Various updates

30 May 2013

1. The IMO team will be announced very soon. We already submitted the names for the final 6, but we need to wait for the go-ahead by the Ministry before making the official announcement. The announcement as usual will be made by Prof. Arsmah Ibrahim, chairwoman of the Malaysian IMO committee.

2. The Kangaroo Math Competition 2013 results will be out tomorrow (Friday). Please visit the website  for the full results, which should be up by tomorrow afternoon.

Apologies for the delays (I promised it 3 weeks after 30 April, which is last week).

After the results, we will work on mailing the certs to the schools and inviting the medallists for the prize ceremony. Approximately 10% of the participants will receive medals.

UPDATE (31/5): Sorry, I need one more day to finish this — something unexpected happened last night. So the results will be up on Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned!

UPDATE (1/6): As of 1.30pm today, the result is online. Go to .

3. The IOI team will be announced after the final selection test on 8-9 June.


Go Mental and Arse About

29 May 2013



Source: Wikipedia

This is about the only parody of Keep Calm that I find funny.

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

28 May 2013

by Eugene Wigner

“The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, No. I (February 1960). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Copyright © 1960 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beautya beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.

–BERTRAND RUSSELL, Study of Mathematics

THERE IS A story about two friends, who were classmates in high school, talking about their jobs. One of them became a statistician and was working on population trends. He showed a reprint to his former classmate. The reprint started, as usual, with the Gaussian distribution and the statistician explained to his former classmate the meaning of the symbols for the actual population, for the average population, and so on. His classmate was a bit incredulous and was not quite sure whether the statistician was pulling his leg. “How can you know that?” was his query. “And what is this symbol here?” “Oh,” said the statistician, “this is pi.” “What is that?” “The ratio of the circumference of the circle to its diameter.” “Well, now you are pushing your joke too far,” said the classmate, “surely the population has nothing to do with the circumference of the circle.”

Naturally, we are inclined to smile about the simplicity of the classmate’s approach. Nevertheless, when I heard this story, I had to admit to an eerie feeling because, surely, the reaction of the classmate betrayed only plain common sense. I was even more confused when, not many days later, someone came to me and expressed his bewilderment [1 The remark to be quoted was made by F. Werner when he was a student in Princeton.] with the fact that we make a rather narrow selection when choosing the data on which we test our theories. “How do we know that, if we made a theory which focuses its attention on phenomena we disregard and disregards some of the phenomena now commanding our attention, that we could not build another theory which has little in common with the present one but which, nevertheless, explains just as many phenomena as the present theory?” It has to be admitted that we have no definite evidence that there is no such theory.

The preceding two stories illustrate the two main points which are the subjects of the present discourse. The first point is that mathematical concepts turn up in entirely unexpected connections. Moreover, they often permit an unexpectedly close and accurate description of the phenomena in these connections. Secondly, just because of this circumstance, and because we do not understand the reasons of their usefulness, we cannot know whether a theory formulated in terms of mathematical concepts is uniquely appropriate. We are in a position similar to that of a man who was provided with a bunch of keys and who, having to open several doors in succession, always hit on the right key on the first or second trial. He became skeptical concerning the uniqueness of the coordination between keys and doors.

Most of what will be said on these questions will not be new; it has probably occurred to most scientists in one form or another. My principal aim is to illuminate it from several sides. The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. Second, it is just this uncanny usefulness of mathematical concepts that raises the question of the uniqueness of our physical theories. In order to establish the first point, that mathematics plays an unreasonably important role in physics, it will be useful to say a few words on the question, “What is mathematics?”, then, “What is physics?”, then, how mathematics enters physical theories, and last, why the success of mathematics in its role in physics appears so baffling. Much less will be said on the second point: the uniqueness of the theories of physics. A proper answer to this question would require elaborate experimental and theoretical work which has not been undertaken to date.

(More at

What is the largest desert?

27 May 2013


LOL another plagiarism

27 May 2013

Once there was this: . Some schmuck butchered my heartfelt love letter to Malaysia and passed it off as his own writing.

Now there is this one:

(Garlic and Butter is my sister Nuyu’s blog. She studied architecture at UIA before joining the Civil Service.)

The funny thing is, my “artwork” which received unanimous ridicule by my family members (what kind of animal is that????), got plagiarized by one “Zara Hassan” (click to enlarge):

lukisan dicuri

LOL, people should have some standards lah.

By the way, my sisters’ artworks (which were plagiarized also) are better, although they made them in jest. The top one was made by Nuyu, the lower by Nur (“Anum Anu” and “Emaan Jamshed” are the plagiarizers):





This is the original entry with the artworks, which we produced during an impromptu family drawing competition in 2008:


Talking about art, I realize that I have no artistic skill whatsoever. Can’t sing, can’t draw, can’t paint, can’t play music, can’t write poetry, can’t sculpt, can’t dance. Nil. Zero. But I’d like to think that I have art in my Soul.

Therefore on my 30th birthday last year, I made a resolution to learn some art. My father studied art at university and is a fairly good artist. I’m sure there is some artistic gene in me.

So, earlier this year I learned to draw using a how-to book (which is as effective as learning how to swim from a swimming manual, meaning not at all).

This is my pencil drawing of a cow:


LOL, I think I’ll stick to doing mathematics.

Computational Linguistics

26 May 2013

In late 2011 and early 2012, I got interested in this subject because of my fascination with Google Translate. Sure, you can poke fun at Google translations: about how idioms in one language are meaningless in another (recall the “clothes that poke eye” brouhaha) and how you can get funny result by translating one phrase to another language and translating back. That is completely missing the point. Google Translate work very well, even in some languages which I do not think Google has a resident expert on. For example “pakaian menjolok mata” is now “revealing clothing”. Google Translate not only make meaningfully correct translations, it can now make idiomatically correct translations as well. Not only that, but GT actually learns how to improve its algorithm using built-in machine learning. Google developed the BM translator using nothing more than a finite set of BM rules (what are the rules? I’m dying to know), a finite set of BM vocabulary, and a learning engine, all these without having a single native BM speaker in the development team (as far as I know).

Along with my curiosity towards Google Translate, three other things happened at the time which made me interested in computational linguistics:

One, I finished reading The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. This is one of the finest popular science books ever written. In the hands of laymen, like me, it shatters all my intuitive beliefs on the nature of language, and how we acquire language. It is one of those books that makes you feel dumb for not knowing even the rudiments of how the world works. Of course there are scholars who contest Pinker’s assertions, but the majority of linguists now subscribe to Pinker’s theory of language acquisition, which in turn was inspired by Noam Chomsky’s earlier work on universal grammar.

Two, I started to learn programming seriously — only to drop out a few months later, LOL — and what keeps me from being a good programmer is that I ask too much question to myself about the language, rather than the algorithm. As usual, I keep over-intellectualize everything to the point of inefficiency. I need to work on this personal shortcoming.

Three, I discovered the ILO, the International Linguistics Olympiad (, which is a competition based on computational linguistics. Having been involved with the national math olympiad program, and having founded three other national olympiad programs (IBO, IESO and IOI), I decided to give this a look. It is quite interesting to know that there is a devoted, close-knit community of people around the world, working on the field of linguistics education using the olympiad model. Fascinating as it is, it is not something I see myself working on in the near future. But who knows.

I started a simple blog ( to put together some useful links for my reference. This blog is not meant to be updated regularly, in fact it hasn’t been since March 2012, but I might update sporadically with new interesting content. Just want to tell people that it exists.


25 May 2013

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