The life and self-reflections of a professional mathematician

Month: October, 2011

Doors and Keys

Imagine a door. Imagine further that you have a key that opens that door. You can turn the key either clockwise or anti-clockwise and only one of these turns will actually open the door. One of these two turns is intuitive and the other one is counter-intuitive: if the door handle is on the left side, then the clockwise turn is intuitive and the anti-clockwise turn is counter-intuitive; if the handle on the right side, then vise versa. Regardless of door handle locations, all doors at Caltech that I have opened so far are opened by the counter-intuitive turn. On contrary, all doors at USC that I have opened so far are opened by the intuitive one.

The Midnight Jazz


This paper has been accepted for publication in Computers and Structures.

This is the final comment from one of two reviewers:

Thank you very much for your answers on my comments and their consideration. I have no further remarks and appreciate this very interesting paper very much.


Wilderness First Aid

Last week, there were three lectures, numerous office hours, two important and fruitful meetings, papers, drafts, proposals, soccer, floorball, etc. It looks like I deserved a good and quiet rest on this weekend. And what did I get instead? The 16 hour 2 day Wilderness First Aid course provided by the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)! This was a great basic course with very enthusiastic instructors, where bits of theory were followed by scenarios and case studies. “Hands on” style of learning worked perfectly. Now I know how to assess a patient, how to recognize spine and head injuries, how to treat wounds, and many more. How to treat shoulder dislocations I knew before, from my own experience :-) But the most crucial piece of information that I got is how little I know about this important topic.

In  less than one hour, a new week will start. What will it bring?


The arXiv is a free scientific repository hosted by Cornell University, where physicists, mathematicians, and statisticians post their preprints. It was estimated that (as of September 2011) the repository had accumulated approximately 700,000 papers, with more than 6,000 new submissions arriving each month.

I have been using arXiv for a long time already, but, by some mysterious reason (a mixture of laziness and modesty), I did not put my own papers on arXiv. A couple of days ago I did my first bit by uploading my last paper co-authored with J.L. Beck of Caltech.  In this paper, we introduce a new scheme for Bayesian inference which is based on Markov chain Monte Carloimportance sampling, and simulated annealing.


The Friday Rock


Why should social science students learn math fundamentals?

We all need a good reason to do things well and with pleasure. And the answer to the posed question is not obvious at all. “You will use the learned material in your future life” is a bad reason, since the statement is very likely to be false. “Because it is a requirement towards your degree” is an excuse rather than a good reason.

I can suggest two reasons – cultural and athletic – to hopefully increase your motivation.

  1. After you graduate, it would be nice not only to have a diploma, but also feel that you are indeed a well-educated person. A hundred years ago, to be well-educated, it was enough to be able to read. Nowadays the standards are slightly higher. Knowing and understanding of (very basic) concepts of mathematics is one of this standards.
  2. When we go to gym, we don’t have a goal to break a world record. We train our muscles just because we want to be in good shape and look good. Math is a gym for our brain-muscle. If we want to be in good intellectual shape, we need to workout in the gym.

Damn Supercuts…