Saturday around the web

Sorry for the lack of original posts lately, but last week was unexpectedly busy with departmental administrivia. Here are some good stuff from the RSS reader and elsewhere for you until I get back into it:

  • First, some heavy math: David Corfield has this pretty intriguing post at the n-Category Cafe about potential connections between category theory and machine learning. A lot of my PhD thesis was basically category theory applied to geometric topology, and most of what I’m looking at right now for scholarship involves machine learning. I thought I’d left category theory (which I found to be pretty fun) behind for good with the publication of my thesis, but maybe not!
  • Steve Jobs wrote this open letter to iPhone owners in which he defends the $200 price drop on the iPhone but promises a $100 Apple Store credit to qualifying iPhone purchasers. Given that these folks really have no basis for complaining in the first place — it’s the occupational risk of being an early adopter, people — that seems pretty generous.
  • Meanwhile, Isabel at God Plays Dice makes a mathematical model of the price of the iPhone and finds that the media’s description of “exponential decay” isn’t exactly right. What, the media not getting mathematical ideas right? Can’t be.
  • My main man Vernor Vinge has won the 2007 Hugo Award for his novel Rainbows End. I read the book when it first came out in hardback some months ago. Like all Vinge, it’s a well-crafted story with believable characters wrapped around some very interesting ideas in technology — this time with a decidedly educational slant, as the protagonists are high school students (one of whom is non-traditional in more ways than one) in 2025 where the required courses include “Search and Analysis”. Vinge was Web 2.0 when Web 2.0 wasn’t cool! It’s not Vinge’s best work (that would probably be A Fire Upon the Deep) but it’s an interesting read for educators.

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