For the Love of Football… (update II)

… or Mathematics.

Just finished reading this today:





MANIFOLD DESTINY
by SYLVIA NASAR AND DAVID GRUBER
A legendary problem and the battle over who solved it.
Issue of 2006-08-28
Posted 2006-08-21

The story in summary sounds so trite. A hundred years old math problem was finally proved, TWICE, within three years. On November 2002, it was proved by an eccentric Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman, who lived a seclude life and refused to accept the famed Fields Metal that the committee wanted to award him. One year after Perelman posted his proof of the problem on the Internet in three installments, it was again re-proved by a group of Chinese mathematicians led by the famous once-Fields-Metal-winner Shing-Tung Yau, who really really wants a Fields Metal for it.

The math problem in question is the Poincaré conjecture, which is “about the characteristics of three-dimensional spheres, which, because it has important implications for mathematics and cosmology and because it has eluded all attempts at solution, is regarded by mathematicians as a holy grail.”

The article traced both mathematician’s professional life and their vastly different attitudes toward mathematics.

Perelman is shy and is living a quiet life as an professor in St. Petersburg, relatively unknown before he posted his proof of Poincaré. He loves long walks around St. Petersburg and he loves opera. He refuses to accept the Fields Medal because

“It was completely irrelevant for me,” he said. “Everybody understood that if the proof is correct then no other recognition is needed.”

Perelman loves Math. Nothing else matters.

Shing-Tung Yau, on the other hand, loves something else. Yau has led a distinguished career. Won a Fields Medal at thirty-two, became the first Chinese to won a Fields. He is currently “a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the director of mathematics institutes in Beijing and Hong Kong.” He mingles with high officials in China such as the now retired Chairman Jiang Ze Min. All these are not enough. Yau’s goal is to become “the next famous Chinese mathematician” after Shiing-Shen Chern steps down.

*Chern was the author of a famous theorem combining topology and geometry. He spent most of his career in the United States, at Berkeley. He made frequent visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and, later, China, where he was a revered symbol of Chinese intellectual achievement, to promote the study of math and science.

Sounds like Yau has determined their proof of Poincaré (although 2 years later than Perelman’s) will be that magic step stone.

Perelman does it for the love of math.
Yau does it for the love of recognition.

When i was swallowed by the heat of FIFA world cup, i had a moment of realization–that the best footballers play for the love of football. The most amazing match was usually one where the team expressed themselves best through this game, like music or art. Right then and there i thought, is that why Chinese football sucks so much? Because there is rarely any Chinese athlete plays sports for the love of it or for the freedom of self-expression. They play like soldiers on a battle field. Forced, inprisoned. There is no individuality, no self-expression. There is only competition and rigid discipline. Only in very recent olympic competition, could we see a glimpse of some individuality showing through. To free a nation’s mind will take a long long time.

Now the nation is swiped under the craze to gain fame and money.

Sad.

At the end of the New Yorker article,

Mikhail Gromov, the Russian geometer, said that he understood Perelman’s logic: “To do great work, you have to have a pure mind. You can think only about the mathematics. Everything else is human weakness. Accepting prizes is showing weakness.” Others might view Perelman’s refusal to accept a Fields as arrogant, Gromov said, but his principles are admirable. “The ideal scientist does science and cares about nothing else,” he said. “He wants to live this ideal. Now, I don’t think he really lives on this ideal plane. But he wants to.”

Regardless how many destruction western civilization has imposed on the world, the fact that idealistic and pure passion was valued so highly till this day proves its power.

I wish i could say the same about Chinese civilization.

Now the question is, do you think the world is becoming more like the west? or more like China?
==============
Update (8/28/2006):
Okay, i wasn’t been fair. Matthew pointed out to me that in the same article there was a good Chinese mathmatician, too. 🙂 And sis said that politics is everywhere.

The fact is that China wasn’t like this before. The traditional intellectual used to care a lot about form and purity. Fighting for fame and recognition used to be considered very bad form for an intellectual. But now, the entire nation is taken over by greed. I missed the lost tradition. And i am kept on reminded of that saying “The death of civilizations makes me tremble for the fate of our own, which has given so much less to posterity. – Irfan Orga”

Update (9/5/2006):More amusing development regarding this article and the main characters:

  • Three Mathematicians (Dan Stroock, Michael Anderson, Joe Kohn) quoted in the New Yorker article supposedly either published their clarification/apology on the net or emailed them to Yau. All i could find is this version with Chinese translation mingled with original text. Not sure where are the sources in English.
  • Yau himself is experiencing a huge wave of criticism from all sides right now, because he openly criticized one of the most prestige university in China: Beijing University. He claimed that the University has hired many “fake” professors from over-seas universities to boaster its image and paying them large sum of money to keep it up. Needless to say, many professors employed by Beijing University has since stood up and fought back. As a result, Yau’s name has become well known in China recently.
  • Is Yau employing “no publicity is bad publicity” tactic? or am i worried over nothing — that Chinese traditional culture is still well and alive, not tolerating someone so anti-tradition (not humble enough) like Yau? I’m leaning toward the former.

There is no a wikipedia entry for this whole ordeal: Manifold Destiny (article)

A Flickr Badge Hack

Warning: This is a bit geeky.

I’ve always liked the idea of having rotating images on a web pages, so everytime a user refreshs the page, the look and feel changes slightly. But the only way i knew before was to write a javascript to rotate through a list of image names. It gets old after a while. I thought of crawling all the known image directories on my site and then collect the existing image path, then there is the question of non-uniformed size of each image. A webpage looks nice with a horizontal photo might not look as nice with a vertical one. Certainly there are scripts out there to resize the images to the desired size. Then there is also the possibility of storing your image file path in a db and just look it up there. Both seemed lots of work and maintenance.

For example, i liked the little image on the upper right corner on this site. It is a finite number of images that author scanned and nicely cropped for this use alone. But it is a limit number of choices, and it requires lots of work to create those images to fit that location.

V A G A B O N D I N G

Anyway, all these possibilities went through my head before there is flickr.

Now there is the “badge” concept created by flickr. Most people place their flickr badge on the side of their blog, and let it go on rotating and even flashing on by itself. It didn’t occure to me to use flickr badge to do what i always wanted until i saw Jason Goldman’s blog yesterday. He used the flickr photo badge to decorate his otherwise plain template.

So i emulated how Jason Goldman used the flickr script and modified the look of my Chinese blog. After some twicking of the layout, I was happy to call it finished. When i showed it to ZM, he liked it too, but the first thing he did was mouseover the image, and then the amazing thing was the title of the image was shown as the mouse move from image to image! I loved it so much that i went in my flickr and batch edited all my image title to make them meaningful. Lots of them are in Chinese. Then the trouble came.

Flickr’s badge generation javascript assumes everyone’s webpage is in UTF-8 encoding.

Mine wasn’t.


When i started setting up my Chinese blog, i didn’t really understand the world of encoding that well. At the time, all the Chinese pages i’ve ever seen were in “gb2312.” I figured out how to setup mine (using MT at the time) that way. Later when i switched to WordPress, i should’ve known better and taken the opportunity to convert everything into UTF-8. But by then i’ve accumulated so many articles in gb2312, i got lazy and was worried i might mess things up. So i ended up in gb2312 again.

Flickr, like all the other cutting edge websites(e.g. Google), uses UTF-8. So it could support multiple language on the same page. What Flickr badge generation script did was to assume the rest of the world is as clean and cutting edge as Flickr itself. It would have been an easy fix if i can access Flickr’s source code (time for Flickr to be open source, maybe?). All it needs to do is check the http header in the http request, identify the requesting page’s language setting, and return the image’s title in the correct format. Encoding conversion is easy to do on the server side.

But what was I to do now? I could file a bug on Flickr help and then wait. Except i can’t bear the ugly messed up encoding everytime i move my mouse over the image on the header.

So i set out to fix it from my side.

First i tried to insert an iframe on my gb2312 blog page, set the iframe’s source to another html that has encoding of utf-8, placed the Flickr badge on that utf-8 page. It works well with IE, but not with Firefox. 🙁

Then I started looking for something similar to php’s iconv on javascript. Since iconv in php has been so easy to use, i assumed it is a no brainer. But after googling around for 20 minutes and not finding anything useful, i started to realize it is not as easy as i thought.

Encoding conversion requires access to a huge amount of character resources, which are not available from client side. Sure i can try AJAX, but just for an image title, it seemed a little overkill. I might as well try to do this from server side. (actually i havn’t used AJAX, but i have a little project in mind so i can learn it. That’s another story.)

So my final solution is a relatively simple one.

I took the one-liner javascript from Flickr badge generator, executed on the server side using curl, took the returned value, converted from utf-8 to gb2312 using iconv, and then write it out to the page. It worked beautifully, on both IE and Firefox.

-php function that execute curl and return the http response (a very useful common function that can be used in many places, e.g. to fix douban.com’s badge for books/music/movies.)


function getResponse($post_url) {

    $ch = curl_init();
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, $post_url);
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);

    // Execute the http request.
    $response = curl_exec($ch);
        
    if (curl_errno($ch)) {
      echo curl_error($ch);
    } else {
        curl_close($ch);
    }

    // Return the response to the page
    return $response;
}

-php snippet that i placed on my header template:


<?php

// Send the request and receive a response
$querystring = <place your flickr javacript url here>;

$transmit_response = SendRequest($querystring);

$tempstr = iconv("utf-8", "gb2312", $transmit_response);
print ("<script language="JavaScript">".$tempstr."</script>");

?>

*Update: dotann just told me that changing the entire blog from gb to utf-8 is a matter of setting a configuration in mysql. Much easier than this hack. Now think about it. even AJAX might not be that bad. But i guess i just want to see if this kind of conversion can be done. 🙂

Food Heaven!

I thought I just died and woke up in heaven!

Last week i went to a new cafe at lunch time. It is called Cafe 7 (because it is the 7th cafeteria the company opened so far). The food didn’t look that superb when i got them. Maybe cuz they were in massive containers and doesn’t come in the decorative presentation that you see in a upscale restaurant. But when i had my first bite! Oh My! I felt like i was hit by a train headon. I couldn’t believe it. It was up scale French Bistro quality food. I could easily pay $50 per person in a yuppie restaurant in the city over the weekend and still won’t have as good food as this. The soup was heavenly, the fish was tender and flavorful, the veggie was fresh and tasted like nothing i had experienced, the pasta made me moan, the table bread made me drool, and the desert was decadent. I cleaned my plate and wished i didn’t become full so fast.

Here is a typical menu at Cafe 7 (they change daily):

Café -7 / Lunch Menu for Thursday, August 17, 2006

Table Bread Baskets
Assortment of Artisan Breads
Russian Rye, Assorted Pretzels, Salted Bread Sticks, Sour Wheat, Kalamata Olive, Walnut-Cranberry-Raisin. If you have nut or seed allergies, avoid table breads.

Today’s Bread Basket Spread:
*Saffron Aioli Saffron, Egg Yolks, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, White Wine, Salt and Cayenne Pepper

GREENS

Composed Salad of the Week
Taste of Japan!
Mixed Organic Greens, Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna Marinated Cucumbers (Rice Wine Vinegar, Sugar), Carrot, Enoki Mushrooms, Wakame Seaweed, Asian Vinaigrette, Crisp Wontons

Create Your Own Salad
Lettuces: Organic Field Greens, Chopped Baby Romaine, Baby Spinach

Salad Toppings:
Roasted Skinless Chicken Breast Strips, Housemade Pickled Vegetables, Grilled Sweet Corn, Balsamic Figs, Citrus Sections, Kidney Beans, Hard Boiled Egg, Edamame Beans, Navy Beans, Olive Oil Croutons, Cottage Cheese, Spicy Peanuts

Chilled Pasta Salad of the Day
Farfalle and Tuna Salad: Chilled Pasta, Flaked Tuna, Mayonnaise, Pickle, Red Onion, Celery, Herbs, Spices, Lemon, Bell Pepper, Grated Egg

Today’s Dressings:
*Creamy Non-Fat Basil (Yogurt, Basil, Garlic, Agave Syrup, Shallots,White Balsamic Vinegar)
Citrus-Lobster Vinaigrette (Lobster Oil, Fresh Citrus Juice, Shallots, Garlic,
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
**Balsamic Vinaigrette
Classic Caesar

SOUPS

*Chilled Curried Carrot Soup
Pureed Carrots, Celery, Onion, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Ginger, Tomato, Curry, Apple, Milk
Garnished with Sweet Milk and Kaffir Lime Foam

Golden Chanterelle Mushroom Soup
Sliced Chanterelles, Chicken Stock, Onion, Fresh Herbs and Spices, Garlic, Madeira
Garnished with Black Truffle Crouton

Mussel and Corn Chowder
Steamed Mussels, Sweet Corn, Onion, Garlic, Celery, Carrot, Fish Fumet, Clam Juice, White Wine, Fresh Herbs and Spices, Brandy, Milk
Garnished with Fresh Corn, Potato, Basil Oil

Russian Beef and Cucumber Soup
Cubes of Tender Beef in a Rich Veal Broth with Onion, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Mushrooms, Pork Sausage and Black Olives
Garnished with Lemon Crème Fraiche, Dill and Caraway Seeds

DELICATESSAN

Sandwich of the Week
Claudia’s BLT (Yes, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato!)
Sliced Bread, Crisp Applewood Smoked Bacon, Mixed Organic Greens,Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil Aioli, Smoked Salt and Black Pepper
(Available at the Delicatessen or in the Grab & Go’s)

Create Your Own Sandwich
Assorted Artisan Breads, Sliced Tomato, Romaine, Red Onion, Bread & Butter Pickles, Dill Pickles, Pepperoncini, Fontina Val D’ Aosta Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Sliced Mozzarella Cheese, Cave Aged Emmentaler Cheese

Avocado, Grilled Vegetables, Roast Tomatoes, Balsamic Portobello Mushrooms, Smoked Turkey, Roast Beef, Black Forest Ham, Assorted Salami

SIDES

*Herbed Spaetzle
Housemade Herbed Dumplings, Caramelized Onions, Grain Mustard-Crème Fraiche, Butter

**Curried Lentils
Lentils cooked tender with Sweet Onion, Garlic, Madras Curry, and Tomato and Fresh Herbs

**Three-Grain Pilaf
Red Rice, Black Rice and Bulgar Wheat, simmered with Sweet Onion, Vegetable Stock, Fresh Herbs and Spices

**Pea Sprout Sauté with Grilled Corn
Wilted Pea Sprouts, Grilled Corn, Cumin, Black Truffle Oil

**Vegetable Medley
Warm Daily Summer Produce Tossed Lightly with Apple Vinaigrette
(Steamed Preparation Available)

Main Plates

Grilled Scallop Brochettes
Two-each Jumbo Scallops, Cremini Mushrooms, Peppedews, Chipotle Glaze

Mini Duck Sliders
Whole Ground Duck Meat, Sautéed Onion, Garlic, Herbs, Spices, Fontina Val d’Aosta Fondue, Baby Bun

Cantonese Roasted Chicken Breast
Roasted (Skin on) Breast of Chicken basted with a Sauce composed of Honey, Rice Wine Vinegar, Ginger, Sherry, Hoisin and Five Spice
Garnished with Sliced Scallions

Brick Oven

**Archie’s Veggie Pizza
Classic Crust, Housemade Tomato Sauce, Spiced Firm Polenta (Fennel Seeds, Garlic, Basil, Parsley), Wild Mushrooms, Pistachio Creamless-Cream

Smoked Chicken, Pesto and Sausage Pizza
Classic Crust, Classic Pesto, Smoked Chicken, Assorted Pork Sausage, Roasted Peppers, Fontina Val d’ Aosta, Sweet One Hundred Tomatoes,Red Onion

Sweet Corn, Ricotta and Spinach Calzone
Masa (Corn) Crust, Seared Onions, Tomato-Marsala Sauce,
Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese, Sautéed Corn, Wilted Spinach, Basil Leaves

Piazzon’s Italian “Hoagie”
Soft French Roll with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, Onions, Sliced Salami, Ham, Provolone Cheese, Mozzarella, Rosemary, Oregano
Served with Tomato Sauce on the Side

Sweets

*Cinnamon Crème Brûlée
Creamy Custard Infused with Cinnamon, Turbinado Sugar Topping

**Earl Grey Poached Apricots and Plums
Sweet Plums and Apricots Poached in Aromatic Earl Grey Tea Syrup, With Hints of Lemon and Orange
Flourless Chocolate Brownies with Chocolate Chips
Pecan Sandies with Apricot

Frozen Yogurt!
Caramel Pecan or Vanilla Frozen Yogurt with the Following Toppings:
Heathbar, Chopped Almonds, Peanut Butter Cup Crumbles, Butterfinger Crumbles

Confetti of Candies

Just when i thought Cafe 7 is “as good as it gets.”

Today i found out we just opened the 8th cafe, and it is clled “The American Table,” which “will be serving regional American cuisine with a focus on Native American ingredients utilizing methods taken from the different cultures that settled each region.” I went there today and I knew, Cafe 7 got competition, and the quality of my life just went up another notch. Life could be this good! I must have done something right to deserve this. Everyone who had come to our cafe before should consider taking a number and getting in line, you have no idea what you have been missing. This is the kind of restaurant that you would make reservation 3 weeks ahead of the time, had to put up with snooty service, expensive parking, waiting in long lines before sitting down, paying $50+ plus and might still not get the right entry and felt cheated. With Cafe 7 and 8, i guarantee you won’t be disappointed. This is what heaven really meant to be, i hope. And it is FREE!

My lunch consisted of:
Corn bisque with shrimp
This didn’t make it to the chef’s menu that he sent out today, but it is so so so good.
Fried Frogs Legs with Crystal & Fine Herb Butter
Buttermilk battered legs with crystal hot sauce and tarragon, chives, and parsley, bearer blanc.
Pan Roasted Pork Chops
with Mashed Potatoes & Fancy Creamed Corn with a Herbed Pork
(The best pork chop i’ve ever had, never though pork chop can possibly be this tasty)
Southern Polenta Spoon Bread
With onion broth, red peppers, and fresh thyme.
Sweet Potato Cakes with Trufflata
Sweet potatoes, goat cheese, eggs, thyme, shallots, and flour. With roasted chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and truffle oil garnished with fresh herbs.
(Oh My God! Someone pinch me now, is this for real? explosive with flavor? I feel guity eating it.)
Almond Bread Puddin
With a creamy huckleberry Anglaise
(hM! hM! HM!)

The dishes that i would’ve tried if have had a backup stomach.
Coriander Crusted Tuna with Braised Summer Veg
Seared tuna and veg to bolls that have been braised in ver jus, olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and roasted lemons.
Summer Veg & Tofu Pot Pie
Patty pans, onions, wax beans, Yukon potatoes, and tofu in a light Creole cream sauce with parsley, chives, and a drop of truffle oil topped off with puff pastry.
(This was covered with a thick layer of puffy filos. highly recommanded by my co-worker but i was too full to try it. :()
Duck Confit Salad with Baby Arugula
Fresh blueberries and with balsamic vinaigrette
(I didn’t even make it to the pizza/salad counter, but saw this after i came back from lunch and reviewing the menu)

“The American Table” the full menu of 8/17/2006:

MEAT

Fried Frogs Legs with Crystal& Fine Herb Butter
Buttermilk battered legs with crystal hot sauce and tarragon, chives, and parsley, bearer blanc.

Coriander Crusted Tuna with Braised Summer Veg
Seared tuna and veg to bolls that have been braised in ver jus, olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and roasted lemons.

Pan Roasted Pork Chops
with Mashed Potatoes & Fancy Creamed Corn with a Herbed Pork

VEGGIE

*Summer Veg & Tofu Pot Pie
Patty pans, onions, wax beans, Yukon potatoes, and tofu in a light Creole cream sauce with parsley, chives, and a drop of truffle oil topped off with puff pastry.

*Southern Polenta Spoon Bread
With onion broth, red peppers, and fresh thyme.

*Sweet Potato Cakes with Trufflata
Sweet potatoes, goat cheese, eggs, thyme, shallots, and flour. With roasted chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and truffle oil garnished with fresh herbs.

PIZZA

Quail Fig & Arugula
fresh pizza with brown sauce and goat cheese.

Crawfish Roasted Corn
topped with red bell peppers, onions red sauce and white cheddar.

Pork Po Boy Sandwich
With Swiss cheese and coleslaw.

COMPOSED SALAD

Butter Lettuce Salad
Point Reyes blue cheese tossed pecans, summer pears and bacon.

Duck Confit Salad with Baby Arugula
Fresh blueberries and with balsamic vinaigrette

*Mirliton Salad with Vine Ripened Tomatoes Onions & Dill

Pickled Shrimp Salad
Fresh cucumbers, and red onions. The shrimp is pickled with spices, lemon juice and champagne vinaigrette.

**Water Melon Salad with Watercress
Red bell peppers and red onions.

Hot and Sweet

Almond Bread Puddin
With a creamy huckleberry Anglaise

Strawberry Clafoutis
A Thick flan cake with fresh Santa Cruz strawberries and a strawberry caramel

Cold & Creamy

Chocolate Tart
With cinnamon whipped cream

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

When time go bad, when we can’t afford to have this kind of free lunch, instead of closing them down or making them suffer in quality, i wish they would turn these cafes into restaurants and open them to the public. I would pay to come and eat here.

Neural Theory of Language

I stumbled onto this particular show on podcast: Neural Theory of Language, it is part of the KQED Forums program, a talk with Jerome Feldman, EECS professor at UCBerkeley, and an author of “From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language.” . I kept on rewinding it as i listened, learned something new every time. An amazing field.

How our brains work? How do we learn knowledge? What exactly happened biologically when you learned a new fact?

1. Our brain is completely different from a computer. Computer processes information in a linear fashion, while our brain is vastly parallel.

2. neurons are slow, but our brain is fast. The reason being most of our “knowledge” is hardwired between neurons. There are two forms of knowledge of our brain, one that relies on chemistry in the brain that is similar to a kind of “computation” to go from one neuron to the next. But when it comes to something we learned really well, there is minimum computation, but mostly direct “wiring” between one neuron to the next. The learning process is a process of subtraction, to reduce the multiple paths existed, and as a result to reduce “computation” required. I’m fascinated by this aspect of the talk. So when we were given a piece of knowledge, such as, Mr. Feldman was born in Pittsburgh. The moment this information was given, there certainly wasn’t a hardwired connection instantly created. Instead, there was a chemical reaction that “added weight” to certain path and resulted in a connection.

3. Children learn language by map an abstract concept, i.e. a word, with their real life experiences. When a child started learning to speak, he/she already accumulated roughly one year worth of experiences. The learning to speak process is a process of “subtraction,” a process of “hardwired.” So if there is to emerge a human-like robot, a simulation of real life experience is mandatory.

4. People who were bilingual since childhood are better equipped to acquire more languages because their neuron structures were adapted in certain way that become optimal to learn new languages. Neurons are most active at growth during childhood.

This professor’s favorite phrases are “That’s not my area of expertise, so i can’t comment on it.” “This is not my theory but … ” It is obvious that this area of research has been divided into very thin slices that each expert only takes on one and dives deep. But for us non-academic people, this sounds funny, because we could hardly grasp the basic knowledge of the landscape, how could we tell which leaf on a particular tree that belongs to Professor Feldman?