...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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Sunday Potpourri

I was expecting a slow week in the math blogosphere... but, I was WRONG! ...PLENTY to read; here's some of it:

1)  The latest "Math Teachers At Play" Carnival here:

2)  Five "math gems" passed along from a UK secondary math teacher:

3)   Early in the week The Aperiodical pointed out a new math app game called "Just Get10".  Check it out here (hard to tell how popular it might become; I never expected 2048 to be the 'hit' that it was):

4)  A conversation with award-winning mathematician Ken Ono:

5)  We hear a lot about chess, but here's a little bit of interesting checkers history from Futility Closet:

6)  The world of big data/statistics is attracting more and more STEM women:

7)  Statistics making the world a better place? (via Andrew Gelman):

8)  Fun geometry from Mike Lawler (via James Tanton and James Key and a 3-D printer):

9)  Another interesting piece from Evelyn Lamb, this time on the homotopy of "holes" (which end up being like Santa Claus!):

10)  A quick list from AMS of some celebrities who enjoy mathematics:

11)  In the unlikely event that some of my readers can even comprehend it, here is a recent update related to Mochizuki's proof of the ABC conjecture:

12)  Will end with another fine geometry puzzle from Stephen Cavadino:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Potpourri

This week's grab-bag (and I will either have NO weekly potpourri next week, or else it will appear on Sunday, rather than on Friday, the day after Christmas):

1)  Recent New Zealand interview with Marcus du Sautoy here:
...related Sautoy article here:

2)  The best puzzle and game theory posts from Presh Talwalkar ("Mind Your Decisions") for 2014 -- catch up if you missed any of these:

3)  Fascinating report on the "Umbral Moonshine Conjecture" (...no, I'd never heard of it either!, but related to the Monster Group):

4)  Technical post from Terry Tao on latest work regarding "long gaps between primes":

5)  "Boolean" vs. "additive" thinking from Andrew Gelman:

6) "Why Should You Learn Math?"... one student's answer:

7)  I'm always eager to shine light on Dr. Keith Devlin and his endeavors in math communication. This week someone else did it for me:

8)  And for your smile-of-the-week:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Big Helping of Potpourri

The good and diverse mathy stuff just keeps on comin'... ICYM any of these:

1)  First, this wonderful, ranging interview with fascinating polymath Eric Weinstein ought not be missed:

2)  Interesting interview with Caltech's Xinwen Zhu (former student of Edward Frenkel), who works on the Langlands program:

3)  The Bayesian/frequentist debate goes on:

4)  A bunch of "puzzles and starters" from Stephen Cavadino here:

OR, if you need a stronger challenge here are some 2014 Putnam problems:

5)  A topic that will be increasingly crucial to newer generations... Teaching kids coding/programming as part of literacy:

6)  More math and music/noise from Evelyn Lamb:

7)  Some mathematical commentary on increasingly-pervasive personal genetic testing:

8)  Princeton University Press has sent along this short list of some upcoming spring/summer offerings in popular math:

9)  I'm not sure it's even possible for Fawn Nguyen to write anything that doesn't leave you with a tear in your eye before the end:

Keith Devlin's latest on math learning and math learning apps:

11)  Andrew Gelman isn't the first, and won't be the last, to write about "the fallacy of placing confidence in confidence intervals":

12)  The always-hard-to-predict Vi Hart was back this week (as probably everyone knows) with a lesson on our social/collective behavior via a mathematical game, "Parable of the Polygons":

13)  The 117th Carnival of Mathematics is out now:

14)  And per usual, check out MikesMathPage to see what Mike Lawler and the boys have been up to this week:  http://mikesmathpage.wordpress.com/

....there, that should hold you through the weekend.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Nitpick With Publishers... but a Thumbs-Up to Matt Parker!

More from the book scene....

I briefly mentioned Matt Parker's new book (sight unseen), "Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension," in my recommendations for the Holidays, based on reviews I'd seen, but am now reading it myself and can give an even more enthusiastic thumbs-up! It's a joyful read (unless you despise puns, in which case stay far, far away!! ;-)). It's really the only "recreational math" book on my list -- I did recommend Ian Stewart's latest puzzle compendium volume, but puzzle books are a bit different from recreational math which is a broader and rarer category these days.  In fact, this is one of the very few books that I think could be mentioned in the same breath with Martin Gardner's recreational writings. While reading it I even found myself contemplating the slight similarities between the names, "Martin Gardner" and "Matt Parker"!
Anyway, most of you are likely familiar with stand-up comic/mathematician Parker from various YouTube appearances or elsewhere, and he brings the same lucid, lighthearted, but still instructive style to this book that he exhibits on the internet. His own infectious delight with math comes through both in the wide-ranging text and even his(?) simple hand-drawn illustrations.  The book's subtitle offers some hint as to just how wide-ranging it is: "A Mathematician's Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two kinds of Infinity, and More."  As the book flap says, it's "a grand tour... both playful and sophisticated." I won't attempt a full review here (not even sure when I'll complete reading it), but simply highly commend it to your attention.

BUT... I do have a minor beef with it... or, perhaps more specifically with the publisher. This book is over 400 pages long and an inch-and-a-half thick, with an American retail price of $28.00 (and I wouldn't recommend reading it on an eBook reader, but that's me). A lot of folks who are already a tad phobic, or just naive, about math will be intimidated by the look/feel of this volume, as well as discouraged by the price. That means a lot of people who could benefit from reading it, and who it is partly intended for, won't purchase it... which is a shame... also means lost sales/profits for the publisher. With slightly smaller print, less white space, maybe thinner paper, and perhaps even a softcover, this volume could've been brought in well under 400 pgs. and at a lower price... and, been less imposing to readers. (I don't know if the British edition is any different from the American edition.) Even the title (probably meant to be intriguing) I suspect is a bit imposing, abstract, and maybe overly long to many, and could've been better chosen.

Anyway, I mention all this because I've seen several examples in the last couple years where a book's sales might've improved simply with a little more attention paid to certain physical elements of the volume, and greater consideration of the target audience -- and the goal should be to get these books into as many hands as possible... or at least not to scare off any more readers than needed. Matt has his own wide following, so those folks are an automatic audience, but I'm interested to see a book like this swept up by readers who have never heard of Matt Parker, or who usually avoid math books. (If I'm wrong here and the book's final features/format were actually the result of massive test-marketing and research than I'll be happy to hear about it.)
Might add, as a side-note, that I've long thought Princeton University Press (not Matt's publisher) is a publisher that generally does a great job with the physical presentation of their popular math books... maybe they've been at it longer, or specialize in it to some degree, but kudos to them for whatever the reason.
Well, I need to get back to reading Matt's volume; some reviews say the second half is even better than the first! 

[And now that I've finished reading it, I've added another short blurb about it HERE.]

Friday, December 5, 2014

First Potpourri of December

Dig in....

1)  For the puzzle-minded, John Allen Paulos wrote up this clever one last weekend:

2)   Evelyn Lamb experiences "existential angst" over music and integers... and that's a fascinating thing for the rest of us (but what would Sartre think? ;-):

3)  In praise of Inquiry-based Learning (IBL) (h/t to Patrick Honner for pointing out this AMS piece):

4)   Laura at "Math For Grownups" wants to interview people about how they use math in their jobs/careers:

5)  Matt Parker is excited about the Stern-Brocot sequence. See why, via Numberphile:

6)  Someone (I lost track of who) tweeted a link this week to this relatively new site that looks interesting (for sparking mathematical thought/ideas):

7)  Alexander Bogomolny reviewed "The Best Writing On Mathematics 2014" here:

8)  The fascinating case of a misprint in a 1970 math paper that gets Brian Hayes investigating:

9)  Not even exactly sure why, but a basic piece on prime numbers made it into the "Business Insider" yesterday:

10)  Per usual, you can check out MikesMathPage to see what Mike Lawler & the boys have been up to this week:  http://mikesmathpage.wordpress.com/
Since we're approaching gift-giving time, you might want to start with Mike's positive review of a recent new math board game from our fellow bloggers over at Math For Love:

11)  And lastly, I'm still curious (over at Math-Frolic) if anyone knows who "Andy Naughton" is and how did he end up reading minds? ;-) :

Have a good weekend all!....

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wrapping Up Books...

Holiday suggestions....

I didn't believe 2014 could be as banner-a-year for popular math books as 2013 was, and, I don't believe it has been... but, still a dang good year!

Back in June, I predicted Jordan Ellenberg's "How Not To Be Wrong" would end up as my favorite book of the year, and that's proven true, though with a bit of semi-stretching (I'll get to later) it has a strong competitor.  I've never seen a bad review of Ellenberg's book. If you haven't read it, get it! If you have read it, read it again!

Meanwhile, Alex Bellos gave us another fine effort this year with his "The Grapes of Math" (American title)... another fun, enjoyable, instructive read from Alex.

The above are the two main new volumes I recommend Xmas wrapping for a general readership of mathy stuff.

For the puzzle-lover on your list I don't think you can do much better than Ian Stewart's recent "Professor Stewart's Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries." Stewart's previous puzzle compendiums are just as good though, if you don't need to have his latest volume.
Also, worth noting that one of my favorite Stewart books, "Visions of Infinity," is newly-out in paperback (not a 2014 volume, but still worth suggesting).

Three more 2014 volumes I don't mind recommending to narrower audiences are: 1) "Mathematics and the Real World" by Zvi Artstein -- a volume I have some qualms about, but ultimately liked the overview it gave of math history  2) "Four Lives: A Celebration of Raymond Smullyan" from Jason Rosenhouse -- a volume suited primarily for Raymond Smullyan fans.  I often don't see Rosenhouse's volumes distributed very well -- honestly, I believe he needs a new agent or publisher(!), because he's one of the best, most consistent math writers out there (and I say that as someone who doesn't always agree with him, but always finds his arguments thoughtful and well-stated -- for this particular volume though, I'll note, he is just editor). Finally, 3) a volume I'll recommend without having finished it yet, is the latest "The Best Writing On Mathematics 2014" ed. by Mircea Pitici -- each edition of this series has been better than the one before, and I think that trend continues in this rendition, which seems full of interesting stuff. I'm always impressed with Pitici's diversity of choices, even though there are always ones whose inclusion I don't quite understand. Anthologies are typically a mixed bag, but hopefully the selections you don't care for will be outweighed by the number and quality of those you do enjoy.
A couple of quick mentions to two volumes I haven't read, but have seen consistently good reports on: 1) Tim Chartier's "Math Bytes," and 2) Matt Parker's (British book) "Things To Make and Do In the Fourth Dimension." [I've now written a bit more about Parker's volume HERE and HERE.]

One volume to throw in simply because it may be a hit for the holidays is "The Mathematics Devotional" from Clifford Pickover. Personally, I'll wait 'til there's a soft-cover version, if I purchase it at all (may eventually buy it simply as a source for more "Sunday Reflections" over at Math-Frolic). As much as I love Dr. Pickover's earlier popular math output, I've not been a fan of the recent, more 'formulaic' and visually-gaudy series from him -- just my personal preference. Having said that, anything that gets math/science into the hands of more people I'm all for, and his books have succeeded at that (or at least they're dwelling on a lot of home shelves and coffee tables). So give it a look if it suits your taste, but I can't honestly recommend this pithy, glossy volume for those on limited budgets, who need more bang for the buck. Also, know that a "Physics Devotional" is in the works.

Reaching back to 2013. A couple of wonderful books from that year, are now out in paperback: "Love and Math" by ever-inspiring Ed Frenkel, and "The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets" from Simon Singh (one of the most fun math reads ever). Both must-reads for the math-enthused, if there's anyone left who has missed them.

Finally, here is my 2014-stretch (alluded to above): Richard Elwes put out two 2013 books that are fantastic (but poorly distributed in the U.S.): "Math In 100 Key Breakthroughs" (a GREAT reference source) and "Chaotic Fishponds and Mirror Universes" an informative, wide-ranging (ill-titled) book that I didn't acquire until 2014, and enjoyed almost as much as the Ellenberg volume -- it's hard for me to even recommend one over the other, but in-the-end, Ellenberg is set apart from all competitors by his witty, fanciful style, so rare (indeed difficult) in a popular math book, so I give him the nod, but do VERY highly recommend Elwes' book.

Anyway, these are some of the book stand-outs for a general audience from my view, but there were LOTS of other popular math offerings in 2014. If you had a favorite you wish to make sure readers consider, feel free to mention it in the comments. And let's see what 2015 brings our way (among other things a new biography of Martin Gardner is on the horizon).