Monthly Archives: March 2009

An authoritative opinion that Lorgaine v. Merkel is not an opinion as authoritative as some would have it

Though I’ve been told I am a purveyor of great authority.

Some are born Twitters, some achieve Twitness, and some have Twitness thrust upon them

My first post on my neologism TWIT — The Wayward Internet Technologists — took as its title one of the Bard’s most quoted phrases:

Some are born TWIT’s, some achieve TWITness, and some have TWITness thrust upon ‘em

It remains an open question whether my creation of this neologism explains how got its name, but that is work for another day.

I recently wrote a post on what I deemed the best twit I had yet seen, and wrote a terse reply, in the form of a URL. I obtained the URL via, so the URL was the message, “”

Sad to say, one cannot use “!” as part of a URL. If “!” could be used in a URL, then just one character would have sufficed:


I would have thus tweeted the shortest possible tweet that could have any meaning. See On Steve O’Grady’s post: “Where to Innovate? Let Others Make the Call”.

I understand that Twitter has become quite the rage lately. See for example the recent twitting of @latone.

I wish to encourage everyone to become an active twitter. In particular, I encourage everyone to try to tweet more than @jgovernor, who has turned twitteritis into a near fatal malady.

Rest assured that I will not compete in this area, for I am waiting for the blogosphere to empty as bloggers flee to tweet. Then I will have it all to myself.

In order to encourage more twitting, and not just the volume of twitting, but the art of it. I will periodically offer TWIT “Victor Hugo” awards in the following areas:

  • Best tweet;
  • Worst tweet;
  • Funniest tweet;
  • Shortest tweet;
  • Best tweet of 140 characters;

On writing this I realize that I have been working in the last area recently. As I see the count of remaining characters near zero, I rewrite the tweet to use all 140 available characters, giving myself a gold star if I can do this without having to use backspace or delete once fewer than twenty characters remain.

We all know that tweeting is fun. Now it can be rewarding

Ralph Griswold on Getting Things Done: I Wish I Had Done It Myself. In The Long Run I Always Do.

The best suggestion on getting things done was given to me by Ralph Griswold during a phone conversation over three decades ago:

I wish I had done it myself. In the long run I always do.

A Mathematician’s Apology on the Anonymity of Mathematicians John von Neumann and Jack Schwartz

One of my favorite books about mathematics is the memoir by the British mathematician and number theorist G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology. 1

Jack Schwartz was one of the Founding Fathers of the Computer Revolution. His only peers are John von Neumann, Seymour Cray, John Cocke, and Don Knuth. Only Knuth still lives.

Jack and von Neumann were among the greatest mathematicians of the last century.

Ten or so years ago I chanced upon a documentary about von Neumann that was being shown on television. He died around 1956. I learned that only two artifacts survived him other than his writings:

  • A wire recording of one of his lectures;
  • A recording of a science show for children. John is shown standing next to some children. He was asked by the host, a Mr. Wizard-like character, the following question:

    What are you holding, Professor?

    to which John replied:

    A battery.

    The only film showing John speaking contains just ONE word!

    It was then that I first appreciated that, as Hardy observed, mathematicians labor in obscurity.2

    Last week I attended my first Caltech Alumni Event in five years. At the end of the meeting I stood up and told the audience about Jack. There were sixty people in the audience. Perhaps forty were Caltech grads.

    I asked how many people recognized the name “Jacob Schwartz” or “Jack Schwartz”

    Only ONE raised his hand!

    Though I have been quite active at late, I am now near a state of exhaustion since I have spent most of the last four days trying to think of people who should be informed about the upcoming events so they be given the opportunity to attend.

    I was driven to this by that single raised hand.

    I know many others have been working in the same way.

    Well, I have what I could, and I look forward to meeting Jack’s family, friends, and colleagues at CIMS this weekend.

    Early on in this blog I listed the Five Smartest People I have ever worked with or seen in action:

    • Feynman
    • Murray Gell-Mann
    • Jack
    • John Cocke
    • Tom Friedman

    Tom is not a scientist, leaving four.

    I wrote then that Feyman’s mind was by far the best I have ever seen.

    I said that Gell-Mann’s was the most superficially brilliant. His mind lit up like a supernova.

    Feyman’s mind could light up a galaxy.

    I now believe that Jack was Feynman’s peer, for I only realized recently, when I read some of the writings of the most eminent of my mathematical brothers, MIT Prof. Gian-Carlo Rota, that Jack was a much, much better mathematician than I had ever guessed.

    I now consider Feynman and Jack to be peers, as I cannot make the case to favor one over the over. That I will leave to others.

    Feynman and Jack had many similarities. Both were born and raised in New York.

    Both had many interests. We’ve all seen the pictures of Feynman playing the drums, or heard him talk about his days cracking safes at Los Alamos, or heard him speak about taking drawing lessons. (I did. I also noted some years back that part of my sleeve can be seen in a picture taken while Feynman spoke of drawing in the Caltech Student Center.)

    Both also traveled widely. Feynman to Tuva; Jack to Argentina, China, Russia, Turkey, and so forth.

    The greatest similarity is that both were extremely modest men, almost to a fault.

    That is the truest measure of their character and their intelligence.

    – o –

    Jacob T. “Jack” Schwartz – May His Memory Be A Blessing.


    1. See for example the anecdote about the number 1729.

    1, Bloggers also labor in obscurity. See Security Through Obscurity. On the escape velocity from obscurity, and The Long March Up From Obscurity: Technorati Authority Now 40, Rank 199700.

The Mathematical Ancestors of Jack Schwartz

By following the links I was able to construct the following list of Jack’s mathematical ancestors:

Jacob T. Schwartz, Ph.D. Yale University 1952

Nelson Dunford, Ph.D. Brown University 1936

Jacob David Tamarkin, Ph.D. St. Petersburg State University 1917

Pafnuty Lvovich Chebyshev, Ph.D. St. Petersburg State University 1849

Andrei Andreyevich Markov, Ph.D. St. Petersburg State University 1884

Nikolai Dmitrievich Brashman, Ph.D. Moscow State University 1834

Joseph Johann von Littrow, Advisor Unknown.

I recognized the names Chebyshev and Markov as soon as I soon them.

George Forsythe and Dunford were mathematical sons of Tamarkin, so George was Jack’s mathematical uncle. George was the first chairman of the computer science department at Stanford, as was Jack the first chairman of computer science at CIMS. [1]

I know I studied some of Forsythe’s work and I have a vague memory that he may have spent some time on the Caltech campus.

I was quite moved as I put this list together, especially when I saw so many of Jack’s


1. Forsythe’s entry is very brief. I also try to omit needless words, but the authors enforced too low a bound on the size of his entry.

Proposed Program for the Celebration in Honor of Jack Schwartz, at CIMS on March 27

Diana Schwartz just sent me the proposed schedule for this Friday’s celebration in honor of Jack Schwartz.

It will be held from 7-9PM at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (CIMS), 251 Mercer St, New York, New York, one block west of the intersection of Broadway and Fourth Street. [1]

program jack_celebration;                        -- start Jack Schwartz program
use jack_colleagues_friends_family_pak;          -- use SETL package, please
                                                 -- forgive Diana’s syntax errors
print("Welcome by Ed Schonberg");
print("Marian McPartland, piano
       When the Saints Go Marching In - Traditional
       It's Easy to Remember (And So Hard to Forget) – Music by Richard
               Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart");
print("Judith Dunford");
print("Martin Davis");
print("David Finkelstein");
print("David Robinson, guitar
       Prelude in D Minor, by J. S. Bach");
print("Louis Nirenberg");
print("Fran Allen");
print("Greg Chaitin");
print("Robert Dewar");
print("Michael Schwartzman");
print("Edmond Schonberg, piano
       Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, Johannes Brahms (1861).
       Based on a theme from George Frederic Handel's Harpsichord Suite No. 1
       in B-flat Major, HWV 434");
print("Eugenio Omodeo"); [2]
print("Bud Mishra");
print("Ken Perlin");
print("Mike Wigler");
print("Peter Lax");
print("Michael Rabin");
print("Karen Morrissey, vocal
       The Parting Glass");
print("Reception, 13th Floor Lounge");
end jack_celebration;



1. Dear CIMS collelagues. I discovered a couple of days ago that you have a CIMS “planet” and so I now include CIMS in every post about Courant.

2. I don’t know Dr. Omodeo, but in case I forget to tell him the following story, I hope that others who read it will bring it to his attention.

Back in the 1960’s an apartment near the Caltech campus in Pasadena, California, was shared by several generations of graduate students in chemistry. No one knew how to list the phone number until one of them made the obvious suggestion, and after I heard the story I confirmed its accuracy by dialing information and asking for “Avogadro’s number. ”

3. The WordPress source-code listing feature does a great job when listing SETL code using the tag for the Python language.

Tuxers Asleep


Originally uploaded by daveshields

I let the Tuxers sleep in this morning, and took this picture of them before telling them it was time to Rise and Shine.

In case any animal activists are concerned that I made them sleep outside on a cold night, rest assured that they just *love* cold weather.

Tuxers Asleep


Originally uploaded by daveshields

I let the Tuxers sleep in this morning, and took this picture of them before telling them it was time to Rise and Shine.

In case any animal activists are concerned that I made them sleep outside on a cold night, rest assured that they just *love* cold weather.

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