“Last Friday Night” – the Tolstoy style

No matter how wild your Friday night was, I bet you [hopefully] can’t beat the characters of L. Tolstoy’s War and Peace in rowdiness.  Have you ever drank a full bottle of rum in one go while sitting on a windowsill, or tied a policemen to a bear and let both of them swim in a canal? Hopefully you haven’t, but Tolstoy’s guys have.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are some quotes:

Dolokhov, the bottle of rum still in his hand, jumped onto the window sill. “Listen!” cried he, standing there and addressing those in the room. All were silent.

“I bet fifty imperials”- he spoke French that the Englishman might understand him, but he did, not speak it very well- “I bet fifty imperials… or do you wish to make it a hundred?” added he, addressing the Englishman.

“No, fifty,” replied the latter.

“All right. Fifty imperials… that I will drink a whole bottle of rum without taking it from my mouth, sitting outside the window on this spot” (he stooped and pointed to the sloping ledge outside the window) “and without holding on to anything. Is that right?”

“Quite right,” said the Englishman.

from http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/war_and_peace/9/


Those three got hold of a bear somewhere, put it in a carriage, and set off with it to visit some actresses! The police tried to interfere, and what did the young men do? They tied a policeman and the bear back to back and put the bear into the Moyka Canal. And there was the bear swimming about with the policeman on his back!

from http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/war_and_peace/10/

There is much more to War and Peace than a bunch of rowdy guys wrecking the city and their own lives. You can read the whole thing [if you dare] here http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/war_and_peace/

I am reading War and Peace in original now, so I’ll try to keep you updated in terms of amusing/interesting events that take place there.  I’ll save serious reflections for later – when I will finish reading the entire 4 volumes. Please, don’t ask me how many years it will take (hopefully less years than I have left till the end of grad school).

Collected Curiosities: Darwin, Banksy, Tstar Nicholas II, etc

 Darwin said that men endowed with mathematical talent “seem to have an extra sense” (Lecture at the Fields Institute)
Banksy trouble:
According to a group of my friends I was the last person (if not on the entire Earth, than in North America:)) who did not know the name of a graffiti artist Banksy. When they told me that he is famous for hiding his identity I asked why he does that and if anyone asks him to reveal his identity.  Asking that was a big mistake.  Not only my friends got upset, but I also did not get the answer to my question.  If there is anyone else who did not know about Banksy, here is his website http://www.banksyny.com/
Tango was brought to Paris in the 1910’s by rich Argentinian young men who toured Europe and actively participated in Paris’ night life. Soon tango became so popular that there were tango lectures, tea parties, exhibitions, etc. (Tango! : the dance, the song, the story by Collier)
Stravinsky wrote the first act of “Petrushka” ballet in an attic of a small house near a hospital where his wife was placed before the birth of their son. (Stravinsky by B. Yarustovsky)
Russian tsar Nicolas II likely was the first monarch who saw tango being danced. He even liked it! (Tango! : the dance, the song, the story by Collier)
Apparently soap is the most recommended souvenir to buy in Marselles, France. (internet)
Robert Hooke convinced his contemporaries that ‘minute bodies’ (very small organisms and very small things in general) are capable of having complex structure.  In his book Micrographia (1665) he illustrated that a flies have 360 degree field of vision as well as many other intricacies of small organisms and plants. His work was especially impressive because before the seventeenth century smallness was considered an obstacle to having a complex structure. (Micrographia by Robert Hooke)

Ai WeiWei, the ‘martyr’ of the Chinese political regime

“I don’t like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment.”

Ai WeiWei ‘s opinion published in Watts, Jonathan (11 August 2007). “Olympic artist lashes out over PRC propaganda”The Taipei Times. Taiwan (ROC). Retrieved 6 July 2008.

          Today is the last day of Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Yesterday people were lining up around the block even though the chances to buy a ticket were infinitesimal.  Everyone could not wait to see the creations of a ‘political activist’, a modern ‘hero’.  Chinese culture often seems mysterious to the foreigners.  The communist regime (which became almost a swear word in the modern world) adds the factor of fear and suspicion.  Of course, everyone is eager to look at the work of an artist who came from that part of the world and ‘suffered through’ the political brutalities of that regime. There are several things that just do not add up though:

For instance, Ai Wei Wei claims that he did not think that the Bird’s Nest Stadium that he designed for the Olympic Games of 2008 would become the symbol of autocracy.  He said that he sincerely hoped that it will be the symbol of freedom… HOW on Earth would such a project become the symbol of freedom in a communist country?  Did he really fail to understand that? This is not the end of this story though. After he realized that the Bird’s Nest is becoming a symbol of autocracy, he decided to ‘boycott’ the games! – really? Does ANYONE care that some guy will spend a little less time near his TV? If he really  wanted to boycott the games, wouldn’t it be more effective to boycott the Bird’s Nest project and refuse to design it at the first place?

He was under the house arrest and he was beaten up by the police. He is successfully running multi-million dollar business with his wife. Ai Wei Wei just does not look like a ‘victim’ and a ‘martyr’ of a political regime.  (Which is really good. I would NEVER want anyone to look like a victim of a political regime). But let us not be fooled by this ‘political opposition’ of his.  If the government really wanted to get rid of him, we would not even know that he has existed.

The exhibition contained three houses made of pressed tea.  Each house weighed about 1000 kg.  Tea pickers suffer from poor living conditions and low wages. Let’s just waste 3 tons of tea to make houses! Why not, right?

It is customary to end with good remarks.  The memorial wall with the names of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake is impossible to look at without tears.  The map of China carved in a wooden log is impressive as well.  As a math educator I thank Ai Wei Wei for exploration and artistic representation of various geometric figures. Some photos of architecture and animals were interesting.  And of course, the photos of kittens attracted major attention of the exhibit viewers, because kittens is the only thing that everyone likes.

Ai Wei Wei says that “Everything is art”.  Many people are excited by this slogan.  I think that this way of thinking will only lead to the exponential lowering of the quality of art. But I already realized that I am probably the only person in the world who still thinks that art should satisfy some minimal criteria of quality (This is a very vague statement. I know. I am reminding the reader that this is only my opinion and I am not imposing it on anyone )

Ai Wei Wei’s ‘signature’ is a stuck out middle finger in front of various works of architecture.  Call me a snob, but I think that it’s simply disrespectful.  I saw a boy photographing Ai Wei Wei’s work while sticking his middle finger in front of it.  Ai Wei Wei’s successor – right there!

Collected Curiosities: Mendeleev, Kafka, tango, etc.

Mendeleev published his periodic table in a textbook. In fact, his periodic table was intended to be a pedagogical tool to help his students understand the material better. (A Well Ordered Thing by M. Gordin)

When the studies of autism just emerged, researchers thought that autism in a baby is strongly correlated with the high intelligence of its mother.

Kafka’ s novel The Castle remained unfinished. Some scholars think that it was supposed to be finished with the death of the main character who was not supposed to ever reach the Castle.

Italian immigrants in Argentina played a large role in popularization, promotion and development of tango.  They were the first members of the upper class to accept tango and to host tango performances and milongas  in Italian halls in Argentina.

Mendeleev composed his periodic table without knowing anything about protons. ( A well ordered thing by Gordin)

Myblueprint.ca website shows the students their career and education options based on the high school courses they are taking.  It also compares various education programs in colleges and universities.

Cambridge’s Pedagogical Intricacies

Masters of Theory

Andrew Warwick, the author of Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics, is a senior lecturer in the history of sciences at the Imperial College in London.  Warwick started the research project presented in Masters of Theory in the mid-1980s during his doctoral study period at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University.  He is a student of Simon Schaffer, the co-author of Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life.

In Masters of Theory Warwick argued that “The cultural history of mathematical physics is not an alternative to its technical history but an explanation of how the latter was made possible.” He explored the specifics of the paper-and-pencil method of learning, teaching and testing mathematical knowledge and the role of the newly-introduced Mathematical Tripos examinations along with their effect on the way students studied and conducted their own research later in their academic careers.  He also studied the intricacies of reception and teaching of new theories and the important part that tacit knowledge played in the transmission of new ideas in mathematical physics.  The author used numerous primary sources such as students’ exam papers, private written accounts that illustrated the social and academic experiences of Cambridge undergraduates and numerous archival sources that gave the reader an insight about the presentation of mathematics and physics that Cambridge students were exposed to in the 19th century.

In order to demonstrate the role of culture and academic tradition in the history of mathematical physics, Warwick revealed that the personas of teachers, their pedagogical strategies, the concrete concepts they presented and the ways the knowledge of these concepts were tested were equally important for understanding the academic culture that prevailed in the 19th century Cambridge science community.  The author supported his argument by providing the shift from oral mathematics examinations to written ones.  The former style of examination focused on testing the rhetoric skills of the students.  The problems were designed in a way that would allow students to solve them without recording the details of their answer on paper.  The switch between oral and written examination practices was gradual.  The availability of paper and pencils during the examination allowed the administration to offer more difficult problems that could not be solved mentally.  Detailed formal solutions became a requirement.  If the knowledge were to be assessed in a different way, it is natural that the way of learning the material needed to change as well.  Warwick referred to numerous reports of students who felt that private coaching was absolutely necessary for the successful completion of written exams.  As a result, private tutoring was on the rise during the mid-19th century.  The author effectively demonstrated that tutors not only offered a different pedagogical approach that allowed for more one-on-one instruction time, but also introduced new topics, such as Continental analysis, that were not traditionally taught at that time.

Warwick argued against the “distinction between theoretical and experimental works.”  He stated that in order to deepen the understanding of theoretical and experimental practices a symmetric account of the two needs to be constructed.  Moreover, it should be based on numerous similarities in theoretical and experimental works.  Both works take nearly an equal amount of time and meet equal amounts of opposition while travelling to new sites and practitioners.  To illustrate this point Warwick offered the reception of the first edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica as an example.  Newton’s contemporaries inside and outside of Cambridge found the text impenetrable.  They were waiting for the second edition and hoped that the explanation of “many obscurities” would be provided there.  Newton did not always state the mathematical methods for solving problems in dynamics in an explicit manner.  These methods were, rather, implied.  The scientific community members who planned to read and understand Newton’s ideas needed to possess the ‘tacit’ knowledge regarding the methods that Newton was using.

In Masters of Theory, emphasized the important role of pedagogical methods that were used to teach mathematics and physics in the 19th century.   Warwick traced the origins of the research methodology that was later employed by Cambridge graduates to the ways in which they were taught mathematics in their undergraduate years.  He demonstrated that changing pedagogical practices and assessment methods had an immense influence on the reception and interpretation of new research ideas that were faced by Cambridge graduates later in their careers.  The author emphasized the personal aspect of learning, teaching and research experiences of students, coaches and scientists more than the authors of previous books.

Although Warwick’s book provided a thorough account of Cambridge pedagogical practices and their aftermath, the over-abundance of details sometimes obscures the main points that the author tries to convey.  The numerous examples, although relevant, were mostly too lengthy and caused a disconnection with the main narrative.


Photo from https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/masters-of-theory/id625145147?mt=11

Collected Curiosities: Whig History, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, etc.

  • Composer Igor Stravinsky was a son of a talented singer.  He realized that his calling is music early in life, but tried to make a career as a lawyer (concert brochure)
  • Read a piece where a blogger complained about her sandwich being too chewy.  Maybe I lack sense of humor, but is it really a valid reason to be upset?
  • Finally found out what ‘pumpkin spice’ is made of: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice (internet :))
  • There is a surprisingly large number of books by Eduard Limonov at UofT library. I wonder why? (UofT library catalogue)
  • Sergei Diaghilev (known for his Ballets Russes in Paris) was the founder of the “World of Art” (Mir Iskusstva) magazine that existed from 1898 till 1905.  Art and literature critics were often published there.  The emphasis was on “art for the sake of art”.  I did not find any articles from it online though. (“Igor Stravinsky” by B. Yarustovsky, 3rd edition, 1982 Leningrad “Music”)
  • There exist some letters that Dmitrii Mendeleev wrote but did not send at Mendeleev Archive-Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I wonder where and how they found them! (A Well Ordered Thisn: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the shadow of the Periodic Table by Michael D. Gordin) 
  • Butterfield coined the term Whig History in 1931 (lecture by prof. Joe Pitt, West Virginia University)

I have started collecting various academic and non-academic curiosities in a special notebook (that I hope will one day evolve to be a research log. book one day). These are some curiosities that i collected this week.

(Why this curiosity collection idea has occurred to me? The answer is here:  https://mariyaboyko12.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/the-toughest-thesis-advisors/)

“Heroes” for their time

Classical literature is not very popular these days, probably because it is based on an “old fashion” life style.   New generations are always hunting for new ideas and revolutionary ways of thinking. Inventing these new ideas, however, requires a lot of intellectual effort.  Making that effort is a hard thing to do.  Consequently, the newest members of the society are trying to ‘oppose’, ‘negate’ and ‘re-build’ everything around them without analyzing the possible consequences. They feel a great urge to modify or even to destroy ‘the old ways’, but they have no idea what the ‘new ways’ will look like.

What are these ‘heroes’ supposed to do if:

1)      There is too much information floating around, but very small percentage of it is useful

2)      Practically everything is allowed already. There is nothing much to fight for (or against)

3)      ‘Standing out’ has become a new ‘norm’ in the North America.   There are not too many serious political issues that teens and young adults can get involved in, and the life is generally comfortable for most of us

Hopefully no one is thinking that I am conveying a new and original thought here. Back in the in 19th century, Mikhail Lermontov in his novel A Hero of Our Time http://www.eldritchpress.org/myl/hero.htm painted a portrait of a grown man who is unable to assess his actions adequately. This character was constantly unhappy with his social and political surroundings, however, lacked intellectual skills and bravery to improve at least something that he was unhappy about.  Nevertheless, I have spoken to some teens who thought that this character was intelligent and ‘not afraid to fight against the others’.  The main message of the book (in my humble opinion, of course) is precisely the fact that he really had nothing and no one to fight against, but he really wanted to. Even if he possessed intellect or courage in the past, he has wasted all of his potential to deal with minor problems that were not even note-worthy.

I have been working with students of all age groups. Every class has a ‘popular’ person who thinks that he or she is ‘popular’.  They might be able to amuse their friends for brief periods of time, they might be able to cause a fight between other classmates, or to talk back to the teacher, but NOTHING they do can produce anything larger than a LOCAL effect, visible within their small circle of friends ONLY :(:(:(.  This could be amusing to watch when the students are in grade 6. What is scary is that some of them do not grow out of this ‘phase’ till grade 12. And some of them, as the main character of A Hero of Our Time, stay in this stage forever.

The trilogy of The Fish

This is an illustration to Yuri Andrukhovych`s book Perverzion

One of the characters in this book loved to host parties where the main entertainment was the following:

He dropped some small fishes into a fishtank and gave them some food first.  Then he placed several bigger fishes into the fishtank, and they ate the smaller ones.  Finally, he dropped the largest fish (that he referred to as `The Fish` into the tank and it ate everyone else.  Then he ordered his servants to cook the large fish and to feed it to his guests.

The illustrations below (that I drew on my tablet) reflect this multistage process:

1371747858357     1371745478742  1371745842482

The Windmill

I read a book by a Ukrainian author Dara Korniy From the Seventh Circle of Hell.  One of the main settings of the novel was the windmill where the main characters (the dwellers of the seventh circle of hell) appeared on Earth in their human form. The following are the illustrations that I came up with:

on my tablet first:

1370984259605              and on canvas with acrylic paints later