Meet Svelte, the Anti-Framework JavaScript Framework | Motherboard

Meet Svelte, the Anti-Framework JavaScript Framework | Motherboard

Writing and learning JavaScript can feel completely bonkers. There’s often little to no free space to just sit down and write lean, elegant code in a way that even approaches “from scratch.” This is because of frameworks, which are essentially pre-written libraries of code meant to be used in fairly specific contexts according to fairly specific patterns—that is, they are often only useful when used in prescribed ways.

To build a web app is to wield these libraries and architectural patterns, usually several at a time. And this means learning the libraries and architectural patterns, which, for something like AngularJS, can be a real fucking chore. Learning aside, it can also mean building a web app that is bloated with library code. This is code that will eventually need to be parsed and interpreted by a browser, or, in the case of Node, by a server. That parsing can be expensive and time-consuming.

Frameworks are pretty useful, however. They provide standardization, simplification, and abstraction. Programmers write less code and, crucially, less complex code. As a result, they theoretically make less mistakes. In particular, frameworks often provide ways of dynamically updating webpages without manipulating HTML directly—and this is how webpages become fullon web apps in the first place.

So, frameworks become a neccessary evil, but maybe they don’t have to be quite so evil. Enter Svelte, a new JavaScript framework that offers coders the ability to use frameworks for developing web applications while delivering only “vanilla” JavaScript code—that is, code that looks an awful lot like it was written by hand, but was really crafted using the usual frameworks (Angular, React, Ember, whatever). The benefit comes in the amount of code that’s ultimately needed to support a web app.

That’s the pitch, anyway.

“What if the framework didn’t actually run in the browser?,” writes Svelte developer Rich Harris in an introductory post. “What if, instead, it converted your application into pure vanilla JavaScript?”

This is what Svelte offers: a compiler capable of analyzing source code, including that contained in outside frameworks, and carving away features that aren’t actually used by the current web application. The result are small, relatively lean modules.

“Existing frameworks tend to be large enough that your application becomes slow to start up on mobile phones, especially on Android, which is where the bulk of market growth is happening,” Harris told InfoWorld. “Svelte solves these problems by removing those abstractions. The hard work happens at compile time rather than run time—it spits out highly optimized low-level DOM manipulation code specific to your application.”

I guess the catch is that, while this may simplify things for the browser tasked with running the code, for the developer it’s yet another framework. Part of where things can get really messy is when we start dealing with build tools, a subcategory of framework used for managing code dependencies and packaging code up for IRL deployment. I haven’t totally figured out how Svelte fits into all of that, but am willing to give it a try.

[Another level that will make debugging more difficult.]

Criminals can guess Visa card number and security code in just six seconds, experts find | The Independent

Criminals can guess Visa card number and security code in just six seconds, experts find | The Independent

Criminals can work out the card number, expiry date and security code for a Visa debit or credit card in as little as six seconds using guesswork, researchers have found.

Experts from Newcastle University said it was “frighteningly easy” to do with a laptop and an internet connection.

Fraudsters use a so-called Distributed Guessing Attack to get around security features put in place to stop online fraud, and this may have been the method used in the recent Tesco Bank hack.

Researchers found that the system did not detect cyber criminals making multiple invalid attempts on websites in order to get payment card data.

According to a study published in the academic journal IEEE Security & Privacy, that meant fraudsters could use computers to systematically fire different variations of security data at hundreds of websites simultaneously.

Within seconds, by a process of elimination, the criminals could verify the correct card number, expiry date and the three-digit security number on the back of the card.

Mohammed Ali, a PhD student at the university’s School of Computing Science, said: “This sort of attack exploits two weaknesses that on their own are not too severe but when used together, present a serious risk to the whole payment system.

“Firstly, the current online payment system does not detect multiple invalid payment requests from different websites.

“This allows unlimited guesses on each card data field, using up to the allowed number of attempts – typically 10 or 20 guesses – on each website.

“Secondly, different websites ask for different variations in the card data fields to validate an online purchase. This means it’s quite easy to build up the information and piece it together like a jigsaw.

“The unlimited guesses, when combined with the variations in the payment data fields make it frighteningly easy for attackers to generate all the card details one field at a time.

“Each generated card field can be used in succession to generate the next field and so on. If the hits are spread across enough websites then a positive response to each question can be received within two seconds – just like any online payment.

“So even starting with no details at all other than the first six digits – which tell you the bank and card type and so are the same for every card from a single provider – a hacker can obtain the three essential pieces of information to make an online purchase within as little as six seconds.”

Visa said: “The research does not take into account the multiple layers of fraud prevention that exist within the payments system, each of which must be met in order to make a transaction possible in the real world.

“Visa is committed to keeping fraud at low levels and works closely with card issuers and acquirers to make it very difficult to obtain and use cardholder data illegally.

“We provide issuers with the necessary data to make informed decisions on the risk of transactions.

“There are also steps that merchants and issuers can take to thwart brute force attempts.

“For consumers, the most important thing to remember is that if their card number is used fraudulently, the cardholder is protected from liability.”

It said it also has the Verified by Visa system which offers improved security for online transactions.

Researchers find a way to bypass the iOS activation lock | Computerworld

Researchers find a way to bypass the iOS activation lock | Computerworld

Two researchers claim to have found a way to bypass the activation lock feature in iOS that’s supposed to prevent anyone from using an iPhone or iPad marked as lost by its owner.

The first report came Sunday from an Indian security researcher named Hemanth Joseph, who started investigating possible bypasses after being confronted with a locked iPad he acquired from eBay.

The activation lock gets enabled automatically when users turn on the Find My iPhone feature via iCloud. It links the device to their Apple IDs and prevents anyone else from accessing the device without entering the associated password.

One of the few things allowed from the activation lock screen is connecting the device to a Wi-Fi network, including manually configuring one. Hemanth had the idea of trying to crash the service that enforces the lock screen by entering very long strings of characters in the WPA2-Enterprise username and password fields.

The researcher claims that, after awhile, the screen froze, and he used the iPad smart cover sold by Apple to put the tablet to sleep and then reopen it. This is supposed to restore the state of the tablet from where it was left off, in this case, loading the WPA2 screen again with the long strings of characters filled in.

“After 20-25 seconds the Add Wifi Connection screen crashed to the iPad home screen, thereby bypassing the so-called Find My iPhone Activation Lock,” he said in a blog post.

Hemanth said he reported the issue to Apple on Nov. 4, and the company is investigating it. He tested the bypass on iOS 10.1, which was released on Oct. 24.

On Thursday, a researcher named Benjamin Kunz Mejri, from German outfit Vulnerability Lab, posted a video showing the same bypass, but on the newer iOS 10.1.1 version.

Kunz Mejri’s method is similar and also involves overflowing the Add Wi-Fi form fields with long strings of characters but also requires rotating the tablet’s screen in order to trigger the crash after the smart cover trick.

Apple has not yet confirmed that issue and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neuroscientists Say Simple Mathematical Logic Underlies Complex Brain Computations | Neuroscience |

Neuroscientists Say Simple Mathematical Logic Underlies Complex Brain Computations | Neuroscience |

Dr. Tsien is talking about the Theory of Connectivity, a fundamental principle for how our billions of neurons assemble and align not just to acquire knowledge, but to generalize and draw conclusions from it.

“Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities,” he said.

“It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes.”

“Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs (FCMs) to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in.”

Dr. Tsien first published his theory in a paper in the Nov. 2015 issue of the journal Trends in Neuroscience.

Now he and his colleagues from Augusta University and the University of Georgia in the United States, and the Yunnan Academy of Science and Technology, Northwestern Polytechnical University and Tsinghua University in China, have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with those basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters.

“In the present study, we systematically tested six predictions made by the Theory of Connectivity. We show that this power-of-two-based permutation logic operated in seven different brain regions and in two animal species during processing appetitive, emotional and social experiences,” the researchers said.

“For it to be a universal principle, it needs to be operating in many neural circuits, so we selected seven different brain regions and, surprisingly, we indeed saw this principle operating in all these regions,” Dr. Tsien explained.

“Intricate organization seems plausible, even essential, in a human brain, which has about 86 billion neurons and where each neuron can have tens of thousands of synapses, putting potential connections and communications between neurons into the trillions.”

“On top of the seemingly endless connections is the reality of the infinite things each of us can presumably experience and learn.”

Researchers have long been curious about how the brain is able to not only hold specific information, like a computer, but — unlike even the most sophisticated technology — to also categorize and generalize the information into abstract knowledge and concepts.

“Many people have long speculated that there has to be a basic design principle from which intelligence originates and the brain evolves, like how the double helix of DNA and genetic codes are universal for every organism,” Dr. Tsien said.

“We present evidence that the brain may operate on an amazingly simple mathematical logic.”

“In my view, he proposes an interesting idea that proposes a simple organizational principle of the brain, and that is supported by intriguing and suggestive evidence,” said Dr. Thomas C. Südhof, Avram Goldstein Professor in the Stanford University School of Medicine, neuroscientist studying synapse formation and function and a winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

“This idea is very much worth testing further,” he added.

At the heart of the Theory of Connectivity is the algorithm, N=2i–1, which defines how many cliques are needed for an FCM and which enabled the authors to predict the number of cliques needed to recognize food options, for example, in their testing of the theory.

“N is the number of neural cliques connected in different possible ways; 2 means the neurons in those cliques are receiving the input or not; i is the information they are receiving; and -1 is just part of the math that enables you to account for all possibilities,” Dr. Tsien said.

To test the theory, the researchers placed electrodes in the areas of the brain so they could ‘listen’ to the response of neurons, or their action potential, and examine the unique waveforms resulting from each.

They gave the animals, for example, different combinations of four different foods, such as usual rodent biscuits as well as sugar pellets, rice and milk, and as the Theory of Connectivity would predict, the scientists could identify all 15 different cliques, or groupings of neurons, that responded to the potential variety of food combinations.

The neuronal cliques appear prewired during brain development because they showed up immediately when the food choices did.

The fundamental mathematical rule even remained largely intact when the NMDA receptor, a master switch for learning and memory, was disabled after the brain matured.

“We also learned that size does mostly matter, because while the human and animal brain both have a six-layered cerebral cortex — the lumpy outer layer of the brain that plays a key role in higher brain functions like learning and memory — the extra longitudinal length of the human cortex provides more room for cliques and FCMs,” Dr. Tsien said.

“And while the overall girth of the elephant brain is definitely larger than the human brain, for example, most of its neurons reside in the cerebellum with far less in their super-sized cerebral cortex.”

“The cerebellum is more involved in muscle coordination, which may help explain the agility of the huge mammal, particularly its trunk.”

It will soon be illegal to punish customers who criticize businesses online | Ars Technica

It will soon be illegal to punish customers who criticize businesses online | Ars Technica

Congress has passed a law protecting the right of US consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies.

The bipartisan Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed by unanimous consent in the US Senate yesterday, a Senate Commerce Committee announcement said. The bill, introduced in 2014, was already approved by the House of Representatives and now awaits President Obama’s signature.

The Commerce Committee held a hearing on gag clauses a year ago and said it heard “testimony from Ms. Jen Palmer, a plaintiff in Palmer v. KlearGear, where a company demanded the removal of a negative online review or payment of $3,500 in fines because the online merchant’s terms of service included a non-disparagement clause. When the review was not taken down, the company reported the unpaid $3,500 to a credit reporting agency as an outstanding debt, which negatively impacted the Palmers’ credit.”

Palmer beat Kleargear in court, but only after a years-long ordeal. In other cases, a supplements maker, called Ubervita, threatened legal action against customers leaving negative reviews on Amazon, and a jewelry store sued a customer who left a one-star review on Yelp.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act—full text available here—voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews. The legislation empowers the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the new law and impose penalties when necessary.

The bill also protects reviews that aren’t available via the Internet.

Senate Republicans and Democrats praised the bill’s passage. “By ending gag clauses, this legislation supports consumer rights and the integrity of critical feedback about products and services sold online,” Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said in the announcement.

“Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation, and the passage of our bill brings us one step closer to protecting that right.”

Revolution in headlamp technology: Mercedes shines in HD quality: DIGITAL LIGHT”: dazzle-free continuous main beam in the Mercedes: precision with resolution of more than 2 million pixels – Daimler Global Media Site

Revolution in headlamp technology: Mercedes shines in HD quality: DIGITAL LIGHT”: dazzle-free continuous main beam in the Mercedes: precision with resolution of more than 2 million pixels – Daimler Global Media Site

For the Mercedes developers the future of car light lies in dazzle-free main beam in HD quality. The revolutionary headlamp technology shines with maximum performance and facilitates communication and pioneering driver assistance. The new HD headlamp generation from Mercedes-Benz features chips that work with over one million micromirrors, i.e. more than two million in total per vehicle. The intelligent control logic required for the dynamic light functions was developed by Mercedes-Benz itself. Algorithms receive detailed information about the surroundings from the vehicle sensors, and from it calculate in real time the brightness value for each one of over two million pixels. This dynamism and precision gives this intelligent system well-nigh countless possibilities to provide ideal, high-resolution light distribution which suits the surrounding conditions perfectly. “The decisive factor is not the technology in the headlamp but the digital intelligence behind it”, stresses Gunter Fischer, Head of Exterior Body Development and Vehicle Operating Systems at Daimler AG. The innovation was developed by Mercedes-Benz in collaboration with two partner companies and it is a good example of the intern cooperation between the Daimler research and the passenger car development on the road to start of production.

Sensors, such as cameras or radar, detect other road users and powerful computers evaluate the data as well as digital cards in milliseconds and give the headlamps the commands for adapting the light distribution in all situations. These efforts yield optimum vision for the driver without dazzling other road users as well as innovative functions with added safety. “With our “DIGITAL LIGHT” strategy we are not only striving for beam records, rather we want to achieve optimum vision and maximum brightness without glare. Innovative functions for supporting the driver and staging communication with other road users significantly optimise safety when driving at night”, emphasises Gunter Fischer.

Mercedes-Benz does not only want to achieve the ideal light distribution for every driving situation with “DIGITAL LIGHT”, but guide and support the driver in a targeted manner in critical situations such as driving through narrow roadworks. Additionally it will be possible to project light traces onto the road to replace missing road markings. Moreover digital light systems can also beam messages like direction arrows or warnings onto the road. Via “DIGITAL LIGHT” the car will also communicate with other road users in future: for example, symbols or a zebra crossing for pedestrians can be projected. “DIGITAL LIGHT” thus delivers important contributions towards traffic safety and modules on the road to accident-free and autonomous driving – as an integral component of the overall INTELLIGENT DRIVE strategy. What was unveiled in 2015 in the research vehicle F015 as a vision has now been implemented in demo vehicles and will be on the road in the near future.

The headlamp becomes a projector The new headlamp in HD quality provides a chip working with over a million micro-mirrors. The light is split up into tiny pixels. The smaller these light pixels become the better the system can react to different situations, the more precisely objects and passers-by can be illuminated and simultaneously individual areas can be faded out or dimmed in a targeted manner. The requisite intelligent actuation logic was developed by Mercedes-Benz. This creates an optimum view for the driver, without dazzling other road users.

In the future Mercedes-Benz will use its newly developed HD software light distribution as part of “DIGITAL LIGHT” with two hardware headlamp systems:

  • For maximum resolution and performance Mercedes-Benz is using more than a million light points per HD headlamp with a new type of projection technology. Animated by high-current light-emitting diodes, over two million micro-mirrors in total radiate onto the road surface – each mirror can be moved individually. Initial prototypes are already installed in demonstration vehicles and were presented to the general public in November 2016 as part of night-time journeys.
  • Presented in October 2016, the new, highly efficient and very compact LED chip from the joint research project µAFS will be found in Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the foreseeable future. Four light points, each with 1024 individually actuatable LED chips, are installed per headlamp here. This adds up to 8192 individually actuatable light pixels per vehicle.

[It is only a matter of time when ads will be displayed though a system like this.]

‘One of the Great Intellects of His Time’ | by Ray Monk | The New York Review of Books

‘One of the Great Intellects of His Time’ | by Ray Monk | The New York Review of Books

“Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train.”

Thus, in the New Year of 1929, was Ludwig Wittgenstein’s return to Cambridge announced by John Maynard Keynes in a letter to his wife, Lydia Lopokova. Wittgenstein had previously been at Cambridge before World War I as a student of Bertrand Russell, but had acquired his godlike status through the publication after the war of his first and only book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which was very quickly recognized as a work of genius by philosophers in both Cambridge and his home city of Vienna. Wittgenstein himself was initially convinced that it provided definitive solutions to all the problems of philosophy, and accordingly gave up philosophy in favor of schoolteaching. In 1929, however, he returned to Cambridge to think again about philosophical problems, having become convinced that his book did not, in fact, solve them once and for all.

What drew him back to Cambridge was not the prospect of working again with Russell, who by this time (having been stripped of his fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, because of his opposition to World War I) was a freelance journalist, a political activist, and only intermittently a philosopher. Rather, it was the opportunity of working with Frank Ramsey, the man who had persuaded him of the flaws in the Tractatus. Most significantly, Ramsey had shown that the account Wittgenstein gives of the nature of logic in the Tractatus could not be entirely correct.

Wittgenstein’s belief that he had solved all the problems of philosophy rested on two other beliefs: (1) that those problems arose out of a “misunderstanding of the logic of our language” and (2) that in the Tractatus he had corrected those misunderstandings. Ramsey pointed out that there was something fundamentally amiss with Wittgenstein’s own view of logic, central to which was the insistence that logic is linguistic. Logical relations, that is, hold not between the things or the facts of the world, but rather between propositions. For instance, from the two propositions “If it is raining, the streets are wet” and “It is raining,” we can logically infer a third proposition, “The streets are wet.” That is to say, if the first two propositions are true, the third is necessarily true. The third follows logically from the other two.

According to Wittgenstein, all logic is like this; if there were no language, there would be no logic. And, if there were no logic, there would be no necessity, since all necessity is logical necessity. There is no such thing as a necessary fact. Thus, what Wittgenstein calls an “atomic proposition,” i.e., one that states a simple fact about the world, cannot be necessarily true or false; it has to be contingently true or false. It follows that the truth or falsity of one atomic proposition cannot follow from the truth or falsity of others. (In our example of logical inference above, the first proposition is not an atomic proposition, since its “if A, then B” structure is complex—it combines two propositions, A and B, and is therefore, so to speak, molecular rather than atomic.) Atomic propositions must, in other words, be logically independent.

Now, there is a potential problem here, which Wittgenstein himself raises and discusses in the Tractatus. The problem is this: the statement “This is red” seems to be as simple as a proposition can be. If anything is an atomic proposition, you might think, then that is one. And yet, from it we seem to be able to infer logically that the (equally simple) proposition “This is blue” is false. These two propositions, despite looking paradigmatically atomic, are certainly not logically independent. Wittgenstein’s response to this in the Tractatus is to insist that, despite appearances, these two propositions are not atomic.

By using physics, Wittgenstein suggests, these statements might be analyzable into simpler statements about the velocities of particles and then even simpler statements about the positions of particles. Thus the contradictory (necessarily false) statement “This is both red and blue” is analyzable into the statement that a particular particle is in two different places at the same time.

In his review of the Tractatus, Ramsey points out that this proposed solution to the problem does not work. “Even supposing,” he writes,

that the physicist thus provides an analysis of what we mean by “red,” Mr. Wittgenstein is only reducing the difficulty to that of the necessary properties of space, time, and matter or the ether. He explicitly makes it depend on the impossibility of a particle being in two places at the same time.

This impossibility, Ramsey suggests, is a feature of the world, rather than of our language, thus threatening to undermine Wittgenstein’s entire theory of logic. It was this devastating criticism that compelled Wittgenstein to revise his opinion that he had solved all the problems of philosophy and to return to Cambridge to study, with Ramsey as his supervisor.

Ramsey was then only twenty-five years old but already recognized at Cambridge as one of the greatest intellects of his time, not only by Wittgenstein, but also by, among others, Keynes, C.K. Ogden, I.A. Richards, and Russell himself. He was to live just one more year, but in his very brief lifetime he made fundamental contributions to mathematics, philosophy, and economics. Despite the persistent and widespread admiration he arouses among academics, however, Ramsey is little known to the public at large. One of the chief purposes of Frank Ramsey (1903–1930): A Sister’s Memoir, by his younger sister Margaret Paul, is to introduce him to a wider audience.

Perhaps because of the deeply felt desire among his admirers to see Ramsey receive some public attention at last, this memoir has been very warmly welcomed. David Papineau, a philosophy professor at King’s College London, reviewing it in the Times Literary Supplement, writes that Ramsey “has some claim to be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century” and calls the book “a sensitive and philosophically well-informed memoir.”

What he and others fail to mention, however, is that in many ways this is a disappointing and unsatisfying book. Margaret Paul died in 2002, and the book was evidently not quite finished at the time of her death. I got to know her while she was writing it and I know how diligently she pursued her work and how determined she was to leave no stone unturned. It therefore seems inconceivable to me that she did not intend to fill some of the glaring gaps that mar the book as it has now been published.

For anyone interested in Wittgenstein, the worst of these gaps occurs between the two last chapters. At the end of the penultimate chapter, Chapter 17, we reach the climactic moment in January 1929 when Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge. At the beginning of the next chapter, expecting to read about the intellectual interchanges between Wittgenstein and Ramsey, we read instead about Ramsey’s death from hepatitis in January 1930. The relationship between Wittgenstein and Ramsey during the intervening twelve months—in which they met regularly for philosophical discussions that were of fundamental importance to them both—is passed over in silence.

One is left with the unshakable impression that at least one chapter is missing, which happens to be the very chapter that many of us most wanted to read. If that chapter had been written, it would surely have given us a detailed description of the year that Wittgenstein and Ramsey spent together at Cambridge, and traced the influence the two had on each other, as Wittgenstein attempted to revise his thoughts on logic in the light of Ramsey’s criticisms and Ramsey attempted to develop a theory of truth.

This is the most egregious, but by no means the only, example of apparently missing material. Indeed, in its odd structure and weirdly unbalanced patchiness—dwelling at length on relatively unimportant details while completely ignoring things of deep and lasting interest—this book recalls another biography that conspicuously failed to deliver on its considerable promise: Abraham Pais’s 2006 book on J. Robert Oppenheimer, which also remained unfinished at the time of its author’s death.

The book has its highlights, however. The opening chapter on Ramsey’s family, for example, though not especially well written, is extremely interesting. On both his mother’s and his father’s side, Frank Plumpton Ramsey (the unusual middle name came from his maternal grandfather, who was descended from the de Plompton family that could trace itself back to the Normans) was the product of the British educated upper-middle class. Both his grandfathers were clergymen, one educated at Oxford, the other at Cambridge, while his father, Arthur Ramsey, was a mathematics don at Cambridge and the president (equivalent to vice-master) of Magdalene College. Frank, the eldest of four children, was born in 1903 and, together with his brother Michael (who became famous as the archbishop of Canterbury), was brought up in a large house called “Howfield” that Arthur Ramsey had built on a piece of land that he bought from his college. Margaret, their sister, was much younger, being born in 1917.

In 1915, at the age of twelve, Frank Ramsey was sent to Winchester College, one of the oldest and most distinguished of Britain’s public (i.e., private) schools. He was not particularly happy there, but he excelled academically, winning prizes for almost everything and establishing himself in particular as an outstandingly gifted mathematician. The chapter on Winchester illustrates the weird imbalance of the book. Though it contains abundant information about the history and customs of the school, it also contains the only mention in the whole book of Ramsey’s most important contribution to mathematics: his founding of what is now called “Ramsey Theory.”

Remarking that Ramsey excelled at mathematics while at Winchester, Paul goes on to say that he was equally interested in economics and philosophy, and therefore “it is not surprising that, of all his later published work, only nine pages were strictly mathematics.” She adds, as if in parentheses: “These, though, formed the basis of a new branch of mathematics called ‘Ramsey Theory.’” One looks in vain in the rest of the book for an explanation of what Ramsey Theory is or where those nine pages might be found.

If Paul had lived to finish her book properly, she would surely have expanded this account of one of her brother’s most notable achievements and put it in its proper chronological place. As only those who already know Ramsey’s work would realize, what she is alluding to is a paper that he presented to the London Mathematical Society at the end of 1928 (just a month before Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge and therefore possibly belonging to the period that was to be covered by a part of the book she never got around to writing). The paper is called “On a Problem of Formal Logic” and is twenty-two (not nine) pages long. It is not, as Paul implies, an isolated piece of writing. On the contrary, it is of a piece with much else that Ramsey wrote on logic and the foundations of mathematics.

Its starting point is an attempt to tackle what was then considered a leading problem in mathematical logic: the Entscheidungsproblem (decision problem), the problem of finding a method for deciding—in a finite number of steps—whether any given statement of logic or mathematics is or is not logical truth. The problem was posed by the German mathematician David Hilbert in 1928 (so Ramsey’s paper is one of the earliest discussions of it) and was solved in 1936 by Alan Turing and Alonzo Church, who both, separately, showed that there was no such method.

In his own approach to the problem, Ramsey presented what he called “certain theorems on combinations which have an independent interest,” and it is these theorems on combinatorics that have established the branch of mathematics named after him. The interest of Ramsey Theory centers on how certain types of order arise as mathematical objects get larger. A typical problem in this branch of mathematics would ask something like “How many elements of some structure must there be to guarantee that a particular property will hold?”

For example, consider plot dots (vertices) on a certain space and the question of how each of them is to be joined up with others. What is the minimum number of vertices that would guarantee the appearance of an entirely red (or blue) triangle? The answer is six, the proof of which belongs to Ramsey Theory. In a special issue of the Journal of Graph Theory dedicated to the memory of Frank Ramsey, the mathematician Frank Harary said of Ramsey Theory: “Its results are often easy to state…and difficult to prove; they are beautiful when exact, and colorful. Unsolved problems abound, and additional interesting open questions arise faster than solutions to the existing problems.”

Margaret Paul was herself an economist and her book is a little better on her brother’s contributions to economics than on his contributions to mathematics. Even here, however, she seems reluctant to go into much depth. She devotes, for example, just a few sentences to Ramsey’s first paper on economics, “The Douglas Proposal,” which was published during his second year as an undergraduate shortly before his nineteenth birthday. (He entered Trinity College as a mathematics student in 1920 at the age of seventeen.) C.H. Douglas was an engineer who in the 1920s had put forward a scheme, known as “Douglas Credit” or “Social Credit,” according to which consumers would be given rebates by the government that would close the gap between what it cost to produce goods and what it cost the consumer to buy them. In his criticism of this scheme, Ramsey brought to bear a new kind of mathematical analysis involving integral calculus. His deeply impressed father described it as “a new branch of mathematics.” Ramsey’s conclusion was that the scheme advocated by Douglas would achieve its ends only in exceptional circumstances.

Of far more lasting importance are two papers on economics that Ramsey wrote in the late 1920s: “A Contribution to the Theory of Taxation” (1927) and “A Mathematical Theory of Saving” (1928). Paul provides brief but useful summaries of both. The first “showed that, on certain assumptions, taxes did the least harm—caused the smallest possible fall in satisfaction—if they were set so that, as a result of the tax, the production of each good [such as sugar or corn] fell by the same proportion.” In the second, he “set out to discover how much of its income a nation should save each year” in order to “reach what Frank termed the state of bliss” in which “everyone would have as much as they wanted of goods.” (He concluded that it should save 60 percent of its income.)

The latter of these essays—though he conceded that it was “terribly difficult reading for an economist”—was described by Keynes as

one of the most remarkable contributions to mathematical economics ever made, both in respect of the intrinsic elegance of the technical methods employed and the clear purity of illumination with which the writer’s mind is felt by the reader to play about its subject.

Extraordinarily, Ramsey wrote this groundbreaking paper while working on a book (that he never finished) on logic. What for economists and most mere mortals was “terribly difficult” was, for him, a kind of relaxing distraction, “a waste of time.” Today, it is regarded by economists as one of the founding papers in the branch of their discipline known as “optimal accumulation,” which seeks to calculate the amount of a society’s economy that should be invested rather than consumed so as to maximize utility.

Ramsey’s initial excursion into economics had been at the instigation of C.K. Ogden, whom he met while still a schoolboy at Winchester and who was, in all sorts of ways, to have a deep influence on his life. Ogden, fourteen years older than Ramsey, had been a classics student at Magdalene and thus had come to the attention of Ramsey’s father. While still an undergraduate, Ogden had founded both a weekly journal, The Cambridge Magazine, and a discussion group, the Heretics. Ramsey first met him in the spring of 1920, a few months before he entered Cambridge, and in the summer of 1923 wrote him a couple of letters—one about Ogden’s book (cowritten with I.A. Richards) The Meaning of Meaning and the other about Bertrand Russell’s philosophy of mathematics—that reveal how astonishingly perceptive, incisive, and critical his mind already was at the age of seventeen.

At Cambridge, Ramsey was quickly accepted by the intellectual elite. Most notably, perhaps, he was elected a member of the famous conversation club the Apostles, whose other members included many of the leading economists, mathematicians, historians, philosophers, and writers of the day. At the Apostles he got to know Keynes, who invited him to attend meetings of the select Political Economy Club. Another member of the Apostles, G.E. Moore, was the most influential philosopher at Cambridge. When Ramsey started to attend his lectures, Moore recalled later, “I had soon come to feel of him, as of Wittgenstein, that he was much cleverer than I was, and consequently I felt distinctly nervous in lecturing before him.” Moore was at that time forty-eight years old, a fellow of Trinity, and the author of several widely influential books and articles; Ramsey was eighteen years old and a first-year undergraduate.

Through his connection with Ogden, Ramsey was elected a member of the committee of the Heretics and was also able to publish a couple of articles in The Cambridge Magazine. One of these was his piece on Douglas Credit. The other was a review of Keynes’s recently published A Treatise on Probability. Unlike many other aspects of Ramsey’s work, his views on probability are expounded in some length in Paul’s book. Indeed, she devotes an entire chapter to them, in which she outlines Ramsey’s 1922 criticisms of Keynes as well as his more substantial 1926 paper “Truth and Probability.” She also provides extensive quotations from a paper on the subject that Ramsey presented to the Apostles in 1923.

At the heart of Ramsey’s views on the subject was a rejection of Keynes’s idea that probability is an objective relation between two propositions. Instead Ramsey saw it as a measure of the strength of our beliefs in what will occur. With characteristic rigor, Ramsey provided a way of bringing to this subjective characterization of probability a strict mathematical analysis, thus preparing the way for modern decision and game theory. The “subjective probability” he devised was quite similar to the later “expected utility theory” of John von Neumann and others. When reviewing the posthumous collection in which “Truth and Probability” was published, Keynes summarized Ramsey’s view and added: “I yield to Ramsey—I think he is right.”

Another consequence of Ramsey’s friendship with Ogden was his involvement in the English edition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Ogden had a position at the London publishers Kegan Paul, for whom he edited a series called the International Library of Philosophy and Scientific Method. On Russell’s recommendation, Ogden offered to publish the Tractatus in that series and then turned to Ramsey to perform what Moore had suggested was an impossible task: translating Wittgenstein’s compressed and oracular German into English. Ramsey rose to the task and, after many corrections by Wittgenstein himself, the English edition (“translated from the German by C.K. Ogden”) was published in 1922.

The following year, Ramsey published in Mind a brilliant review of the book that combined masterful exposition with typically penetrating criticism. He wrote that the book had “an attractive epigrammatic flavour,” which

perhaps makes it more accurate in detail, as each sentence must have received separate consideration, but it seems to have prevented him from giving adequate explanations of many of his technical terms and theories, perhaps because explanations require some sacrifice of accuracy.

It was Ramsey’s criticisms, made both in that review and also in person when Ramsey visited him in 1924, that persuaded Wittgenstein to return both to philosophy and, eventually, to Cambridge with Ramsey.

At Keynes’s insistence, when Ramsey graduated he was offered, at the extraordinarily young age of twenty-one, a fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge. The post carried with it a surprisingly heavy teaching load. In a letter to Keynes, Ramsey complained that he was teaching sixteen hours a week. Most of this was tutoring, which Ramsey was not especially good at, because, having such a quick mind himself, he was unable to understand why his students (and King’s College, Cambridge, of course, attracted some of the very best students in the country) were not able to understand what they read or what he said to them. He also lectured three times a week. “You ask what he looked like and how he lectured,” one of his students wrote to Margaret Paul. “The answer, in my recollection, is in one word—chalk! Chalk getting into his hair, all over his gown and suit, smudged over his glasses and face, and broken bits of chalk flying at all angles off the blackboard.”

When people described Ramsey’s physical appearance, they tended to use the word “bulky.” He was over six feet tall and heavily built. The philosopher Arthur McIver, who knew Ramsey at Winchester, described him as “an enormous man like a cross between a lighthouse and a balloon—like a Zeppelin set up on end.” In one of his most frequently quoted remarks, Ramsey used his large frame to illustrate his Weltanschauung:

Where I seem to differ from some of my friends is in attaching little importance to physical size. I don’t feel the least humble before the vastness of the heavens. The stars may be large, but they cannot think or love; and these are qualities which impress me far more than size does. I take no credit for weighing nearly seventeen stone [238 pounds].

You might think, when dealing with the life of a man who died at the age of twenty-six, especially one who wrote so much in that short time, that there would not be much to say about his love life. In fact, however, a surprising amount of this book is taken up with just that. Paul describes in detail Ramsey’s unhappy and unreciprocated love, at the age of nineteen, for a woman called Margaret Pyke, who was married and had a child, and also his relationship with his wife, Lettice, whom he met in 1924 and married the following year. Drawing extensively on correspondence between the two, Paul charts the ups and downs of this marriage, which produced two daughters but was not entirely happy because of infidelities on both sides.

Ramsey was an extraordinarily intelligent man whose every word on logic, mathematics, economics, and philosophy is worth contemplating. He was not, however, a great imaginative writer or a man blessed, or cursed, with a particularly intense, unusual, or noteworthy emotional life. Thus, when talking about his romantic feelings, he appears as what in other matters he most assuredly was not: an ordinary man. While his wife was away in Ireland he told her, in the spirit of an open marriage, about a very satisfactory affair he was having with another woman; when she wrote that she, too, was having an affair, he erupted in anger.

So if we want to understand the admiration in which he is widely held, it does not help much to read his letters to Lettice. His sister would have done a much greater service to his memory if, as well as writing at such length about his love life, she had described the context, content, and impact of the work on which his reputation as a philosopher rests. For during his five last years, the years of his marriage to Lettice, he published three seminal papers on philosophy—“Universals” (1925), “The Foundations of Mathematics” (1925), and “Facts and Propositions” (1927)—and wrote several more that remained unpublished until after his death.

Paul provides extremely brief accounts of each of the published papers, but does little or nothing to provide a general characterization of the philosophical position that inspired them. She gives no clear idea, for example, of how his philosophical thinking developed from his consideration of the age-old question “What is truth?,” a question to which Ramsey responded with what is often called the “deflationary theory”: to say that a proposition p is true is simply to assert p. “It is evident,” he writes in “Facts and Propositions,” “that ‘It is true that Caesar was murdered’ means no more than that Caesar was murdered.” From there, Ramsey went on to tackle what he regarded as the more difficult question, “What is belief?” Or rather, this is what he intended to do. His early death prevented him from completing this task.

The papers he left unpublished, however (about which Paul says almost nothing), provide evidence that during the last year of his life Ramsey was moving away from the broadly Russellian views that he espouses in his published papers and toward a view more akin to the intuitionism associated with the Dutch mathematician L. E. J. Brouwer—the belief that mathematical concepts are solely creations of the mind, with no external existence. The story of this shift, and the part (if any) played in it by Ramsey’s conversations in 1929 with Wittgenstein, would be of enormous interest to anyone concerned with the development of philosophy in the twentieth century. Without going into detail, we can at least say that he helped convince Wittgenstein to move past his work in the Tractatus; Wittgenstein himself said that his talks with Ramsey “educate[d] me into a degree of courage in thinking.”

Whatever Ramsey was working on in 1929 was cut short by his very untimely death in early 1930, which is described with great tenderness and sensitivity in Paul’s final chapter. In November he was confined to bed with jaundice. Nobody thought much of it, but when, in January, he was still ill, he was moved to Guy’s Hospital where an exploratory operation was carried out. Three days later he died, the cause of death being given as hepatitis. Using contemporary accounts in the letters and diaries of Ramsey’s friends and relatives, the last chapter of this memoir conveys vividly the shocked disbelief with which his death was greeted.

With Ramsey’s young death, the world of learning was robbed of one of its most glittering stars. It is now time that he receive his due. What is needed is a thorough biography that would describe and place in intellectual history his important contributions to economics, mathematics, and philosophy, while keeping an eye out for what Virginia Woolf called the “fertile facts” that would reveal to us not only the impressive mind, but also the somewhat elusive personality of this extraordinary man.

HistoryQuest DC Is D.C.’s Ultimate Building Map – CityLab

HistoryQuest DC Is D.C.’s Ultimate Building Map – CityLab

If you like history, maps, weird old buildings, and killing time on the internet, you, my friend, have come to the right place. This week, Washington, D.C.’s Historic Preservation Office flicked the switch on their latest project—HistoryQuest DC, a truly magnificent interactive GIS map stuffed with info on some 127,000 buildings in the District, from the White House and the Capitol on down to the funkiest little alley rowhouse.

Here, for example, is the Smithsonian’s “Castle,” built in 1851.

Users can zoom in to individual blocks and get a house-by-house accounting of when each building went up, plus details like foundation and roof materials, builders and architects, and the names of the original owners. Toggling the map’s operational layers reveals historic district and ward boundaries, the location of landmarked buildings, and all manner of other intel.

The age of buildings is color-coded, with the older structures in dark browns and more recent ones in shades of yellow and orange. The project reflects more than 15 years of work, says the State Historic Preservation Officer David Maloney, who’s been fielding inquiries about the map since it went live on Monday. “Had I known we were going to get so many comments, I would have made more of a media splash,” he says.

Much of the data used to create the map came from the D.C. Historical Building Permits Database, a vast index compiled between 2000 and 2010. This database spans buildings that were constructed between 1877 and 1950, which turns out to be about 85 percent of the city’s current stock. For older and newer structures, the team dug into tax records and other sources. It took them another six years or so to build the GIS map itself, and they’re still filling in gaps and extending the coverage. But the wealth of information available here is enough to keep D.C. history wonks and armchair preservationists busy for a long, long time.

That was the idea, says Maloney: “You can’t get the same feel for the information by looking at a database. This has been a goal of ours—to get people to explore historic places and have fun with it.”

One thing the map exposes very dramatically is the extent to which the heavily touristed and monument-laden areas in the city’s downtown area are bright yellow with modern development; zoom out and the 19th century re-appears in a dense residential fabric of smaller homes and businesses. Many of those buildings, Maloney notes, aren’t considered officially historic, but they’re important nonetheless to maintaining the District’s distinctive mix. “We’re trying to get people to think less in terms of what’s historic and think more broadly—what properties are valuable to the city regardless of designation?”

Similar maps exist for other cities—check out Los Angeles Conservancy’s interactive map of L.A.’s historic places, for example. But few, if any, have HistoryQuest DC’s level of detail.

To help the Historic Preservation Office fill in the gaps and add more information, users are invited to chime in with updates and changes via a form on the map itself, or contact the office directly at

HistoryQuest DC

Times I Have Actually Used Math Since High School – The New Yorker

Times I Have Actually Used Math Since High School – The New Yorker

My family and I are at an amusement park when a large crowd suddenly surrounds us. I frantically reach for my children—are they still here?! I count them: one, two. They are both here. Thank God for math.

The local grocery store offers an annual membership for fifteen dollars, which would qualify me for a ten-per-cent discount each month. I quickly write out an equation to determine if the program is worth enrolling in. It is. But apparently you are not allowed to write equations on the walls of the grocery store, and I have to pay for new walls. This is incredibly expensive. I should not have gotten this membership.

My husband, Tad, and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. I buy him a cake in the shape of the number seven, which upsets him because it is our ninth anniversary. I remind him that I don’t count the two boring years. He gets angry. I tell him that the number of boring years happens to be the smallest prime number, a fact that is sure to cheer anyone up. He is not cheered up. Tad yells at me that I only talk about math. I am not upset, though, because I embrace the cold, rigid truth of numbers.

My college roommate Samantha and I plan to meet in our favorite city, Chicago, even though Samantha lives in Paris and I live in Boston. If my train leaves Boston at 4 p.m. going ninety miles per hour, and Samantha’s train leaves Paris at 3 p.m. going eighty-five miles per hour, at what time do we both arrive in Chicago? I got this wrong because I assumed Samantha was in the glorious city of Paris, Texas. Turns out she lives in Paris, France, and needed to fly on a plane. I guess I didn’t know her as well as I thought. I hope she has a nice life.

Tad is speaking very loudly, using wild gesticulation. I draw a graph with a line whose integral represents his growing anger; it is identical to the line denoting my confusion. “Do you even care about our kids?!” Tad exclaims. I show him my work. “It’s like you’re not even listening to me,” he says. I circle my answer: 32.7 rage units. “You make me livid,” he screams, confirming my answer. We break up. I am sad, but I applaud myself for being correct.

My boss calls me in for my performance review. Suddenly, he thrusts a calculator in my hand. I gasp. It is a TI-84. I know exactly what to do with this. Quickly, I punch in the equation for a standard hyperbola. Easy-peasy! Turns out, I misunderstood him. He just wanted to know what numbers to plug in so it would say “boobs” upside down. I explain that you can’t spell “boobs” on a TI-84 because of the font. He lets me go, disappointed.

I run home to find that Tad has packed my things into cardboard boxes. “Whoa,” I say. He looks at me with a tiny flicker of hope. “You know, for a polyhedron like this cube,” I go on, picking up a box of my dirty laundry and photos, “you can let F be the number of faces, V be the number of vertices, and E the number of edges, and you will always get F + V – E = 2.” He slams the door in my face, squishing one of the boxes. “Good thing this formula works for any polyhedron that doesn’t intersect itself,” I shout, picking up some old wedding photos that fell from the crushed box.

Sad and surrounded by regular hexahedrons, I absentmindedly walk to the grocery store, where I learn that today is my ten-per-cent-discount day! Newly energized, I race to buy three bottles of my favorite food, pasta sauce. I feel like a new woman. Skipping on my way out, I trip and accidentally break a jar, splattering the sauce against a wall in the shape of a parabola with the equation y = 0.2×2 + 0.35x – 1 that has its vertex at (–0.875, –1.2) and its focus at (–0.875, 0.09). It looks like a smile. I love math. I pay for new walls again.

Watergate Steps – Washington, D.C. | Atlas Obscura

Watergate Steps – Washington, D.C. | Atlas Obscura

Few people know that the first Watergate wasn’t the hotel where a presidential scandal took place. It was a forgotten staircase on Washington, D.C.’s waterfront.

The stairs were originally intended to act as a dock for visiting dignitaries and politicians disembarking off the Potomac River. The idea was that guests would ascend the 40 concrete steps of the grand staircase from the river to the Lincoln Memorial as they entered the United States capital.

This plan didn’t pan out, and instead the Watergate Steps became a concert space. The orchestra would play on a barge docked in the Potomac while the audience sat on the steps beneath the night sky. The “Sunset Symphonies” went on from 1935 until 1965, when they were cancelled because noise from jets flying overhead drowned out the music.

The original Watergate remains, a useless set of stairs leading to nowhere yet an integral part of the National Mall’s landscape nonetheless. It’s even rumored that the famous hotel and office complex took its name from the steps.