Friday, 21 January 2011

An Unexpected Finish

A very unexpected finish to a chess game. I was really tired and playing a bit blindly, not thinking much more than a move ahead. I made a move only expecting to fork the opponent's king and rook but as it transpired that move checkmated my opponent. I checkmated my opponent without realizing it! Imagine that.

This was blitz chess, played in under 2 minutes with 12 extra seconds awarded to the player after each move. I'm playing as white of course.

As this is the first time I am embedding a chess game in my blog I will give some directions. Look underneath the chessboard. Click on the button with ">" in it to see the game move by move. You can also click on one of the moves in the list on the side to jump directly to that move.

Play online chess

PS: I'm not sure why the scroll bar of the move list suddenly decided it was more comfortable -> lying between my blogposts like some freakish cyber bridge. No amount of fiddling with the code could correct that issue...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Breaking Free

Most of what I put down in this blog is influenced by what happens to me in my life.

Life is what you want it to be. I figured that out a long time ago. Those who celebrate mediocrity and yearn for normality unwittingly make their lives mundane and commonplace. Those who want to have an exciting life, those who want it filled with surprises, those who want it filled with excitement will make it so if they are willing pursue it.

Over the years I have some to realize that yearning for excitement is something that is deeply ingrained into my character. After falling head over heels in love with mathematics, I began to realize that I was positively feeding off the intense feelings of excitement that follows a moment of discovery. I began to realize that even the most mundane everyday objects come alive once you start using mathematics. There are many who feel that science is boring, methodical, and mechanical. But these are people who have not experienced science fully. Those who think of science as a rigid framework of arcane rules could not be more wrong. Science is methodical and logical but that does not make it boring in any way. Those who are bored are those who are unaware of the delightful surprises, of the unexpected twists and turns and of the outrageously unbelievable conclusions that logic can lead us to. Science and mathematics is a dynamic, ever changing entity; it's almost a living thing. Those beautiful things in nature and those commonplace things that we take for granted have their beauty multiplied a hundredfold when you look at them through the eyes of a scientist.

I could keep at this forever, but I believe I have said enough to get my message across. For me science and mathematics gives me all the excitement I need.

With my interest in math came the downfall of my gullibility. I had entered a wonderful new world. A world where logic, evidence and healthy skepticism reign supreme. I learnt about why people are so gullible, why people believe in supernatural phenomena. I became aware of the cognitive biases that lie at the heart of supernatural phenomena. Slowly, like someone being lifted out of the depths of mental depression I came into the light. I entered a world where things were clearer. The world was no longer a dark and mysterious place to me. Instead it was a testament to the elegance and successfulness of science in explaining the world around us.

I came to realize why the world was progressing so slowly. In my opinion there is no greater hindrance to the advancement of human civilization than tradition, dogma and authority. By authority, I do not mean the laws that are in place for the peaceful functioning of a nation. I am referring to belief in authority; when authority is given precedence over evidence. Authority is a social evil when people believe things based on the authority of the source of information rather than evidence.

The world is an ever changing place. The only way humanity can make the next giant leap is by changing. If the cavemen had refused to give up their stone tools and use iron and bronze because the usage of stones was their 'tradition' would the world be where it is today? Scientific progress was held back for decades when the dogmatic refused to accept the heliocentric theory of the solar system. There is clear evidence that change is the vehicle for human progress. Progress occurs when change is embraced with open arms.. If the people of the world so adamantly cling to the past like leeches on human skin how can progress take place? When times change, so must we. A lot of the traditions that people follow are obsolete remnants of a past civilization that existed hundreds of years ago. Why do people think that all the concepts of life that were cherished so many generations ago are still appropriate for today's age?

Of course, I do not deny that there are many old concepts that are still applicable. There are and these concepts should continue to flourish.

But when concepts that are clearly relics of a bygone era stand in the way of progress, I am offended. Such dogmatic practices are like a ten ton anchor chained to the limbs of a drowning man. They anchor humanity to an unchanging level of progress. They create an Iron Curtain which humanity has to struggle through.

But the future is bright. Humanity is breaking free of the debilitating chains of dogma, slowly but surely. The Iron Curtain is thinner than ever before and is on its way to disappearing completely.

But occasionally when I see how much science is progressing with its newfound freedom, I feel cheated. I feel cheated when I realize how much more science could have progressed if these chains had disappeared earlier, if the Iron Curtain had been drawn open to remove the necessity of struggling through it.

If we had broken free.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Very Knotty Incident

The past few days have been needlessly tiring. The 'orientation' activities that are supposed to familiarize the new students with the other two batches includes a long list of pointless activities such as lengthy, time consuming introductions, sports and the like. It was all utterly boring. Until today.

We played a game called the "Human Knot" where we are supposed to break up into relatively large groups of 5-6 people and link our hands together in a knot. A moderator will then judge the complexity of the knot by trying to untie it.

As a person who has fallen in love with mathematics I am always reading up on new and sometimes old interesting happenings in the world of numbers. Having been at it for nearly four years I know many unexpected and unlikely places where mathematics can be applied. As soon as the rules of the knot game were declared I noticed a striking resemblance between the game and a branch of mathematics known as the knot theory. In the game as a knot is being untied, we are not allowed to unlink hands but a range of possible moves are allowed. They include the following.

As it turns out these are the exact same moves that are allowed on mathematical knots. In fact they are called Reidmeister moves.

 So having learnt bit about the knot theory I decided to apply it. Most of the knots we have ever tied with our hands are mathematically not very interesting because they become straight lines with two free ends after going through a finite number of Reidemeister moves. Mathematical knots are much more interesting. They have no free ends and are physically un-unravellable. Bearing this in mind I set out create one of the simplest mathematical knots, a trefoil knot which cannot be untied by any amount of Reidemeister moves. But alas! I made a wrong turn and without realizing it had made two unknots. All was not lost however.

When the others tied to unravel our knot, they got the surprise of their lives! After several twists, turns and stepping over crossed arms, those watching us went silent as our knot split into two clean separate circles. That was something that did not happen often! So in the end the slip up served its purpose.

The above anecdote proves that the applications of the wonderful subject called mathematics can be found the most unexpected of situations. It just keeps popping up everywhere doesn't it?

Monday, 3 January 2011

School Starts Again

School has reopened and the usual truckload of work joyfully  resumes it's consistent daily drive into my 'to do' list. Consequently, quality sleep continues to elude me.

With the exams looming ominously like a charged thundercloud, it's time to begin a hectic revision. Four months seems to undergo some quirky relativistic length contraction but time dilation, which is supposed to slow down time, seems to be acting in reverse. I might not get an opportunity to update my blog as often as I have been for the past month.

The new batch of A-Level students have arrived and we are now undertaking the infinitely boring task of 'orientation'. I fail to understand how some people are able to enjoy meeting new people so much. Personally, I find that it takes a Herculean effort to keep track of the names of so many people. After a day of pointless introductions I find myself mentally exhausted. It is for this reason perhaps, that I don't remember having made more that 10 friends in my entire life. (I think ten is a gross overstatement but I think it's a safe estimate and a nice round number.) Relativity comes into effect here too I suppose. Once you realize how deep and meaningful the questions posed by Science are, once the wonder and mystery of the Universe ensnares the senses and captures your imagination, you start to realize how meaningless it is to worry about something as mundane as what shirt you're going to wear tomorrow. The problem is that people are too engrossed in the synthetic world we have created around us which sweeps us away with an avalanche of simplistic pleasures such as shopping, films, promotions and the like. So engrossed that they almost never get the time to ponder on the deep mysteries of the universe.

They are those to whom the emotion of experiencing the mysterious is a stranger. The do not pause to wonder or stand rapt in awe. Their eyes are truly closed.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

What a Way to Start the New Year!

In many places around the world New Year was not as happy as people would have liked.

From what I heard on CNN and BBC, there has been an explosion outside a church in Egypt, killing about five people. A bomb exploded in a public area in Nigeria, with an estimated but disputed death toll of 30.

To cap it all, huge flood has put quite a damper on New Year celebrations in Queensland, Australia.

Due to the idiosyncrasies of the International Date Line, calendars North America is still read 31 December 2010. The whole world is watching and waiting for the New Year Ball Drop in Times Square New York, one of the most famous New Year's Eve celebrations in the World.

I will now take a moment to highlight my favourite Scientific Discovery of 2010. Put your hands together for the amazing, the versatile, the exotic Graphene!

With it's exotic and wonderful electrical and physical properties, graphene has won the hearts of thousands of physicists and physics lovers around the world. It is arguably one of the most important scientific breakthroughs since the invention of the integrated circuit. It is therefore not surprising that the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010 went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for the discovery of wonder material. Scientists around the globe are still discovering new and wonderful properties of graphene. It could be this two dimensional sheet of material that fuels the next wave of technological development. Hats off to graphene!

On a completely different note, the morning news revealed that the social networking site called Facebook has overtaken Google as the most visited website in the US. What an alarming trend! Why are people so obsessed with this thing? What is so great about this website?