Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fawnzie Nguyen…

Yesterday afternoon I noticed my Twitter feed popping up with accolades for Fawn Nguyen’s keynote address to the Northwest Mathematics Conference. Unfortunately, it wasn’t recorded so those of us not in attendance have missed out.
I don’t have anything special in the works for posts this week, so it seems like a good time to refer any readers who have never read it to my 2014 interview with Fawn, which has always been one of my favorite interviews here (especially since at the time I knew relatively little about her). The same insightful, funny, inspiring spirit she exhibits on stage (and in writing and in the classroom and on Twitter) comes through I think in her answers here:

Also, in the interview I asked her about her favorite own postings of all time and she referenced just one (from 2012), which if you’ve not read before, you must:

Worth noting too that Ms. Nguyen has a book on teaching math coming out in the future.

p.s.… Twitter posters yesterday kept referring to the “last line” of Fawn’s keynote (apparently very memorable and powerful!), but I don’t know what it was??? :-(
So hey, can someone tell us what that line was with maybe enough context to get a full sense of it (or will it not carry as much weight without hearing the talk preceding?). Or, maybe Fawn or someone else can post a transcript of her keynote. Puhhh-leeeeze!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Darkness of Axioms

A little Sunday reflection from Bernhard Riemann:
“It is well known that geometry presupposes not only the concept of space but also the first fundamental notions for constructions in space as given in advance. It only gives nominal definitions for them, while the essential means of determining them appear in the form of axioms. The relationship of these presumptions is left in the dark; one sees neither whether and in how far their connection is necessary, nor a priori whether it is possible. From Euclid to Legendre, to name the most renowned of modern writers on geometry, this darkness has been lifted neither by the mathematicians nor the philosophers who have laboured upon it.” 

Friday, October 13, 2017


End of another crappy week for America, democracy being dismantled day-by-day; will just re-reference a previous post from 5+ months ago…:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Art of Mathematics

Sunday thought:
“Guided only by their feeling for symmetry, simplicity, and generality, and an indefinable sense of the fitness of things, creative mathematicians now, as in the past, are inspired by the art of mathematics rather than by any prospect of ultimate usefulness.” —E. T. Bell

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

American Tune...

Had no idea that Eva Cassidy had ever recorded Paul Simon's "American Tune"... until today:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Of Birds and Frogs

A well-known passage from Freeman Dyson today:
"Some mathematicians are birds, others are frogs. Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon. They delight in concepts that unify our thinking... Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time. I happen to be a frog, but many of my best friends are birds."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fuzzy Thinking

Lofti Zadeh, the “father of fuzzy logic,” died earlier this month -- yes, "fuzzy logic" had a more technical meaning long before the current White House place-holder took office ;)
One of Zadeh's students was Bart Kosko, a scientist/engineer/author whose writings I’ve enjoyed previously (if you’re not familiar with ‘fuzzy logic,’ his older book, "Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic" is an easy introduction). 
I recommended to folks on Twitter a couple days ago to listen to him on late-night “Coast To Coast” talk radio where he was appearing (a show I don’t often recommend!). Then, I myself missed most of that program, but to recompense I looked him up on YouTube to see what might be available, and found this 10-minute piece easily suitable for a lay audience:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vintage Erdös

In 1953, Paul Erdös was invited to spend a year teaching at the University of Notre Dame. In his volume, “My Brain Is Open” Bruce Schechter relays the following story:
“Erdös was an avowed atheist, and his friends at Notre Dame enjoyed teasing him about his working at a Roman Catholic university. ‘He said in all seriousness that he liked being there very much,’ Melvin Henriksen, a colleague from those days, recalled, ‘and especially enjoyed discussions with the [priests].’ Only one thing bothered him. ‘There were too many plus signs,’ he irreverently remarked."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Intrepid Math

Anthony Bonato’s “The Intrepid Mathematician” blog has caught my attention several times this week:

1) Interesting post on some neuroscience of math versus language:

2)  He’s  posted two interviews this week with wonderful mathematicians:
Maria Chudnovsky HERE and
Ken Ono HERE

3)  And today, this news on Ramsey Theory:

4)  I’m not much of a film buff myself, but if you are, you may want to additionally read his post on math and science in the movies here:

Read up!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Sphere In Any Other Dimension Is Still A Sphere

Can spheres be spiky? According to Matt Parker yes they can, once you escape your puny 3-dimensional world:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Healthy Mathematics

This Sunday reflection from Ian Stewart in the 2nd edition (1992) of “The Problems of Mathematics”:
“Some observers have professed to detect, in the variety and freedom of today’s mathematics, symptoms of decadence and decline. They tell us that mathematics has fragmented into unrelated specialties, has lost its sense of unity, and has no idea where it is going. They speak of a ‘crisis’ in mathematics, as if the whole subject has collectively taken a wrong turning. There is no crisis. Today’s mathematics is healthy, vigorous, unified, and as relevant to the rest of human culture as it ever was… If there appears to be a crisis, it is because the subject has become too large for any single person to grasp… today’s mathematics is not some outlandish aberration: it is a natural continuation of the mathematical mainstream. It is abstract and general, and rigorously logical, not out of perversity, but because this appears to be the only way to get the job done properly. It contains numerous specialties, like most sciences nowadays, because it has flourished and grown. Today’s mathematics has succeeded in solving problems that baffled the greatest minds of past centuries. Its most abstract theories are currently finding new applications to fundamental questions in physics, chemistry, biology, computing, and engineering. Is this decadence and decline? I doubt it.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Measuring Infinities

Fantastic article from Quanta Magazine (Kevin Hartnett) about new findings/proof of the equivalency of two variant infinities — actually findings published a year ago; am amazed it’s just now reaching the wider press (at least I’d not heard about this ’til now!):

Part of what makes the proof interesting (IF I understand matters correctly) is that it didn't require any re-statement of fundamental set theory, but only a bringing together of disparate math models that had not been linked up before. Even if you (like me) don't understand the details of the finding, just recognizing that a 50+ year problem has been resolved is very exciting. The solvers, Maryanthe Malliaris and Saharon Shelah, received the Hausdorff Medal for their work earlier this year.

…In a bit of irony, the above article got tweeted out yesterday on the very anniversary of the death of David Foster Wallace whose book on infinity, “Everything and More,” I've discussed earlier here:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quantitative Literacy

According to a recent study, 36 percent of college students don’t significantly improve in critical thinking during their four-year tenure. 'These students had trouble distinguishing fact from opinion, and cause from correlation,' Goldin explained.
The above words from mathematician/statistician Rebecca Goldin come near the beginning of this new piece in Quanta Magazine:

The title of the piece is “Why Math Is the Best Way To Make Sense of the World.” I fear the title may be the very sort that turns people away from it, or at least many of those who most need to read it — just mention 'math' in some sort of positive light and a lot of the ‘I-was-never-any-good-at-math’ folks will turn away out of disinterest :(
And if college-bound students aren’t gaining critical thinking skills over their 4-year sojourn, what can we expect of the non-college crowd who may have even less opportunity to be exposed to critical-thinking skills?
But critical thinking shouldn’t even begin with college; it should begin back in elementary school with language skills, which are themselves fundamentally entwined in critical thinking. Nonetheless, the above article (and interview with Goldin) is excellent and focused on the societal value of math and science at the university level -- there are several lines in it I’d love to quote, but just go read it for yourself and take to heart this central message: “…if we don’t have the ability to process quantitative information, we can often make decisions that are more based on our beliefs and our fears than based on reality.
Interestingly, this article appears at a time that topics like critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, innumeracy and the like are getting a fair amount of discussion in society, though I’m not confident that we’re even close to dispensing such skills to the population-at-large, nor to upcoming generations. In fact I fear quite the opposite; it may be too little too late in a digital world of speed, simplification, and reality-manipulation... hope I'm wrong, but the Machiavellians who plotted the path of our current Oval Office interloper knew all-too-well that appeals to base instincts could overcome appeals to critical thought. :(

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

ABC... A Baez Commentary

ICYMI, the more hardcore among you may want to see John Baez's recent commentary (and the comments that follow) on Mochizuki's "proof" of the ABC conjecture:

Mathematician Go Yamashita has written a 294-page "summary" of Mochizuki's 500-page inscrutable(?) proof... if that's any encouragement to you ;)

Here's a few lines of the summary as quoted by Baez:
"By combining a relative anabelian result (relative Grothendieck Conjecture over sub-p-adic felds (Theorem B.1)) and "hidden endomorphism" diagram (EllCusp) (resp. "hidden endomorphism" diagram (BelyiCusp)), we show absolute anabelian results: the elliptic cuspidalisation (Theorem 3.7) (resp. Belyi cuspidalisation (Theorem 3.8)). By using Belyi cuspidalisations, we obtain an absolute mono-anabelian reconstruction of the NF-portion of the base field and the function field (resp. the base field) of hyperbolic curves of strictly Belyi type over sub-p-adic fields (Theorem 3.17) (resp. over mixed characteristic local fields (Corollary 3.19))."
...Have at it!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Springtime For...

We’ve ended another wrenching week with this current unfit, anti-science, authoritarian, truth-warping, money-worshipping, law-disrespecting, ignorant, imperious, elitist, hedonistic, corrupt, coarse, Kafka-esque, foul, faux-Christian, thin-skinned, dysfunctional, despotic, deplorable, deceit-prone, delusional, demagogic, democracy-dismantling, disingenuous, ill-principled, nepotistic, police-state-leaning, patronizing, propagandistic, power-grasping, plutocratic, pompous, prissy, prevaricating, pathological, piggish, petty, Putin-obeying, phony, pathetic, prickish, press-bashing, bullying, BS-ing, bluster-driven, golddigger-harboring, shameful, pseudo-American, self-absorbed, simple-minded, scam-loving, swamp-infested, cerebrally-challenged, self-serving, snowflakey, non-stable, slacker, thuggish, tweet-obsessed, tax-evading, whiny, whistling-in-the-dark, roguish, reckless, Russian-colluding, Alpha-malevolent, NRA-owned, amateurish (and impeachable?), Aryan-embracing, odious, Emperor-without-clothes, routinely-ridiculed-as-clueless, treasonous, tin-pot dictatorial, jerkwad, bed-wetting, pussy-grabbing Regime (...but you didn't hear any of that from me), and somehow I feel compelled to again run this classic Jacob Bronowski clip:

...BUT, so as not to end on too sad a note, we'll close out sliding from Bronowski to Brooks:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Collatz… So what’s the history of it???

I see the always-intriguing Collatz conjecture going around a bit again on Twitter (as it seems to every few months), but just started wondering what the history/background of it is, which I’ve never seen much about, other than that it originated with Lothar Collatz maybe in the 1930s(?).
The simple statement of it, is that you take any positive integer and apply the following 2 rules iteratively:
  • If the number is even, divide it by two, or
  • If the number is odd, triple it and add one. (Then repeat.)
Doing so successively you will always conclude with a sequence of integers ending at 4, 2, 1 (...or so goes the conjecture).
People write a lot about the conjecture and continue to work on it, but what I’m wondering now is how did Collatz stumble upon those two specific iterative rules to begin with out of essentially an infinite number that might be imagined (even if many would pretty obviously not lead to anything interesting)? Or, you could even come up with 3 iterative rules! Or, or, or… Did he try LOTS of others… have other people since tried LOTS of others? Is there something unique about his two rules, as opposed to ANY others that might be concocted and have some interesting result?
Anyone know, or can point to some informative links?

...And for anyone who's missed it, here's a nice Numberphile introduction to the Collatz conjecture:

In the comments below Brian Hayes responds with this link to an old piece he wrote for Scientific American on the subject. Like other pieces, it’s largely analysis of the conjecture, written in Brian’s always-superb exposition, but there is a bit of history on page 12. He also references a piece by Lothar himself, but what I found most interesting in tracking it down, was seeing a number of folks say that though Lothar explored many iterative functions, he never actually claimed specific credit for the so-called 3N+1 problem that took on his own name!

And with all that said, what I’m still not clear about is whether the two conjecture rules involved in 3N+1 were arrived at primarily by sheer trial-and-error, or was there a more methodological/quantitative approach to hitting upon them?