ramen and pickles

science, technology, and medicine served up with some tasty noodles

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Is Algebra Necessary? – NYTimes.com

Andrew Hacker (born 1929), a professor emeritus (ie semi-retired) from Queens College (NYC) in Political Science wrote an opinion pice of the NY Times trying to make the case that algebra shouldn’t be a required part of the high school curriculum:



“It???s not hard to understand why Caltech and M.I.T. want everyone to be proficient in mathematics. But it???s not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar.” Just one example of the author’s ignorance is this statement. I don’t know if he’s ever taken a philosophy class, but domains in philosophy like symbolic logic makes massive use of algebra. Philosophy probably uses more algebra and theorem proving than any field other than mathematics and theoretical computer science. Modern work in philosophy is very much about empirical data gathering; the hottest area right now is even called “experimental philosophy”.


However, the author is not just out of touch on what philosophy is, he seems out of touch on the arts. “I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music ??? even poetry ??? along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet.”


WTF? It’s more important to learn how algebra was used in early cultures than how to do something useful with it? Ballet and sculpture are considered accessible and welcoming to high school students? It’s clear that he seems to think philosophy here means just some random wandering BS. But poetry? The people who are the modern poets with relevance to our society are people like Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Jay-Z, etc. and what they do is not being taught in high school, and it’s probably foolish to even try to teach people to do that in high school. It’s pretty reasonable to debate exact what topics should be taught in high school, and how much algebra vs geometry vs stats, etc should be taught, but the point is to actually learn something, and mathematics is one of the few areas in school where students are actually forced to learn something, that’s why it is so hard. It’s so hard for everyone.


“It???s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it???s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.” Exactly. So he’s right about something.  The point is that mathematics is hard.  It’s hard work, and by perseverance and hard work you learn something.  Education can teach you that you can, with hard work, learn something that at first seemed incredibly difficult, and once you’ve learned it, you’ve also got a new skill.


As an aside, Andrew Hacker is a strong proponent of the idea that schools should be less about teaching skills, (i.e. like a vocational program) and more about teaching students how to “think”.  I am very skeptical when people talk about education as teaching people “how to think”.  I have not been able to find someone who can actually be very clear about what that means and to show that it actually really works, and the only way I know to teach someone how to really think is to teach them logic, mathematics, and statistics.  Maybe physics is the discipline that most teaches you how to “think”.  So that when they are a shown a complicated problem that has a right answer, they can think clearly through and get to that answer.  Now, teaching rhetoric and how to convince or compel people is actually something different, and might be better considered a domain of marketing or public speaking or something.  That’s sort of the art of clouding the minds of others, and is actually a perfectly reasonable field of study.  But teaching people how to “think” means some form of mathematical thinking.

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

Some excellent words of wisdom from Charlie Munger

R Tutorial Presentations from the UseR! Meeting

Writing efficient and parallel code in R (Uwe Ligges):


Introduction to High-Performance Computing with R (Dirk Eddelbuettel):

From Inc. : 9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People

Taken directly from:





I’m fortunate enough to know a number of remarkably successful people. Regardless of industry or profession, they all share the same perspectives and beliefs.


And they act on those beliefs:


1. Time doesn’t fill me. I fill time.


Deadlines and time frames establish parameters, but typically not in a good way. The average person who is given two weeks to complete a task will instinctively adjust his effort so it actually takes two weeks.


Forget deadlines, at least as a way to manage your activity. Tasks should only take as long as they need to take. Do everything as quickly and effectively as you can. Then use your “free” time to get other things done just as quickly and effectively.


Average people allow time to impose its will on them; remarkable people impose their will on their time.


2. The people around me are the people I chose.


Some of your employees drive you nuts. Some of your customers are obnoxious. Some of your friends are selfish, all-about-me jerks.


You chose them. If the people around you make you unhappy it’s not their fault. It’s your fault. They’re in your professional or personal life because you drew them to you–and you let them remain.


Think about the type of people you want to work with. Think about the types of customers you would enjoy serving. Think about the friends you want to have.


Then change what you do so you can start attracting those people. Hardworking people want to work with hardworking people. Kind people like to associate with kind people. Remarkable employees want to work for remarkable bosses.


Successful people are naturally drawn to successful people.


3. I have never paid my dues.


Dues aren’t paid, past tense. Dues get paid, each and every day. The only real measure of your value is the tangible contribution you make on a daily basis.


No matter what you’ve done or accomplished in the past, you’re never too good to roll up your sleeves, get dirty, and do the grunt work. No job is ever too menial, no task ever too unskilled or boring.


Remarkably successful people never feel entitled–except to the fruits of their labor.


4. Experience is irrelevant. Accomplishments are everything.


You have “10 years in the Web design business.” Whoopee. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing what you do. Years of service indicate nothing; you could be the worst 10-year programmer in the world.


I care about what you’ve done: how many sites you’ve created, how many back-end systems you’ve installed, how many customer-specific applications you’ve developed (and what kind)… all that matters is what you’ve done.


Successful people don’t need to describe themselves using hyperbolic adjectives like passionate, innovative, driven, etc. They can just describe, hopefully in a humble way, what they’ve done.


5. Failure is something I accomplish; it doesn’t just happen to me.


Ask people why they have been successful. Their answers will be filled with personal pronouns: I, me, and the sometimes too occasional we.


Ask them why they failed. Most will revert to childhood and instinctively distance themselves, like the kid who says, “My toy got broken…” instead of, “I broke my toy.”


They’ll say the economy tanked. They’ll say the market wasn’t ready. They’ll say their suppliers couldn’t keep up.


They’ll say it was someone or something else.


And by distancing themselves, they don’t learn from their failures.


Occasionally something completely outside your control will cause you to fail. Most of the time, though, it’s you. And that’s okay. Every successful person has failed. Numerous times. Most of them have failed a lot more often than you. That’s why they’re successful now.


Embrace every failure: Own it, learn from it, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time, things will turn out differently.


6. Volunteers always win.


Whenever you raise your hand you wind up being asked to do more.


That’s great. Doing more is an opportunity: to learn, to impress, to gain skills, to build new relationships–to do something more than you would otherwise been able to do.


Success is based on action. The more you volunteer, the more you get to act. Successful people step forward to create opportunities.


Remarkably successful people sprint forward.


7. As long as I’m paid well, it’s all good.


Specialization is good. Focus is good. Finding a niche is good.


Generating revenue is great.


Anything a customer will pay you a reasonable price to do–as long as it isn’t unethical, immoral, or illegal–is something you should do. Your customers want you to deliver outside your normal territory? If they’ll pay you for it, fine. They want you to add services you don’t normally include? If they’ll pay you for it, fine. The customer wants you to perform some relatively manual labor and you’re a high-tech shop? Shut up, roll ’em up, do the work, and get paid.


Only do what you want to do and you might build an okay business. Be willing to do what customers want you to do and you can build a successful business.


Be willing to do even more and you can build a remarkable business.


And speaking of customers…


8. People who pay me always have the right to tell me what to do.


Get over your cocky, pretentious, I-must-be-free-to-express-my-individuality self. Be that way on your own time.


The people who pay you, whether customers or employers, earn the right to dictate what you do and how you do it–sometimes down to the last detail.


Instead of complaining, work to align what you like to do with what the people who pay you want you to do.


Then you turn issues like control and micro-management into non-issues.


9. The extra mile is a vast, unpopulated wasteland.


Everyone says they go the extra mile. Almost no one actually does. Most people who go there think, “Wait… no one else is here… why am I doing this?” and leave, never to return.


That’s why the extra mile is such a lonely place.


That’s also why the extra mile is a place filled with opportunities.


Be early. Stay late. Make the extra phone call. Send the extra email. Do the extra research. Help a customer unload or unpack a shipment. Don’t wait to be asked; offer. Don’t just tell employees what to do–show them what to do and work beside them.


Every time you do something, think of one extra thing you can do–especially if other people aren’t doing that one thing. Sure, it’s hard.


But that’s what will make you different.


And over time, that’s what will make you incredibly successful.

Smith & Jones Masala Noodles

Back to Indian ramen. Nice curry flavor. The noodles taste wheaty, unlike Japanese ramen. A little spicy, but not too much.


The last of the mild mango pickle

The last of the mild mango pickle to go with my leftovers from the always delicious Pakwan.


They have amazing lamb biryani.


Lunch in the ramen lab

This instant ramen is decent, but it has flavor packet with a strong fishy aroma which is not so pleasant for those around.  The noodles were good, nice smooth consistency and mouthfeel, held together well.


The hari hari zuke and ringo kyuri pickles are very good, as always. 🙂


David Chang | City Arts & Lectures, July 17

Adam Savage’s interview with David Chang last night was very enjoyable.  They discussed some of David Chang’s history and biography, and although much of this information is in his book, Momofuku, it was fun to hear some of the details live and in person.  He talked a little bit about his love for noodles and how he came to start a ramen shop in New York City.

I’m not sure how the broadcast will go over on the radio, as they will have to edit out a lot of expletives and it won’t be nearly as fun without his great facial expressions.

Someone did bring up his previous negative comments about Bay Area food and that he has said he will never open a restaurant in California.  He said that he stood by his previous comments and that people in the Bay Are are so progressive and innovative in pushing the boundaries in everything else, but they really aren’t doing the same in food.   Despite having access to one of the widest palettes of fresh, local ingredients, he doesn’t seen any really exciting innovation.  I guess that might be true.

He also hinted that some of the upcoming issues of his great, quarterly food magazine Lucky Peach are going to be interesting and a little controversial (to foodies):

He also talked about his recent efforts to research how to develop a local, American capacity to produce top quality food products like miso and katsuboshi, key base ingredients in Japanese-style cooking.  This is very exciting, as it sounds like he’s developed some very good new techniques in his “lab”.  I think it was interesting to hear also about his general investment in research and development.  He operates his restaurants on what is a considered a shoe-string budget in the world of high end cuisine, and yet he dedicates considerable time and energy to continually coming up with new things and improving his previous work.  It’s that spirit of trial and error and innovation that has propelled him to such success, along with what sounds like a serious compulsion to keep things clean.

Overall, it was fun to hear from the leader of American ramen.


Teaching a computer to learn to pay games


Discussion of Feynman’s analogy of learning the game of chess from watching to scientific research.