Dried Roses

Mathematics sources online

Many of the canonical works in the history of mathematics can be found online. Let’s hope that more libraries receive funding to scan their collections. All the sites below are free.
  • Digital Mathematics Library:
    Author & title listing of works online, together with journals.
  • World Digital Mathematics Library:
    List of catalogues.
  • Bibliothèque Nationale:
    Among the thousands of texts now online are a number of texts in mathematics, mostly French.
  • Cornell Historical Mathematics Monographs:
    512 titles. These are 600 dpi bitonal scans made in the early 90s.
  • Digitised European Periodicals:
    Includes the Monatshefte fü Mathematik und Physik, v. 1 to 51.
  • Das Göttinger Digitalisierungszentrum (GDZ):
    Several hundred monographs and a thousand articles, mostly in German.
  • Jahrbuch über die Fortschritte der Mathematik:
    An important German journal; includes most of the volumes published between 1868 and 1931.
  • University of Michigan Historical Mathematics Collection:
    A good collection of old textbooks and important monographs. It was slow when I tried it.

LinkDecember 4, 2004 in History of Science · Philosophy of Mathematics

Sunday cat pix: F/X edition

We’ll admit it. Really these are pix that didn’t come out. But sometimes the result is worth a second look.


LinkDecember 5, 2004 in Cats

How to Mislead with Statistics

The number taken out of context is one of the staples of statistical deceit (). George Will gives us a fine example.


LinkDecember 7, 2004 in Academic Affairs · Current Affairs

Sunday cat pix: School’s Out edition

9 December: last day of classes. Not the last day of work.


LinkDecember 10, 2004 in Cats

Memoirs of a dossier-reader

It’s worse to be looking for a job than to be on the other end. I can testify to that, having been on the market not so long ago. Nevertheless those who are hiring deserve a bit of sympathy too. A few words from a dossier-reader may help dispel some of the fantasies, morose or extravagant, that I at least, having sent off my too-thin packets, was prone to.
We have one yes to offer, and many many nos. The standard rejection letter says something like “We had many worthy applicants; unfortunately we could only choose one”. Small comfort, but true. Saying no is in general not pleasant (though the unpleasantness of saying no is quite different in its consequences than that of being told no). Saying no to well-qualified, interesting people is especially not pleasant. I would not want a colleague who enjoyed it.
The tough-minded may say: “It’s pointless to regret the nos. We have one slot; we try to fill it with the best person we can get. Those we don’t pick, if they have talent & ambition, will do fine. If they haven’t any talent, they should find something else to do. We have no reason to regret turning them down.” If ‘justice’ means that jobs should be allotted according to merit, then the job system in philosophy (I mean the American system) is not markedly less unjust than the educational system that produces candidates for it. It may even be a little more just, because the sorting that goes on in graduate school can diminish to some degree initial inequalities of capital (economic and scholarly). In sensible departments, talent and hard work do pay off, and help overcome a lack of social polish and even a deficit in intellectual preparation. Sensible departments, moreover, when hiring go for substance not class markers.
The issue is not so much whether, in following the usual procedures, we are being just, and have no reason for regret on those grounds; it is that even so not everyone who by their merits deserves to, succeeds. Theodicy attempts to show, universally, how to reconcile the imperfections of justice in the sæculum with the demand of reason—the Idea, as Kant would say—that justice be done. Almost always it ends, however mildly it begins, with a hard truth or two: that the apparently good are not good, that the good of the whole requires sacrifice of parts. Leibniz’s God will not let the misery even of an entire Earth deter him from imposing order on Creation, the beautiful order of the greatest good. Augustine, for his part, characteristically refuses to mitigate the arbitrariness of the divine decree: the unbaptised are condemned because even in them the corruption of original sin exceeds infinitely their supposed innocence; as for the rest of us, works are at best an index of salvation or reprobation that, because there can be no this-worldly determination of the divine will, is decided independently of works.
Intrinsic merit & industry are sometimes rewarded in the expected ways; sometimes in unexpected ways; sometimes not at all. Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick is a fable; but so too is the anti-Alger of A Cool Million (). There is no moral to be drawn, unless it is Leibniz’s: in the absence of revelation, we cannot do better than to follow the presumptive will of God, or the presumptive ways of justice; but we can do much worse.
() See the last chapter of Ragged Dick. Alger’s works can be found online at the Virginia Electronic Text Center. A first edition of Ragged Dick will run you upwards of $900, but others can be had for a dollar. Nathanel West’s A Cool Million, or, the Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin was first published in 1934, a year after Miss Lonelyhearts, and five years before his best known work, The Day of the Locust. Mark Twain had already written two parodies of Alger (“The Good Little Boy” and “The Bad Little Boy”), which was perhaps all that the world needed.

LinkDecember 11, 2004 in Academic Affairs

Sunday cat pix

Table talk.


LinkDecember 12, 2004 in Cats

All philosophy: Addenda

A few more philosophy links. See “All philosophy, all the time” for the main list.
  • Johnny Logic
    John L. Taylor. “Computational philosophy”, logic, AI-oriented philosophy of mind. From a graduate student at CMU.
  • Leibnitiana
    Gregory Brown. If you overlook the klutzy (and for me, only half-functional) menu interface, there’s a lot of material here. Well worth looking at for anyone interested in Leibniz. See also the page of links at Lyon, the Leibniz-Edition-Arbeitsstelle at Potsdam, the Leibniz-Forschungsstelle at Münster, Don Rutherford’s list of texts and translations, and a small archive at the Bibliothèque Universelle (CNAM/CNUM).
  • Philosophers’ Imprint
    An online refereed journal published by the Library of the University of Michigan. Four volumes so far (since 2004), about four papers a volume. Authors include Kit Fine, Richard Heck, John Earman, Tim Maudlin, John Norton, Laura Schroeter, Susanna Siegel. It would be nice if the APA took the initiative on matters like this. Even from the online guide, you’d think that the main business of the APA, apart from jobs, was its by-laws. Like we care. Though I must admit that the idea of an organization whose sole purpose is to amend its own by-laws would be worthy of Borges or Lem. On the other hand, they do handle the job market very efficiently.
  • Semantics Web Resources
    Kai von Fintel. Part of Semantics, etc., which was already listed earlier. Links to researchers.
  • Spinoza
    Rudolf Meijer. Selected works of Spinoza in Latin, notes on Book 3 of the Ethics, links.

LinkDecember 12, 2004 in Web/Tech

About those ruins…

Au monastère d'Assise, un moine avait un accent grossier, qui puait sa Calabre. Ses compagnons se moquaient de lui. Or il était susceptible; il en vint à ne plus ouvrir la bouche que lorsqu'il s'agissait a'annoncer un accident, un malheur, enfin quelque événement en soi assez grave pour que son accent eût chance de passer inaperçu. Cependant, il aimait parler: il lui arriva d'inventer des catastrophes. Comme il était sincère, il alla jusqu'à en provoquer.
“At the Assisi monastery, one of the monks had a heavy accent that stank of his native Calabria. His companions made fun of him. The mockery got under his skin; he reached the point of opening his mouth only to announce an accident, a misfortune—in short, an event grave enough in itself that his accent might pass unnoticed. But he liked to talk. Eventually he invented catastrophes. Being sincere, he even went so far as to provoke them.”

LinkDecember 13, 2004 in Literature · Reading Notes

Paris Review Interviews

Grandiosely titled “The DNA of Literature”, the interviews conducted by the Paris Review over the last fifty years with some of the world’s best-known authors (of the middle- to highbrow sort) are being put online in toto—over 300 in all. (Whoever came up with the DNA metaphor didn’t think through the analogy: in the gestation of works, interviews would be definitely on the side of the phenotype, not the genotype.)
Right now only interviews published in the 50s are available. By July 1st next year all of them will be. At the same site you can read samples from the current issue, listen to recorded readings, and subscribe.

LinkDecember 17, 2004 in Literature

Standards that aren’t

Warning: Nitpicky coding discussion ahead.
The Internet (or, as our President says, the “Internets”—but at least he doesn’t claim he invented it like that sneaky Al Gore) succeeded because it was, and still is, based on open standards. The “browser wars” are over, though Microsoft’s acceptance remains grudging. Among other advantages, compliance with the standards (HTML, CSS, and now XML and its derivatives) ought to assure the authors of web pages that their documents will work in every reasonably up-to-date browser.
Would that this were true.


LinkDecember 17, 2004 in Web/Tech