...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, June 30, 2017


It's week #22 of America-as-a-global-laughingstock, and, here's a li'l math:

1)  Interview with Aussie mathematician David Roberts:

2)  A former child prodigy writes about the movie “Gifted” and being a math prodigy (h/t Jordan Ellenberg):

3)  Recommended books on game theory (h/t Emmanuel Derman):

4)  The Futility Closet podcast this week paid tribute to Paul Erdös:

5)  Confidence intervals and other statistical ranges:

6) John Baez reports on “Cleo”:

7)  Another wonderful math profile (from Quanta):

8) Robert Talbert on problems with the definition of “flipped learning”:

9)  New from Numberphile, mathematics vs. physics:

10)  Latest "Bulletin of the AMS" here (h/t Steve Strogatz):

11)  Gelman on Ioannidis and published research findings:
...and his own followup post here:

12)  Latest podcast from "Relatively Prime" is all about communicating mathematics:

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

1)  I've been rather distracted this week by a likely June 9th abduction case in central Illinois (near my original hometown) that gets odder as time goes on:

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Friday Math-mix

Week #21 of the Trump/Putin takeover:

1)  Something different from the unpredictable James Propp this month:

…speaking of Jim, he recently won a noble prize (well, seems noble to me anyway), writing about dinosaurs:

2) The tale of a ranking (guest post at mathbabe.org):

3)  A little mix of statistics, science, and philosophy (via Daniel Lakens):

4) Robert Talbert gives an overview of flipped learning and self-regulated learning:

5)  The double life of mathematician/football-star John Urschel (h/t Egan Chernoff):

6)  Tiling with Koch snowflakes (h/t John Baez):

7)  Followup to the Anna Haensch “refrain-from-discussing-mathematics” sign/tweet that went viral last week:

9)  A highlight of my week was interviewing professor/author Ed Scheinerman:

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

All I got for ya:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ed Scheinerman.... Seeing Masterpieces In Mathematics

Math-Frolic Interview #42

I fear that too many people’s mathematics education is devoid of joy. Imagine if children’s reading education focused primarily on  spelling and punctuation, but not on delights such as Harry Potter or creating stories of one’s own; that approach would hardly instill students with a love of literature.
-- Ed Scheinerman

Thus far, Dr. Ed Scheinerman's "The Mathematics Lover's Companion" is my favorite popular math book of this year. It's a buffet of somewhat typical math topics that are well-worn in other volumes, but Ed's specific mix and engaging writing style about what he views as "masterpieces" of math-thought, help raise the volume above most of its counterparts. The 23 chapter headings from the Table of Contents give you a hint of the content, but not of Ed's fresh, clear writing style (he has previously won awards from MAA for his expository writing):  

I definitely recommend the volume to budding math enthusiasts, and seasoned ones as well!
I was happy to get Dr. Scheinerman's responses to a few questions:


1) Just by way of introduction can you briefly recount your own path to becoming a professional mathematician?

From about grade 7 on I was very fortunate to have had excellent mathematics teachers. Geometry was almost entirely doing proofs; proof was a wholly unexpected concept for me and greatly sparked my interest. Of particular importance though was my 10th grade mathematics teacher, John Wells, who emphasized mathematics as a creative subject. He encouraged and supported my mathematical interests, including advocating my application to the Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics led by David Kelly. Attending that program was undoubtedly the most important catalyst in my path to becoming a mathematician.

[...currently, Dr. Scheinerman is a mathematics professor at Johns Hopkins University]

2)  Your prior writing seems to be mostly technical or academic in nature… what made you decide to write a “popular” math book, and who would you say the book is primarily written for?

I find that most people do not have a good sense of what mathematics is about. It seems to me that all the “good stuff” is left out of a typical high school curriculum. It is not unusual for me to meet people that know what a prime number is, but have no idea (and likely never considered) that there are infinitely many or how one can prove this. Showing that there are infinitely many primes is certainly accessible to high school students. 

We don’t teach English to students just so they can read instructions and write advertising copy. Were we to teach English the way we teach mathematics, we’d omit reading any Shakespeare and students would conflate spelling and literature, just as most people conflate arithmetic and mathematics. I recall (with horror) attending a presentation by a highly distinguished journalist who quipped that he “could never understand what an isosceles triangle was” and the audience laughed in agreement. 

My goal therefore is to provide a bit of an antidote: to present exciting mathematical topics that are accessible at the high school level that readers can enjoy.

3)  What might you say sets your book apart from many other volumes that cover similar topics… or why might someone familiar with these topics still enjoy reading your volume?

I tried in this book to “get to the point” for my reader. One can purchase entire books on (say) the number π but I sought to give my reader a “tasting menu” of great mathematics in which each chapter stands independent of the others. That way the reader can skip around, or put the book aside for a while to return later for another round of fun.

4)  What were some other subjects you considered for inclusion in the book, but in the end didn’t make the cut as math "masterpieces”?

I struggled mightily to write a chapter about the Axiom of Choice. I was not able to present it in a way that I thought my readers would find intelligible and interesting. I think it’s just too technical and the path to interesting consequences (e.g., nonmeasurable sets) too difficult for my intended audience.

5)  Who have been some of your own favorite “popularizers” of math over the years?

Without doubt one name stands above all others: Martin Gardner. I avidly read his Scientific American column and his many books.

[...Martin, a non-professional-mathematician, would no doubt be heartened, yet surprised, at how often his name comes up in this context!]

6)  The first two parts of the book essentially cover elements of algebra and geometry, fitting topics for a math volume, while Part 3 is about “Uncertainty” (a favorite topic of mine). Can you say a little about how that came to be the third big subject area of the book?

I must admit that the organization of the book arose after the chapters were written. I had (nearly) two dozen independent chapters and sought a way to arrange them. The broad headings of number, shape, and uncertainty worked.

7)  Do you have any further “popular” math books in mind to write?

Both I and my editor are encouraged by the positive reception this book has been getting (including a shout-out in the New York Times Review of Books) so I’m working on a Mathematics Lover’s Companion, Volume 2. My first chapter is written and it’s a “do it yourself” introduction about mathematical research that will demonstrate the process (including some of the frustration and then the joy) of mathematical discovery. It should be widely accessible even to folks whose algebra has completely rusted.

[...this is great to hear about!]


Thanks for the answers here Dr. Scheinerman; very much looking forward to your next volume (and hoping you find a way to include the Axiom of Choice! ;)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Potpourri of the Week

During week #20 of Donald Trump’s Emperorship:

1)  A new math/statistics blog from a graduate stats couple:

2)  What are complex numbers… I mean, really? (h/t to Jim Propp for this one):

3)  “The illegitimate open-mindedness of arithmetic”… (h/t to Joselle Keyhoe):

4)  Coordinate planes as only Ben Orlin would fancy them:

5)  Another commentary on math giftedness (h/t Cathy O’Neil):

6)  Another post on p-values and fake science results (h/t Stephen John Senn):

7)  Correlation vs. causation in “genome-wide association studies” (h/t Daniel Engber):

9)  I blurbed about a new book anyone into cryptograms will want to have:
…and on Wed. I passed along some puzzles:

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

1) The fascinating case of a former polygraph operator last week on This American Life:
This story actually comes from another great Web podcast series: Love + Radio 

2)  Last week’s TED Radio Hour included a replay of a favorite old segment with Mike Lowe explaining people’s success with “dirty jobs”:

And as long as I’m pushing podcasts, may as well remind folks that NPR’s wonderful “Invisibilia” is back for its third season:

Monday, June 12, 2017

For Alan Turing Wannabes

Newly showing up in bookstores, “Unsolved” by Craig Bauer will likely appeal to a wide audience — didn’t  ALL of us math-lovers at some time play with cryptograms as a kid… and many carried that interest into adulthood. And even many others, without a direct interest in math, carry a fascination with the mystery, game-playing, and intrigue of ciphers.
This is a 500+ page imposing volume from Princeton University Press.  Though I’m not particularly fascinated by cryptography in general, I found the chapters on some of the most famous/familiar cases (the Voynich Manuscript, the Zodiac killer, the Cicada internet ciphers) quite gripping. There’s hardly any actual math in the volume, but of course solving cryptographic messages is very much an activity of thinking mathematically, so I feel justified to speak of the book in the popular math category, and don’t doubt mathematicians will find it interesting (the author is a mathematician himself).

Included are a few ciphers that have been solved, as examples, but the book very much concentrates on UNsolved ones. So for those who like working on such things there’s loads of work/play here (and the volume has an associated website for even more followup; also toward book’s end the author casually mentions the possibility of an eventual 2nd volume coming out).  Most of these ciphers were new to me, though I suspect for those really plugged into this subject many will be very well known.
I found myself more engrossed in the contents of the volume than I’d expected because unsolved cryptographic messages (and the minds that create them) are so inherently interesting, and come in so many different forms/contexts; and they stretch across centuries right up to modern times and modern technologies. The book ends with a chapter on potential communication with extraterrestrials, and description of RSA cryptology. Worth noting also, that it is possible some of the ciphers included are hoaxes and utter nonsense, but even figuring that out would require great effort/detective work.

It will be interesting to see if a book like this, offering up these mysteries to a new hive-mind of readers, may produce some solutions in the near future to long-unsolved cases. And if you do solve any of them, the NSA may wish to talk with you about job opportunities ;)

 Here are a couple of older YouTube videos of author Bauer speaking on his topic:

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Math Keeps Comey, er, I mean Coming

Some of the math bits from week #19 of Donald Trump’s attempted lockdown of democracy:

1)  The latest Carnival of Math is ready to entertain and elucidate you here:

2)  Lie groups, E8, and communicating cutting edge math to the public:

3)  Squared squares from Numberphile and James Grime:

4)  An intro to Zipf’s Law:

5)  A new social media (“Mathstodon”), specifically for math buffs:

6) statistical evidence for research misconduct,” via Andrew Gelman:

7)  Here’s another review of what is so far my favorite popular math volume of the year:

8)  Mathematics and the real world of near-misses (yet another fun read from Evelyn Lamb):

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

1)  The always-interesting physicist Brian Greene with Krista Tippett on “On Being” last week:

2)  Some heavy discussion from Scott Aaronson and a sh*tLOAD of commenters on reductionism/causation/emergence:

Friday, June 2, 2017


It’s week #18 of America-held-hostage by Donald Trump (...or Steve Bannon?), and here are some math bits:

1)  Good interview over at Math Blog with some bloke named Keith Devlin:

2)  John Baez on set theory, forcing, and “set-theoretic geology”:

3)  A puzzle of Erdös’ revisited:

4)  Marcus du Sautoy with a very basic intro to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (via Numberphile):

5)  And another video... haven't carved out time to watch this yet, but if Mike Lawler recommends it I know it'll be good (from PBS's "Infinite Series"):

6)  A few connections between math and music:

7)  ICYMI, yesterday I noted some of the recent offerings from Princeton University Press of interest:

8)  Luckily Evelyn Lamb has come to the rescue of my short potpourri by putting out her latest “Tinyletter” edition yesterday with several more links (…but hopefully by now you get her monthly letter in your own email and don’t need me to remind you of it!):

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

1)  In follow-up to the recent hoax paper that made the rounds Jerry Coyne has now posted about another paper, from 2006, that reads like a (postmodern) hoax… but no indication it was:

2)  And this from the “language is awesome” category: