Afterthought

Those who live are those who struggle; are those
Whose high resolves fill soul and eyes; who, urged
By noble destiny, ascend the slopes,
Or walk with pensive mien, absorbed in hopes
Of ends sublime, having before their eyes
Some holy task or some great love to serve.

–Victor Hugo

George Pólya’s Problem Solving Methods

  1. First, you have to understand the problem.
  2. After understanding, make a plan.
  3. Carry out the plan.
  4. Look back on your work. How could it be better?

If this technique fails, Pólya advises: “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.” Or: “If you cannot solve the proposed problem, try to solve first some related problem. Could you imagine a more accessible related problem?”

Read more here

George Pólya was a Hungarian mathematician.

Constantinos Daskalakis on Tackling Hard Problems

Scroll down to the bottom of Constantinos Daskalakis’ web page— past links to his theoretical computer science papers and his doctoral students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and you will come upon a spare, 21-line poem by Constantine Cavafy, “The Satrapy.”

Written in 1910, it addresses an unnamed individual who is “made for fine and great works” but who, having met with small-mindedness and indifference, gives up on his dreams and goes to the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes. The king lavishes satrapies (provincial governorships) upon him, but his soul, Cavafy writes, “weeps for other things … the hard-won and inestimable Well Done; the Agora, the Theater, and the Laurels” — all the things Artaxerxes cannot give him. “Where will you find these in a satrapy,” Cavafy asks, “and what life can you live without these.”

For Daskalakis, the poem serves as a sort of talisman, to guard him against base motives. “It’s a moral compass, if you want,” he said. “I want to have this constant reminder that there are some noble ideas that you’re serving, and don’t forget that when you make decisions.”

The decisions the 37-year-old Daskalakis has made over the course of his career — such as forgoing a lucrative job right out of college and pursuing the hardest problems in his field — have all been in the service of uncovering distant truths. “It all originates from a very deep need to understand something,” he said. “You’re just not going to stop unless you understand; your brain cannot stay still unless you understand.”

Today, Daskalakis’ contributions have been recognized with the Rolf Nevanlinna Prize, which is awarded every four years and is considered one of the highest honors in theoretical computer science. The award cites his “powerful body of results” that explicate core questions in economics about how rational players behave in games and markets, as well as his more recent work in machine learning.

“I really can’t think of anyone else who has been a leader and influencer in so many areas,” said Éva Tardos, a computer scientist at Cornell University. “It’s amazing and it’s impressive.”

Daskalakis is interested only in problems that will be “wildly impactful,” said his former doctoral student Matthew Weinberg, now a professor at Princeton University. Daskalakis’ attitude, Weinberg said, has always been: “Here’s all these unsolved problems that are crazy hard and will be really impactful to solve; someone has to do it, so let’s make it be us.”

Daskalakis’ work sits at the interface between mathematics and the study of human behavior, and this is no accident. The son of two high school teachers in Athens — his father taught mathematics and his mother Greek literature and history — he spent his childhood steeped not just in science but also in the deeply human-centric mindset of the ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights.

“That’s a super important heritage that I carry,” he said. “It’s inspiring, it’s humbling, it’s a big responsibility, it’s a challenge.”

Read more here

Constantinos Daskalakis is a Greek theoretical computer scientist. He is a professor at MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department and a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Playlist of the Week

A$AP Rocky, Bones   —   Canal St.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS   —  4th Dimension
Pusha T   —   If you Know you Know
The Game   —   Money
CyHi The Prynce, Estelle   —   Murda
Big Sean   —   Moves
A$AP Ferg, Future   —   New Level
Gucci Mane, Migos   —   I get the Bag
Huncho Jack   —   Eye 2 Eyes
Rae Sremmurd   —   Lit Like Bic

This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it. 

Playlist of the Week

Kansas   —   Dust in the Wind
The Moody Blues   —   The Best Way to Travel
Aerosmith   —   Dream On
Asia   —   Sole Survivor
The Smiths   —   What Difference Does it Make?
Michael Jackson   —   Beat It
UFO   —   Doctor Doctor
Eloy   —   Journey Into 1358
Motorpsycho   —   For Free
Omega, George Hill   —   Don’t Think About the Fire

This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it. 

On Time by John Milton


Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace;
And glut thy self with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more then what is false and vain,
And meerly mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb’d,
And last of all, thy greedy self consum’d,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss;
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood,
When every thing that is sincerely good
And perfectly divine,
With Truth, and Peace, and Love shall ever shine
About the supreme Throne
Of him, t’whose happy-making sight alone,
When once our heav’nly-guided soul shall clime,
Then all this Earthy grosnes quit,
Attir’d with Stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.

John Milton – 1608-1674