...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, 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 ;) :

"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:

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:

7)  Yesterday, I wrote briefly about Eugenia Cheng's latest, "Beyond Infinity":

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:

...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:

2)  Thoughtful physicist/author Carl Rovelli on Krista Tippett's "On Being" radio show this week:

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:

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

7)  Ben Orlin teaches lines:

8)  The 'connectedness' of mathematical areas, via John Cook:

9)  There's some math buried in the curve of a child's early speech learning (h/t Adam Kucharski):

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: