七夕快乐!

Happy Qi Xi festival, everybody. This is the “Chinese Valentine’s day,” which falls on July 7th on the lunar calendar, which this year is August 20th. The festivity relates to a story that, like many Chinese stories, is a pretty long story.

The gist of it is that the (seventh) daughter of a goddess at some point came to earth to live as a mortal and met a cowboy (as in, a guy whose job is to herd cows). The two fell in love, got married, had two children (I told you, it’s a long story) and they were pretty happy, until the goddess mom realized what happened.

As is mothers-in-law’s wont, she did not approve, and she recalled the daughter to heaven, where she is now the star Vega. The guy was desperate, but then one of his cows suggested that he kills it, and then use its skin to fly to heaven (don’t ask) and reunite with his wife.

He does so, and it works, so that he is now the star Altair, but then the mom-in-law found out again. So she created a river, the Milky Way, to separate them once more. And now they are forever separated, except that, every year, magpies (which are a kind of crows) fly to heaven and use their bodies to create a bridge over the Milky Way, so that the two lovers can use it to meet. And this happens on the 7th day and the 7th month of the year.

unary communication

When Twitter started to become popular, I remember thinking that the premise of its service, that its distinguishing feature was its limitation, was ridiculous. (Remember never to ask me for investment advice.)

At the time, I thought that it would be really fun to create a parody site where you could only post one bit messages. Clearly, the site would be called bitter, and when you log in the prompt would ask “Are you bitter?” and if you answered yes your post would be a frowny face, while if you answered no your post would be a smiley face. I went as far as checking that this didn’t seem too hard to pull off in Drupal, to make sure no such parody site existed already, and to see if bittr.com or bittr.net were available. (Of course they weren’t!)

Anyways, I was mistaken in thinking that two possible messages, and hence one bit of information, was the end of the road. Indeed, it is possible to have only one possible message, and this is the insight pursued by yo, which, apparently, is not a parody and has received one million dollars in funding.

there are three things that are alike, alcoholism, homosexuality, and … oops!

“I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that – and I look at the homosexual issue the same way”

(Rick Perry, Governor of Texas)

So, if I understand Perry’s point, he may have a genetic inclination to be gay but he forces himself “not to do that”?

Introducing eXpandr

[I have been asked by the office of public affairs of the Institute for Advanced Study to publicize the following press release. L.T.]

April 1, 2013. For immediate release.

Cofounders Jean Bourgain and Peter Sarnak announce today the launch of eXpandr, a new venture that aims to become the world’s leading provider of expander graphs.

“We are excited about our mission to change the way the world uses expanders.” said CEO Guli Mars, who joined eXpandr after a distinguished career in several leading technology companies. “Expanders are vital to revenue-generating logarithms, and our technology will revolutionize a multi-billion dollar market.”

“Big data, disruption”, said Juan Raman, senior vice president for marketing. “Innovation, cloud computing”, Mr. Raman continued.

“Let p be a prime congruent to 1 modulo 4” said Jean Bourgain, cofounder and senior vice-president for analytic number theory, “and consider the irreducible representations of PSL(2,p).”

About the Institute for Advanced Study. The Institute for Advanced Study is one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The Institute exists to encourage and support fundamental research in the sciences and humanities—the original, often speculative thinking that produces advances in knowledge that change the way we understand the world. Work at the Institute takes place in four Schools: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Social Science. It provides for the mentoring of scholars by a permanent Faculty of no more than 28, and it offers all who work there the freedom to undertake research that will make significant contributions in any of the broad range of fields in the sciences and humanities studied at the Institute.

The Institute, founded in 1930, is a private, independent academic institution located in Princeton, New Jersey. Its more than 6,000 former Members hold positions of intellectual and scientific leadership throughout the academic world. Some 33 Nobel Laureates and 38 out of 52 Fields Medalists, as well as many winners of the Wolf or MacArthur prizes, have been affiliated with the Institute.

About eXpandr. eXpandr aims to disrupt the way the world uses expander graphs, and to become the leading commercial provider of expanders. eXpandr received $2 million in angel investing and will launch its first product by Summer 2013.

The New York Times on False Positives and False Negatives

From this New York Times article:

Researchers found the home test accurate 99.98 percent of the time for people who do not have the virus. By comparison, they found it to be accurate 92 percent of the time in detecting people who do. […]

So, while only about one person in 5,000 would get a false negative test, about one person in 12 could get a false positive.