...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Few Bits From the Week

The "I really don't care, do u?" edition of the Friday math potpourri:

1)  Some discussion of statistics, and cause-and-effect (…and a recent book); h/t Frank Harrell:

2)  Prime numbers, kids, and math education:

3)  Some cool geometry from Patrick Honner, involving squares, points, and colors:

4)  Jim Propp on James Tanton’s “exploding dots”:

5)  Andrew Gelman on Sabine Hossenfelder’s new book, “Lost In Math”:

6)  And the latest effort from wacky cartoonist Len Robin:

 .…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 
1)  In case you didn’t hear already, Koko the Gorilla died this week:

2)  Finally, just because it's been one of those weeks:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  
      ~ E. Burke

via HERE

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Potpourri

While the Appeaser-and-Chief was working out a few details for a new Trump Tower Pyongyang, I compiled another weekly collection of math bits:

1)  A potpourri within a potpourri… the latest Carnival of Mathematics blog carnival is out:

2)  A recent video interview with Ed Frenkel:

3)  Math, science, engineering… and origami (via Erik Dermaine):

4)  Brief interview with Eli Maor, author of “Music By the Numbers”:

5)  “Statistics — the Rules of the Game”:

6)  Just a little quickie commentary about commentary (…and causation):

7)  The Mediterranean Diet, clinical studies, randomization, oh my…:

8)  Economist Gary Smith, who I interviewed last week, has a new column for Marketwatch on the probability of a good company becoming a great company… and, the Feynman trap:

10)  Meanwhile, early in week I was enamored of Jim Holt:

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

1)  Physicist Frank Wilczek with Krista Tippett on “On Being”:

2)  Just what we all need at the end of a long week, more street posters:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Gary Smith.... Teaching In the Classroom and Beyond

Math-Frolic Interview #44

"Ronald Coase cynically observed that, 'If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.' Standard Deviations is an exploration of dozens of examples of tortuous assertions that, with even a moment's reflection, don't pass the smell test. Sometimes, the unscrupulous deliberately try to mislead us. Other times, the well-intentioned are blissfully unaware of the mischief they are committing. My intention in writing this book is to help protect us from errors -- both external and self-inflicted. You will learn simple guidelines for recognizing bull when you see it -- or say it. Not only do others use data to fool us, we often fool ourselves."
-- from the Introduction to Standard Deviations by Gary Smith

Gary N. Smith is an award-winning Professor of Economics at Pomona College in California (...which happens to be my wonderful alma mater — and though he’s been there 37 years, I graduated before he arrived, so we never crossed paths).
He’s also the author of several popular books. “Standard Deviations” is one of my favorite takes on statistics that everyone should know about.  He followed that up with “What The Luck,” a similarly entertaining, engaging volume on probabilities in major parts of our lives. And I also enjoyed his very readable and instructive “Money Machine,” a great introduction to the sort of “value investing” I believe in and wish I had started earlier in life!  Later this year he’ll be out with “The AI Delusion,” more on that below.
If you’ve missed any of his books you should check them out…

And now a little more:


1)  Tell us a little about your background and the path that led to your interests in economics and statistics?

Way back when (in junior high school?), I became fascinated with mathematical puzzles, including several of Martin Gardner’s books, such as The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions and Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I went to Harvey Mudd College, here in California, and I majored in math, but I was also on the debate team and the national topic my freshman year was, “Resolved that the federal government should establish a national program of public works for the unemployed.” I was drawn to economics for the same reasons that attracted many economists, including James Tobin, who would become one of my mentors when I went to graduate school at Yale:
"I [Tobin] studied economics and made it my career for two reasons. The subject was and is intellectually fascinating and challenging, particularly to someone with taste and talent for theoretical reasoning and quantitative analysis. At the same time it offered the hope, as it still does, that improved understanding could better the lot of mankind."

After earning my PhD in economics at Yale, I accepted a job there as an assistant professor, initially teaching statistics and macroeconomics. Then the Yale economics department asked students what courses they would like added to the curriculum and the runaway winners were Marx and the stock market. I wasn’t interested in Marx, but James Tobin was the chair of my thesis committee and would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, in part for his analysis of financial markets. So, I volunteered to create a stock market course. I loved it because of the wonderful combination of mathematical theories, empirical data, and real world relevance. My main interests today are statistics and finance.

2)  When I thought about interviewing you and clicked on your webpage I discovered you have a brand new book on the way later this year, “The AI Delusion,” so go ahead and tell us about that. I assume from the title you feel a lot of what we hear/read about AI is overhyped? 
p.s., just curious too, have you ever ridden in a driverless car?

I have not yet ridden in a driverless car.
A few years ago, I wrote Standard Deviations: Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data, and Other Ways to Lie With Statistics, which is a compilation of examples of statistical errors and mischief that I collected over the years. Recently, a lot of these errors and mischief come from data mining—ransacking data for statistical patterns, without being guided or constrained by any coherent theory. Big data and powerful computers have made the problem much worse because they make the data mining so easy.
For example, back in 2008, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, wrote an article with the provocative title, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.” Anderson argued that,
"With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves…. The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all."

That is a dangerous argument. Too many people think that computers are smarter than humans and should therefore be trusted to make important decisions for us based on statistical patterns unearthed by ransacking data. For example, courts all over the country are using computer models to make bail, prison-sentence, and parole decisions based on statistical patterns that may be merely coincidental, but cannot be evaluated because they are hidden inside black boxes.
The truth is that, while computer algorithms are great and getting better, they are still designed to have the very narrow capabilities needed to perform well-defined chores, not the general intelligence needed to deal with unfamiliar situations by assessing what is happening, why it is happening, and what the consequences are of taking action.
Artificial intelligence is not at all like the real intelligence that comes from human brains. Computers do not know what words mean because computers do not experience the world the way we do. They do not even know what the real world is. Computers do not have the common sense or wisdom that humans accumulate by living life. Computers have no way of judging whether the patterns they discover are meaningful or meaningless, and when the algorithms are inside black boxes, no one knows.

3)  Since you're an economist and a statistician I’m curious if there are any specific economists and statisticians you would especially recommend for mathematically-inclined readers to follow on the internet (on blogs, websites, Twitter, Facebook, wherever)?

Nate Silver and Andrew Gelman are reliably interesting.

Also, besides your books do you have Web-accessible pieces you would recommend to readers wanting to get a taste of your own work?

I write regularly for MarketWatch and RealClearMarkets. Here is one column on black-box investment algorithms, and one on Bitcoin .

4)  In some places I see a push in secondary education for some sort of statistics and data science course to be a required part of the math curriculum (probably replacing one of the currently-mandated math offerings). Do you have any thoughts on that?

I was a math major, I love math, and I use math and write computer programs for almost all my academic research, but I think that a basic understanding of statistics and data science are more useful and relevant for most citizens. Understanding the difference between good data and bad data, the nature and limitations of statistical inference, and the dangers of data mining are essential.

5)  When you’re not trying to raise math and financial literacy in this country ;) what are some of your other main interests/hobbies/activities?

I used to play soccer, squash, and all sorts of sports but I had to have knee replacement surgery a year ago. Now I’m mainly trying to be a good husband and father.


Thanks Gary, I've never before interviewed either an economist or a Fighting Sagehen (Pomona mascot) here, so thanks for two firsts! ;)
[In retrospect, I'm only sorry that you weren't the 47th interview here (...inside joke)]
And again, Gary's books are fun... AND timely reads if you're not already familiar with them.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Mathy Things You May Have Missed

After pardoning myself for all the things I’ve said, or will in the future say (or think or whisper) about our dysfunctional (to put it kindly) President, I proceeded to compile another weekly math potpourri:

1)  Eli Maor on math & music:

2)  Fermat primes and almost Fermat primes:

3)  Michael Harris on Peter Scholze and more:

4)  John Golden recommends these calculus videos from Paula Krieg as “beyond fabulous… beautiful and ingenious”!:

5)  Biking, mathematics, and Keith Devlin collide:

6)  An interesting tweet and some followup comments (on coincidences & math):

7)  Peter Woit reviews Sabine Hossenfelder's new (physics) book, "Lost In Math" here:

...also reviewed in Science magazine this week:

8)  Meanwhile, this week I had fun rambling around from language & gender HERE, to a couple of books HERE, and about cartoons and humor HERE.

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

1)  A tweet (and comments) that may contain some interesting links:

2)   Reporting on a conference on consciousness:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Two Volumes….

My favorite form of writing (to read) is the essay. Books on single themes, no matter how well-written, invariably lapse into sections or passages that are redundant, plodding, or pedantic. The essay form is brief enough to be rich and scintillating from beginning to end, in the hands of a good craftsman. 
All this to say, that even though it’s only June I think I have already found my favorite book-of-the-year in Jim Holt’s “When Einstein Walked with Gödel,” a compendium of 20-years-worth of Holt essays. I don’t expect anything I see the rest of the year (though I could be wrong) to surpass the joy I’m getting from these beautiful pieces on physics, philosophy, culture, and abundant math. At 3/4 of the way through there hasn’t been a bad, boring, or weak essay yet, nor expected in the final 1/4. I’ve been marking my very favorite essays as I go along, but so many are now thusly-marked it’s not even worth noting them all. Wonderful descriptions of and anecdotes about great figures in the history of math/science; wonderful discussion of debates/controversies in the scientific/philosophical realm; wonderful, thought-provoking, often novel, commentaries and overviews. I’ve already touted this volume in various places, and can’t recommend it enough; readable and enjoyable by professionals and laypersons alike. 

Here are some more formal review links:
…and also a review and interview with Holt here:


Received an uncorrected review copy of Eugenia Cheng’s forthcoming (September?), “The Art of Logic In an Illogical World” awhile back. It’s Dr. Cheng’s third book and again an attempt to present somewhat abstract topics (previously category theory and infinity) to a general audience. Oddly, in each instance I’ve enjoyed one half of each of her books better than the other half; in this case it was the second half I enjoyed most — I won’t dwell on that, since your ‘mileage may vary,’ but mention it just so you know that if the first half doesn’t grab you, persevere, and the second half may be more rewarding.

Dr. Cheng’s topic this go-around is very timely and important, as it has to do with how people think, reason, form opinions, argue, etc. in this highly-polarized world we inhabit. Important to note that there is very little technical logic/symbolism in the volume, even when she is discussing elements of formal logic. Her tone/presentation is much more informal/casual, almost conversational — that has always been her writing style as she strives to reach a broad audience. In fact I would almost say that the title of the book could equally well be “The Art of Common Sense” because she is dealing with logic in such an informal, introductory way that it will often seem like just formalized common sense.
One of the main strengths of the book is that she employs very current issues or examples (often related to equality or feminism)  to illustrate her points throughout, making what could have been abstract or stodgy material, rather more pertinent and interesting.

Early in the book Dr. Cheng notes that she has sometimes been described as “pedantic” for her previous writing, and I think that is a fair warning of how some will view passages here as well (again, more-so the first half of the book). But then she consistently takes on subjects (like category theory, infinity, and now logic) that lend themselves to pedantry (despite her constant attempt at casualness… which I find a bit annoying at times, but may well appeal to her intended audience).

Dr. Cheng’s enthusiasm for her topics is unmistakeable; she already has a large fan-base and 3 books (and many articles and videos) under her belt — each of those volumes are good, but I suspect the most excellent works from this energetic, relatively young writer are yet to come, as she endeavors to spread the good news of mathematics AND logical thinking far and wide.

Friday, June 1, 2018

New Month, New Potpourri

Just for a change this week I won’t open with any insults whatsoever of our Knuckledragger-and-Chief pseudo-leader… but simply go straight to the latest Friday potpourri:

1)  YOU too can take a Harvard “Introduction to Probability” course:

2)  H/T to Steve Strogatz for passing along this somewhat interesting useful page of lists:

3)  IBM’s Watson early on received a LOT of positive hype for its healthcare successes and promise… not so much lately though:

4)  Gelman on the problem of “noisy” studies:

5)  A great little piece (and puzzle) on the complexity of causation (assuming such a thing even exists!):

7)  And hey, soon there may be a half-dozen-or-so academic journal papers on the “cold-hand” phenomena in basketball:

8)  Managing a house or a classroom Fawn Nguyen knows what to do (…or at least has an opinion ;)

9)  Videos from the recent Abel Lectures honoring Robert Langlands here:

10)  Fresh off the press, Evelyn Lamb's June TinyLetter:

11)  Need more?... plenty additional from the 117th Math Teachers At Play blog carnival:

...that all should hold you 'til next Friday.

sidenote:  if you're not already following @BenOrlin on Twitter, well, you should be -- as he might say, his feed is worth the price of admission... he's been on fire recently (and somehow found time to write a book too), 

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

1)  TED Radio Hour last week was on the battle for our attention in the digital age:

2)  Relatedly, I never have time for all the podcasts I want to hear, but one I’ll pass along, for any not familiar with it, is Julia Galef’s “Rationally Speaking”:

Friday, May 25, 2018

Yet Another Friday Math-mix

Neither I nor Donald Trump were invited to the big wedding last weekend; Donald stayed busy dismantling America, while I busied myself working on a fresh math potpourri:

1)   Richard Guy, still working and interviewed at age 100:

2)  Excerpt from Deborah Mayo’s upcoming book on statistics’ “severe testing”:

3) White rabbits”… Pat Ballew reruns (and updates) a post he originally wrote 10 years ago:
(…a reminder, me-thinkest, of how timeless, interesting mathematics is)

4)  Of Math Men, Mad Men, and the rest of us via the New Yorker:

5)  Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Ben Orlin has a book forthcoming (it may be short on plot and character-development, but I hereby advise buying a few copies anyway):

6)  58 authors urge the axing of p-value thresholds in research papers:

7)  Meanwhile, I took note of a few books on my radar at Math-Frolic yesterday:

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

Just a few favorite recent tweets:

A little Duchess of Sussex back story:

A tweet for Paul Simon fans:

And if you enjoy podcasts in general, LOTS of good recommendations here:

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday Potpourri

Maybe this week’s viral Laurel/Yanny episode can finally help explain how it is that some people listening to a certain Donald hear a purported President speak, while others more correctly hear a venal Demagogue blathering. 
...In any event, a new Friday potpourri:

1)  Michael Harris, interesting as always, on the uses and responsibilities of mathematics:

2)  The 157th “Carnival of Mathematics” here:

3)  Again, a hint of linkage between prime number patterns and physics (via Natalie Wolchover and Quanta):

4)  More physics than math, but I’ll still include it here… The winning essay in FQXi’s latest essay contest asking “”What Is fundamental?”:

All the runner-up essays HERE.

5)  Patrick Honner reflects on the story of his journey in mathematics for Story Collider:

6)  Jim Propp’s latest, for geometry and Madeleine L’Engle fans, on “Time and Tesseracts”:

7)  Walt Hickey is leaving FiveThirtyEight to begin his own daily newsletter, “Numlock,” highlighting "the context and importance of the numbers you read about in the news”:

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

1)  Hey Arachnophobes… don’t kill spiders:

2)  Will just close out the week, as seems appropriate, by rising up off my Laurels to post a favorite old Yanni tune:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Few Potpourri Housekeeping Changes

To slightly streamline my own blogging time am making a few changes to the 'Friday Potpourri' that perhaps readers ought be apprised of (way back I originally conceived of the potpourri as a compendium of slightly off-the-beaten-track math bits, and ever since reading/enjoying David Wells’ quirky “Book of Curious and Interesting Mathematics have thought of attempting more of that):

I will no longer routinely include some of the best-known, most prolific/frequent and favorite math writers out there for the Friday listings on the assumption that readers are already following them, and it may be redundant for me to cite them on Friday if they are already well-linked to. (they will still be in my Twitter feed and sometimes in Math-Frolic posts). 

Similarly, the growing arena of videos and podcasts is beyond what I can keep up with and hope readers have by now latched onto their favorites. I continue to love 3Blue1Brown, Mathologer, Numberphile, Infinite Series, and others, but won’t automatically cite them on Fridays, since they get plenty of buzz without me piling on (I may call attention to newer/lesser-known ones that come along).

Statistics (and research methodology) is such a significant branch of math these days that I may(?) continue to cite some of Andrew Gelman’s very prolific posts, because he is so often accessible to a general audience and is one of only a handful of statisticians I follow regularly. 

And I WILL continue to cite, on Fridays, bloggers who, while well-known, are less prolific (generally posting once or less per month). I may also continue to cite pieces from Quanta Magazine which, even though now widely-cited, derive from a stable of fantastic writers, no one of whom is all that frequent (again though, if say an Erica Klarreich post comes out on Tues. and by Friday I've seen it cited innumerable times, I may assume readers here don't need me mentioning it).

All of this will allow me to spend slightly less time on the potpourri, keep it perhaps a little briefer and less redundant, focusing on interesting pieces readers may actually have missed through the week over pieces that get extensively publicized across social media.
None of these are hard-and-fast rules, but just new rough guidelines.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Some Miscellaneous Stuff From the Week

Friday may be money-laundering day at the White House, but at MathTango it’s math-potpourri day. 
(…when I can find time I’ll explain a few changes I’m making to the Friday potpourri):

1)  Possibly a good thread for teachers to contemplate:

2)  Somewhat related, a few, brief teaching “meta-lessons” from Kalid Azad:

3)  Some tidbits from John Cook this week:

“Robust Statistics”:

…applications of “Benford’s Law”:

4)  Not sure exactly why I find palindromic numbers interesting but I do, and Gary Davis has been referencing them lately:
…also, this OEIS entry:

5)  “Robinson Tiles”… some quirkiness from Futility Closet:

6)  Just a little Elon Musk commentary from a statistician… I’m constantly amazed by both Musk’s performance(s) and the opposing viewpoints of him:

7)  ICYMI, my post last weekend that Patrick Honner later pointed out to me was especially appropriate for this official Teacher Appreciation Week:

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

1)  Errol Morris, Hilary Putnam, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Kuhn… interesting piece for the philosophically-inclined:

2)  The still-interesting-at-94 Freeman Dyson, via John Horgan:

…while I’m at it, many tributes to Feynman this week of his 100th birthday (here are 2):
From Tom Siegfried:

3)  Finally, h/t to Derren Brown for passing this incredible bit along:

And this fellow has a YouTube channel here:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Teachers In Our Lives

                            "Reach out and touch someone...
                                              -- old AT&T ad slogan

I attended (long enough ago that a 50-year reunion is coming up!) a private secondary school where the phrase “in loco parentis” was oft-discussed. In case any don’t know, it translates to ‘in place of the parent’ which carried one meaning, or at least set of applications, for our school administrators, and rather different interpretations favored by we students. At a private boarding school teachers/administrators, as the primary adults that students see each-and-every day, really must take on the partial role of substitute parent. But even in the public school system almost all students will experience at least a few teachers who partly play that role.

I won’t claim that I had very many teachers who had a strong or major impact on my life or career, but there were probably a couple. Moreover, there were teachers who even without impacting my career I simply enjoyed learning from; who made education what it should be: something to relish and look forward to.
Two years ago in an idle moment I looked up my favorite teacher from 7th grade on the internet only to discover he had just passed away a few months prior.  I think at the time I had him for class he knew how much I enjoyed him… but in the 50+ years since I had no contact with him.
I look back now with some regret of how few of these educators I ever re-touched base with after taking their class; and the few I did, how infrequently; realizing only later in life how much it probably meant to them to hear positively from former students; even just a small note of appreciation, a Christmas card, a phone call, an acknowledgement that they were fondly remembered or had an impact…

I bring this all up now because of a poignant, personal entry Patrick Honner posted about a recent experience he had relating to the challenge of teaching and the "constant struggle to find... the balance between expectations and patience; between being tough and being understanding; between pushing a young person and letting them be":

...And one of the reasons I savor (and suspect we all do!) Fawn Nguyen’s writings about teaching, is because of the love for her students that shines through her musings (even when she's employing 4-letter words!), and that delicate dance teachers do between being teacher/parent/friend/disciplinarian, pulling students in close while still maintaining a distance… and never knowing if, once they leave your school, you will ever hear from them again.
Almost exactly 4 years ago I had occasion to ask Fawn (via email) what her favorite post on her blog was and she cited one. I don’t know for sure if 4 years later it’s still her top pick, and until the very end it doesn’t even have that much to do with the teacher/student relationship, but it’s still one I’ll offer up here (and if you can reach the end without a tear in your eye, well….):

Finally, I’m reminded too of a favorite timeless volume occasionally touted here for any who have missed it:  Steve Strogatz’s “The Calculus of Friendship,” about his lifetime relationship with a high school math teacher; on one level based upon a shared love of calculus, but of course at a different level much more (…and by the way there’s real math in it as well).

Anyway, readers here probably all know of Patrick, Fawn, and Steve… I don’t need to draw any more attention their way. What I do hope to do though is maybe make you think, amidst this season of graduations, about the teachers in your own lives who were somehow special or inspiring or supportive, who perhaps parented you along the way a bit even if you only realized it much later.  Get in touch, let them know, drop an email; it’s only too late if they pass from this Earth never knowing.


Addendum:  In a bit of coincidence, Patrick Honner informs me that (unbeknownst to me) this week is national “Teacher Appreciation Week” ….sometimes the world operates in mysterious ways ;)

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Friday Mixed-bag...

Am trying something ever-so-slightly different this week and next, for the potpourri (you may well notice no difference), and will explain later, if I decide to make the change permanent.
In any event, with or without any changes, you have assurances from my personal physician Vinnie Boom-Bornstein, that this blog will continue to be “astonishingly excellent,” and he also notes that at a slim & trim 6’6” and 175 lbs. of taut, lean, striated musculature I am likely the healthiest blogger in the blog-o-sphere (though adding a little Propecia to my daily routine might be in order)….

1)  Some math inspiration:

2)  Always interesting how certain math puzzles go viral:

3)  A few recent stats items from Thomas Lumley:

4) The Fluency of Geometry” from “Mathematics Rising”:

5)  2015 stats on math majors:

6)  I dare you to ask what Graham’s Number equals:

7)  Keith Devlin once again fleshing out math-understanding versus math-calculating:

8)  A nice tribute to Stan Ulam:

9) “Robust perfect adaptation”… perhaps the math behind the biology of cells:

10)  Kevin Hartnett on zeta values and mirror symmetry:

11)  A couple dozen math jokes that, surprisingly, were mostly new to me:

12)  "The Incredible Palindromic Hat-trick" from Christian Lawson-Perfect:

13)  WHOOOOAAA!!!:
(WWRD... What Would Riemann Do with this!? ;)

…Potpourri BONUS! (extra NON-mathematical links of interest): 

1)  Last weekend, NPR’s “On Being re-played the episode with near-poetic physicist Carl Rovelli:

2)  Strictly for you cat-lovers out there, a favorite tweet from the week: