Kangaroo Math Medal(s)

The Kangaroo Math Competition is a well-known international math competition designed for kids up to and including high school. However, for the first time this year, Slovenia’s math and physics society decided to host one for college students as well. Consisting of a both regional and state level, the first one was a qualifying match to get one of the spots in the state one (the whole of Slovenia). Luckily, I managed to get a bronze medal in the regionals and got to go the finals. Even more luckily, I snagged a silver medal at the state level, even though I probably solved half as many questions! In any case, it was a really great experience (both competitions) and I got to practice my math and logic skills, which were getting rusty in a computer science major /s.

This is one of those books that completely change your outlook on a topic, and the topic of this books was none other than evolution. I had no idea this was Dawkins’s most famous book before reading it. And I had no idea he was such an accomplished biologist. This book could be best described as one long and incredibly detailed account of how the core of evolution is the replication of genes. Interestingly, this book had been written as both an original academic text and a popularization of the same theory, so it is probably as close as we could get to reading actual research in this area. Even though it is almost 40 years old, it does not feel dated at all. As with Steven Pinker’s book on the decline of violence, the whole text serves to hammer a single important point. In this one, it is that the main replicators are the genes (and not the species, as commonly imagined). He tries to conjure up all possible criticisms of this theory, far beyond a simple strawman, and then addresses each one. This is one of those books that really stick with you, and I definitely recommend it.  

Dean’s commendation for academic success

This year I received an award given out to the students with the highest grade average of the past year. I was honored to receive the award, of course, but I was also delighted about the book I got (where they put the certificate as the first page). In an incredible coincidence the book awarded — Richard Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene” — was exactly the book I was currently reading on my e-book reader. Although I was halfway through the book at the time, it was a joy to have the rare experience of reading a book in paper format. A full review of the book will be coming soon.

I just finished reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He presents his viewpoint that the rate of violence has been steadily declining for as long as we have records of it. Being a well-respected professor and researcher, he references a plethora of sources, of almost unimaginable extensiveness, to back up his every claim. From reduction of wars between nations, to civil wars, to homicides, and even to child corporal punishment, he shows that our world has indeed become more peaceful through the ages. Moreover, he brings mathematical rigor to the table and quantifies the probability of starting a war, conflict escalation, as well as duration, among other violent incidents, such as terrorist attacks. All this strengthens his claim and leaves little room for pessimists and their gloomy outlook of the future. I recommend it to anyone who thinks otherwise, and if you need more convincing, you can also check out Bill Gates’s excellent review.