Friday, September 19, 2008

Audio slideshow: The art of mathematics

To the untrained eye, these vivid images might appear to be random sets of colourful swirls and circles.
But they are in fact precise visual representations of mathematical theory known as dynamical systems.
Some of the images - created by mathematicians from across the world - have gone on display at the University of Liverpool.
Here, mathematician Lasse Rempe explains how they are made - and considers their artistic merits.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Love and Loss

We all expect that our children will outlive us, take care of us in our old age, and care for us when we die. It is somehow not in the order of nature that they die before us.

However, it was God's plan that our Master the Prophet (prayer and peace be upon him) saw the deaths of his sons in his own lifetime. This is an account of how the Master received the news of the dying of his 18 month old son, Ibrahim -

He was so shocked at the news that he felt his knees could no more carry him, and asked `Abd al Rahman ibn `Awf to give him his hand to lean upon. He proceeded immediately to the orchard and arrived in time to bid farewell to an infant dying in his mother's lap. Muhammad took the child and laid him in his own lap with shaking hand. His heart was torn apart by the new tragedy, and his face mirrored his inner pain. Choking with sorrow, he said to his son, "O Ibrahim, against the judgement of God, we cannot avail you a thing," and then fell silent. Tears flowed from his eyes. The child lapsed gradually, and his mother and aunt watched and cried loudly and incessantly, but the Prophet never ordered them to stop. As Ibrahim surrendered to death, Muhammad's hope which had consoled him for a brief while completely crumbled. With tears in his eyes he talked once more to the dead child: "O Ibrahim, were the truth not certain that the last of us will join the first, we would have mourned you even more than we do now." A moment later he said: "The eyes send their tears and the heart is saddened, but we do not say anything except that which pleases our Lord. Indeed, O Ibrahim, we are bereaved by your departure from us."

Here is a Pulitzer-prize winning account of the gradual death of an 11 year-old boy before his mother's eyes and in her arms. I only ask that we imagine this to happen to us, and to our own children, and realise how precious every little moment is to be relished, for no one knows when the Angel of Death will visit, and for whom.

"It is life in the quest of life in bodies that fear the grave."
- Kahlil Gibran.




Just He and Me

God made my eyes fall on this while reading on the train this morning -

O my servant, examine carefully the relationship between your being and all the dimensions of my cosmic creation.
Don't you see that you are an inextricable part of its evanescence that is destined to dissipation?
Can't you see the relation of every created thing (and you, too) to what will never dissipate, never fade and never decay?
You have come to peace with me as the One who establishes all my creation, so quit contesting my mastery and desist, through your competing with me in arranging your own affairs, from opposing my essential divinity ...
O my servant, whenever I have made you seem necessary to yourself, it is to test your mettle and see what you're made of.
Whenever you take anything other than me from my cosmos as a sufficient means to the exclusion of me, that will begin to consume you and corrode you.

O my servant, place your anxiety about provision in its proper place.
Whatever burden you release I will bear, and it will never weigh you down.
But if you bear those burdens yourself, I leave you to yourself and your own incapability.
Would I bring you into my home and refuse to give you nourishment?
Would I cause you to appear in existence and refuse to aid you with support and subsistence?
Would I pour you into being without continuous giving?
Would I charge you with guarding rights for me and refuse provision for you?
Would I oblige you with duties and not apportion for you supplies?

So many gifts of infinite variety I have for you.
Through you I've caused my mercy to show forth.
Not content to give you this world, I've stored up even more for you in a future paradise.
As if gardens were not enough, I have promised to present you with the chance to see me directly.
If my actions are like this in the world you experience, how can you doubt that I would exceed it in my boundless munificence?

From the Book of Illumination : Ibn 'Ata'Allah al-Iskandari

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Contentions 12

46. The saint is the one whose love reminds you of your most recent sin.

© Abdal-Hakim Murad


It's Alive! Toughest Creature On Earth Is Exposed to Space and Lived

This is one tough bug ... When the LHC reactor's black hole experiment goes awry and the whole Earth comes to an end tomorrow, we would all be dead and they will most likely survive.

Read : Wired : Invertebrate Astronauts Make Space History

You'd never guess that the millimeter-long tardigrade is the world's toughest animal, found from deep ocean to Himalayan mountaintops, able to survive at a single degree above absolute zero.

How tough are tardigrades? They require water to live, but in a pinch can drop their metabolism to a hundredth of normal and wait -- up to a decade if necessary -- until it's wet again. In this so-called cryptobiotic state they can shrug off lethal radiation doses and even the vacuum of space.

But for all that, if you've got a pond nearby, or even a patch of rocks and moss, you've probably got yourself some tardigrades. They're egalitarian as well as exceptional.

NYT : Proposal to stop building cars that can exceed the speed limit.

No Need for Speed

Published: September 7, 2008

SPEEDING is the cause of 30 percent of all traffic deaths in the United States — about 13,000 people a year. By comparison, alcohol is blamed 39 percent of the time, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But unlike drinking, which requires the police, breathalyzers and coercion to improve drivers’ behavior, there’s a simple way to prevent speeding: quit building cars that can exceed the speed limit.

Most cars can travel over 100 miles an hour — an illegal speed in every state. Our continued, deliberate production of potentially law-breaking devices has no real precedent. We regulate all sorts of items to decrease danger to the public, from baby cribs to bicycle helmets. Yet we continue to produce fast cars despite the lives lost, the tens of billions spent treating accident victims, and a good deal of gasoline wasted. (Speeding, after all, substantially reduces fuel efficiency due to the sheering force of wind.)

Worse, throughout the various federal documents examining traffic fatalities, the role of speeding is de-emphasized. Speeding is not even an “agency priority” of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in its annual assessment of crashes — only alcohol, seat belts, rollovers and vehicle compatibility make the cut. Rather it is in the second-tier “other focus” category, along with large trucks and “intersection-related and roadway departure.” And unlike the statistical attention afforded alcohol (20 pages of a 150-page document), the section devoted to speeding comes in at a measly three pages.

A deeper look at the safety administration’s report on traffic fatalities in 2005 also reveals a strange fact about how speeding-related traffic fatalities are tallied up. Consider this: in Texas, in 2005, 3,504 people died in a traffic accident; 1,426 (about 41 percent) were considered speeding-related. In sharp contrast, for Florida, 3,543 died yet only 239 were considered speeding-related — about 7 percent.

Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana and New Jersey, among other states, also report rates well below 20 percent. This variation is not just shoddy government work. With alcohol, for example, the 39 percent national rate varies only by a whisker when examined state to state (except for Utah’s admirable rate of 13 percent). Is it possible that drivers in some states speed more often than their counterparts across the border?

Not likely. Different states, for various reasons, analyze their automotive fatalities in different ways, but the result is that the safety agency’s official speeding-related fatality rate of 28 percent is almost certainly a low-ball estimate.

Then there is the relationship between speeding and alcohol. According to the agency, in 2006, 41 percent of alcohol-related fatalities were also associated with speeding; and between midnight and 3 a.m., 76 percent of speeding drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents had been drinking.

Despite all this, we Americans insist on the inalienable right to speed. Imagine, for a moment, if E-ZPass kept track of exactly when each car entered one toll booth and exited another, which would allow local governments to do some basic math, dividing distance traveled by time spent. If this calculation showed you to be a speeder, the authorities would send you a traffic ticket. Lives, money and oil would be saved and proof of wrongdoing would be undeniable, but the public outcry would be deafening.

Because the ticket-them-till-they-stop approach simply would not work, we might consider my initial recommendation: build cars that can’t exceed the speed limit. The technology to limit car speed has existed for more than 50 years — it’s called cruise control. In its common application, cruise control maintains a steady speed, but a minor adjustment would assure that vehicles, no matter the horsepower, never go past 75 miles per hour. This safety measure should be required of every new automobile, the same as seat belts, turning signals, brake lights and air bags.

Sure, it would take us longer to get from here to there. But thousands of deaths a year are too great a cost for so adolescent a thrill as speeding.

Kent A. Sepkowitz is vice-chairman of medicine at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

* * * *

Mudpie adds -

Our Master the Prophet (prayer and peace be upon him) said -

اَلأَنَاةُ مِنَ اللهِ وَ الْعُجْلَةُ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ

"Calmness is from Allah and haste is from shaytaan"

Monday, September 08, 2008

Ramadan Recounts

Ramadan has held different significance to me over the years, reflecting my growth as a person, and my journey through life.

Recalling the Ramadans I have toiled through so far, I realise how they paint a series of milestones in the timeline of my life's journey thus far.

One of the more memorable ones would include the Ramadan I spent in the Army, desolate and soaking wet from the all-day monsoon rain of the rainforest in Brunei's Temburong Jungle. 
It was the first time I was fasting and "celebrating" Hari Raya away from my family. 
After several weeks in the jungle, I was covered in blisters, cuts and bruises and a terrible skin infection as a result from the continuous wearing of damp camouflage uniform. 
On the morning of Hari Raya (Eid), one of the soldiers did a spontaneous takbir, and I swear I cried, as did most of the other Muslim troops in my company. 
It was surreal to see 20-year old infantry soldiers at the peak of physical fitness decked out with our weaponry and ammo, weep llike children. 
Our first Hari Raya away from home, and instead of the being home and eating cookies, we were in the wretched forest eating canned sardines and dog biscuits. 
The only feasting was being done by the maddening swarms of mosquitoes and leeches. 
From then on, I knew the meaning of being with family on Hari Raya.

I had an elder sister who was a flight stewardess. 
She was often not at home, flying off on her international routes for weeks on end. 
We were used to her not being around, and suddenly being around, and then being gone again.
One Hari Raya, whilst I was in university, my sister was away, I think in Europe. 
Those were the days before we could call someone on the other side of the world via a mobile phone, so there was no choice but just to wait for my sister to come home on schedule later. 
Most of us did not notice her absence, until after we returned from the mosque, and did the traditional kneeling before the parents to ask for forgiveness for our sins of the year. 
When we had all finished (and were about to hit the food) my mother suddenly, and to the shock of everybody, broke down and cried. 
She cried because my sister was not with us that year for Hari Raya. 
It took all our powers of persuasion and coaxing to calm her down. 
The memory of my mother crying will never leave me to the end of my life, and I am sure of the remaining siblings who saw it too. 
Since then, none of us ever missed being home on Hari Raya again, no matter where we were in the world. 
Nothing is worth your mother's tears.

A year or so later, on the morning of Hari Raya, we got a telephone call from my aunt that my grandmother had died early that morning. 
We dropped everything and went over to my grandmother's house for the funerary arrangements. 
It was the first time I had been old enough to see a person being buried.
We were there for 3 days, until her burial had been completed. 
I remember being so exhausted going home, only to go into our flat and walking into a thick dank smell of stale lontong and rendang which my mother and sisters had worked so hard to cook on Hari Raya Eve and had not been served at all. 
How unimportant all the celebratory preparations had been, when intruded into by the rude face of death. 
On that Hari Raya, I met all my relatives without having to visit them; for they were all at the funeral.

A few years later I got to know that a friend of mine who had converted to Islam a few years earlier, had decided to renounce it. 
It was a point of extreme disappointment to me, as I had known her when she stepped into Darul Arqam for classes on Islam, put on hijab even before she converted, and later met a Muslim boy and asked me to be her representative at her engagement. 
So when news came to me that she had gone to MUIS to register her de-conversion and refused to discuss it with anyone, all I felt was disappointment - with myself. 
I blamed myself for assuming that she was fine after her engagement to the Muslim boy, and that she would live happily ever after, and forgetting to keep in touch with her thereafter.
I did not realise that she went through a broken engagement, and lost her faith in the process.
By the time I found out, I had lost so much contact with her and there was no way I could reach her, and she became an item of my past that I wished to forget, but could not. It led to a disillusionment in me and myself, and in some way it contributed to my decision to leave Darul Arqam.
It had been my practice to keep the last 10 nights of Ramadan in vigil at Baalwie mosque. 
I distinctly remember how I begged Allah for forgiveness for my neglect of her.
Then a few Ramadans later I received information that she had come back to Islam - I got the news just a few days before Hari Raya. 
I remember how I could not ever feel more thankful to Allah than I did on that day.

There was a man who had converted into Islam and married the woman of his dreams, who was my friend. 
They were the most beautiful couple I had known. They helped me out in my Darul Arqam classes, and volunteered to help new Muslims understand the religion and settle in.
A few years ago, they got divorced. 
During the divorce, his bitterness ran so deep that he reviled everything that had anything to do with her, including his faith.  
He renounced Islam, and left everything angrily and bitterly. 
That was about 4 years ago. 
His wife remarried and is happy. 
He didn't and is not. 
I saw him on the train on the way home from work last year, and he avoided me. 
Last week I was at Masjid Taqwa for tarawih. 
I bumped into him .
We embraced like long lost lovers. 
My heart exploded with joy.


Gays, Guns and Roses

Aired Wednesday night on NBC:

Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin says she is opposed to same-sex marriage. Palin says, “Everyone knows marriage isn’t for gay people — it’s for pregnant teenagers.”
Speaking of Sarah Palin, she says that she is a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association. Which may explain why she’s in favor of shotgun weddings.

This week John McCain was endorsed by the gay group known as the Log Cabin Republicans. They endorsed McCain not because he supports gay rights, but because he was actually born in a log cabin.

Last night, President Bush addressed the crowd at the Republican convention via satellite. The first 10 minutes of Bush’s speech consisted of him saying, “Wait a minute, how can you see me when I can’t see you?”

According to a new study, men who have heated seats in their cars may be reducing the amount of sperm their testicles produce. Of course, guys who drive a Hyundai shouldn’t worry because nobody wants your sperm anyway.

In a recent interview, Brad Pitt says that his new baby daughter Vivienne takes after her mother Angelina Jolie. Pitt said, “For instance Vivienne has already adopted six orphans.”

No Mystery So Great As Misery

One of my favourite authors of English literature is Oscar Wilde. People tend to remember him as a nonconformist homosexual, but this overlooks the great moral power of his writings. His unorthodoxy was reflected in his stories for children, which instead of being pallid happily-ever-after fairy tales, they instilled strong social conscience, self-sacrifice and the message that there are greater things in life than wordily happiness.
Personally, I will always remember two of his stories - the Happy Prince and the Selfish Giant. I was a boy who was looking for a medieval story of knights and dragons, when I mistakenedly borrowed one of his books from the library. I was overcome by a strange combination of heartbreak and inspiration by these two stories.
The messages are universal, and there are many in these stories.

Beautiful Patience

"So be patient

Beautiful patience,

Verily, they see the Herafter as distant,

And We see it as close."

al-Qur'an : surah al-Maarij

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Mosque Building Funds

Recently it was announced that the monthly deductions from the salaries of Muslim employees will be increased. Mudpie is all for it, as everything costs a lot more today than when the fund was started.

After the announcement appeared in the media, there were calls for some modifications to the policy. It was suggested that employees be allowed to specify their preference for the use of their individual contributions.

Mudpie thinks this will just make things more complicated and costly, and is not necessary. Other causes are totally free to raise their own funds.

On another note, since the issue of equity was bandied about, Mudpie does think that it is more equitable that the new policy will deduct more from Muslim employees who earn more and deduct less from those who earn less. However, Mudpie thinks that those who benefit less should also be made to pay less.

In this category, in Mudpie's view, are women employees. The reason is because in every mosque you go to, women are given second class treatment, whereas the men get first class. The men occupy the main prayer hall, which is usually the most spacious, well decorated and most comfortable part of the mosque, whereas women are usually scooted off out of sight. Like when tarawih prayers are on at Masjid Taqwa, for instance, the men occupy the prayer hall, and the women are sequestered behind portable partitions outside the mosque building itself. The women actually have to cross the men's section to get from the gate to their section. Their section is not carpeted like the plush carpet of the men's section. Their section is not airconditioned, like the men's section. They do not have a line of sight to the imam at all.

That's just one mosque. Granted, we are way ahead of most other countries in our treatment of women in mosques, but that does not mean that things are perfectly equitable. Most mosques do not have women in their committees, and even if they do, she would be in charge of the refreshments. And does Mudpie have to ask, but are there any women mosque chairpersons yet?

Now, if you are on a plane or in a hotel and you get less perks, you pay less, right?

The second class of Muslims in this disadvantaged category are non-Malay speaking Muslims. Most mosques are 100% Malay-speaking. It surpises Mudpie that even most new mosques still have all-Malay signage, all-Malay classes and all-Malay activities. There are no mosque madrasahs for English-speaking kids. There are almost no classes in English.

Again, what are they paying for? Mudpie thinks that they should be allowed to pay less.