Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Strangest Textbook Title

There are a lot of strange textbook titles, but this one may be the strangest of all:

Discrete Mathematics with Ducks.

That's just silly! Everybody knows that you do discrete mathematics with geese, not ducks.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Moose Blogging

Here's an account of canoeists who rescued two hypothermic moose.

Hat tip: Anna

Friday, June 08, 2012

Norwegian Moose Dance

You must see the famous Norwegian moose dance.

Hat tip: son #2.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Hard Questions?

Here a very silly person lists 20 questions he thinks atheists are incapable of answering.

Some of them are just question-begging, such as "What caused the universe to exist?". Ignoring the fact that causality is not very well-defined, how do we even know for certain that the universe was caused? And if atheists cannot answer this question, it's not like the theist answer ("God created it") provides any more insight.

Other questions are downright strange, such as "Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?" What this has to do with theism or atheism is beyond me. Mesopotamia had cities even earlier, in 4000-3500 B.C.E. In any event, probably the development of agriculture led to the formation of cities, and once this innovation occurred, it would have spread through trade.

Question 10 asks, "How do we account for self-awareness?" This has a relatively easy answer. Through natural selection, organisms come to model their environment. Sometimes this modelling is reflected in their geometric structure: a camel has a very different body profile than a shark. But organisms also sense the natural world and react to it. Having a better model -- one that allows an organism to predict future events in the world -- clearly would contribute to better survival and reproductive success. As the model becomes more sophisticated, eventually it will have to encompass the organism itself. Self-awareness is just when your model of the world becomes so detailed that it has to include yourself.

I won't spend any more time on this silly list, but readers should feel free to chime in with their own answers.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Don't Attend Crandall University

There are a lot of reasons not to attend Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. For one thing, it used to be Atlantic Baptist College, and today it still describes itself as "Atlantic Canada’s Leading Liberal Arts University Devoted to the Christian Faith". Its motto is "Christ is preeminent". Not surprisingly, it gets crappy ratings, with this place rating it 7748 out of 11,000 North American universities, and 91st out of 98 Canadian universities.

Now there's yet another reason: the people who run it are bigots who won't hire a gay person in a gay relationship.

Programming Contest Results

The results from the 2012 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest are in, and Waterloo finished 9th in the world. Congrats to my colleague Ondrej Lhotak and to students Tyson Andre, Benoit Maurin and Anton Raichuk.

What's particularly interesting to me is the continued excellent performance of Russia and former-Soviet-Union countries such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. What accounts for their dominance? Is there some lesson from their educational system we can draw on in North America?