...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, November 29, 2015

The Year In Books

(via WikiMediaCommons)

Reviewing another great year in popular math! Your mileage may vary....
Which is always my way of warning that my picks for favorite reads of the year won't necessarily suit your own interests/tastes. With that said...

Will start with a few miscellaneous notes:

a) If you enjoy Tyler Vigen's humorous "Spurious Correlations" website (a sort of parody of statistical correlations) you can get a hardback version of it in his book of the same title.

b) Two books worth noting that I didn't read this year:

"Birth of a Theorem" by Fields Medalist Cedric Villani got some mixed reviews, some of which though were very positive.

"The Fascinating World of Graph Theory" (Benjamin, Chartrand, Zhang) -- a mini-popular-text on graph theory, probably for a narrower audience than other books here, but worth a mention.

I'll also note that Princeton University Press has just released the 700-page (and pricey) "Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius in the Enlightenment" by Ronald Calinger, and additionally from Princeton, this year's volume of "The Best Writing On Mathematics 2015" is due out in Jan. 2016.

c)  A 2014 book that came out in paperback this year, and I loved, was Gary Smith's "Standard Deviations," another in the growing genre of statistics treatments for the masses.

d)  Matthew Watkins' older trilogy on prime numbers was re-published this year by Liberalis Books; I'd still like to see these wonderful British volumes get WIDER circulation.

Now for my year's Top 10 list for a general audience, starting with numbers 4 through 10, without annotation:

4.  "The Proof and the Pudding" by Jim Henle

5. "Problem-solving Strategies In Mathematics" by Alfred Posamentier and Stephen Krulik

6. "Professor Stewart's Incredible Numbers" by Ian Stewart 

7.  "Numbers: Their Tales, Types, and Treasures"  Alfred Posamentier and Bernd Thaller

8. tie: "How To Bake Pi" (American title) by Eugenia Cheng
          "A Numerate Life" by John Allen Paulos

10. "The Magic of Math" by Arthur Benjamin

...and on to my favorite three:

I enjoy biographies but never expected a biography to ascend as my favorite popular math book in any given year... Siobhan Roberts proved me wrong. Her delicious account of John Conway, "Genius At Play," IS my favorite volume of 2015. Roberts' book follows a fascinating character, but also includes actual, interesting math along the way. Biographies of mathematicians of course, are rare, and Roberts paints an engaging portrait of her subject, while not shying away from his human warts and foibles (as I wrote at the time, "I didn't want this book about math, and one man's humanity and passion, to end"). Just a super read from beginning to end! (By the way, if you missed this recent Guardian podcast with Conway and Roberts, it's a great listen too.)

"Genius At Play" nudges out Michael Harris's eclectic, provocative, (almost oddball) "Mathematics Without Apologies," which I thought I'd relish more on a second reading, but actually fell slightly flatter on the re-read. Harris, more than any mathematician I've read, has a knack for saying things that sound interesting, but that are just vague or ambiguous enough to leave one uncertain of what his exact point is. That sounds like a criticism, but in some perverse way it makes his writing all the more thought-provoking and engaging... and good enough to just edge out my number 3 pick, Marc Chamberland's "Single Digits," a fabulous compendium of math examples, more geared to mathematicians than general readers. Three VERY different, very wonderful books for the math gourmet! They won't suit everyone's taste, but I really enjoyed ALL of these!

Left off of this personal list are dozens of other math books from the year that I either didn't look at or that simply didn't 'ring my chimes.' But if one of them did 'ring YOUR math chimes' feel free to give it a plug in the comments below as a possible stocking-stuffer in the weeks ahead.


Finally, if I combine my 3 favorite books from each of the last three years, and then throw in Strogatz's "The Joy of X" (my favorite from 2012), you have a nice eclectic 10-book-list for a mini-popular-math library. So in addition to the above three:

From 2014:

"How Not To Be Wrong" (Jordan Ellenberg)
"Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension"  (Matt Parker)
"The Grapes of Math"  (Alex Bellos)

From 2013:

"The Outer Limits of Reason (Noson Yanofsky)
"Chaotic Fishponds and Mirror Universes (Richard Elwes)
"Love and Math"  (Ed Frenkel)


"The Joy of X"  (Steven Strogatz)

Anyway, to all the readers out there... bon appetit and happy holiday shopping for your math friends (everyone wants math books for Christmas, right ;-) Can't wait to see what 2016 has in (book)store(s) for us.

Friday, November 27, 2015

This Week's Leftovers...

Thankful for another week of mathy stuff...

For the advanced amongst you, Peter Woit posts about Langlands news:

Arthur Benjamin interviewed (podcast, 30-mins.) about his book, "The Magic of Math":

Once again sweet, amiable Doron Zeilberger considers possibly telling us how he really feels ;-):

Yet again someone tries explaining p-values:

Another interesting post from Michael Harris (but I won't even attempt to synopsize what it's about!?):

6)  And Jim Holt newly-reviews Harris's book "Mathematics Without Apologies" here (requires subscription for full access):

7)  Erica Klarreich, excellent as always (on "the Kadison-Singer problem"):

8)  Of sequences and EKGs (via Quanta):

9) Sean Carroll makes an excellent choice in giving thanks this year:

10)  "Retraction Watch" most often cites biomedical papers that are being retracted, but once in awhile a mathematics paper is retracted (due to honest errors):

11)  Hmmm... I'm wondering if even back in Civil War times kids asked, "When will I ever use this stuff?":

12)  And of course pick any day over at MikesMathPage and you'll likely find something of interest.

13)  Last weekend I reviewed John Allen Paulos' new book, "A Numerate Life," and this coming Sunday I'll have up my wrap-up of popular math books for 2015.

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

1)  Daniel Kish's incredible, inspiring story (of using human sonar to aid blindness) never fails to astound me! It was re-told on a segment of TED Radio Hour last week:

 2)  Not that I have any time leftover for these, but a nice list of "best podcasts" collected here:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Life In Math

"What a wee little bit of a person's life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself... Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written."
-- Mark Twain quoted in "A Numerate Life" by John Allen Paulos

A blurb today on John Allen Paulos' latest book (released in paperback), which he terms a memoir, "A Numerate Life." I expect this will be the last book I'll review this year, and it will be added to my list of 10 favorites for the year to be posted soon.

The volume is slightly reminiscent of Martin Gardner's autobiography, "Undiluted Hocus Pocus," with a similar light, off-handed, sometimes rambly, often nostalgic style reflecting on scattered matters that Paulos either deems important or simply remembers fondly from his varied but math-centered life. It is relatively short (under 200 pgs.), a bit quirky, and somewhat informal... you can almost imagine Paulos, like your grandfather, in a big ol' Lazy-Boy chair relating his life and thoughts on a Sunday afternoon.

I think it definitely helps to have read previous of Paulos works and already have a sense of his perspective, to accurately take in the recountings and musings in this volume. The same was true of Gardner's book, which was probably most appreciated by those who already felt they knew Gardner somewhat. If you know nothing about Paulos, and pick up this book, it may come off as self-indulgent or overly introspective, including matters that could strike uninitiated readers as trivial (like a paragraph on the logical approach to leaving the toilet seat up or down), but that Paulos recognizes exemplify his consistent, rather empirical, approach to life; he is if nothing else, always the teacher/explicator/analyzer.

Then too, Paulos tosses in puns all along the way, and given the frequency with which I see mathematicians use puns, I now wonder if there is some sort of neuronal connection between math aptitude and pun prowess (or wordplay in general)... whoever researches this for their PhD. dissertation can thank me later for the suggestion ;-)

There are bits of mathematics sprinkled throughout the book as well, moreso in the second half than the first half. Paulos touches on all the topics he's addressed in prior works: education, probability, coincidence, the stock market, religion, in addition to math.  Anecdotes and reflections abound here... a summing up as it were, as Paulos enters his seventh decade. Segments about his family are especially touching, and Paulos has a quirky ability to float back-and-forth between nostalgia and human musing, followed by terse, mathematical analysis of the same.
You also get the sense of Paulos' frustration with "innumeracy" in America (a term he coined for math illiteracy), and the difficulty of a remedy for it. There is also a sort of "meta" quality to the content, as the author often comments on what autobiographies are and are not capable of accomplishing.

I enjoyed the second half of the volume more than the first half, so be aware that if the early pages don't grab you the best is yet to come. This is a sit-back-relax-and-enjoy sort of volume, perhaps opening a window on what a typical (if there is such a thing) life of a professional mathematician is like... in some ways not much different from any other person's life... except, well, more numerate.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Math Potpourri

For your weekend reading/listening:

This Reddit thread mentions several math podcasts (several of which I include in my list on right-side of this page), and also pointed me to the Quanta Science podcast that I was unaware of:

A blurb from Mathbabe this week (linking in turn to THIS Nature article) on de-biasing science (...like THAT'LL ever happen ;-):

  In case you haven't read enough Bayesian vs. frequentist statistics pieces lately, here's another:

4)  A 97-year-old mathematician/space scientist awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom:

5)  A variety of upcoming "opportunities" with AMS (h/t to Katie Steckles for pointing it out):

6)  Ben Orlin's uncommon musings on Common Core:

7)  An (overdue) interview with Donald Knuth:

  Movie based on the life of Ramanujan now being shown... at least in Australia:

9)  The November "Carnival of Mathematics" was posted this week:

10)  Not new, but just learned of this site devoted to new books in mathematics:

11)  Futility Closet covers Gabriel's Horn... and more, today:

12)  A new, wonderful (30-min.) podcast with John Conway and Siobhan Roberts (via Ian Sample and The Guardian):

13 I'll end with a little miscellaneous science from the week:

a)  Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder defends scientific method (versus "self-optimization") here:

b)  Physicist Lisa Randall was Krista Tippett's guest on NPR's "On Being" last week:

c)  And lastly, a plug for Leonard Mlodinow's latest book, "The Upright Thinkers," a very good, accessible overview and history of science.

Speaking of books, I'll be perusing John Allen Paulos' latest, "A Numerate Life" on Sunday right here at MathTango.

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

1)  A fascinating segment from last week's TED Radio Hour on the linkage between speech, stuttering, and singing:

2)  Listening to Dave Isay talk about his StoryCorps Project never fails to put a smile on my face! Yesterday he was on Diane Rehm's show, explaining among other things, his upcoming project for the Thanksgiving holiday involving a downloaded app. If you missed it, and are having a Thanksgiving gathering, hope you find time to listen:


Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Math Wrap-up

Math from the week...

Evelyn Lamb covered the topologist winner of the Breakthrough Prize award this week:

 ...and long, interesting Michael Harris post on the Breakthrough Prizes here:

  From fivethirtyeight blog a cautionary tale on scientific method:

3)  For M.C. Escher fans:

For those who like a little cosmology in their potpourri, this piece on Bayesian probability and the Anthropic Principle:

5)  A very simple introduction to statistical inference:

6)  ICYMI, Mathaloger explored various curves, cardiods, and more on YouTube this week:

7)  This one's a couple weeks' old, but I just learned of this wonderful Colm Mulcahy piece on another recreational math problem:

8)  The big news in complexity theory:

...and great write-up by Jeremy Kun:
9)  Math is so useless, it's useful... as Ben Orlin explains:

Not new, but I don't think I've linked to these math podcasts before:

11)  Hey!, I love Bob Ross's old painting show too (403 episodes), but I still think maybe this guy had a wee bit too much time on his hands ;-):

12) This month's puzzle from Quanta Magazine:

13)  H/T to John Golden for pointing out this interesting Dan Meyer post and series of comments (on "understanding" and "explaining" math):

14)  Lastly, in case some of you have never heard this one, Futility Closet crossed over into the math-humor business last week:

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

1)  A fascinating Nautilus read on first (or native) languages:

2)  This Oatmeal comic made quite a few rounds this week, as well it should... but in case you missed it:

Friday, November 6, 2015

That Was the Math Week That Was

So much math, so little time....

1)  Jordan Ellenberg with another of those viral-type math probability problems (which he relates back to the 'hot-hand' controversy):

And another problem, this time geometric, making some waves:

...and still some more monthly puzzles here:

3)  Evelyn Lamb gathered together a few of her scariest posts for Halloween last week:

4)  "Mathematics Rising" blog once again on some of Gregory Chaitin's and David Deutsch's work:

Peter Smith has put up a "gentle introduction" to category theory (160-pg. pdf):

6)  Most articles I read these days about MOOCs are about their lack of success... so, nice to read something more favorable for a change:

7)  There were plenty of tributes to George Boole this week, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, including Colm Mulcahy's:

8)  New 6-min. overview of Ramanujan's life on YouTube:

9)  Among his many entries for the week Mike Lawler covered a fun construction problem introduced by Patrick Honner:


Ben Orlin's commentary of the week:

11)  BBC Radio discussion (podcast) of P vs. NP (starts at ~2:00 mark):

...also related to P vs. NP, major rumored (and highly technical) news of the week reported by Scott Aaronson and Godel's Lost Letter :

12)  And because we can never read too much about Ramanujan:

13)  The ever-entertaining Matt Parker explains the British lottery (via YouTube):
A quick note that Martin Gardner's autobiography, "Undiluted Hocus Pocus," is newly-out in paperback this week.
And finally, if you missed any of the Math-Frolic links this week (Mon., Tues., Thur., and today!) you should check them out for some further reads.

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

1)  Cosmologist Martin Rees argues that if we make contact with advanced extraterrestrials they will likely be machine-like rather than organic:

2)  A fascinating bit on Steve Jobs and Wozniak, pre-Apple, as 'phone phreaks,' hacking the phone system (ohh those younguns!):