...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, October 27, 2017

Some Math From the Week

A week with liddle Republicans coming apart at the seams, and Melania Trump, drenched-to-the-bone in irony, speaking of a campaign (LOL) against bullying, and our own Gov’t., in a demonstration of why so many revile it and see neo-fascism as an appealing alternative, deciding that 25 years just wasn’t enough time to figure out how to release a trove of JFK documents as ordered to by law. (What else can’t possibly be accomplished in 25 years? I mean other than healthcare, tax reform, fair re-districting, gun control, banking reform, truth-in-advertising, climate change regulation...). Is it any longer a surprise that so many voters perceive government workers as lazy, incompetent, pencil-pushers, and Steve Bannon thinks his future looks bright...
'This too shall pass'... or, maybe not.
Oh well, some bits of math from the week:

1)  The Cantor Set and more explained:

2)  Caltech’s Barry Simon wins Heineman Prize for mathematical physics:

3)  This week’s Futility Closet podcast highlighted Swedish mathematician Arne Beurling:

4)  H/T to Cathy O’Neil for pointing out this piece on possible problems in a complex DNA testing algorithm:

5)  There are so many fantastic free math instructional videos around these days… and yet Grant Sanderson still seems to have advanced to a league of his own. I hope you all are keeping up with his incredible offerings at 3blue1brown:

It will be interesting to see if we witness a significant increase in math majors and basic math literacy in the future just because of all the great content now freely available online at people’s fingertips.

6)  The 150th Carnival of Mathematics is now up at:

7)  Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder has a new book on the way next year, “Lost In Math”:

8)  Prices at Whole Foods:

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

1) The 11-min. ‘Prologue’ (with a female airline pilot) to last week’s “This American Life” was pretty dang entertaining:

2)  Perhaps my favorite tweet from this week:

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Very Few Math Bits From the Week

Some of the math bits that interrupted this week's stream of demagoguery:

1)  Alex Bellos’ latest book, “Puzzle Ninja”:
(I don’t believe it’s in American bookstores yet, and when it is, may show up under a different title as British math books often do)

2)  Just in time for your next cocktail chatter… ;) David Butler tweeted this week: “For every prime after 66600049, you can cross out some of its digits and find a smaller prime.

3)  For “World Maths Day,” The Royal Society highlights 66 mathematicians:

4)  Our computer overlords are on the way… a couple of write-ups on the stunning progress of AlphaGoZero:

5)  The Pythagorean Theorem as you may not have seen it discussed before (from “Better Explained”):

6)  Brand new issue of Chalkdust magazine now online:

7)  Arguing in favor of research p-values < 0.005:

8)  In a week when I didn't expect to have much to post at Math-Frolic, I ended up with 3 posts, including today involving Scott Aaronson.

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

1)  Steven Wright quotes (just because):

2)  And as we all know nothing is written in stone… er, uh, ohh, wait….

Friday, October 13, 2017


It's Friday the 13th; what could be more fitting than having Donny Trump as president...
Oh well, here's some math:

1)  The “power pose” and more (or less):

2)  And relatedly, also from Gelman, I suspect anyone involved in psychology or social science research, ought read this post (and comments):

3)  Meanwhile Kaiser Fung warns about the ubiquity of fake data:

4)  Lot of talk about neural networks these days, which has John Cook worried about the problem of ‘overfitting’ the data:

5)  Transcribed interview with Dr. Holly Krieger here:

6)  Devilishly-tricky little problem from Futility Closet:

7)  And this lovely little problem from Ed Southall:
(some nice explanations in comments)

8)  You just never know what Ben Orlin will teach you about next:

9)  I wouldn’t normally bother citing yet another piece on the Monty Hall Problem… except that this one is from Keith Devlin and connects it to the more general backsliding of scientific thinking evident in today’s citizenry:

10) I reported on Brian Hayes’ new book, “Foolproof,” last weekend:

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

1)  Krista Tippett with Daniel Kahneman on “On Being” last weekend:

2)  Lastly, in important news of the week, kneeling at the national anthem may be problematic, but maybe flipping the bird at it is constitutionally-protected:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Overview... "Foolproof, and Other Mathematical Meditations"

"Mathematics is too important and too much fun to be left to the mathematicians." 
                             -- first sentence of Brian Hayes' Preface to his new volume

One of my favorite Murphy Law corollaries states, “Nothing can be made foolproof because fools are so damn ingenious”... while the quote doesn't pertain to Brian Hayes' new book, it was the first thing I thought of upon seeing his offering. ;) The quote, I think, does pertain to the world we live in, and Hayes is nothing, if not an astute observer of that world.  “Foolproof and Other Mathematical Meditations” is a compendium of 13 updated versions of previously-published Hayes' essays with the “Foolproof” essay actually being the last, and one of the most enjoyable, of the slim volume. But before I say more, let me digress further…

A common joke when I was growing up reading Scientific American, was that the magazine was just a wrapper for getting Martin Gardner’s monthly column into your mailbox. No doubt there literally were some readers who subscribed to the magazine just for Gardner's column. His writing was succinct, descriptive, intriguing, on topics that were unpredictable from month-to-month. Another reason I think many loved Gardner was that he was NOT a mathematician (if memory serves me right he never even took an academic math class after high school) — it gave some hope that non-professional math enthusiasts could still contribute to the field or at least communicate some math to others (in the sciences usually astronomy is often cited as one of the only areas where ‘amateurs’ have a fair chance of making a significant contribution).

Anyway, I mention all this now because Brian Hayes’ writing, to my sense, has the ring of Gardner’s popular writing. In fact, when I interviewed Hayes awhile back, I specifically asked if he consciously copied Gardner’s style (he overlapped with Gardner, working at Scientific American). He admitted, like so many, being a huge fan of Gardner, but said he never deliberately tried to mimic Gardner’s craft — but took my question as the compliment it was meant to be. Still, as I read these ‘Foolproof’ essays I could almost hear Gardner’s voice in the background. Martin’s writing was more “recreational,” perhaps even casual, while Hayes has a more technical or academic bent to it, but still the style and step-by-step presentation are similar. And the resemblance goes beyond their meticulous exposition, as Hayes too is not a professional mathematician, just a sort of dabbler in it, who like Gardner, is unpredictable in what topic may capture his interest next.

Enough about all that. Hayes' new book is a delight… with one shortcoming: at 200 pages and 13 essays it is too SHORT. I don’t know what the criteria was for essays that made it into this volume, but plenty of good Hayes material is left out.

Every offering here contains interesting little gems or tidbits that I suspect a math teacher could incorporate into a classroom discussion at the middle or high school level, while also containing many bits for the professional mathematician to mull over. Computer science is Hayes’ specialty, so several of the pieces are focused there. My own favorites, in addition to “Foolproof" though are the more mathematically-inclined pieces, including: “The Spectrum of Riemannium,” “Playing Ball in the nth Dimension,” and “Quasirandom Ramblings.” But your own favorites will depend on your own proclivities as Hayes jumps around from one wild, quirky musing to another, on biography, method, pure and applied math: Gauss, arithmetic, Sudoku, space-filling curves, statistics, Markov chains, pi, computer software, randomness, math history, the abc conjecture, and more are here… almost always dipping in deep enough at some point to make you slow down in order to grasp what he's positing.

This rich, mind-stretching book has come along at a time when I was feeling a bit frustrated by the lack of “generalist” popular math books showing up this year (plenty of books appealing to narrower niches), and will certainly be among my favorites from the last 12 months. Reading it reminds me a bit of what they say about Chinese meals… each essay here felt deep and satisfying while reading it, yet an hour later I was hungry for more! ;)

Finally, Hayes’ dedication for the book reads: “To the mathematics community that has taught me and charmed me.” He constantly returns that charm in spades.

Friday, October 6, 2017

1st Potpourri of October

Incredible as it seems, we’re now into October and Donald Trump remains President of the U.S.  Oyyy...
Anyway, some math from the week:

1)  Another brilliant math mind lost to us too soon last week, Vladimir Voevodsky at age 51:
h/t to Nalini Joshi for tweeting this fascinating 2013 Julie Rehmeyer piece on Voevodsky’s work:

2)  RJ Lipton and KW Regan pay tribute to Voevodsky and the even younger demise of Michael Cohen here:

3)  If you missed it, this math meme was making the rounds last week:
Solve carefully!
     230 - 220 x 0.5 =    ?     

You probably won't believe it, but the answer is 5!
[If the explanation doesn’t hit you in a few moments, look it up; shouldn’t be too hard find on Web.]

4)  A post sharing resources on the topic of ‘mathematics and music’:

5)  Evelyn Lamb’s latest “Tinyletter”:

6)  A new quite surprising paradox, “the bingo paradox”:

7)  Of Gelman’s 58 posts this week (…ok, so I exaggerate a bit) this one was probably my favorite (but only if you’re not sick of hearing about p-values, a topic he admits he’s “blogging to death”):

8)  Numberphile connects Fibonacci to Mandelbrot:

9)  Bit of an update on traveling salesman problem:

10)  H/T to Mike Lawler and Drew Lewis for calling attention to this interesting discussion (of a meme I had ignored because, as Alon Amit says, so many of these memes are trivial… but not this one):

11)  3Blue1Brown on neural networks (new video):

12)  and speaking of videos, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Physics In Maths” is a new hour-long video several folks pointed out this week:

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

1)  If you didn’t hear it, this RadioLab treatment of the ’Trolley car problem,’ may be worth a listen:

2)  The always-interesting “Best-illusion-of-the-year” contest is back for 2017: