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Giving Some Thanks Around the Globe

November 25, 2011

Tisquantum—nothing to do with quantum computation

Tisquantum was a Patuxet Indian who lived from 1580 until 1622. He is better known as Squanto, and is famous to Americans as the native on whom the Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts most depended for their survival commemorated at their first Thanksgiving observance. Children’s books portray Squanto as a native who came out of the woods with a helping hand, but in fact he was more of a globetrotter than any of the Pilgrims.

Today we, Ken and I, wish to thank people around the globe who have contributed ideas to this blog, particularly by keeping alive some comment threads that one might think were old history.

Squanto was one of two dozen Indians who trusted a captain named Thomas Hunt in 1614, coming onboard his ship to negotiate beaver trading, only to find themselves kidnapped and taken to Spain to be sold into slavery. Hunt had not yet managed to sell Squanto when some Spanish friars intervened. They adopted him, gave him religious and secular education, and allowed him to try to return home via England. It is possible that Squanto had an earlier trip to England in 1605, when the name “Tisquantum” is listed among five Native Americans forcibly brought back by an explorer.

In London in 1615, Squanto met the Treasurer of the Newfoundland Company, Sir John Slaney, and entered his employ. This brought him back to North America, on terms that allowed him to return to his village after service as a guide and interpreter. Alas he found his village wiped out by European diseases for which the natives had no immunity. He affiliated with another tribe, and spent three years active in tumultuous relations between natives and settlers before he succumbed to disease himself in 1622. In that time he taught local maize cultivation techniques to the settlers, for which he is most remembered, but there was much more.

The point is that Squanto brought expertise from two continents, and was far from the “simple” native often depicted. Tisquantum complexity may have saved the Pilgrims.

Some Threads

We are about to go over 9,000 comments in 338 items in the three years of this blog, an average of 26.6 per item including trackbacks. We could easily double that if we included all the spam: there have been 284 spam items since Nov. 17 alone. Most of these are the“self-promoting thank-you” kind, where nothing specific is said about the post it desires to attach to, and the commenter ID links back to a sales pitch. Thanks-giving turkeys indeed; happily many are caught by the filter, whose contents we review periodically. Sometimes we find a “real” comment there, and if time has passed and it carries a known e-mail we’ll write to the commenter with as-due apology. Similarly, if you feel a comment of yours has been mislaid please let us know; both our e-mails are public.

No, we intend our genuine thanks-giving to be from us to you. The following is far from an exhaustive list, and we do intend more of this kind of recognition. This is not a roundup of the posts with the most discussion—these are mostly restricted to ones where people have contributed months after a post went up. Often we link just one comment in a thread when there are other worthy ones nearby—this is to encourage you to read the context and not to demote the ones not singled out. Sometimes there are crankish comments nearby, but we make no judgment beyond common standards of civil writing.

{\bullet} The “standing items” at the top continue to attract comments, especially The Gödel Letter, Conventional Wisdom and P=NP, and About P=NP and SAT. We note especially that Pascal Koiran and Sam Buss and others below gave further references pertinent to Gödel’s letter beginning here, and that Peter Tennenbaum contributed observations on Gödel’s worldviews, plus a wonderful personal recollection here.

{\bullet} A recent query on the Feb. 2009 item Fast Exponential Algorithms drew a reply from someone in another country before we could act.

{\bullet} Lukas Polacek last April corrected a common “legend” about Robert Szelepcs{é}nyi here.

{\bullet} In the April 2009 item The Four-Color Theorem, there was a concrete and beautiful discussion between commenters Stefanutti and Cahit last Feb.–Mar., beginning here.

{\bullet} There have been several posts on the Graph Isomorphism problem beginning with this May 2009 item, and discussion of claims of progress has continued in several of them. We posted most recently about the more specialized problem of group isomorphism, where we proposed a PolyMath project, and excellent concrete suggestions among 73 comments there are still ongoing.

{\bullet} In the June 2009 item High Dimensional Search and the NN Problem, commenters ACW and Neil Dickson suggested some new approaches last March beginning here.

{\bullet} Regarding Linear Equations Over Composite Moduli, Shachar Lovett noted a paper last February with an update here.

{\bullet} The Sept. 2009 item Why Believe That P=NP is Impossible? has seen activity these past two years, with interesting observations and even a software demo beginning here. These include a reply by Dr. John A. Sidles, whose frequent literate, diverse, and perspicacious comments branching out from medical quantum-scale technology could be a subject in themselves. Indeed we have just noticed some congratulations to offer.

{\bullet} Paul Beame told a corrected story of the FOCS logo here.

{\bullet} Josh Grochow gave some pertinent references for Nash equilibria of sparse games here.

{\bullet} Our November 2009 item on the Schwartz-Zippel-\dots Lemma drew references and discussion in summer 2010 beginning here, including one from Richard Zippel himself.

Includes an associate of someone who testified at the OJ trial!

{\bullet} Two notable comments in Dec. 2009 year-end discussion: this one on real software timing issues (and followup), and this by Albert Atserias giving evidence against a working hypothesis of ours—we may address responses to our past research ideas in a future post.

{\bullet} Commenters added favorite-book suggestions to this Dec. 2009 post, perhaps helpful in the shopping season that begins today.

This covers posts in 2009; there are more we can acknowledge.

We intended this post with the Squanto story to come out on Wednesday evening or at least on Thanksgiving Day itself, but professional and personal matters took precedence until today. Today at least makes it timely with another Thanksgiving Weekend tradition: enjoying leftovers.

Open Problems

Can you make progress on any of the open problems in the above items? And of course have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2011 2:27 pm

    Many congratulations to John Sidles, whose comments here and elsewhere are always a pleasure to read.

    And – from all around the world – let’s give thanks to you, Ken and Dick, for entertaining us with one of the best blogs around.

  2. November 28, 2011 5:11 pm

    A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at Gödel’s Lost Letter and {P=NP}. Dick and Ken and Richard’s kind words came as a surprise and are greatly appreciated … the Salon des Skeptique Refusés concretely demonstrates that not everyone shares this view.

    For me, the most reliable way to create laughter is to be completely serious, and so here are three things for which I am seriously grateful. First, I am seriously grateful for a math-science-and-technology blogosphere that includes so many wonderful forums, including Gödel’s Lost Letter, Fortnow/GASARCH, Nuit Blanche, Quantum Pontiff, Shtetl Optimized, and the numerous eponymic weblogs by (e.g) Tim Gowers, Gil Kalai, Terry Tao, and Doron Zeilberger (and plenty more). Equally wonderful are the now-prospering Stack Exchanges Math Overflow, and Theoretical Computer Science, and Theoretical Physics. Long may you all prosper! 🙂

    Second, I am seriously grateful for a lesson that these web resources teach us, each in its own way: the leason that we humans are very far from fundamental limits to pretty much anything that we care about: algorithmic efficiency, computational capacity, observational bandwidth, smaller sizes, faster cycles, lower energy costs, greater healing capacity … and most wonderfully of all, these websites in aggregate afford us glimpses of a deeper and more integrated understanding of how all these capabilities relate to one another.

    Third, I am deeply grateful to be part of a thrilling 21st century whose cardinal achievement (IMHO) will a demonstration-by-construction that a planet with ten billion people on it can be a healthy, secure, and free place to live … and a mighty interesting and lively place too. And so, best wishes for a Happy Holiday Season are extended to everyone! 🙂

  3. Ørjan Johansen permalink
    November 29, 2011 2:10 am

    I would also like to both congratulate John Sidles and thank Ken and Dick for their interesting posts, and many of the commenters for their interesting additions. This is the only blog where I subscribe to the RSS comment feed.

    But, although I’ll come out as a curmudgeon for repeating this, I would feel a lot safer about getting those comments on old posts mentioned above if not for the more and more frequently exceeded 10 post limit on said comment feed. I checked the feed at least three times in the last 24 hours and still lost comments in twice of them.

    • Serge permalink
      December 2, 2011 6:54 am

      I agree with you: a limit of at least twenty would be better for new posts. As regards old posts, they’re still accessible thru the archives.

  4. stefanutti permalink
    December 2, 2011 6:06 am

    I’ve been waiting for this post to get a just a little old before to answer and thank you … and “keep alive posts”!

    Long live this great site!

  5. Serge permalink
    December 3, 2011 11:06 am

    > “Sometimes there are crankish comments nearby, but we make no judgment beyond common standards of civil writing.”

    So yes, long live this great site! 🙂


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