriquet of "Karma-Veerar", which, roughly translated, means "Man of Action". Owing to missing a dot above a letter, it became "Kaama-Veerar" (No translation required I guess). :-D

Kamaraj must be turning in his grave!

Too bad Pinki!: On our way back to our places after a coffee break, me and a couple of my friends were chit-chatting about this and that, and I don't remember how, but by the time we reached the journey's end the subject of our conversation was "Puzzles". One thing lead to another, and finally Friend A threw a puzzle, which he called a simple one, to Friend B.

Pinki's father has 4 daughters. Their names are 25paise, 50paise and 75paise. What is the name of the fourth one?

Friend B gave it some thought. He was sure that the answer wasn't 1Re, for these kind of puzzles always have a catch. After reflecting for a few seconds, he said the answer was 100paise, and beamed at us as though he'd just discovered the largest prime number. (Note: If you also thought the answer was 1re/100paise, give yourself a pat on the back, with an iron rod that is.)

It took a while for Friend A to explain Friend B, during the course of which he employed words like "dim-wit", "pea-brain", "flibbertigibbet", that the answer to this simple puzzle was Pinki. Friend B protested that it was not an easy one and, as if to prove this point, asked this question to the first person who passed by that way, but he took liberty to slightly modify the question.

Pinki's daughters have 4 fathers. Their names are 25paise, 50paise and 75paise. What is the name of the fourth one?

The expression of shock and horror on the face of that unfortunate passer-by was priceless. :)

There are many such events to write about but I'll have to stop here. The post is already painfully long and my fingers have started to ache(Did someone say "So has my head"? :evil: ) Perhaps I'll save them for future and make another blog post of them when my brain runs out of Grey matter and can't think of anything original. :-P Cheerio!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Random ramblings

1) For the first time in life I don't feel like watching cricket. No, it's not that ODI's have become so boring after the advent of T20 and IPL. I'd still prefer ODI to T20 and Test matches to any other forms of cricket. That God Sachin is not in the playing eleven is the reason cricket seems so uninteresting. The last match against our arch rivals Pakistan was one of the most interesting contests in recent times but even that couldn't help restore my enthusiasm for this game. Though I'm not sure whether I'd quit watching when Sachin calls it quits, which I wish doesn't happen for at least a decade, but I'm sure cricket would never be the same to me.

2) In the last two months I must have started reading about 8-10 books and I've finished reading only three of them. My steely resolve notwithstanding, I couldn't go beyond 50 pages in a couple of classics I bought on an impulse. I'm NOT going to waste any more more on classic. Period. 'One hundred years of solitude' has long been on my list of books to read. And also Shantaraman... though the size of the book scares me off.

3) My current project lead is a pig-headed dumb moron. Let me not go into the detail of all his imbecile stunts and tricks... but we sure have fun at his expense. The other day he was telling me and my team mate of his aspirations to do Phd in Maths. I almost fell off the chair because the guy in question is one of those guys who would take three full minutes to count 2 plus 2 and at the end of the third minute would ask "can i use a calculator?"
We were not in a mood to let go of an opportunity to pull his legs and threw a simple maths puzzle at him.
Pinki has four daughters. Their names are 25 paise, 50 paise and 75 paise. What is the name of the fourth one?
My lead gave this question a good thought and even with his jelly fish IQ realized that the answer is not 100 paise because we wouldn't ask him such silly questions. He pondered for a couple of minutes and replied "1 rupee". He beamed at us so proudly as if he'd just discovered the largest prime number. Then after we explained to him why the answer to that question was "Pinki", he said it was a tough nut to crack and challenged that 4 out of 5 wouldn't answer it. He walked up to a girl, who was sitting a couple of cubicles away, complety engrossed in debugging a good 'ol NullPointerException, and asked:

Pink's daughter has four fathers and their names are 25 paise, 50 paise and 75 paise. What is the fourth father's name?

The expression of horror and shock on that girl's face is inexplicable. :-D With great difficulty, I resisted throwing myself about the floor and roll about laughing :-)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The return of the self-proclaimed humour blogger

The last time I wrote a post, Yuvraj Singh was looking fit as a fiddle, Swami Nithyananda was making waves for his scintillating performance in 'Short cut to Nirvana' documentary and Tiger Woods was the butt of all jokes like 'A lion would not cheat but Tiger wood'. :P In other words, I had been out of action for so many months(or light years?), much to the relief of many bloggers. :P

Not that I was a prolific blogger before I absconded from this space, but I did manage to write a few posts occasionally, mostly on path-breaking, intellectual topics like 'Save TR: There are 1411 tigers, there is only one T.Rajendran', and shamelessly added tags like 'humour', 'fun', 'I beg you to ROFL' etc. That I tagged them 'humour' seems to be the only humourous thing about those posts. :P

Speaking of humour bloggers (groan how much ever you want but that includes me because I'm gonna tag this one 'humour' too :P), they live in a perennial anxiety of what if the post turns out to be a damp squib. Okay, at least I do. It is not too pleasing to know that one's humour -- that kind of humour you will remember when you take a solitary walk and guffaw uncontrollably, causing the passer-by to phone and tip off a mental asylum of a potential inmate -- was lost on the reader. The least a humor blogger(hic hic!) would want is a conversation like this:

Unfortunate blog reader: Hulloz! I read all your blog posts. You write good.

Me: Gee thanks! Did your like them?

UBR: Yep! But why do your write so serious posts? Try writing a few light-hearted ones.

Me: Grrr! thanks! :evil:

Ok, I've digressed way too far. The point I'm trying to drive home is that you cannot live peacefully here after because my sabbatical has just ended and I'm planning to write more posts in the near future to drive you all into depression. :) There are plenty to stories to tell - Exhilarating trekking at Wayanad, my experiments with cooking, friend-turned-foe rodent and many more - and I wish the lazy bones don't get the better of me. :)

Before I let you off the hook and you all start dancing that my post has come to an end, here's a PJ for you..

Why do readers of this blog have a bandage around their face?

Ans: Because my jokes fell flat on the face :mrgreen: