Project Twain

To hype-up my vocabulary for the GRE and gain lots of information on the way, I am going to read articles regularly and list them here with my comments.

#1 “Waiting for Godel” by Siobhan Roberts in The New Yorker. June 29, 2016. ( link )

My comments: A very informative article about Godel’s Theorem and Mathematics in general. Centered around the experience of Siobhan Roberts while attending a crash-course on Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research where he encountered people as diverse as “a computer scientist obsessed with recursion…, a public-health nutritionist with a fondness for her “Philoslothical” T-shirt; a philosopher in the tradition of American pragmatism; an ad man versed in the classics; and a private-school teacher who’d spent a lonely, life-changing winter reading Douglas Hofstadter’s “Gödel, Escher, Bach,”” A very pleasant read.

#2 “Killing the Computer to Save It” by John Markoff in The New York Times. October 29, 2012. ( link )

My comments: This article discusses the attempt of a famour Computer Scientist and Network Security specialist, Peter G. Neumann to redesign computer systems in an attempt to prevent the security flaws the modern-day internet is plagued with. With nostalgic descriptions of SRI, the early days of Computers and the Internet, and a meeting between Dr. Neumann and Albert Einstein which was to influence Dr. Neumann’s life and work greatly, the article is very vivid and engaging.

#3 “Soviet Computer Push” in The New York Times. January 5, 1988. ( link )

My comments: Not a particularly good article. Monotonously reports a 1985 Soviet attempt to accelerate the development of its computer industry in order to compete with the West.

#4 “Ada Lovelace, The First Tech Visionary” by Betsy Morais in The New Yorker. October 15, 2013. ( link )

My comments: This article provides a glimpse into the life of Ada Lovelace using various sources. It discusses her contributions to the “Analytical Engine” introduced to her by its inventor, Charles Babbage, which was later to be recognized as the world’s first designed computer. It describes how Ada was the first person to recognize the true potential of the Analytical Engine and write the world’s first computer program which weaved a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Moreover it also informs us that Ada was the first person to predict the rise of a new science emergent from mathematics based on this design, which she called the “science of operations” and is now called computer science. In parallel with all this, the article also discusses the discrimination faced by women in mathematics and computing and even the attempts at discrediting Ada in the twentieth century in order to establish male domination in the field. ““As people realized how important computer programming was, there was a greater backlash and an attempt to reclaim it as a male activity,” Aurora told me. “In order to keep that wealth and power in a man’s hands, there’s a backlash to try to redefine it as something a woman didn’t do, and shouldn’t do, and couldn’t do.”” The author concludes with a mention of the Ada programming language, named after the Countess of Lovelace which “brought together a number of different programming languages. It’s fitting for Lovelace—a woman who rode horses and played the harp and studied poetry—to tie seemingly disparate elements together.”

#5 “Beautiful Code” by Zeke Turner in The New Yorker. March 30, 2015. ( link )

My comments: Some people might find this article beautiful. I see it as a narration of how three people tried to sell other people’s code and algorithms as art on fancy sandstone tablets. Wasn’t particularly informative or inspiring.

#6 “Tesla Slept Here” by Mark Singer in The New Yorker. January 14, 2008. ( link )

My comments: This article uses the setting of the hotel Nikola Tesla lived in for the last decade of his life as a starting point to discuss his life. It is unique because, unlike most Tesla articles, it has almost no details about his scientific contributions. Instead it focuses more on Tesla the person, and Tesla the occupant of rooms 3327 and 3328.

#7 “Slavoj Žižek on Brexit, the crisis of the Left, and the future of Europe” by Slavoj Zizek and Benjamin Ramm in Open Democracy. July 1, 2016.  ( link )  [ entry by Ali Mehdi Zaidi ]

Mehdi’s comments: This article has an interesting discussion on the feasibility of popular democracy and the various forms of governance which can be instituted to bring about radical change.

My comments: Very illuminating. Zizek is not afraid to make assertions he can back up with solid reasoning, even if it is criticism of the Left and democracy. ““Direct democracy is the last Leftist myth”, Žižek tells me. “When there is a genuine democratic moment – when you really have to decide – it’s because there is a crisis”.” I am not sure what his exact opinion on the EU is, but seems somewhat supportive with a bit of suggested changes in policy. Analyzes the Brexit fuck-up really well.

#8 “Claude Shannon, the Father of the Information Age, Turns 1100100” by Siobhan Roberts in The New Yorker. April 30, 2016. ( link )

My comments: This article gives a heartening account of the mathematician Claude Shannon who is aptly called the father of the Information Age. It discusses some of Shannon’s greatest contributions, laying the foundation of Information Theory and establishing the connection between Boolean Algebra and Circuit Design in his Master’s thesis which completely changed the field of Circuit Design. As the article quotes, there will probably be an entry Shannon in the 166th edition of Encyclopedia Galactica, something like “Claude Shannon: Born on the planet Earth (Sol III) in the year 1916 A.D. Generally regarded as the father of the information age, he formulated the notion of channel capacity in 1948 A.D. Within several decades, mathematicians and engineers had devised practical ways to communicate reliably at data rates within one per cent of the Shannon limit.”

#9 “The Saint and the Skyscraper” by Mohammed Hanif in The New York Times. June 15, 2016. ( link )

My comments: Very well-written article informing us about the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi and what it means to the poor people there. While being threatened by religious extremists and having suffered a suicide blast in 2010, the shrine now has a new enemy: corporate real estate investors. Bahria Icon towers has completely surrounded the shrine with concrete walls and has made it impossible for its visitors, the poor, to visit Ghazi’s shrine. Shielding Ghazi’s shrine from the people who actually needed it. The article moves on to criticize the general trend in Karachi for development by the rich and exclusively for the rich and how it harms and sidelines the poor. “This is the development model Karachi has followed. There are signal-free corridors for car owners, but hardly any footpaths for the millions who walk to work. There are air-conditioned shopping malls for affluent consumers, but the police hound street vendors claiming they’re a threat to public order…But then who needs the sea, or a saint to protect us against it, when we can have infinity pools in the sky?”

#10 “I Worry About Muslims” by Mohammed Hanif in The New York Times. December 17, 2015. ( link )

My comments: This article discusses the death of Sabeen Mahmud. The writer, Mohammed Hanif, discusses the hypocrisy of both her Muslim killers and the moderates who take it upon themselves to defend the reputation of Islam. Very insightful read. It ends with: “The most poetic bit Muslim pundits tell the world is that Islam says if you murder one human being you murder the whole human race. So how come Sabeen Mahmud is gone and the whole bloody human race, including her killers, is still alive?”

#11 “Leopold Weiss, The Jew Who Helped Invent the Modern Islamic State” by Shalom Goldman in Tablet. July 1, 2016. ( link ) [entry by Ali Mehdi Zaidi]

Mehdi’s comments: his is about Muhammad Asad, father of famous Anthropologist Talal Asad and a renowned scholar of the Quran. Apparently, the man had a very interesting back story and had profound ideas on Islamic governance. Definitely worth reading.

My comments: Very interesting story, especially considering his diverse background and very globalized life.

#12 “How Nikola Tesla Predicted the Smartphone” by Celena Chong in TIME magazine. November 10, 2015. ( link )

My comments: This articles depicts the genius of the Serbian scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla using yet another example, his accurate almost prophetic prediction of the smartphone. Today, Tesla is widely regarded as the father of the electric age and a man far ahead of his time.

#13 “There is no difference between computer art and human art” by Oliver Roeder in Aeon. July 20, 2016. ( link )

My comments: This article challenges the distinction some commentators make between human and computer art, arguing that computer art is as human as “paint art or piano art”.


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