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Posts Tagged ‘Mathematics

“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”*…


As we’ve noted before, 2016 seemed a bumper year for the Grim Reaper.  Jason Crease tested that perception against the data…

It’s become cliché that unusually many prominent people died in 2016. Is this true?…

Find out at “Was 2016 especially dangerous for celebrities? An empirical analysis.

[Image above: source]

* François Rabelais


As we usher in the new, we might spare a thought for the first woman in the Western world considered to be a mathematician: Maria Gaetana Agnesi, she died this date in 1799.  While she thought and wrote broadly about natural science and philosophy, she is best remembered for her work in differential calculus– perhaps most particularly for her work on the cubic curve now know as the “witch of Agnesi.”


Written by LW

January 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made”*…


Hoss Cartwright, a former editor of the International Journal of Agricultural Innovations and Research, had a good excuse for missing the 5th World Congress on Virology last year: He doesn’t exist…

As grant funding and career advancement depend ever more heavily on publishing metrics, scientists are inventing “co-authors” with prestigious-sounding affiliations to give their papers more credibility with the journals to which they submit:  “Why fake data when you can fake a scientist?

* Groucho Marx


As we prune the pretenders, we might spare a thought for Persian polymath Omar Khayyam; the mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, epigrammatist, and poet died on this date in 1131.  While he’s probably best known to English-speakers as a poet, via Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of the quatrains that comprise the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Omar was one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period.  He is the author of one of the most important works on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle).  His astronomical observations contributed to the reform of the Persian calendar.  And he made important contributions to mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology, and Islamic theology.


Written by LW

December 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others”*…


Now more than ever:  Get a free logical fallacy poster.

* Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt


As we dedicate ourselves to discipline, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to John Wallis; he was born on this date in 1616.  An English mathematician who served as chief cryptographer for Parliament and, later, the royal court, he helped develop infinitesimal calculus and is credited with introducing the symbol ∞ for infinity.



Written by LW

December 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The world… gives back to every man the reflection of his own face”*…


In Chichibu, Japan, two hours northwest of Tokyo, there’s an odd museum; perhaps the only one of its kind. It’s called the Chinsekikan (which means hall of curious rocks) and it houses over 1700 rocks that resemble human faces.

The museum houses all kinds of jinmenseki, or rock with a human face, including celebrity lookalikes like Elvis Presley [below]. And according to a 2013 post on Kotaku, there are also movie and video game character rocks like E.T., Donkey Kong and Nemo…

Learn the back story and take the tour at “The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like Faces.

* William Makepeace Thackeray


As we practice being stone-faced, we might spare a thought for Christian Goldbach; he died on this date in 1764.  A mathematician, lawyer, and historian who studied infinite sums, the theory of curves and the theory of equations, he is best remembered for his correspondence with Leibniz, Euler, and Bernoulli, especially his 1742 letter to Euler containing what is now known as “Goldbach’s conjecture.”

In that letter he outlined his famous proposition:

Every even natural number greater than 2 is equal to the sum of two prime numbers.

It has been checked by computer for vast numbers– up to at least 4 x 1014– but remains unproved.

(Goldbach made another conjecture that every odd number is the sum of three primes; it has been checked by computer for vast numbers, but also remains unproved.)

Goldbach’s letter to Euler (source, and larger view)

Written by LW

November 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity”*…


More than 20 million people in the U.S. are afraid of flying. Sitting in a chair that’s floating in the air may be technologically stunning to some, but that floating-in-a-tin-can feeling puts some passengers on edge and sends their minds racing: Do the flight attendants look worried? What was that bump? And, oh man, what was that noise?!

 But you don’t have to worry. You’re more likely to drown in your own bathtub than you are to perish in an out-of-control flight. In fact, the last time a U.S.-registered airliner had any fatalities was in 2009.

So unless the sound you hear is the flight attendants telling you to assume a bracing position—which really only means there’s the potential for a problem—everything’s most likely O.K. Still, the unknown can be scary…

A breakdown—by sound—of most things you’ll hear on a flight and what each of those noises means: “A Nervous Flyer’s Guide to Every Ding, Buzz and Whir You Hear on an Airplane.”

* Jane Austen, Persuasion


As we assume the crash position, we might send never-ending birthday greetings to August Ferdinand Möbius; he was born on this date in 1790.  A German mathematician and theoretical astronomer, he is best remembered as a topologist, more specifically for his discovery of the Möbius strip (a two-dimensional surface with only one side… or more precisely, a non-orientable two-dimensional surface with only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space).




Written by LW

November 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Mathematics is the queen of sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics”*…


The Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences.  Because.

(Visit the page of its parent, The OEIS Foundationmovies, posters, and more!)

* Carl Friedrich Gauss


As we count ’em up, we might send starry birthday greeting to Erasmus Reinhold; he was born on this date in 1511.  A mathematician and astronomer, Reinhold was considered to be the most influential astronomical pedagogue of his generation. Today, he is probably best known for his carefully calculated set of planetary tables– the first– applying Copernican theory, published in 1551.



“The endless repetition of an ordinary miracle”*…


Snowflakes under a microscope

In 1611 Johannes Kepler wrote a scientific essay entitled De Nive Sexangula; commonly translated as “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake.” It was the first investigation into the nature of snowflakes and what we’d now call crystallography. Since he was a gentleman and a scholar back when you could be such a thing without being ironic or a hipster, Kepler gave the essay as a New Year’s gift. As Kepler wrote on the title page:

To the honorable Counselor at the Court of his Imperial Majesty, Lord Matthaus Wacker von Wackenfels, a Decorated Knight and Patron of Writers and Philosophers, my Lord and Benefactor.

As the title suggests, Kepler’s main concern was the question of why snowflakes are almost always six-pointed…

Follow the train of thought from the stacking of spheres to the intricacies of tiling at “Snowflakes and Cannonball Stacks.”

* Orhan Pamuk, Snow


As we pause to ponder patterns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1891, about 20 miles outside of Midland, Texas, that the first rainmaking experiment in the U.S. was conducted. Robert St. George Dyrenforth, a Washington patent attorney and retired Army officer, led a team that used “mortars, casks, barometers, electrical conductors, seven tons of cast-iron borings, six kegs of blasting powder, eight tons of sulfuric acid, one ton of potash, 500 pounds of manganese oxide, an apparatus for making oxygen and another for hydrogen, 10- and 20-foot-tall muslin balloons and supplies for building enormous kites” to create enormous explosions meant to help clouds form.  Their efforts– which were based more on Dyrenforth’s instinct than on anything resembling scientific evidence– were entirely unsuccessful.  Still, at a time of extreme drought, it’s likely that almost anything seemed worth trying.  (The full– and very entertaining– story, here.)



Written by LW

August 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

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