Seth Kurtenbach is pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Missouri. His current research focuses on the application of formal logic to questions about knowledge and rationality. He has his Master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri, and is growing an epic beard in order to maintain his philosophical powers. You can email Seth at Seth.Kurtenbach@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @SJKur.
Every once in a while, it is good to say, "hey, we appreciate you," to someone. Hemant, we at CFI On Campus appreciate you. To show our appreciation, we give you this.
"Algorithm" is a scary word. You probably just threw up a little bit, a little fear puke, from reading it just now. Also, it is hard to look at. The first part is easy: "Algo." That is easy to look at. But then your eyes hit that second part and just sort of get lost in a tangled mess of letters that have no business hanging out together. To what black magic does this dark word refer? The goal of this post is to kind of answer that question, and to make algorithms less scary for you.
NASA is in trouble, and we're told the culprit is directional drift. Directional drift is the lack of a clear consensus on NASA's overall mission. Ever since NASA accomplished its last clear objective, beating the Soviets to the moon, it has adopted a splintered one-shot mission approach to procuring funding and establishing purpose. This strategy is a failed one, because specific, clearly defined objectives are death for government agencies. In order to survive, a government agency needs a broad, general objective that is just barely defined enough to have its success measurable.
In high school I had a great physics teacher, Doc Collins. I remember one day he had a strange contraption in his lab. It consisted of a bicycle wheel (with axle) and a spinnable stool. To operate the contraption, you held the wheel vertically in front of you by the axle, and sat on the spinnable stool. Then you spun the wheel. If the wheel was vertical, nothing happened. But if you tilted the wheel left or right, your stool would begin to spin, as if by magic. This really blew my mind at the time. A good science teacher does things like that. The question in every student's mind, upon sitting in the stool and feeling the spin, was, "How?"
I am at a conference about formal methods in computer security. In formal methods, they use math talk to make proofs about systems. For example, cryptography is really important for computer security, and it would be nice if we could formally prove that a cryptographic system is secure. But the strangest thing always seems to happen. Some intrepid formal methods researcher will publish a proof about a cryptosystem's being secure, and then in a year or so some other intrepid researcher will publish a successful attack strategy on the system. So, what is going on here? How could the proof turn out to be wrong? That's been a big issue at the conference.