Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Calling All Number Theorists

Maybe time for a cold shower....
I almost feel dirty for doing this, but I’ve gone back now and read all the posts (5 of them) at Martin Shkreli’s blog (written I guess while he’s in prison at Ft. Dix). This started when Jordan Ellenberg of all people referenced the blog in a tweet because it contained a review of his book, “How Not to be Wrong”:

So please don’t think less of me, blame Ellenberg for my new interest. Reading the blog you would barely know it was written by the guy with the same arrogant/pompous/smugness-drenched face we got used to seeing on the nightly news. At least it’s more interestingly and intelligently written than I expected (…though yes, still with some of that arrogance/pompousness/smugness included for free).

Anyway, I mention it, not so much for the Ellenberg review, but because toward the end of his 8/12/18 post/blathering comes this bit:
I have been busy reading proprietary research and, of all things, working on math. I am particularly interested in algebraic number theory — if anyone out there is a or knows a professor in this field, I would love to compare notes. martin@thotpatrol.com is the best place to contact me.”

So, there you are… will one of you algebraic number theorists (who’s always wanted a prison pen-pal perhaps) please help the poor fellow out (I mean who knows, maybe he’s solved the Collatz conjecture in all that spare time)… just be sure to charge him appropriately (say $5,000 per note) for the assistance.

[Shkreli is, as I understand it, serving a 7-year sentence for fraud, and permanently banned from Twitter (not sure which he considers the graver punishment). Seven years might be just enough time to prove the Riemann Hypothesis...]

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Somebody’s Having a Birthday

Psssst.... guess who’s having a birthday TOMORROW (Monday)!? Hint: initials: S.S…. NO, NOT Sarah Sanders! ...OK, by some cruel, cosmic coincidence, tomorrow IS Sarah Sanders’ natal day (a day that may live in infamy?), but that is NOT of whom I blog. Rather, Monday is the birthday of great American, mathematician, and non-prevaricating communicator, Steven Strogatz…. (I believe he'll be 39-and-1/2, but I could be slightly off).

…and now that the applause has died down, a few links:

His Wikipedia page:
His own “About” page:
An article on him in the Cornell University (where he teaches) newspaper from last year:

A recent video with him and Grant Sanderson on the Brachistochrone problem:

Many more videos with him:

And his books:
...including the book I stiiiiiill recommend, more often than any other, to lay people who's interest in math was stifled along the way:

Of course, he's on Twitter here:
(...so go ahead and flood him with Birthday tweets, and cards, and gifs, and memes, etc.... but hey, you didn't hear it from me).

...and from his own webpages, perhaps my favorite photo of him... with that irresistible come-hither look! (taking on a Howard Stern persona, with wife's wig, pre-Halloween outing) ;) :

And lastly, this from my good buddy Paul...:

[...and don't stash your streamers & birthday whistles away after Monday, 'cuz Wednesday is Cliff Pickover's birthday, and then toward end of month Marcus du Sautoy celebrates, as do a couple of blokes named Witten and Wolfram.]

Monday, August 6, 2018

Ben Orlin…. Author-To-Be, With Bad Drawings

Math-Frolic Interview #45

"Orlin's ability to masterfully convey interesting and complex mathematical ideas through the whimsy of drawings (that, contrary to the suggestion of the title, are actually not that bad) is unparalleled. This is a great work showing the beauty of mathematics as it relates to our world. This is a must read for anyone who ever thought math isn't fun, or doesn't apply to the world we live in!"                    ―John Urschel (blurbing for Ben Orlin's new book)
Up to this point, Keith Devlin is the only person I’ve interviewed twice here… but, that all changes today!… DR-R-R-R-UMROLL… as I present a second interview with the wonderful Ben Orlin, who, as most readers likely know, has his first book coming out in about a month! “Math With Bad Drawings” -- not to be too hyperbolic about it, but I dare predict a volume UNlike any other math book EVER! ...combining Ben’s deep thoughts, wit, mathematical insights, and lovably badly-drawn (but expression-filled) characters.

If somehow you’re unaware of Dr. Orlin and his blog you may want to check this page first, where he gives links to many of his favorite or most popular posts:

You can also follow him as @BenOrlin on Twitter.

My first interview with Ben was over 3 years ago, HERE, and I highly encourage all to read or re-read it since it gives more delightful background on the man/teacher. For this interview, I wanted to focus more specifically on his first-time authorship and with that said, here goes:


1)  When did the idea of doing a book begin to form in your mind?

Rough timeline:
1993-2014: Idle daydreams of writing book someday.
2015: Contacted by two great agents; begin developing book proposals.
2016: Contacted by a great editor; I put her in contact with my agents; the three of them figure out a plan while I twiddle my thumbs.
2017: I write a book!

And if I can ask, how many publishers did you have to go to to find a taker?  Is there any interesting or special backstory behind ending up with Black Dog & Leventhal, a publisher I’d not heard of?

We did an exclusive deal with BD&L rather than shop around -- my editor Becky Koh had a great sense of vision, and they make gorgeous, colorful books so luscious you want to eat them. Having seen the final product I am 300% sure it was the right call.

...geeez, you make it all sound too easy (…the poor schleps who suffer through 37 rejection letters are going to hate you ;)

2)  Can you give us a little outline of what the book covers?

There are five sections:
1. How to think like a mathematician
2. Design: the secret geometry of things that work
3. Probability: the mathematics of maybe
4. Statistics: the fine art of honest lying
5. On the Cusp: the power of a step 

3)  I’m just curious if in your own head you ever have names for your little round-headed buddies?

Never, actually! To me they are just nameless, noseless folks.

Also, have you ever considered adding a Snoopy-like dog (or cat or other animal) to your regular cast of characters?

Not until this moment! That's a pretty compelling thought.

(…and remember, when you do it, 10% of the royalties can be deposited directly into my off-shore Grand Cayman account, OK)

4)  Who are your own favorite cartoonists of any type, living or dead?

I grew up on Garfield and Dilbert. Later realized that Calvin and Hobbes is the greatest achievement of the 20th century. These days xkcd and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal are my two staples.

Sorry, The Far Side is the Grand Prize winner, but you have named the 3 runners-up!

5)  Is your wife involved in mathematics, and what does she think of your comic proclivities? Does she help edit you?

She's a harmonic analyst — by far the more serious mathematician in the marriage. She is enormously patient with all my foibles, cartooning included.

6)  Any chance you’ve already given thought to a 2nd volume?

Yes! We did a two-book deal with Black Dog & Leventhal. The follow-up is a playful, reader-friendly tour of calculus.

…Why-ohhh-why were there no playful tours of calculus when I was growing up!???

7)  Any details yet on a possible book tour?

I've got tentative events in PA, MD, DC, VA, NC, and NY. Plus I'll schedule some stops in New England soon. Details by the end of the summer!

Thanks Ben; so many of us looking forward to this unique treat (and great to know there's a second one coming along as well!)....

Sunday, August 5, 2018

There Are Paradoxes

Sunday reflection:

“Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that there are paradoxes in mathematics. We are not surprised to discover inconsistencies in the experimental sciences, which periodically undergo such revolutionary changes that although only a short time ago we believed ourselves descended from the gods, we now visit the zoo with the same friendly interest with which we call on distant relatives. Similarly, the fundamental and age-old distinction between matter and energy is vanishing, while relativity physics is shattering our basic concepts of time and space. Indeed, the testament of science is so continuously in a flux that the heresy of yesterday is the gospel of today and the fundamentalism of tomorrow. Paraphrasing Hamlet -- what was once a paradox is one no longer, but may again become one. Yet, because mathematics builds on the old but does not discard it, because it is the most conservative of the sciences, because its theorems are deduced from postulates by the methods of logic, in spite of its having undergone revolutionary changes we do not suspect it of being a discipline capable of engendering paradoxes.” 

— Edward Kasner and James R. Newman ("Mathematics and the Imagination")

[ ==> This will be the LAST of the "Sunday Reflections" here, as I continue streamlining  blogging activity, however be sure to return here tomorrow morning for a NEW timely interview.]

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday Night Meditation

Sorry to see this only has 900+ views, so have to pass it along!:

Also, a bit sorry I’ve stopped “Friday Potpourris” there’s been SO MUCH wonderful mathy stuff this week, much of it related to the Fields Medal and other awards, but many other things as well. Hope you’re catching much of it. (Things I would normally put in the Potpourri  are usually in my Twitter feed somewhere.)

This Sunday will be the last “Sunday Reflection” here, another long-running staple I’m dropping with the aim of streamlining. On the bright side, Monday will have another interview, and one I’m sure you’ll want to see.

And hey (on the not-so-bright-side), with the weekend fast approaching, maybe worth reminding folks that it was almost 45 years ago that the so-called 'Saturday Night Massacre' took place:



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Getting Into Trouble

Just an old classic this week, for Sunday reflection:
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." -- Mark Twain

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Of Contests and Interesting Folks...

Congrats to Dr. Nira Chamberlain who has won The Aperiodical’s 1st “Big Internet Math Off” soundly beating all interesting comers (well, the four he had to go up against)… but now the real question is, whether he or anyone else could’ve defeated Tadashi Tokieda of Numberphile in the contest, had he been an entrant ;) :

Anyway, for fun, I was thinking to myself if I could hold a sort of fantasy 'Big Math Off' with any 16 mathy folks of my choosing, who DID NOT compete in the recent contest, who might I pick. Quickly, I came up with 16 names (though a different day/week might result in a different set of names), in alphabetical order:

John Carlos Baez
Alex Bellos
Keith Devlin
Jordan Ellenberg
James Grime
Vi Hart
Brian Hayes
Kelsey Houston-Edwards
Erica Klarreich
Holly Krieger
Ben Orlin
Burkard Polster  ("Mathologer")
Grant Sanderson
Steven Strogatz
Presh Talwalkar
Tadashi Tokieda
...but really, there's no shortage of people to choose from! The Internet is an embarrassment of riches for math!

Monday, July 23, 2018

It's Not Duke Against N. Carolina**, but Still Pretty Awesome

No Americans, no women, no Asians, no one over 50, no blondes, no Tibetan monks, and no one named Conway in the final of the "Big Internet Math Off"… but still looking forward to an exciting battle royale between mathematician Nira Chamberlain and stand-up comedian Matt Parker. Nira is a Gemini who has travelled the world doing mathematical modeling, consulting, and developing mathematical solutions for various industries, large and small. Matt is a Capricorn who tells jokes and pretty-fair puns. ;)

Still, Matt seems unstoppable (I think he is channeling either Carl Gauss or Martin Gardner from the 4th dimension for this contest). Chamberlain’s best chance may be if he can fashion a post proving the Riemann Hypothesis, while employing a video of cats wearing hats and performing as a flash mob… on, a moebius strip. (But that’s just my idle suggestion.)  On-the-other-hand, if Matt tries to manipulate the voting tallies just one more time he may be disqualified. I mean there gotta be some rules!
And I believe (though could be mistaken) that Siobhan Roberts is under contractual obligation to write a book about whoever is crowned "the world's most interesting mathematician" (...of course she'll have 8 years to complete it).

All joking aside, the final showdown begins tomorrow, and thanks again to The Aperiodical for a great run:

[I understand that their next contest was going to be to crown the 'world's most uninteresting mathematician' but then they realized that the winner would automatically... ohhh, nevermind....]

** here

Sunday, July 22, 2018

In Their Own World

Sunday reflection via Jim Simons, mathematician and billionaire hedge-fund manager:
“When you’re really thinking hard about mathematics, you’re in your own world, and you’re cushioned from other things.” 

Thursday, July 19, 2018


To shorten tomorrow’s “potpourri” (over at MathTango) am posting a few of the week's interesting bits here today:

1)  James Dilts (who I interviewed HERE) does great job explaining “the most controversial axiom of all time,” the Axiom of Choice:

2)  Peter Woit updates us on Mochizuki/abc-proof news and controversy:

3)  And some welcome bibliophile news!: on the way from Thomas Lin and MIT Press this fall, a collection of Quanta Magazine math pieces:

...side-note: if you haven't voted yet in the semi-finals of The Aperiodical's "Big Internet Math Off," time to do so:

Monday, July 16, 2018

In the News…

In case you missed any of them, just a few bits of news from today following the meeting in Helsinki between our lying asshole and their lying asshole (a meeting which Putin reveled about as “a success,” meaning that Donald got played big-time):

1.  Former CIA Director John Brennan calls upon Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and John Kelly to resign their positions, saying that Trump’s Helsinki behavior crosses the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors” and “was nothing short of treasonous”:

2.  Russia's infiltration of the debased NRA and arrest of Maria Butina:

3.  Republicans criticizing Trump’s news conference with Putin (...perhaps even the odious GOP is reaching the end of its rope with this disgrace):

4.  Garry Kasparov called today, “the darkest hour in the history of the American presidency.”

5.  John McCain’s full statement on the meeting that he describes as a "pathetic rout... an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience":
It starts off thusly (and only gets worse):
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."
6.  Similarly, Anderson Cooper’s first comment following the press conference: “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in front of a Russian leader I've ever seen.” (...echoing plenty of other watchers)

7.  The Atlantic on "the crisis facing America":

...And on Twitter, following the news conference, the hashtag #treason was trending nicely.

Every member of Trump's Cabinet and staff with any self-respect and dignity (let alone allegiance to the Constitution, or concern for their own reputation and credence) ought now resign... we'll see who does.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

n-body problems

Sunday reflection:
"...a lot of effort was devoted to the three-body problem: the motion of a system consisting of three point masses (such as Sun, Earth, Moon) moving under Newtonian gravitation. It's easy enough to write down the appropriate equations of motion; but immensely harder to solve them... As an aside: it has been said that one can gauge the progress of science by the value of n for which the n-body problem cannot be solved. In Newtonian mechanics the 3-body problem appears to be insoluble. In Relativity, it is the 2-body problem that causes trouble. Quantum Theory gets hung up on the 1-body problem (a particle); and Relativistic Quantum Field Theory runs into trouble with the 0-body problem (the vacuum)!"
                                                                                -- Ian Stewart

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Alexander Bogomolny …cutting the knot

No doubt many are familiar with Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” long-running show on NPR… so long running in fact that whenever someone famous dies, it turns out they are likely to have been interviewed on Fresh Air at some point, and NPR, in tribute, re-runs the episode.

This week my interview with Alexander Bogomolny, done 4+ years ago, abruptly spiked up significantly in weekly traffic, associated with his recent passing.

I’ve always wanted my simple interviews to be ongoing sources of additional information about the math communicators highlighted, but it only just suddenly hit me (not to be too morbid about it) that all these folks will pass on at some point, and the interviews also stand a bit as tributes that readers may draw some reminiscences from. Just a little odd/ironic to realize that these posts may accrue as many or more visits upon the death of an individual as when they were living.
Most of these interviewees will outlive me (at least I’m older than the majority of them), but in some cases at least, I s’pose that like Terry Gross, I may still be around to recall the blog time spent with one or more of these math communicators when they pass. Anyway, be sure to fully appreciate them while they're among us!

I'll end by passing along just one of the countless puzzles that Alexander posted (with 4 solutions as he would often do). It is the same 'lost plane-boarding pass' puzzle that Zoe Griffiths recently employed in the Big Internet Math-Off to win her first round:


[and a few more puzzles ;) can be found HERE]

Monday, July 9, 2018

21st Century Mathematics ...+ Psychics!

Keith Devlin’s latest blog post is a sort of wrap-up of several he’s had on the (needed) evolution of math education/application:

In it he links to this 28-min. talk he recently gave at a Swiss conference on the subject:

...and, for a bonus video today, here is Matt Parker with his Psychic Pets project, including Barry the psychic Labrador:

I've already requested that they ask Barry IF Trump will be impeached, but thus far I've heard nothing back. :(

[...and currently over at MathTango, my commentary on the ongoing "Big Internet Math Off"]

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Of Math and Cults

Sunday reflection:
“One of the most painful aspects of teaching mathematics is seeing my students damaged by the cult of the genius. That cult tells students that it’s not worth doing math unless you’re the best at math — because those special few are the only ones whose contributions really count.”
                                                                                             -- Jordan Ellenberg 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Carl to Carroll

This interesting math tidbit (showing Euler wrong about a power conjecture) was passed along by physicist Sean Carroll earlier in week (via Twitter):

…I don't usually make such comparisons, but it strikes me that Sean is perhaps becoming a new generation's version of Carl Sagan (yeah, there are differences, but some keen similarities, and hey, same initials in reverse order ;)). His new, wide-ranging podcast, “Mindscape” (for all who have the time for yet one more podcast!) is about to launch:
Should be good...

[...Be sure and visit MathTango later this morning, after 8am., for a potpourri of things I didn't cover here at Math-Frolic during the week.]

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dueling Mathematicians...

First, in the Road-from-Ridicule-to-Nobel-Prize Dept.:
1)  In yesterday’s #BigMathOff competition Edmund Harriss linked to an older story I didn’t recall hearing, but found fascinating… that of Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman ridiculed/mocked (even losing his job!) for discovering quasicrystals with never-repeating patterns, only to later receive the Nobel Prize for the same finding (after no less than Linus Pauling had said, There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists”):

The story is a great lesson in the uncertainty of science, and even a cautionary tale of the occasional difficulty in distinguishing science from crackpottery.

As many or most of you know, in recent years, there has been much attention given to possible links between quasicrystals and prime numbers or the Riemann Hypothesis:


And from the Surprises-In-Probability Dept.:
2)  Harriss’s competition in this round of the ‘Math-off’ is Colin Wright whose exposition of some full-deck card-play is wonderfully entertaining, especially for those who like playing with probabilities. It is the sort of example that can be enjoyed by both young people and adults, with a result that will likely seem counterintuitive at first, making it all the more enjoyable. Warning: it can be a bit addictive!

Kudos to Aperiodical's Christian Lawson-Perfect for organizing this 1st Annual ;) Big Internet Math-Off. The above Harriss-Wright square-off, by the way, is match 4 of round 1 (and you still have time to vote for your fave). Much fun yet to come.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Coming To America...

Not very July 4th-ish but here's an image I have saved to my computer screen these days, because, well, I just do... as a reminder of the fight ahead….
               "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free...." Indeed.

...But it’s good to also be reminded of the America I grew up with... good to be "flushed with nostalgia and gratitude" on this day, and think back to a time of station wagons with wooden panels. If you’re a teacher (…or an American, or a human, or a dreamer, or a vertebrate ;)) and haven’t already done so, you must read this post from Phương now. That’s an order (...or no fireworks for you)!:
…perhaps with a little music playing in the background: