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:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Favorite Space?

Barnes & Noble always has a number of quirky (relatively-inexpensive) 'popular’-style math books scattered around the store giving introductory samplings of a variety of math topics — usually the books are from Britain, often from publishers I’m not familiar with, and I often don’t find them very appealing, but occasionally do.

One I picked up recently is called “Math Hacks” by Rich Cochrane, which, once you get past the first couple dozen topics (out of 100 total), touches on some slightly more advanced topics than is often the case.  I’m enjoying the range/variety of topics mentioned. On the downside, only 1-2 very pithy pages is devoted to each subject, so if you already know the topic, you won’t gain much (if anything at all), and if you don’t already know the topic, you’re not really given enough to grasp it well, despite the over-hyped pitches made for the volume. So I don’t really recommend it other than as a source to dabble with, that might prick one's further interest in some given area.

At any rate, today I ran across “the illumination problem” in it (#73 of the 100), something I’ve mentioned here in the distant past and had forgotten about as an interesting and non-abstract geometric conundrum — it deals with configuring a room of mirrored (light-reflecting) walls in such a manner that a point light source within the room does NOT fill the entire room with light, but leaves some area(s) in the dark.

When I previously posted about it, it was to mention George Tokarsky’s 26-sided polygonal room solution to the problem in 1995, which led in turn to D. Castro's similar 24-sided solution below... a  space that I could imagine Evelyn Lamb enjoying ;)
via HERE

(If light source is at point "A" then point "B," amazingly, is in the dark.)

There are other solutions (not all polygonal) to the problem, and the Wikipedia take on it is here:

…meanwhile the Numberphile treatment here:

Monday, July 2, 2018

Colliding Vortex Rings

This is cool and captivating on several different levels:

If someone can just compute the mathematics involved and post it in the comments section by noon today, would be very much appreciated!... ;)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Teach Programming

Sunday reflection:

“My basic idea is that programming is the most powerful medium of developing the sophisticated and rigorous thinking needed for mathematics, for grammar, for physics, for statistics, for all the 'hard' subjects.... In short, I believe more than ever that programming should be a key part of the intellectual development of people growing up.”
Seymour Papert