Mathrix ’08 went off surprisingly well

Anna University - CEG - In The Rain - With a funny cameraWell, I’m rather happy because we were playing against the Engineering crowd, people who actually study all that C stuff for a living and who have a lot more invested in the whole thing. It went off rather well, though they didn’t give us any cash prizes there were a couple of certificates.


The quiz wasn’t all Maths, there was some Maths history and some general bits and a rather interesting round with a concealed picture that was revealed bit by bit. There was some strong stuff though, and personally I think that bit was given just a bit too little time. One of our team’s questions, for example. I went and made a mistake working it out. I had 50 / 25 written out in one particular part and computed that to be 25. My arithmetic always sucked. Anyway, they scored you partly on the method and partly on the answer so I got half the points anyway. In any case it wasn’t that important because we finished rather near double the closest team :) which was a good feeling. It was nice winning, they gave us a certificate each and a copy of some book that looks like its for people preparing for job interviews. Ah well. Oh yeah, they also gave us a rather big shield, but we had to sign that we were going to give it back after a month :)

C Debugging:

Remember what I told you about triple pointers? Well, today those people set us some tasks that were decidedly not debugging. They were some good questions, that I’ll admit, but my lack of knowledge of the usual library functions came back to bite me in the ass, so I had like more unfinished programs — must learn to focus effort. ­I have to admit that those unfinished ones weren’t going anywhere. So I figured out this brilliant method to swap variables using the ^ operator and was rather proud of myself. It turns out, however, that that is one of those old tricks that everyone uses. I was born too late, that’s my problem. Anyway, I managed to place second so its a bit of a consolation. They gave me another book, this time about being a leader. It’s cool, but I don’t go in for that kind of stuff.

I’m happy, thanks Anna University.

Mathrix at Anna University

So we went to Anna University today for Mathrix ’08 and it was actually pretty nice. I left early in the morning and caught a share auto to the CEG campus where they were going to hold the events. While we were travelling it started raining like mad, and when I got off I had to take refuge along with some other people in a traffic policeman’s shed. The only problem was I had to keep standing. Ah well, better dry and standing than wet and sitting.

So I managed to get inside Anna University and to the venue in time. Yay! First on the list was:

C Debugging:

A while ago, someone mentioned something about this event in Arun’s blog and I found it hard to believe that such crazy stuff would be asked. My mistake, I should’ve heeded the warning. It was crazy man, CRAZY! There was a little timer in the corner and it would keep ticking down the seconds till twenty five minutes had run out. On the screen there was this box with code that usually goes something like this:
Find the output:

int main()
int i = 24;
int * Iptr = &i;
[gibberish looking stuff involving TRIPLE POINTERS! Which sane person uses freaking triple pointers?!!]
[some more stuff]
return 0;

Triple pointers?! What hater-of-all-things-human uses triple pointers? And then to make it worse they had questions about a pointer to a pointer to a character pointer returned by a function that accepts a pointer to a character pointer. Man, you know what? I don’t know the damn language, I’m going to say that, and I’m never going to be able to program stuff in anything other than python if its all like this. Jesus, imagine writing Hello World. No way, I’m not going near C unless I’m in a Hazmat suit. Needless to say we were near the bottom of the pack, if not last. On the way out this girl organising it asked if it was easy, I said it was ‘Interesting’ – which it was, it gave me insight into my programming skills. Then there was:

The Quiz:

I had to walk through the rain to get to the quiz, and I was drenched by the time I got there. No umbrella you see. Waste of time standing inside traffic booth. Anyway, the quiz itself was pretty nice, not too tough except for the last page that was full of computer science stuff and had some weird questions about definitions. Since there were no negatives we guessed :) It turned out well, I have to go for the finals tomorrow. That’ll be cool, I bet they’ll ask all sorts of engineering stuff and I won’t know anything. Ah well, worth a shot I guess and besides, it meant I didn’t have to go to class today :D

Incidentally, about that traffic policeman, a really sad thing happened. He was sitting there waiting for one of those police vehicles to come by, and when the fancy Hyundai Accent showed up he ran up to it in the rain and tried to talk to the cops inside, but they just said they weren’t going to do anything and sped off all nice and warm inside their car. All he wanted was a raincoat, he was grumbling about how they could’ve just given him the raincoat.

Are we really so sensible?

A few days ago, when Bhutto was assassinated, I mentioned how there were countries worse off than us. The conversation veered to how Indians in general consider their culture rather great and illustrious. Adithya said,
Only the politicians and the press claim that we are upcoming super powers. Ordinary citizens like you and me know that it is not so.

Maybe, though I doubt it, but there’s more to it than just that. The majority of Indians I have met have an abnormal sense of pride in their country, and in its so-called ‘culture’. It’s almost unhealthy, the way people go around talking about how the Vedas contain so much information, or about how Indian culture is so much superior to other culture. I always suspected that this is not normal behaviour, and is endemic to India, and now the statistics seem to support that claim. The Pew Research Centre’s Pew Global Attitudes Project did a nice big survey over some 47 nations asking, among other questions, whether the respondents thought that their culture was superior to others. It’s hardly surprising that the people who you’d expect to be insecure score highest (click for all the results, the values are percentages, going left to right from completely agree to completely disagree)

Pew - Is your culture superior - survey - thumbnail

Such self-importance is unbecoming of ‘one of the oldest civilisations in the world’. It’s not surprising that there is so much fundamentalism in this country, such belief in superiority reinforces any nationalist tendencies these people may have. Really now, the only reason one should wish to support one’s country is the desire to defend the way of life that one wishes to have; emotional attachment to an arbitrarily demarcated piece of land and the people there is a throwback to tribal ways. One would hope that civilised society has passed that stage, but then, are we civilised at all?

It’s no surprise that the poorest of countries are also the ones who chose to believe that their ‘culture’ is superior to other countries’, Tanzania, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Nationalistic spirit seems to be a substitute for real development, the soul of soulless circumstances, to borrow a nice phrase. Unsurprisingly, these superior cultures are also the ones that seem to be in most danger of being overrun by unwashed philistines. The smart people at Pew wanted to know how many believed that their way of life needed to be protected, and guess what?

I’m not very surprised, though I am rather disappointed in those 2000 odd people who answered for us.

Update: Should’ve linked to the study straight. Here you go.

Numerical Methods

This was one of those annoying papers where, for the most part, you learn a bunch of formulae without a proof and when you’re given the proof it’s all funny. Boring, but easy since you don’t have to do much work. However, sometimes you just need all the formulae, you need a cheat sheet, because the exam is tomorrow. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage that, so a lot searching, a little deriving, and some searching for old books allowed me to type them all up and print them up. Might as well save some other soul some trouble. Go to Mathworld for the proofs. You could also wander around the Springer Encyclopaedia of Mathematics or PlanetMath.

Most of the stuff is particular to the course we’re doing, so some things are assumed. For example, the Runge-Kutta method refers to the Fourth Order Runge-Kutta method and stuff like that. Also, parts may be technically inaccurate or may be plain unhelpful :) , but that’s because that part will just jog the right part of my mind. Sorry.

And here you go:
Numerical Methods, List of Formulae, B.Sc. Math, Semester V, Madras University [PDF]
Numerical Methods, List of Formulae, B.Sc. Math, Semester V, Madras University [ODT]

Monthly link post

For things that I can’t seem to describe properly enough. Here’s just the links:

  • ingimp is a modified version of GIMP that you can use to send usability data. Just download it and use it like you would use the GIMP, it’s the same program after all…nearly.
  • An Offline Wikipedia. You’ll need to download the Wikipedia archive which is a couple of GB in size without the images. It’s useful for when other people claim funny things and you can’t correct them because they don’t understand you. For stuff like “you can’t use a normal parabolic dish for mobile phone signal, you need to optimise it for that wavelength”.
  • Motion, a motion-detecting program, useful with a camera that can output video directly to your computer. Like this guy did.
  • Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen: An interesting martial art from Indonesia (sort of). One particular part of it (Kun Tao) focusses almost entirely on defense and some schools actually have an entire belt ranking system for just that.
  • Do we need an Open Source Hardware Licence: Completely unrelated talk here, go check out the OpenSPARC project. Sun released the specifications and source to its UltraSPARC T2 as soon as it was released. Parts were under NDA, but I think they’ll be freer later. The licence used is the GPL 2.0, though they seem open to the GPL 3.0 as of now.
  • Ubuntu Hardware Compatibility List: A nice database to which you can submit reviews on how your hardware works under Ubuntu and check other people’s reviews to see if it’s worth buying the piece.
  • A CC Science Fiction book. Have a look see.Ventus, published by Tor (the same guys who published JOR’s works) is somewhat about ecology. That’s what interested me.

EDIT: And also because I forgot it, the Peru meteor incident. Did someone say ‘Andromeda Strain’?

My Brilliance or lack thereof

This morning I woke up with a funny idea in my head, the idea that primes are neatly ordered. At first I thought I was being brilliant, it was a wonderful idea. Every positive integer > 3, has atleast one pair of primes equidistant from it. For primes, the pair of equidistant primes are the prime itself. For every other number, you can see a pair like this. Now, this seemed really smart until I decided to think of the two primes as n + a and n – a (n being the positive integer in question and a being the distance away). Adding the two leads to 2n, an even number. Now basically, what I’ve said is that every even number is the sum of two primes. Hello Goldbach! :(