Welcome to my weblog!

You’re probably wondering about the title. I chose it because (1) I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be taken already, and (2) it evokes what I’ve come to see as the defining problem of my life.

A couple years ago, when I was still at Berkeley, some fellow grad students and I were discussing who we would have been had we lived 700 years ago. Would we have been farmers and bricklayers, like pretty much everyone else? Or kings and duchesses, as the people who go to Renaissance Fairs all apparently were? More interestingly, would we have found some way to capitalize on our bizarre “gifts” — say, by developing a new field-ploughing algorithm that was provably within a 1+ε factor of optimal? (That we would still have our nerdy gifts wasn’t open to question — for if we didn’t, then we would no longer be ourselves.)

“I would’ve been the chief rabbi of my shtetl,” I said. “All day long, I’d debate questions like how much restitution you’d have to pay if your ox gored your neighbor’s sheep. And for this, I’d get an arranged marriage with the most beautiful girl in town.”

Someone interjected that I shouldn’t sentimentalize too much: “After all, Scott, you wouldn’t have had any complexity theory! Or quantum computing!”

“That’s true,” I confessed. “So, you know — you win some, you lose some.”

Complexity and quantum computing will indeed play a role on Shtetl-Optimized, as will politics, economics, history, free will, global warming, The Simpsons — the whole megillah, or at least the sections I’ve skimmed. But the overarching theme will be “how to survive as a penguin in the desert, or a camel in Antarctica, or a caveman in — well, anyway, as someone who feels himself exquisitely adapted to an environment utterly unlike the one into which he was born.” If you’ve ever felt that way– or even if you’d just enjoy the spectacle of someone groping his way out of the nebbish-bin of history — I hope you find it enlightening.

13 Responses to “Welcome to my weblog!”

  1. Scott Says:

    Just a test post.

  2. Simone Severini Says:

    Dear Scott,

    Seven hundred years ago…Say five hundred something, for my purpose only. A reminder:

    ‘Suddenly two things arose in me…fear of the menacing darkness… [and] desire to see if there was any marvellous thing within.’ (Leonardo Da Vinci, ‘Cavern’)


  3. Dave Bacon Says:

    Sweet! Now I no longer have to blog. Welcome to the world of loud fools 😉

  4. Frank Says:

    Another victim of vanity!

  5. Wolfgang Says:

    > I hope you find it enlightening

    It is already – kind of.

  6. Scott Says:

    Frank: vanity claimed me years ago. Now foolhardiness has as well.

  7. Scott Says:

    Simone: thanks for the needed reminder! I just ordered Leonardo’s notebooks (book and CD-ROM) from Amazon.

  8. David Molnar Says:

    Glad to have you around! (Was I around for that conversation? It sounds familiar…)

  9. Osias Says:

    This post has been removed by the author.

  10. Osias Says:

    Great first post! I think it will be a nice blog!

    PS: I deleted the other comment because of mispelling…

  11. Scott Says:

    David: Thanks! You were around for a similar conversation. I was thinking of one at a Microsoft Theory Day — Sam and Satish were there.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    “I would’ve been the chief rabbi of my shtetl”

    Dear Scott (or anyone): does one have to believe in God to legitimately be a chief rabbi?

    Some months ago, I attended a talk by Steven Weinberg about cosmology (for the general public). At the end, one question was “where does God fit in?”, and he replied to the effect that he thought religions have played a role in the evolutionary development of our species but they are essentially obselete at this time. (He meant true religious beliefs, as opposed to way many people secularly follow traditions for the fun of it.)

  13. Scott Says:

    “Does one have to believe in God to legitimately be a chief rabbi?”

    Good question!

    Short answer: Yes.

    Longer answer: Yes, but beliefs (as opposed to actions) are not as important in Judaism as in most other religions.

    Really long answer: Keep reading this blog!