...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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Book, A Cryptographer, and a Fun Guy

I'd normally post this over at Math-Frolic, but am so past-due to get a post up here... well, here goes:

1) If you're a fan of Mark Chu-Carroll's "Good Math, Bad Math" blog (one of the oldest and most popular general math blogs on the Web) you'll be happy to know his recent book  "Good Math: A Geek's Guide to the Beauty of Numbers, Logic, and Computation" is available through Amazon:


Here's what Amazon begins by saying about it:
"Mathematics is beautiful--and it can be fun and exciting as well as practical. Good Math is your guide to some of the most intriguing topics from two thousand years of mathematics: from Egyptian fractions to Turing machines; from the real meaning of numbers to proof trees, group symmetry, and mechanical computation. If you've ever wondered what lay beyond the proofs you struggled to complete in high school geometry, or what limits the capabilities of computer on your desk, this is the book for you."
[Haven't read it myself, but assume from Mark's blog writing, it is good.]

2) I've previously mentioned my joy with "The New York Times Book of Mathematics" anthology, and its last chapter is composed entirely of wonderful profiles of accomplished mathematicians... mathematicians fascinate me as much as mathematics itself.  So I'll reach from there again today for this link to Gina Kolata's 1994 (and still hugely interesting) portrait of Leonard Adleman, the "A" in RSA encryption:


It starts off thusly:
"There is nothing to look at in Dr. Leonard Adleman's office at the University of Southern California, no clue that the office is even occupied. There are no pictures of his wife or of his three daughters, no cartoons or mementos -- just a computer, two chairs, a desk and a blackboard. And that is fine with Dr. Adleman. For although he is an active faculty member at the university, although he is a devoted husband and father, his is a life of the mind.
"It is a life that is nourished by deep philosophical questions and the overarching beauty of mathematics. It is a life that involves days, weeks, months of pure thought, alone in his equally barren office at his home in Northridge, Calif., 30 miles from the campus. And it is a life that has led Dr. Adleman to play a central role in some of the most surprising, and provocative, discoveries in theoretical computer science."
...and just gets better and better from there.

3) Finally, a blast from the past… if you're ~55 or over a trip down memory lane….
Re-reading an old Jeremy Bernstein volume ("Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos") recently, I came across his chapter on Tom Lehrer (unfortunately I can't find a free full copy of it on the internet). Lehrer was a popular, clever, irreverent singer/satirist of the '50s, '60s and 70's before he largely retired from the scene (he was, by his own admission, a huge fan of Danny Kaye, whose style he very much emulated).
During his heyday, I honestly only found his material mildly amusing (there were LOTS of satirists around in those days), and it was only years later that I discovered his background (…which made him a far more interesting figure to me!)
So for any who don't know, Lehrer entered Harvard at the age of 15 and majored in mathematics, graduating at 19; a year later he got his Masters degree (and worked on, but never completed PhD. work). He taught for awhile at Harvard, MIT, and Wellesley. Joining the Army in 1955, Lehrer worked a couple years for some outfit called… drrrrrrumroll… the NSA!

If you're unaware of Lehrer you can still find his work on YouTube:


(He's 85 now and his own website is here:  http://www.tomlehrer.org/ )

Anyway, Chu-Carroll and Adleman may well be fun guys as well for all I know, but Lehrer took math and fun to the level of turning it into a living. Nice work if you can get it (actually, a lot of his satire wasn't math-related).

Here's one sample of Lehrer's 'mathematical' work ("Lobachevsky"), to give you his flavor:

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