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2003-07-04 13:42 (UTC+1)

Mette-Marit är gravid!

This time for sure:

Norska kronprinsessan Mette-Marit är gravid.
Beskedet kom på fredagen från maken själv, en strålande lycklig kronprins Haakon.

[The Norwegian kronprinsess Mette-Marit is pregnant.
The information came on Friday from the husband himself, a beamingly happy kronprins Haakon.]

Mette-Marit has been the patron (matron?) prinsess of Desbladet since its inauguration, and this is the job she was hired to do, so hoorah hoorah hoorah! Norway, which has barely recovered from the thrill of li'l Unprinsess Maud Angelica's baptism will surely be plunged into an even more fervent royal baby fever and quite right too.

The timing couldn't be better either - this way we can compare and contrast the gravidities of the belovely Mette-Marit and the charmante Maxima of the Netherlands as they progress in all-but-synch, and Point de Vue had become so boring that I actually read the article on heraldry (La semaine prochaine: Monaco et Leichtenstein, I ask you).

There is also, of course, extensive coverage over at the Norwegian Aftonposten. Separate articles cover: The kronprinsly announcement; the congratulations of parliament, to which the announcement was made; the reaction of Mette-Marit's mother (pleased); that of her (estranged) father (also pleased) and the Fremskrittparti (whatever this is, it is rather presumptuously pleased on behalf of everyone), and this doesn't strike me as in the least bit excessive.

I am also pleased, and I am available for being pleased on the behalf of others at very competitive rates.



2003-07-04 10:20 (UTC+1)

On M. Poincaré's conjecture

In 1904, Poincaré was lead to speculate that:

Toute variété de dimension n, fermée et simplement connexe, est homéomorphe à la sphère de dimension n.

[Every closed, simply-connected variety of dimension n is homeomorphic to the sphere of dimension n.]

I'm not going to explain what that means, but the Clay Mathematics Institute will. It has been a famous open problem in mathematics (for the 3-d case, which is the Poincaré conjecture proper, but beware: the 3-sphere is an object in 4-space. The 1-sphere is the circle, and the 2-sphere is the surface of a ball - the 3-sphere is the next one up) ever since it was stated, probably the biggest one in topology and has become more widely known since the Clay Mathematics Institute offered a million dollars for the successful solution of each of a number of problems, of which this is one.

It seems likely that Grigori "Grisha" Perelman is going to collect the cash. (That article is pretty readable to the laity, which pretty much includes me at this level, and also links to the actual preprints that are currently under scrutiny. There is also an article in the current Science & Vie, which is why I bought it, but I'll give you instead the gossip version, via my boss.

Apparently Perelman was a post-doc at somewhere prestigious in the States. While he was there he lived in a shoebox and ate nothing but ramen noodles. His work was good, though, and he had job offers from plenty other prestigious universities. He declined them all and went back to Russia to a job that payed essentially nothing, supporting himself with his savings, and dropped off the face of the mathematical earth for a while.

And then he resurfaced a few years later and put some preprints out that suggested he'd proved Poincaré's conjecture (by fleshing out Hamilton's road map for the proof of Thurston's conjecture on the geometrisation of 3-manifolds via Ricci flood techniques, obviously) and he's since given lectures to foremost experts in the field, and the consensus is positive so far. (There's a 2-year delay built in to the Clay Institute prize-giving for security).

The most important open problem in mathematics has long been the Riemann hypothesis - Fermat's Last Theorem was open for a lot longer, and is easier to sex up for the general public, but this is the one that matters. If I were a brilliant young analyst, though, I'd be aiming for the Navier-Stokes Equations problem, which is essentially the question of whether water is well-posed, and thus completely useless - it's just embarassing that we can't prove that it is, especially if you work in fluid dynamics, which I sort of do, and sort of have for approaching a decade although I do not interact with the sort of analysts whose day jobs include existence proofs for solutions of partial differential equations, and I don't even actually know precisely what a Sobolev space is.


2003-07-03 18:34 (UTC+1)

[Hebdo review] Courrier International

It arrived today and I haven't really had a chance to bunk off and read it till now, but I am already tempted to get myself a subscription (138 Euros in the EU frais de porte inclus, but excluding Hors-Séries unfortunately).

It's a tabloid size magazine on newsprint, almost entirely composed of articles (or excerpts of articles) from the world's press, translated (where necessary) into French. Ironically, for those of us living outside of l'hexagone itself, the presse de france themselves are not included. There is a section dedicated to France in the continent-by-continent round-up, but it has to rely on Belgian, Swiss and English commentary (and let's face it, I wasn't going to see a Daily Telegraph article on Zhonny 'Alliday any other way). Other geographical sections treat l'Europe, les Amériques, l'Asie, le Moyien-Orient and l'Afrique, and then there are some feature sections. It's genetically-modified foods, yum yum, on the cover this week (Articles: Guardian; Financial Times; Monbiot in the Guardian; Sacramento Bee; Science; in-house atlas of GM foods in the world; Opendemocracy; Guardian; Indian Express; web-sites for further reading.)

It's going to take a while to acclimatise to the ideological inflections of their sources, for sure, but it's the best global round-up I've seen - by a country mile - since the Economist. If it was retailed in Blighty I'd certainly be picking it up most weeks, but I don't think I have ever in my life subscribed to an actual paper periodical, and that would be a Major Life Event.

There will of course be updates on this thrilling psychodrama as events unfold...


2003-07-03 10:49 (UTC+1)

Oh, my wonky nerves

I just found my first timezone bug (in my own code). Your "calendars", Earth Persons, are becoming a major irritation - have you considered rationalising them? You could dispense with the silly pretence that noon isn't noon in the summer, also.



2003-07-02 17:33 (UTC+1)

I'll say one thing for Berlusconi

He's got people talking about the European Council for the first time that I can remember.

Popping by politiken today they had an article rounding up the European press's articles condemning him, and they couldn't even find space for the Nouvel Obs vituperative cover article this week.

(For those of you who haven't been keeping up, this is a man who as prime minister of Italy forced through a law giving the prime minister, viz. himself, immunity to prosecution, said law being used to bring to a halt to a prosecution of said prime minister, also himself, for corruption, and who uses his extensive ownership of Italian media companies as his own private propaganda outlets.

With Italy now taking over the presidency of the EU he has used the opportunity of his first parliamentary session in the spotlight to not quite call a German MEP a Nazi. Now would be a really good time for someone to check he doesn't actually have any, like, power or anything. Tell me he doesn't have any power, somebody? Please?)


2003-07-02 09:55 (UTC+1)

Journalism: a world-wide problem.

So, I did finally get a copy of the no-longer-current Courrier International Hors-série culture issue «A la découverte des 6700 langues de la planète», and very interesting it is too.

But tell me, Varied Reader, do they have journalism where you come from? And if they do, do the journalists write about language? And if they do, do they often make a pig's ear of the job? If Courrier International is to be believed, this phenomenon is not rare. Worse even than journalistes, though, in most cases are Serious Writers who have succumbed to the urge to Hold Opinions about languages. I will be producing some specimens for your amusement in the plenitudes of temporality, but today instead we are doing Germanology.

First up is CI's version of an article from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

Aujourd'hui, tous les petits Suèdois apprenent l'anglais, mais bien plus rares sont ceux qui s'essaient à l'allemand. Dans ce pays, la part de cette langue est tombée de 50% à 35% au lycée, le nombre d'étudiants en université a chuté de 21,7% et, entre 1991 et 2000, il a dégringolé de 75% dans l'enseignement dispensé aux adultes.

[Today all the ickle Swedish persons learn the Engleesh, but far fewer attempt German. In this country, the share of this language has fallen from 50% to 35% in secondary school, the number of students in universities has fallen by 21.7% and, between 1991 and 2000 the amount of adult education in the language has tumbled by 75%.]

Did anyone else remark, though, that the Polish Eurovision entry was in German? Raised eyebrows at the Chateau von Bladet, that did, and also earned them a bunch of points from Deutschophone countries. Still, German isn't looking very likely to regain its position as the Mitteleuropäische lingua franca, and if you find this at all surprising I've got some discount 20th century history you might be interested in...

While you're having a browse of that, let's wheel on our first Prominent Intellectual to have a miss of the point. Mihály Komis, mates with the recent Nobel Literature Laureate Imré Kertész, had this to say in Budapest's Elet és irodalom:

Le fait que nous parlions pas l'allemand, mais seulement l'anglais (et encore!) est une erreur fatale. Non pas que l'allemand soit la langue étrangère la plus importante au monde, mais parce que nôtre culture hongroise - si tant est que nous puissons encore l'appeler nôtre - fait partie intégrante de la vieille culture européenne. Or, dans cette dernière, la langue et la tradition allemandes predominent. Et elles régneront tant que l'Europe existe.

[The fact that we don't speak German, but only English (if you can call it that!) is a fatal error. It's not that German is the world's most important language, but because our Hungarian culture - in so far as we can still call it ours - is integrally connected with the old European culture. Now, in that last, the German language and tradition predominate. And they will for as long as Europe exists.]

Imré Kertész had as much reason to turn against the German language and culture as anyone, of course, but he didn't, and the moral dignity of his position should not be underestimated, for sure. However, Mihály Komis appears to be committing the typical, if understandable, writerly mistake known as being completely wrong. German is the vehicular language of a major cultural tradition, also for sure, but this is also the case of Latin and classical Greek and look what happened to them. You can surely find Jeremiads about how Civilisation Will Crumble if the kids are permitted to neglect the classical tongues, from not all that long ago, and I dare say you can find people who would say it has. This is pretty much what is also in store for German, and I can't help but admire an intellect so refined that it can miss something so blatantly obvious.

(Disclosurewisely: I am currently sort-of learning German, but my interest is largely philological. Those scandalous Trashbladets are just educational tools, and isn't it simply shocking what they're saying about Mette-Marit, tut tut.)


2003-07-01 18:14 (UTC+1)


A while back we (the research group which I am in) spent far longer than we should have done putting together a paper which took a result which seemed to be well-known in the folk-lore of the discipline and actually provided some decent evidence for it. I was expecting at any moment that somebody was going to let us in on the joke, and tell us it was all done in the '70s by someone at NASA, but they haven't done yet.

Anyway, it looks like we're going to have to do it again, and I am deeply unamused. There are even papers which say "Well, X and Y do this, but they don't actually provide any details of their scheme," or "We know this is a really crappy scheme, but W and Z got away with it, and we can't be bothered to improve on it."

If I ever get to be super-rich, I'm going to found an Institute of Really Boring and Unglamourous Problems (That Somebody Has To Address Anyway) and offer stratospheric salaries to good people willing to take sabbaticals to work on such problems and write up definitive answers in the house journal.

Until that happy day, I shall whine about having to do it myself, at great length.

2003-07-01 11:00 (UTC+1)

Read my laïcity: when hell freezes over.

That celebrated reactionary zombie, the Pope, has been having opinions again:

Pope John Paul II has urged the European Union to include a recognition of Europe's Christian heritage in its first constitution, which is due to be signed next year.

The Pope said EU policy-makers should rediscover their Christian roots.

Words do not fail me, but they are mostly the kind of words I have a policy of not using on this site. Bad Pope!


2003-06-30 17:11 (UTC+1)

Hebdo heaven for Abroadians

Lately the von Bladet Imperial Stormtroopers have been getty a little bit shirty about swooping down from their hideout in the Swiss alps to pick up a copy of the Point de Vue Summer Puzzle Special. You just can't get the minions, can you?

So I performed a really quite elaborate Happy Dance on discovering, the online newsagent for all your Frenching requirements, y compris de magazines de charme (which bit is most decidedly not work safe, beware). They have a wide range of current magazines and hors-séries and they are blissfully willing to take money in exchange for sending them even to persons domiciled in Abroadia. (This is very much not something one can take for granted in Yoorp, as readers familiar with my tirades about Swedish online book shops will know.)

Their confirmation of the dispatch of my order just arrived, in both French and another language of which I quote in the verbatest of tims:

We remind you that your credit card payement wich was until now on standby of treatment, will be output soon.

We remain fully at your disposal for any complementary question.

I love them even more now. Other Yoorpean countries, you have two (2) of your Earth "weeks" to implement equivalent systems for the procurement of your national glossy press, or you risk the wrath of the aforementioned Stormtroopers and I wouldn't mess with them in this mood, that's for sure.


2003-06-30 11:42 (UTC+1)

Both kinds of translation

It may go quiet for a bit, although not for shortage of things to say, as such. Here's some more of Mr Hugo's stuff to ponder, just in case. (Mr Hugo is decidedly Pre-Mouse so there isn't a lawyer in the world that can stop me from doing this, so there.)

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Clearly we are in the territory, here, of the banality sublime, which in Engleesh is largely inhabited by country music. Thus:

Tomorrow, when the land's still pale in dawn's first light,
I'll be leaving. You're expecting me, I know.
I'll be coming through the forest, I'll scale the mountain height
After this much time away from you, I know it's time to go.

Everything I know about country music I learned from Bob Dylan's magnificent Nashville Skyline, of course, but then again everything I know about literary translation I learned from Ezra Pound.

Bonus link: Mandarin Chinese speakers use different parts of the brain to process language. Very cool!


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