Monday, 16 April 2001

Entry #164

Listening to:
Oscar Peterson: the song is you.
Just read:
David Berlinski, A tour of the calculus.
An exposition of the fundamental ideas in calculus, written in a style presumably intended to be accessible, and not dry in the way that many maths texts are. Professional mathematicians prize a compact terseness that forces the reader to pay a great deal of attention. Berlinski has written something that is exactly the opposite; he writes great wads of kerfuffle in a very "posey" way. I found it terribly off-putting. Berlinski clearly has a few chips on his shoulders about the humanities as well, because he includes at least a couple of mean-spirited digs at humanities academics that seem completely out of place.

If it wasn't for the fact that the coverage of the material is actually pretty reasonable, I would have found this book very difficult to finish. As it is, his coverage of the material is good, and I particularly liked his discussion of continuity.

Berlinski concludes briefly to the effect that all of the world's "hot science' is happening in biology (contentious, for a start), and because biologists don't need maths (definitely contentious, for a second), calculus's heyday is over. Of course, he is muddling calculus and maths grossly, but I don't believe it whichever he meant.

Granta 65: London.
This issue of Granta is quite a fat one, and just about all of its pieces have some connection with London. Further, they're almost all pretty good. I particularly liked the extracts from John Lanchester's Mr. Phillips, Ian Buruma's Voltaire's coconuts, and a piece by a Ugandan about his experience claiming political asylum at Gatwick airport.
Now reading:
Colonel Frederick Bailey, Mission to Tashkent. Another memoir by someone in the secret agent business. This one is set in the period 1918 to about 1920 though.
I haven't come in today (Easter Monday holiday) solely to update this web-log I assure you. I have work to do too! (I bought Age of Empires II, by the way. It's pretty good, with high addiction potential, but calling the genre "real-time strategy" is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. Europa Universalis is about strategy, AoE2 is about something else entirely.)