Sunday, August 26, 2018

PLEASE Contribute… All-star Linkfest!

 ==> UPDATE (9/10):  Barring problems, the final linkfest should post on Monday morning 9/17 (if, if, IF I have electricity at that point), so please get your contributions to me by then.
==> UPDATE (9/1): really enjoy seeing the range/variety of selections coming in thus far, so do keep on submitting! Am low on selections from females (though I don’t expect their picks to differ significantly from those of males) and few statistics-leaning picks yet…

Part of the fun/satisfaction from The Aperiodical’s recent Big Internet Math Off contest was not only the great posts entered, but the fabulous pieces they in turn linked to.

I’d love to see such a linkfest continue, so am hereby soliciting math bloggers/communicators/enthusiasts to send me ONE specific awesome mathy link that they think readers would enjoy, and may not be familiar with, or, have forgotten and is worth re-visiting. It could be a blogpost, a Wikipedia page or other website, magazine/journal article, or something from Google+ or Facebook, a classroom exercise, puzzle, or… or… or whatever you think math fans will enjoy/learn from.

The pieces ought relate to mathematics in some way, and NOT be your own work, but otherwise I have few criteria; could be long or short, simple or somewhat technical, very old or brand-spanking new; low-level math or higher level; rich and thoughtful or fun and recreational; I only ask that they be interesting, enriching, or inspiring in some way for readers. And while I only want ONE selection apiece, I realize some may find it impossible to cite just one, so promise not to spank anyone for sending along more than one.

Soon I’ll be sending out emails to a few dozen specific math folks asking for selections, but ANYone please feel free to contribute a suggestion now (whether I contact you or not) -- the more the merrier; drop me a URL reference at (or if I follow you on Twitter you could DM me there, or even just drop it here in the comments).
[...would like to have enough within a month to work with]

Eventually I want to present them, perhaps in a Carnival-like format, in a post of  ‘All-star links’ that could make for great reading.

Just as an example, to get the ball rolling, here's a longish 2015 math education post from Lior Pachter that I've always loved (and am surprised it only drew 12 comments):

[ADDENDUM:  I ought make clear that it's also OK to cite a favorite math video or podcast episode -- there are just so many great ones to choose from!]

ADDENDUM2:  I tried making this simple by requesting just one link, but in retrospect (and seeing most initial responders send along multiple links) I realize narrowing down to a single pick can actually be very hard, so feel free to send more than one selection… but don’t go crazy with it ;)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Spooky FMR….

Sometimes I like harking back to an ‘oldie but goodie’ that, just perhaps, there are enough newbies around by now to have missed it.  Over 4 years ago I first learned (via Fawn Nguyen) of the “Flash Mind Reader” from Andy Wolf, formerly Andy Naughton (though it had been around since 2002) and ever since it’s remained a favorite puzzle-of-sorts to me (it makes a certain always-accurate prediction after you randomly select a 2-digit integer). What I love is its ultimate utter simplicity while, like a great sleight-of-hand magic trick, creating wonder from basic distraction.

You can visit it here (and will need ‘flash’ installed to play it):

…or someone has done a completely different version (but based on same methodology) here:

This is especially fun to show young people… or, any of us who are young-at-heart! ;)

I last wrote about it on the blog here:
[the link I give to the puzzle there no longer works though; and my first mention of the puzzle, by the way, was HERE.]]

The only little bit of backstory I've ever found on this wonderful piece of legerdemain is here:
And so far as I know, Andy Wolf still works for Wolfman Ltd. as a freelance digital designer.(I've tried to make contact with him without success.)

For any who need an explanation of how it works there are plenty available on the Web (including on YouTube), just google “Flash Mind Reader,” so I won't give a 'spoiler' here.

[...I will say some do a much better job of explaining it than others, and it is the sort of puzzle Presh Talwalkar does a great job of explaining, so I was sorry to see that, as best I can tell, he’s never tackled it on his “Mind Your Decisions” site. Hey Presh, this seems right up your alley!]

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. 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:
( 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.
[I last referenced him on the blog a bit ago HERE.]

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: