Monday, 6/24/02

I was mulling over some boolean algebra in the shower this morning (the train of thought responsible for dumping me off at this topic was long and bumpy and prone to derailing in a spectacular display of flaming wreckage... not unlike Amtrak) and somehow I ended up with the following simultaneous abomination of both art and science. Sing it to the tune of "Yesterday", or better yet, don't.

I can represent you compactly,
When sum-of-products grows exponentially.
I believe in BDDs.

I like to draw them with binary trees.
I put ones and zeroes at the leaves.
Oh, life's a breeze with BDDs.

Why'd... I... have to try to APPLY?
It made my program freeze.
Or... der... N-squared time is a crime,
Computing these...

I can complement them with ease,
But AND and OR bring them to their knees.
Please don't tease with BDDs.

Now that I've effectively alienated all of my visitors who do not heartily enjoy bad math parodies (a bit like saying "all Sasquatches with hair"), an appropriate chaser might be the chorus of my complex analysis song, which you can sing to the tune of "Piano Man", although I wouldn't recommend it in public.

Traverse my curve, you're the integrand.
Traverse my contour tonight.
Oh, I know you'll add up to nothing,
If there are no poles inside.

Traverse my curve, you're the integrand.
Traverse my contour tonight.
Well, I know that you
Will be twice pi i residues,
Of all the poles inside.

It's a good mnemonic, if nothing else. I fully expect that my creation will someday somewhere be responsible for a group of drunken, lively mathematicians being thrown out of a bar and beaten violently, and this nags at my social conscience somewhat. As a preemptive reparation, I typed up and posted the first ever online copy of McEliece's wonderful information theory song. I actually had the pleasure of hearing this sung in person by the man himself, and it was probably that event which corrupted my young impressionable mind into believing in the legitimacy of these shenanigans.

The previous blawg entry offered up two promises, and since I never break my promises (in fact, I promise never to break my promises...), I'll try to make good. First promise -- reading report for this week: Brave New World (good idea, horridly written); A Clockwork Orange (good idea, superbly written); and The Secret Agent (good idea, also excellently written). The latter was a farewell gift to me from my high school senior English teacher, unread until now. It was received around the time that, for bizarre reasons I still don't quite understand, good literature started scaring the hell out of me and I had to forswear all text not contained in word balloons. I think my extreme emotional volatility at the time had provoked me to protect myself with a cocoon of calming comedy. I'm not sure. Anyway, my teacher's kind inscription on the inside cover contains the phrase, "I will miss your rubber visage and your photographic memory, brushed with the palest wash of condescension...". I cringe every time I see that. If the technology existed, I would take the book back in time seven years, find my high school self, and smack him upside the head with it.

Promise two, perhaps given a bit flippantly, was that if I were somehow blessed with an evening more exciting than unidirectional communication with a dead author, I would write about it. As it turned out, Pete was in town this weekend, and he, his girlfriend Jannah, Dave, and I spent Saturday together. I don't want to to over-romanticize the occasion, but I honestly can't remember the last time I was out with a group of people and really laughed. Continuously getting caught up in one after another hilarious, ludicrous, multi-way, free-wheeling flight of fantasy. I guess this is what socializing is supposed to be like, and it's only amazing to me because I don't get out much. In any case, it was the most fun I've had in quite a while.

It did, however, arouse a latent worry of mine, which is that I can't seem to speak quite as well as I used to. It recently occurred to me that the cause might be, horribly enough, lack of practice. Over the last year, it hasn't been uncommon for me to go an entire day without saying a word to anyone except myself. Conversational skill is not innate... can it be unlearned, or at least grow rusty, with negligence? It's a scary thought.

I'm sure that everyone occasionally indulges in silent fantasy conversations, mentally putting convenient words into imaginary mouths like a lonely chess aficionado playing both sides of the board. Nothing wrong with that. But if that is one's only conversational outlet, can it actually be self-destructive? A quote from the aforementioned Secret Agent, describing a political activist released from prison after fifteen years:

He was no good in discussion, not because any amount of argument could shake his faith, but because the mere fact of hearing another voice disconcerted him painfully, confusing his thoughts at once--these thoughts that for so many years, in a mental solitude more barren than a waterless desert, no living voice had ever combated, commented, or approved.