...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 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:

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Short-ish Potpourri

Between pickleball and what passes for politics in this country I’ve been pretty distracted this week, so a short potpourri:

1)  Futility Closet posed this classic logic problem:

2)  Math and music from Marcus du Sautoy:

3)  A(nother) guide to null hypothesis testing:

4)  “Likeable primes”…:

5)  My only post of the week touched on “fuzzy logic” with Bart Kosko HERE, and if you enjoyed that there's a much longer (2 hr.) audio piece with Kosko and Art Bell (yes, THAT Art Bell) from 2009 below (it's very good, covering a lot of interesting, interlocking topics):

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

1)  Fake news… we’ve only just begun (…aka, we’re screwed):

2) …and ICYMI, for any who still don’t believe in karma ;) :

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Math Mishmash To End the Week

Math to enjoy after 33 weeks of Amateur Hour in the Oval Office and on the golf course:

1)  Very brief article touching on math learning and ‘linguistic relativity’:

2)  “Persiflage” gets a few things off their chest:

3)  The September “Carnival of Mathematics” blog entry awaits you:

4)  “Computational Complexity” takes on a “FiveThirtyEight” Riddler problem:

5)  A nice listing of some math YouTube channels:

6)  Blackboards instead of desks…:

7)  Tim Gowers on the recent account of two infinities found to be equal:

…he may have been inspired in part by John Baez’s critical take here:

8)  Someone named Evelyn Lamb wrote some math this week (as she’s been known to do), including this piece on the work of Michael Pershan:

…speaking of which, a new interview (covering some diverse ground) from AMS with Dr. Lamb here:

9)  Keith Devlin pays tribute to Jonathan Borwein:

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

1)  Seems like every week now I have a favorite tweet (and followup comments), and this week it may be this one:

2)  ICYMI, the end of Project Cassini to Saturn, as reported here:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Some Mathy Reading for the Weekend

The nation presses on through week 32 of Trumpian antics… and the math bits continue coming:

1)  Mathologer, covering a lot of ground in 15 minutes:

2)  A compendium of math games (h/t Sherri Burroughs):

3)  Two doses of Ben Orlin in a single week (I feel like a glutton):

4)  NY Times obituary for the father of ‘fuzzy logic’ (h/t Steve Strogatz):

5)  The latest London Mathematical Society Newsletter available online here (h/t Peter Cameron):

…and latest issue of “The Variable” from the Saskatchewan Mathematics Teachers’ Society (h/t Egan Chernoff):

6)  H/T to Keith Devlin for tweeting out “please read” this March post by Tracy Zager (read the comments as well) on the interplay of math and language:

7)  Taxicab geometry via Futility Closet:

8)  Robert Talbert’s one-year plan for converting to flipped learning:

9)  An introduction, from Deborah Mayo, to Charles Peirce’s take on induction:
[p.s… for anyone deeply interested in Peirce’s work, Jon Awbrey’s blog often addresses it:

10)  The one-and-only Jordan Ellenberg is featured this week on the “My Favorite Theorem” podcast, and he explains a linkage between Fermat's Little Theorem and Pascal's Triangle:

11)  Brian Hayes' latest book of essays, "Foolproof, and Other Mathematical Meditations" should start showing up in bookstores any day now.

On a side note, lest anyone hasn't heard, by the time you read this, and after a 13-year journey of discovery, the Cassini spacecraft will have crashed into planet Saturn this morning, with a lot of coverage on the Web (not of the actual crash event).

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

1)  Well, this Twitter thread gave me waaay more laughs than I was expecting:

2)  For sheer entertainment, a Japanese Rube Goldberg machine on steroids:

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Math Potpourri Before the Storm

Having pressed through week 32 of Trumpian antics, the math bits continue coming:

1)  A Gödelian primer:

2)  Evelyn Lamb on “Public Domain Math”:

3)  Popularity of baby names:

4)  Only a little math amongst a slew of cognitive topics brought together in this long Scott Alexander book review of “Surfing Uncertainty”:

5)  Peter Cameron on p-values and Bayes:

6)  Ben Orlin’s great tribute to his own colleagues (…while also making an important point about math education):

7)  H/T to Steve Strogatz for citing this instructive old algebraic Quora post:

8)  For those who enjoy such things John Urschel is doing a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" edition TODAY at 2pm EDT.

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

1)  By now most of you have probably seen the letter left by President Obama for the incoming president before Donny Trump turned the Oval Office into a tawdry caricature of what it once was:

2)  For pickleball fans, a compilation of some great rallies:

[...And lastly, good luck to all of you in Irma's path in the days immediately ahead.]

Friday, September 1, 2017

First Potpourri of September

Assuming by now that you’ve dried your eyes over the loss of Sebastian Gorka from this White House after 31 despotic weeks (...Sad), I’ll pass along a few miscellaneous math reads:

1)  Steve Strogatz’s lectures on “Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos” available here:

2)  A primer on quantum computing:

3)  Journals (including math journals) ‘behaving badly’:

4)  Anthony Bonato offers a quick introduction to P vs. NP:
(p.s...: for anyone who didn't hear, the recent claim to a proof has been retracted)

5)  I was writing a post about the absurdity (or at least misunderstanding) of phrases like “1 in a 100-year flood” or now “1 in a 500-year flood” — but then Maggie Koerth-Baker covered it at FiveThirtyEight (though I’d be even harsher than she about phrases where the variables can’t even be adequately catalogued or defined, let alone measured):

6)  A new episode from the “Relatively Prime” podcast:

7)  Cool!... going live with "An #MTBoS Story" in front of 80 colleagues:

8)  Mathematical mutants and self-organization via "Mathematics Rising":

9)  On Tuesday I asked about the Collatz conjecture, and am still interested in any further ‘backstory’ if anyone has something to pass along.

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

1)  A long, wonderful read from Scott Alexander on research and IRBs:
(...and a bunch of followup comments/stories to his post HERE.)

2)  And finally, in the category of ‘things-I-stumbled-upon-while-bopping-around-the-web-that-I’d-never-heard-of-before’ this performance on a “Chapman stick”:

p.s…: If any math communicator out there would like to be interviewed here let me know. Maybe you have a book or project to promote, or just want to further publicize a blog or website, or you just have a story you’d like to tell; whatever! Contact me at SheckyR{AT}gmail…

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Weekly Math-mix

Week 30 with our now Bannon-less President has come & gone.
The math keeps on coming:

1)  Ilona Vaschyshyn is “sick of viral math”:

2)  Math isn't just useful, it’s also amazing, fun, exhilarating, fascinating, beautiful (via Eugenia Cheng):

3)  Podcast #3 from Evelyn Lamb and Kevin Knudson available at Evelyn’s blog here:

4)  Emily Riehl is interviewed, in part on category theory:

5)  Andrew Gelman with a research/analysis proposal, separating data-reporting and analysis:

6)  Cathy O’Neil’s 13-min. TED Talk on big data has now been posted:

7)  Here’s a nice collection of classroom management posts:

8)  New 3-part series on math and the brain from PBS’sInfinite Series” begins here:

9)  Over at Math-Frolic I did 4 quickie posts in a row this week: a Sunday reflection, a puzzle, a parody, and a musing over statues.

10) Wonderful AMS interview with Kelsey Houston-Edwards, host of the PBS’s “Infinite Series,” mentioned above:

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

1)  If you missed the eclipse totality, National Geographic & Cara Santa Maria were there to share it with you:

2)  And speaking of the eclipse, see Americans really ARE interested in science (h/t Jennifer Ouellette):


p.s…: Did ya all notice this week that a couple of those who resigned from Trump's Administration (…such as it is), ‘encrypted’ messages into their letters of resignation. Seems like something we might all start doing, even in blog posts…

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Helping of Potpourri

It’s August 2017 and I’m being distracted by Nazis in America… who’d-a-thunk-it! 
Anyway, a little bit of math, after week 29 under our Aryan President:

1)  Another new mathy podcast:

2) Of ants and math… who knew!:

3)  Fawn Nguyen talks classroom management:

4)  John Baez’s initial comments on a new P vs. NP proof (that's not expected to survive scrutiny):
…a longer take on it here:

5)  At least two new popular math books worth a mention:
Significant Figures” from Ian Stewart
…and “Arithmetic” from Paul Lockhart

6)  Brand-spanking new from James Propp, in case your knowledge of Arthur Engel and ‘chip firings’ is a bit shallow: 
…see also his ‘Barefoot MathYouTube site:

7)  Patrick Honner offers a primer on symmetry via Quanta Magazine:

8)  Need more to read?… Peter Cameron recently pointed out the latest edition (June) of the European Mathematical Society’s newsletter:
(...includes a longish, somewhat different take on "Mathematics and Music" beginning on pg. 41)

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

1)  Timely: folks have been passing around Annie Dillard’s 1982 essay, “Total Eclipse”:

2)  I don’t generally read older philosophers anymore, but Scott Aaronson recently recommended that everyone read John Stuart Mill’s “The Subjection of Women” (60 pgs.), saying  “Everyone should read it carefully and reflect on it if they haven’t already.” So maybe I’ll try to get to it this weekend:

HAPPY eclipse-watching everybody!, and ohh, maybe just one last thing for the week:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Some Math Bits

Week #28 of the Trumpocalypse came and went, and so far not a single nuclear exchange has transpired… so on with some math:

1) Explaining Gödel to lay folks:

2)  From Will Gervais one of the more fun, entertaining, and thoughtful reads I’ve come across since the whole psychology-replication issue hit the fan:

3)  If you love baseball… and Paul Erdös, you’ll love this Numberphile episode from a few days back:

4)  Kevin Hartnett reports on two new ‘rare mathematical jewels’:

5)  An interview with always-exuberant James Grime:
(…it reminded me of one of my earliest interviews which was also with James:

6)  A rough year for a math teacher:
…I wish I felt more confident that the next 3 will be any better :(

8)  I offered up a quick list of my favorite books for a desert isle… or, more likely a Trump-induced exile:

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

1) Last weekend, NPR’s RadioLab re-ran their incredible story of Lucy… the chimp… but by the end have some kleenex ready:

2) Peter Woit worries over the current state of physics/cosmology/science: