Twitter and Math

I opened a Twitter account back in March 2016 but had not been active at all without even a single tweeting until this May 2018 simply because I thought it would be just wasting my time. I was so wrong about that and I wish I started using Twitter much earlier. Here is what I found. Twitter can be a great social media platform for intellectual activities including getting and sharing information,  discussing ideas and opinions on math and getting connected with people in the disciplines of your interests in math. I also recently witnessed an amazing collaborative math work being done on Twitter and that makes me think that Twitter can be also an effective research tool for mathematicians to collaborate with other mathematicians. I was also pleasantly surprised that there are quite a few mathematicians who are tweeting actively and daily tweets from some of them are quite intellectually stimulating. I particularly love inspirational and informative tweets from John Baez and Sam Walters. Reading their tweets and participating in the discussions whenever I can became a great joy of my daily life. For someone who has been academically in isolation for a long time (no I am not in jail if that’s what you think, no I am not living on a remote island either. I do meet people. I emphasized on the word “academically.”) reading their tweets is like discovering an oasis in the desert. It’s so refreshing. There are a couple of problems I find with Twitter though. One is it’s 280-character limit but this one is okay because there is a workaround by making a thread using reply function. The other is that the platform is not convenient for writing math expressions or equations. The best thing I could do is generating equations using LaTex and covert them into image files (jpg, gif, png, etc.). If you are using Windows MathType is a nice tool for that. I used it a long time ago. Now I have ditched Windows for good, I can’t use it. The one I found the most convenient is the web site called latex2png. You type a math expression using LaTex codes there and it compiles and converts your equation to an image in png format. You just need to copy and paste it in your tweet. You can adjust the size of the picture (resolution). In my experience resolution=200-300 appears to be most suitable for a tweet.

Okay, it is now time for me to go back to Twitter.

Update: Besides latex2png, I found some additional online LaTex equation editors: LaTex4technics, Codecogs, HostMath, and iTex2Img. I find latex2png and iTex2Img convenient for Twitter but honestly have not had a chance to examine others with Twitter yet.

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E-mail Issue

I just noticed that I am not getting any e-mail notifications and I am sure neither are you. I ran diagnostics on my mail server and it is working fine without any problem. So I concluded that certain ports (like port 25 and port 587) that are required by mail server are blocked. I opened those ports on my router and the issue still persists. I believe that my ISP is actually blocking those ports in which case it does not matter whether I open them on my router. I am currently working on a workaround such as using an alternative SMTP (like Gmail SMTP) instead of my mail server. I will update you if it works (and I surely hope it does). I am sorry for the inconvenience. In the meantime, if you need an assistance that requires an e-mail notification such as changing your password, just e-mail me your request.

Update: The workaround was successful and the e-mail issue has been resolved.

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A Long-Lost NASA Spacecraft Comes Back Alive

A NASA spacecraft IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration) was launched in March 2000 to study Earth’s magnetosphere where charged particles from solar winds trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. In December 2005, it suddenly stopped talking and since then it was thought to be lost in space. Recently a signal from IMAGE was detected by a Canadian amateur astronomer after 13 years of long silence. I cannot imagine what goes on in the minds of former IMAGE project members hearing this news. More details can be read here.

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107 cancer papers retracted due to peer review fraud

There was a report at ars Technica that the journal Tumor Biology is retracting staggering 107 research papers due to fraudulent peer review process. It appears that such practice has been an on-going business. According to the report, last year 58 papers were retracted from 7 different journals (the report does not specify what they are but I suspect mostly biology journals) and 25 of them came from Tumor Biology. What happened was that when authors submitted their manuscripts for review the editorial office asked the authors to recommend reviewers (the editors perhaps assumed that the authors would suggest best possible reviewers with no conflict of interest who would give a fair and professional review). Apparently the process was abused by some authors and they recommended people they know personally who would give their papers a favorable review regardless of their academic value. I would say those journals are also responsible for the mayhem as they basically let it happen. If people think that scientists would always conduct their research and academic activities with honesty, pride and integrity, they would be flatly naive and wrong. Research publication is directly tied to tenure, promotion and also grants (especially in biological sciences grants come with a big money). Never think that academia would never spoil. Scientists are also men with many flaws. Unfortunately for some often these things weigh more than their pride and academic integrity.

Theoretical physics journals have the same kind of review process but there is little room for such fraudulent practice as it is relatively easier for any third party experts to verify the results and academic merits of a paper in theoretical physics. While theoretical physics research often comes with hypes of all levels, it is relatively much more honest area compared with certain experimental sciences. Without any bias, mathematics is certainly the most honest area. If you are not honest about what you do, you really cannot be a good mathematician. Also there is no room for cooking up your results as everything is readily verifiable by experts. In mathematics, most common malpractices are abusing citation and plagiarism. But such malpractices have never been a big issue in mathematics community as no serious mathematicians would even think of committing them. Whoever commit such things could/would never be regarded as a mathematician.

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Are We Alone in the Universe After All?

In the movie Contact (which is based on the novel with the same title by Carl Sagan), Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) was speaking to a group of children: “I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space. Right?” For us scientists, perhaps I should say most of us, it is almost like faith that there should be an intelligent life other than us somewhere out there in the universe. In 1961, an astronomer Frank Drake proposed the Drake equation (which is not really a mathematical equation but a probabilistic argument) $$N=R_\ast\cdot f_p\cdot n_e\cdot f_\ell\cdot f_i\cdot f_c\cdot L,$$ where

  1.  $N$ is the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations.
  2. $R_\ast$ is the average rate of star formation in our galaxy.
  3. $f_p$ is the fraction of formed stars that have planets.
  4. $n_e$ is the average number of planets per star that has planets.
  5. $f_\ell$ is the fraction of those planets that actually develop life.
  6. $f_i$ is the fraction of planets bearing life on which intelligent, civilized life has developed.
  7. $f_c$ is the fraction of these civilizations that have developed communications, i.e., technologies that release detectable signs into space.
  8. $L$ is the length of time over which such civilizations release detectable signals.

The original estimate for $N$ given by Frank Drake in 1961 is somewhere between 1000 and 100,000,000 civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy alone. (See here for more details on Drake’s educated guesses on the above quantities 1-8.) I remember back in the 80’s the Drake equation was a great talking point for astronomers to argue why we should support SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

But then here comes a piece of discouraging news, via RT, “a new study has shown that Earth truly is one of a kind with nothing coming close to life on this planet. Astronomers in Sweden used computer simulations to model the known universe from existing data and then applied to the laws of physics to advance the model 13.8 billion years. Out of the 700 quintillion potential planets, none resembled Earth, meaning we may be very alone after all.” Click here for full story and also here for a related story. Full results of the research can be seen here. Another piece of discouraging news, also via RT, says astronomers examined 93 nearby galaxies for signs of advanced alien life such as the production of waste heat, but found none. Those were the most promising galaxies as they were emitting the largest amounts of heat or mid-infrared emission. Disappointingly the emissions from the majority of observed galaxies could be explained by astrophysical processes, such as dust being generated and heated by a massive star formation. Click here for full story. The Netherlands-based team led by the National Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) used advanced telescopes to identify the sources of the excessive radiation in hopes of determining if they exhibited signs of advanced alien civilization life. Click here to read ASTRON’s press release.

These new findings tell us that after all the Earth is a very special place in the universe contrary to Copernican principle. To me personally it is still inconceivable that we human beings on the Earth are the only intelligent life in the universe. If it were true, I would probably feel really lonely and sad though there are some bright sides. We would never have to worry about alien invasions and for us the whole universe is up for grabs. Perhaps then it is our sole and sacred duty to go out, explore, colonize, cultivate, and populate the universe for the sake of our own survival and of the preservation of human civilization.

Update: A related article here which is about a paper on the arXiv titled “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox.” In the paper the authors attempt to resolve the Fermi Paradox by examining highly uncertain parameters of the Drake equation.

Update: Ethan Siegel has his taken on the arXiv paper “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox” here.

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