...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, April 28, 2017

Some Friday Math Picks


1)  James Tanton interviewed:

...and here, an experiment proposed with logarithms from by Dr. Tanton:

2)  Colm Mulcahy on the “Mathematics Genealogy Project”:

3)  Mark Chu-Carroll offers up an intro to “type theory”:

4)  Anna Haensch writes about “Gifted,” the movie and the trait:

5)  Series, as only Ben Orlin could explain them:

6)  Mike Lawler offered up a challenge to “everyone in and around math.” Care to take him up on it:
https://mikesmathpage.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/a-challenge-to-everyone-in-and-around-math/

...Mike's been on fire this week with interesting posts/problems, so check 'em out if you get the chance.

7)  "What Is a Manifold?":
http://blogs.ams.org/mathgradblog/2017/04/27/manifold-66/

8)  Andrew Gelman (and a lot of commenters) on "evidence-based design":
http://andrewgelman.com/2017/04/27/whole-fleet-wansinks-architecture-design-trillion-dollar-industry-founded-pseudoscience/


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

1)  In case you've somehow missed it, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia is launching a new project to fight fake news, called “Wikitribune”:

2)  John Horgan interviews Peter Woit (mostly on physics):
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/why-string-theory-is-still-not-even-wrong/



Friday, April 21, 2017

Potpourri



1)  I admit it; I rarely tire of essays on the beauty of math:

2)  Presh Talwalkar on the United Airline fiasco and "Vickrey auctions":

3)  Ben Orlin’s post this week highlight’s Cornell’s John Hopcroft… and China:

4) “Maths Anxiety”:

5)  New provocative essay on mathematics from irascible Doron Zeilberger (dedicated to Reuben Hersh):
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1704.05560.pdf

6)  Andrew Gelman has found a statistics book he actually likes ;) :
http://andrewgelman.com/2017/04/20/teaching-statistics-bag-tricks-second-edition/

7)  Long, nice tribute to Bill Thurston (h/t S. Strogatz):
http://www.ams.org/samplings/feature-column/fc-2017-04

8)  Those interested, no doubt already know all about it, but just a reminder that the “March For Science” takes place tomorrow in Wash. D.C. (and all across the nation):

AND, it coincides with the National Math Festival in Wash. D.C. as well:


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

1)  Philosopher David Chalmers interviewed by John Horgan:

2)  Love and sex researcher Helen Fisher on this week’s episode of Krista Tippett’s “On Being”:


Monday, April 17, 2017

"The Calculus of Happiness"





Oscar Fernandez’s slim “The Calculus of Happiness” is a somewhat quirky popular math entry focusing on using math (very little calculus involved) as an aid to one’s health, wealth, and love life. No doubt some will find the book entertaining and enlightening depending on your interest in these 3 topic areas. And it’s nice to see a book devoted to showing the public how basic math applies directly to common areas of the public’s interest.

Part 1 deals with diet/eating/nutrition. Of course entire (and large) tomes have been written on these topics that Fernandez is devoting less than 40 pages to. Still, Fernandez distills much helpful, practical info into a small space, touching on several different subjects. 
In a similar way, I think the last (3rd) part on dating and relationships is a succinct, entertaining treatment, reducing some human complexity to algorithms and modeling.
Part 2 of the book, on the mathematics of financial matters was the one of most interest to me. The interesting take-home argument of the second part is that, overall, a portfolio of investments split about 50/50 between stocks and bonds is best for the long haul. That’s a more conservative approach than most argue in favor of, but Fernandez makes a strong case that if you’re not interested in trading or following your investments closely, than such a buy-and-hold approach with 50% stocks/bonds makes sense (it’s essentially a sort of turtle versus hare approach; sacrificing some gains in the best years to guard against major losses in the bad years, and sleep better at night!).
Each chapter of the book (there are 2 chapters to each Part) ends with a helpful little summary of the main mathematical and non-mathematical take-home points from the chapter, as well as some 'bonus practical tips.'

Your interest in this book will be largely determined by your interest in the 3 subject areas… on the one hand these are three areas that are already well-covered elsewhere to the point of overkill… on the other hand, they are covered so much, specifically because they are areas of continuing interest to so many people.
At less than 150 pages the volume is a quick read, and the Parts need not be read in the order given if your inclination is otherwise.
There are also 6 Appendices which flesh out more of the math that is touched on in the body of the book.

MAA review of the volume is here:

...and the author is interviewed at the Publisher's page here:
http://blog.press.princeton.edu/2017/03/22/oscar-e-fernandez-on-the-calculus-of-happiness/



Friday, April 14, 2017

This Friday's Mix


1)  Ramsey Theory progresses:

2)  Are you a math teacher who missed NCTM in San Antonio? Cathy Yenca will make you wish you’d been there:

…also for teachers, Jo Morgan regularly offers up “gems” for the classroom:

…and perhaps taking one more step Mike Lawler offered up a long post with 10 “complex, rich tasks” for students:

3) The “Linus Sequence” via Futility Closet:

4)  Alex Bellos explaining a slice of a Menger Sponge:

5) plus.maths.org has an ongoing “Women of Mathematics” series:

6)  Another amazing posting from Brian Hayes (factorials, patterns, number theory and more):

7)  Fawn Nguyen is incapable of writing an average post… she just opts to blow you away every time:


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

1)  This week’s This American Life re-ran a segment they’d run earlier on the Dunning-Kruger effect (which has received a lot of extra focus since Nov. 8, 2016):

[The entire show, 3 segments, is once again fascinating.]





Friday, April 7, 2017

For Your Weekend Browsing


1)  A new Carnival of Mathematics:

2)  “Yes, But Why?”… book for math teachers:

3)  “Aronson’s sequence” from Futility Closet:

4)  Erica Klarreich explains why state gerrymandering is more difficult for the courts to recognize than the rest of us:

5)  Nice intro to some basic probability paradoxes from “The Conversation”:

6)  Keith Devlin promoting a book and respectability for Fibonacci, while debunking legend:

7)  “The Improbability Principle”… an overview of a David Hand book:

8)  Andrew Gelman has Cornell on his mind (long post/rant):


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

1)  Teaching 5th graders to recognize fake news:

2)  Speaking of fakery, must-reading for fans of science and Seinfeld:




Friday, March 31, 2017

ICYM any of these...



1)  Natalie Wolchover with a math story most folks probably have not heard:

2)  Fawn Nguyen doing what she does best… being Fawn Nguyen:

3)  Re-visiting the “sofa problem” (h/t Cliff Pickover):

4)  Using finance to teach math in high school:

5)  Great interview & video with centenarian Richard Guy (who continues to work):

6)  I hesitate to even cite this (am so tired of the subject), but another general piece on the “hot-hand” notion in basketball. I’ve argued previously that the problem, which seems to vacillate between debunking and vindicating, is not whether it exists (YES, it does), but the ill-way it is often defined:

One might as well argue over whether or not (statistically-speaking) back pain actually exists or is just an illusion! 

7)  You’ve likely seen a lot on the Collatz conjecture, but you need to look at one more Numberphile treatment:

…meanwhile, Futility Closet posts about John Conway’s RATS sequence:

8)  P-values as “the tip of the iceberg”:

9)  If you’ve never heard of 'quasisymmetric Schur functions,' well, you have now (h/t Egan Chernoff):

10)  Since math buffs are often cryptographic buffs as well, I'll pass along this odd story of some code the FBI hasn't been able to crack in 15 years:

12)  Will end with one of my favorite quotes from the week; not mathematics, but from mathematician Jordan Ellenberg on Twitter ;) :

More
"Let's run government like a business" keeps rearing its head, like it's gonna be Google, when we all know it's actually gonna be Comcast.


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

1)  For the psycholinguistically-inclined, a fascinating, older David Mumford post 
I just ran across this week:

2)  At a time when enjoyable, uplifting stories on TV are scarce, CBS’s “60 Minutes” offered up one last weekend... the story of chess and young students in a small Mississippi town meeting success. The storyline is here; not sure how quickly the full video may be available:



Friday, March 24, 2017

A Few Bits From the Week


1)  Sudoku-lovers… Brian Hayes has another addiction to point you to:

2)  Evelyn Lamb talks about immigration… and mathematics:

3) Shortest known paper published” in a math journal:

4)  A Futility Closet problem very reminiscent of classic monk-climbing-mountain brainteaser:

5)  New interview with succinct, interesting Jordan Ellenberg here:
https://anthonybonato.com/2017/03/22/interview-with-a-mathematician-jordan-ellenberg/

6)  The connection between physics and the Riemann Hypothesis the last couple years has been intriguing, perhaps offering a new approach to the century+-old problem. Recent news about possible progress:
http://www.brunel.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/articles/Physicists-make-major-breakthrough-towards-proof-of-Riemann-hypothesis

7)  Yesterday, I wrote briefly about Eugenia Cheng's latest, "Beyond Infinity":
https://math-frolic.blogspot.com/2017/03/about-infinity.html

8)  And if you need some laughs to end the week (and you’re a mathematician), of course there's Ben Orlin:


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

1)  Scott Aaronson doubts the Universe is a simulation:

2)  I’ve spent a lot of hours with Umbrella Cockatoos over the years, but only discovered a couple months ago that they enjoy being brushed like a dog or a cat :):




Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekly Potpourri

It's Friday, and time to mention a few of the things I didn't cover over at Math-Frolic this week:

1)  A quick intro to trigonometry (h/t Robert Talbert):

2)  Evelyn Lamb finds serenity in places others might not think to look, including the ‘Kakeya needle problem’:

3)  9-minute audio intro to public key cryptography:

4)  Nice new Numberphile with Terence Tao:

5)  I liked this quick mid-week take on 'null-hypothesis-significance-testing from Andrew Gelman: 

6)  An essay from Noson Yanofsky, entered in the 2017 FQXi essay contest:

7)  A mathematician (and no, not Tim Chartier, but Ken Ono) talks March Madness… and predicts Villanova for the win (h/t Anthony Bonato):

8)  And for something completely different, brand new from always-engaging Jim Propp:

9)  I briefly looked at three current books last Sunday, and I'll reiterate another strong recommendation for Edward Scheinerman’s volume:
https://mathtango.blogspot.com/2017/03/3-books-in-queue.html

...in other book news will just note that Daniel Levitin's critical-thinking volume "A Field Guide to Lies," that I highly recommended a short while back, is now out in paperback but, given our current Trumpian/demagogic world, with a new title, "Weaponized Lies."


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


1)  ICYMI, this recent story (and court outcome) about the 'Oxford comma' is making the rounds:
http://tinyurl.com/mo5rp62

2)  Thoughtful physicist/author Carl Rovelli on Krista Tippett's "On Being" radio show this week:
http://www.onbeing.org/programs/carlo-rovelli-all-reality-is-interaction/



Sunday, March 12, 2017

3 Books In the Queue…


         


I’d actually enjoy a respite from reading… but popular math books keep showing up!  Currently in my reading queue are 3 new volumes, so 3 quick blurbs today on:

Finding Fibonacci” by Keith Devlin
Beyond Infinity”  by Eugenia Cheng
The Mathematics Lover’s Companion” by Edward Scheinerman

Regular readers here know I love Keith Devlin’s writing… BUT primarily when he’s explicating mathematics or logic. I’ve never had much interest in math history pre-19th-century, so didn't read Keith’s earlier book/biography ("A Man of Numbers") of the mathematician we know as Fibonacci. His new effort, "Finding Fibonacci," is, again more historical, biographical, and travelogue, than mathematical, so, early on (about 75 pgs. in.) it’s not particularly grabbing me. It’s even quirkier though because it’s a book about how he wrote the prior book (an odd self-referential stroke of authorship) — one can sense Keith’s own passion about the subject and the research/detective path it put him on, but you probably need more interest in math history than I have to fully appreciate it, or, if you read/enjoyed the earlier volume you'll want this follow-up (… ANYthing by Keith is worth reading, but I do find his greatest talents in translating mathematics to a general audience). Also, am happy to see Dr. Devlin is with Princeton University Press with this volume.

For whatever reason, infinity seems suddenly to be a hot topic… it’s plenty interesting of course, I just don’t know why there’s such a current spate of writing about it, but somewhere Cantor is smiling. ;)
Anyway, Eugenia Cheng’s 2nd book (after her success with “How To Bake Pi”) is “Beyond Infinity.” The early pages (I’m not far in) are pretty standard fare on the topic (i.e. chapter 2 is entirely on Hilbert’s Hotel), but Dr. Cheng is a fine writer and glancing ahead, where she gets deeper into the weeds of infinity, l anticipate the material getting more interesting, varied, and challenging along the way. There are a lot of good introductions to infinity out there (Ian Stewart has a new one out as well), and no doubt Cheng’s will take its place among that group.

The Devlin and Cheng books arrived as review copies, but a few days ago I stumbled upon a new volume, in a brick-and-mortar store, I’d NOT seen/heard any buzz about, by Johns Hopkins mathematician Edward Scheinerman, “The Mathematics Lover’s Companion.” Immediately loved the title and so far, am loving the content as well… it’s divided into 3 parts on “Number,” “Shape,” and “Uncertainty,” with bite-size writing on a wide swath of topics within each part (23 total chapters; I would almost say mini-lessons) — some topics fairly well-worn, but others less-so. The prose is excellent, terse and clear (and Scheinerman has won previous MAA awards for his writing). 
The book reminds me a bit of Strogatz’s “The Joy of X,” in its layout of successive essays, but a notch or two more advanced for the lay reader. So, especially if you enjoyed Strogatz’s work and are ready to step up for something a bit more challenging, grab this volume. I imagine even well-read math fans will find parts of the volume fresh and useful, and I also suspect it will be one of my 3 favorite books at year-end wrap-up! A very nice, exciting surprise find. As one reviewer synopsizes, An elegant sampler of many beautiful and interesting mathematical topics. This could become one of the best books available for a popular audience interested in what mathematics really is.”

Anyway, these are just quick takes, subject to change, and I’ll try to offer final opinions at some later date, but for now I especially recommend checking out the Scheinerman volume.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Weekly Wrap-up of Mathy Miscellany



1)  A little history... his own history that is... from Keith Devlin:

…Keith seems to be on a Fibonacci kick. He wrote a volume on the popular Italian medieval mathematician a few years back, and now has a new book out about writing the first book:

2)  An excerpt from Luke Heaton’s, “A Brief History of Mathematical Thought”:

3)  The problem with science-reporting and hype:

4)  Evelyn Lamb interviews a trans mathematician with a lot of interesting answers:

…and here, another interview with a mathematician (who is married to yet another mathematician):

5)  There's something about infinity! ....

One primer on infinity here:

…and another from Aeon here:

I’m currently reading Eugenia Cheng’s newest work, “Beyond Infinity,” so will have something to say about it in the future.

...and apparently Ian Stewart also has a new intro to infinity out as well:
https://plus.maths.org/content/node/6795

6)  Deborah Mayo reviews a bit of the p-value discussion over the last year:

7)  Ben Orlin teaches lines:
https://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2017/03/08/lines-beyond-y-mx-b/

8)  The 'connectedness' of mathematical areas, via John Cook:
https://www.johndcook.com/blog/2017/03/09/how-areas-of-math-are-connected/?

9)  There's some math buried in the curve of a child's early speech learning (h/t Adam Kucharski):
https://www.good.is/articles/first-words-spreadsheet

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

1)  Fun from the New Yorker and the retiring Bob Mankoff (cartoon editor):

2)  Old, but still one of my favorite pieces ever, whenever I need a laugh (…which is pretty often these days). So read it and weep, all ye minimal Bauhaus clownfaces!: 




Monday, March 6, 2017

The Best Picks From Mircea Pitici




"The main message of this series is that there is a lot more to mathematics than formulas and learning by rote -- a lot more than the stringency of proof and the rigor usually associated with mathematics (and held so dear by mathematicians). Mathematics has interpretative sides with endless possibilities, many made manifest by writing in natural language."

-- Mircea Pitici in the book's Introduction





When I began math-blogging almost 7 years ago I worried whether I could possibly find enough popular math material to blog about for more than a few months. In addition to the Web itself, Mircea Pitici’s yearly “Best Writing on Mathematics” volume is a great reminder of just how much accessible math there is! Popular math not only doesn’t get old or constraining, it seems to be growing in leaps and bounds.

Every year I end up saying ‘this year’s edition [of Pitici's effort] seems like the best one yet.’ And so it does (this is the 7th in the series). It is beautifully-produced (from Princeton University Press), on high-grade paper, with excellent illustrations, layout, and production values, in addition to a fine, varied selection of contributions. 
The downside is, you pay for all that: I’m afraid the retail price of $32.95 (for a paperback) may hurt sales compared to prior years… time will tell (and of course depending where you get it, many/most won’t pay the full retail price).

It's nice to see how many entries this year come from pieces either on the internet or at least from folks with a solid presence on the Web; an indication of how much GREAT math content is now freely available to millions of people via their computers. So if you follow the math blogosphere or Twitterverse several of these contributors will be very familiar to you:

Andrew Gelman
Erica Klarreich
Kevin Hartnett
David Castelvecchi
Brian Hayes
Tanya Khovanova
David Richeson
Steven Strogatz
Australian mathematician Burkard Polster ("Mathologer" on YouTube) gains the distinction of having 2 selections in this volume!

…and the volume ends with Ian Stewart somewhat recursively writing about how to write a popular math book.
…Just some of the 30 authors in this year’s edition.

As usual, the anthology is a mix of pure and applied math, and philosophy and history, as well as some pieces for more serious mathematicians beyond a general audience. Big data, education, statistics/probability, art, physics, are included along the way.
Also, as usual, I’ll warn the reader that due to publication lag time, these pieces are actually from 2015, so if you're disappointed to find some favorite 2016 article missing, wait for NEXT year’s edition and check again.

As always, Pitici is impressive with the eclectic diversity of his choices for inclusion. Any other mathematician taking on the task would likely come up with a very different volume than Pitici has… but that’s simply a testament to how much good material is available to choose from. Also, one of the best aspects of the volume is Pitici’s extensive listing of notable books from the prior year, as well as articles that were not chosen for inclusion, but nonetheless worthy of mention... i.e., this volume can lead to a whole lot further reading if one so chooses.

Last year’s edition had somewhat of an emphasis on recreational math (unlike prior editions), while Pitici notes that thematically many of this year’s picks “refer to the dynamic tension between the object and the practice of ‘pure’ versus ‘applied’ mathematics.”

A few favorite pieces are Erica Klarreich’s on “the Monster Group,” Davide Castelvecchi’s on Mochizuki’s confounding “proof” of the ABC conjecture, and Jorge Almeida’s on “Lottery Perception.” Jennifer Quinn’s entry on combinatorics is an especially fun, creative read. There are several historical pieces, with John Stillwell’s wide-ranging offering, “What Does Depth Mean In Mathematics” perhaps being the most interesting. Also, two back-to-back entries offer very different views (pro and con) of the reforms of Common Core. 
The anthology does not have to be read from beginning to end; the reader can jump around, but several successive pieces do hang together around a topic, and may be best read together.
I thought Derek Abbott’s “The Reasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics,” which appears fourth in the book’s lineup, might have been a more effective lead-off piece, as a somewhat contrary, thought-provoking read, arguing against Platonism and against the effectiveness of mathematics... a stand not often seen (I didn't find him convincing, but at least interesting and provocative). I also quite enjoyed Pitici's Introduction to this year's volume, so don't just skip over that.
Other entries cover wide-ranging, unpredictable topics, very clearly written, and each reader will find their own favorites.
Congratulations to Dr. Pitici on another job well-done, and to Princeton University Press for a very handsome edition that will please most anyone with a strong interest in 'the queen of the sciences.' Meanwhile, I saw so many fantastic math pieces last year I'm already anxious for Mircea's 2017 edition!



Friday, March 3, 2017

Plenty Math Potpourri to Go Around

No shortage of good math-related stuff around this week. Here’s a bit of it:

1)  If math is your thing, should you become a data scientist?:

2) “Are we killing students' love of math” (h/t Earl Samuelson):

3)  Constructor theory and Newcomb’s Paradox, via David Deutsch:

4)  Fun interview with Eugenia Cheng in the Guardian (including promotion of her latest book, “Beyond Infinity”):

5)  Joselle Kehoe looks at renewed interest in bootstrapping in physics:

6)  Cathy O’Neil on when less is more, with Big Data:

7)  James Tanton on “Exclusionary Math”:

8)  Mike Lawler points to “pension accounting” (and this article), as the most important public math issue by miles and miles”:

p.s... yesterday, Mike tweeted out this bit of classic math: "...which has the larger area a 13-13-24 triangle or a 13-13-10 one :)":



9)  I’ve referenced the latest poker-playing AI bots (and successes) before, and now this interesting follow-up report on these human-beating machines. Two separate algorithmic programs have now handily defeated human professionals, and might even take on each other:

10)  A little statistics/causality thinking from Dilbert:

11)  ICYMI, last weekend I chatted with Dr. Francis Su:

12)  If it's math and in Quanta, you know it'll be good! This time from Kevin Hartnett (on class numbers):

13)  Well, this looks charming (but then it had me from the very initial Cat Stevens music)! [h/t to Jim Propp for pointing it out]:



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

1)  A physicist questioning dark matter:

2)  Feel like I become a bigger fan of Brian Hayes, in some asymptotic way ;) with each new piece he writes. And now he’s off on a new writing venture:



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Francis Su... A Mathematician For All Seasons

Math-Frolic Interview #41



"What I hope to convince you of today is that the practice of mathematics cultivates virtues that help people flourish.  These virtues serve you well no matter what profession you choose.  And the movement towards virtue happens through basic human desires.
"I want to talk about five desires we all have.... 1) Play... 2) Beauty... 3) Truth... 4) Justice... 5) Love... "

                                   -- Francis Su (farewell address to the MAA)


When I do interviews here it usually takes me awhile to choose a title for the interview... for some reason, with Dr. Francis Su "A Mathematician For All Seasons" almost immediately jumped to mind as just seeming to fit. I hope all those who know Dr. Su personally, or experienced his farewell address at the 2017 joint math meetings, agree! 
Dr. Su is an award-winning professor at Harvey Mudd College, one of the Claremont Colleges (my old stomping grounds) in Southern California, and recent past President of the MAA.
His well-received farewell address is here:

His homepage is here:

...and he tweets at: @mathyawp

I'll let him tell you more about himself via the questions:

————————————————

1)  Your wonderful MAA retirement address (“Mathematics is for human flourishing”) to the Joint Meetings in Atlanta in January was one of the most linked-to math tweets I’ve seen since I’ve been on Twitter. Can you tell us briefly how that talk evolved for you. Was it a long or quick process, and did you know well ahead of time what you wanted to impart?

Since being elected as MAA President, I knew I'd have to give this speech. I also knew if I chose to give a standard math talk, I'd have regretted missing an opportunity to speak about important issues facing our community.  Given the racial turmoil facing our country, the lack of diversity within our profession, and my unique position of being the first MAA or AMS president of color, I knew I wanted to address the theme of inclusion. And that the best way to do that would be to first paint an inclusive vision of why we do mathematics, and connect that to deep human themes. So I had the threads of the talk almost a year before, but I didn't start writing in earnest until December. I was nervous and kept rewriting my talk. But if I had started any earlier I would have just kept second guessing myself even more!

2)  Within math circles we often see “mathematics” associated with “beauty” or “science” or even “wonder,” but connecting it to “human flourishing” was somewhat novel on your part. Was the word “flourishing” a sort of epiphany for you, or is it a term you’d long linked to math?

I'm a fan of philosophy and theology, and the term 'human flourishing' is actually popular in philosophical and theological circles as describing the well-lived life. But connecting it to math happened when I was discussing my ideas for the talk with a good friend.  So I suppose you could call it an epiphany.

3) As I ask most interviewees, do you recall what first attracted you to mathematics, and when did you know you wished to pursue it professionally?

I discovered by love for math as a kid.  My parents gave me math books to read and I enjoyed working on puzzles.  I began to get a glimpse of real math when my dad gave me a book on Fermat's Last Theorem.  That book had a proof that every Pythagorean triple is of the form (p^2-q^2, 2pq, p^2+q^2) for integers p, q.  And I thought that proof was beautiful!

4)  Tell us a little about your own specialty interests within the field of mathematics…

These days I study geometric and topological combinatorics. You can think of that as combinatorial problems where geometry or topology play a prominent role. So, for instance, the study of triangulations of polyhedra. A question I've worked on is: what is the minimal number of n-dimensional tetrahedra you need to build an n-dimensional cube? A unique niche I've carved for myself is applying mathematical methods from this area to answer questions in the social sciences.

5) If you were dropped on to a desert island with at most 3-4 math-related books to occupy your time (and mind), what would they be and why? And how about non-math books?

Yikes. I'm not a fan of re-reading books so the books I'd most want to have are probably ones I've not read yet!  So maybe I'd ask good friends to choose for me. If I can't do that, I suppose the math books I'd take are: (1) a book of solved problems, e.g. puzzles or a set of inquiry-based notes in some subject I wanted to learn, (2) a book of unsolved problems and (3) math historian Glen Van Brummelen's The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth: The Early History of Trigonometry.  That last book might be handy while stargazing on a desert island.  Non-math related books I'd take are (1) the Bible (for personal devotional reading), (2) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (a favorite book), and (3) a book about survival skills or ship-building. :-)

6)  If you could pick one deceased mathematician (who you never knew) to sit down and have coffee with and discuss mathematics, who might it be and why?

Blaise Pascal, for sure. I'd love to discuss both mathematics and theology with him.  

7)  Given the ongoing harsh arguments about how secondary math education ought proceed in the U.S., how confident are you that it is headed in the best (or at least, a good) direction?
Also (optional), do you care to express any concerns about math/science education, more generally, going forward under a Trump Administration?

I think secondary math education is generally headed in a good direction. For instance, the Common Core is a good set of standards and most states have some version, even if (due to political posturing) they rejected the title Common Core.  More needs to be done by all of us to support our teachers, to ensure that curricula (which aren't part of the standards) are written well, and to discourage schools from going overboard with testing (a separate issue from the standards). 

It remains to be seen what happens to math/science education under a Trump Administration, but I do think we need to help our students see that facts matter, that telling truths matter, and that their math education really can help them to think critically about the claims they encounter and to be people of intellectual integrity. 

8)  When you’re not doing math, what are some main interests/hobbies/activities you enjoy?

I enjoy photography and gardening. For similar reasons as why I love math: there's beauty in the interplay between structure and freedom, and there's playfulness and artistry in the choices I make.

————————————————

Thanks Dr. Su for participating here, and more importantly for your years of service/devotion to the math community. And may structure, freedom, playfulness, and artistry be a part of all our lives as you so encourage!