This blog just moved! →
Two big announcements: This blog is moving to wordpress. Go to mathforlove.com/blog to read it in its new location. I’m starting math circles, math salons, and expanding my tutoring practice in Seattle. You can check the whole operation out at mathforlove.com. From now on this tumblr blog will serve as an archive. See you at mathforlove.com!!
The area of a circle, we know, is A = (pi)*r*r, where r is the radius of the...– Petr Beckmann, A History of Pi
I’m on vacation in Yellowstone this week, visiting my amazing girlfriend Katherine. She’s also a mathematician, but she’s much more than that. Since I won’t be updating with any long posts for a few more days, I’d like to refer you to her blog, which records her adventures on her bike trip from Banff, Canada to the U.S.-Mexico border. If anyone is still holding...
The Valedictory Speech
Thanks to my sister, Zoe, for blogging about Erica Goldson’s incredible, devastating valedictory speech, available here, and also copied to the bottom of this blog post. It’s always powerful for me to see my father’s words; they’re so often surprising, challenging, and inspiring. I don’t think I have much to add at the moment. This speaks for itself. Here I stand ...
2 Probability Puzzles
Here’s a really neat puzzle that Paulos mentions in Innumeracy, which I’m now in the middle of, answered by von Neumann. The second, since we’re on the topic of probability, I can’t resist putting in since it’s my favorite coin problem of all time: What’s a way to make a fair game with an unfair coin? Say the coin is skewed so that it lands on heads 60% of the...
Of the stacks of math and pop math and math & culture books now cluttering my table, I just opened one and laughed out loud. The book is Innumeracy, by John Allen Paulos, and and the discussion was about the relative danger of different threats. Which should we be more worried about? Choking to death on a piece of food. Getting killed by terrorists on a trip abroad Dying in a car accident ...
My doppelganger heard the starting gun go off...
You’re going to see a shallow, petty side of me in this blog. I know that there is a tremendous need to bring the beauty of math to the culture at large, and that I can’t do it alone.I know that a lot of intelligent, passionate people are working on the issue, and that there’s room for all of us. Still, I feel a little possessive when people horn in too closely on what I think...
This post is an addendum to the last post
Great comments in the last post! In the spirit of self referential comedy, I have to include one of the suggestions mentioned there: If you go to the original comic, you get an extra self referential joke in the rollover.
The courage to dream
One reason it’s exciting to be in education right now is that business (well, some business) is on the side of great education. A great team, and tons of meaty problems to solve. … It’s open, collaborative. … We’re facing problems that are pretty unusual. … We take the smartest and most passionate team-oriented people we can find and put them in an environment where they can thrive. We...
Free At Last
If you want to see someone really committed to freedom in education, check out Free At Last: The Sudbury Valley School, which you can read online at the link, if you want. I went there for the first chapter, on teaching arithmetic, but stayed for the later chapters. But read that first chapter, with the surprise at the end. Consider how amazing it is that students could learn six years of...
It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means...– Laplace
Nice to see a well balanced prodigy. →
Big news on P vs NP?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Millenium Problems, the seven $1,000,000 prize math problems. They’re pretty hard. In fact, I kind of assumed we’d see one solved every forty or fifty years. Well, an eccentric Russian named Grigori Perelman solved one already (the Poincare Conjecture). And now someone (his name is Deolalikar) has taken a serious shot at the P vs NP problem....
There's no sport in blowing minds anymore
You can use math to blow people’s mind so easily and so casually that it almost feels unfair. I had the pleasure of doing so tonight at a volunteer orientation meeting at the Puget Sound Community School, a pretty awesome Seattle school in the tradition of the Sudbury Valley School (see my earlier post). I’ve been chatting with them about coming in some Friday and teaching some cool...
I made it part way through the newest of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movies last night. I stopped right after the pivotal moment where the supercomputer gives the answer to life, the universe, and everything: 42. When they ask what the story is, the supercomputer points out that they never really gave it the question. Forty-two is the right answer, no doubt, but finding the question...
Forest Fires →
This is a cute java applet that illustrates a mathematical phenomenon known as percolation, which has a lot of applications in the real world. If you can actually measure the chance that a fire will jump from one tree to the next (a chance the applet gives you the option to set), it ends up having very meaningful outcomes for the entire forest. For example, try setting the probability of the fire...
"They lost interest because they stopped asking...
Perhaps you saw the recent Newsweek article on creativity. It’s worth reading, and while I’ll leave the statistics and arguments in the article (creativity can be measured kind of reasonably; creativity scores in the U.S. are declining, but scores in the rest of the world are rising; most schools are educating in a way that squashes creativity, etc.), but I want to include the...
Feel the numbers →
Sometimes big numbers are hard to understand. Artist Chris Jordan has developed one of the coolest art displays ever to help comprehend just how big the numbers that we hear in the news are, and what they feel like. Click on the images to zoom in when you get to his website. This is one of the best art series I have ever seen.
Problems on the Board II: Simplify!
I asked a pair of girls (age 8 and 9) I tutor to ask questions about the chessboard, and got another really great lesson out of it, this one highlighting the importance of making things simple. With a little prompting, we came up with a nice list of questions: How many squares are there on the chess board? How many squares of any size? How many rectangles? How many chessboards would it take...
A mathematician reads the New Yorker, or, math for... →
This week’s New Yorker features an article on voting, and it’s a good read. What does this have to do with mathematics? Well, mathematicians have been thinking about building the best kind of democracy for some time, and the unpleasant result is, it seems to be impossible to have a voting system that represents the people’s will perfectly. The actual mathematical result, known,...
Questions on the Board
The place: the reading room at Elliott Bay Books. Large but with no natural light, and imperfect lighting. The time: this afternoon at 1:30. The crew: 7 kids, in the 2-4th grade range. If art requires inspiration, and math is an art, then my job is, in part, to provide inspiration. I brought in a chessboard. We warmed up with the handshake problem, and then I presented the board. What are...
Announcement: A Math Circle for 2-4 graders.
When: Tuesday, July 13, 1:30pm-3pm Where: The reading room at Elliott Bay Books, 10th and Pine in Capitol Hill. What: An opportunity for kids to explore some of the best stuff in mathematics with a working mathematician. Cost: $25. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in joining us. If you’d like to know more about me, check out my tutoring website, or...
The Hankering (Knots)
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before I felt the need, the yen, the hankering for some mathematical activity again. To that end, I borrowed my girlfriend’s copy of The Knot Book by Colin C. Adams. It’s about knots. More specifically, it’s about knot theory, which was a pretty hip subfield of topology last I checked. In other words, studying knots is a serious...
How to Survive in Your Native Land II
The theme of the book, if we get down to it, is honesty in teaching. No question why it’s aggravating sometimes and inspiring others, why this guy Herndon grates on your nerves with his pompousness and his insistence that he’s got some way to do it, even when he’s more than forthcoming about his failures, failure after failure, and how he seems to cling to a vision that...
A Sort of Maze →
When I was a child, I went through a period of maze drawing. There was something deeply compelling to me in the question of how anyone can tell the good direction from the bad. They were a stand in for all kinds of creative activities, where the choice seemed, well, random. Try writing a melody. You have some finite number of choices for what the next note will be. Choose right, and you end up...
There was a blithe certainty that came from first comprehending the full...– Gregory Benford, Timescape
I inherited from my dad a bookshelf of books on teaching, many of which were written in the sixties and seventies and feel as anachronistically radical as, say, the Declaration of Independence (…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it[!!!]). I’m reading How to Survive in Your Native Land now, but I just...
From Problem to Question to Proof to Problem
I just had an absolutely wonderful meeting with a student I’m working with, a second grader by the name of Millan. The kid is a natural mathematician, and a joy to work with. Allow me to describe what happened today. Every time we meet, he brings me a question; this is his central duty in between our meetings. In the past he’s asked me questions about cutting slices of spheres...
For a limited time, you can listen to this series...
You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a...– Plato
Thesis and conference
Last Thursday, I defended my thesis. The process was challenging, in that I have a tendency to be casual with certain details, and in this context I was called to task over each one of these. Most unexpected was being caught about a misplaced minus sign (not what you expect to be caught on in this context). Basically, I only cared if there was an arrow, but a member of my committee wanted to know...
Why so few posts of late?... a thesis synopsis
Perhaps you’ve noticed the dearth of blogging lately here at mathforlove. Here’s the story: I’m defending my thesis—“On the Number of FM Partners of a K3 Surface”—this Thursday afternoon, so at the moment, I’m ensconced in preparation. Or I would be, had I not also gotten sick this past week, and been pretty much knocked out. But not to worry!...
New Blog From an Old Colleague
Avery Pickford is a teacher I used to work with. He regularly beat me at scrabble (and I’m pretty formidable in most crowds), and he taught me ultimate tic-tac-toe, where you add a box after every turn, and need to get four in a row to win. Now, he’s just started a blog. The first entries include a description of what makes great problems great and a call for questions. Welcome to the...
Assume a spherical villain →
The End of Strogatz's Series in the Times →
It’s been a nice run, and tremendously well received. Here’s the last installment of Steve Strogatz’s New York Times math articles. This one actually tries to prove that there are different sizes of infinity. It’s a tricky argument, but if you stick with it, I think it can be followed.
Speaking of TED talks, this is a brilliantly funny way to use statistics to… design a TED talk.
Addendum to post on a free education →
I just found this effort to use TED talks as high school curriculum. Nice idea.