(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘topography

“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty”*…

Readers will know of your correspondent’s deep affection and respect for Martin Gardner (c.f., e.g., here), so will understand his inability to pass up this appreciation:

You may think that the most interesting man in the world has a scraggly gray beard, drinks Mexican beer, and hangs out with women half his age. But you’re dead wrong. I discovered the real deal, the authentic most interesting man in the world, on the shelves on my local public library when I was a freshman in high school. His name was Martin Gardner.

I first stumbled upon Gardner’s work while rummaging around a bottom shelf in the rear of the library, right below my favorite book in the building, Jean Hugard’s The Royal Road to Card Magic. The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, published by Gardner in 1959, represented a big leap from Hugard, yet I devoured as much of it as my 14-year-old mind could comprehend. Much of the math was too advanced for me, but the parts I understood charmed and delighted me. I came back the next week to check out The Second Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions. I followed up with Gardner’s The Numerology of Dr. Matrix and Unexpected Hangings, also on the shelves on the library, and soon purchased a copy of his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science at a used bookstore. Around this same time, I bought, at great expense, a brand new hardbound copy of 536 Curious Problems and Puzzles by Henry Ernest Dudeney, and learned that this treasure trove of strange and peculiar diversions had been edited by (yes, you guessed it) Martin Gardner. I felt like shouting out: “Mama, there’s that man again!”

Later I learned that Gardner’s expertise extended far beyond math and science. I can’t even begin to explain my delight when I discovered that Gardner fraternized with magicians. During my teen years, I spent countless hours practicing card tricks and sleights-of-hand — I never realized my ambition of performing as a card magician, but the finger dexterity later helped when I switched my focus to playing jazz piano — and I was thrilled to learn that Gardner knew Dai Vernon, Frank Garcia, Paul Curry, Ed Marlo, and other masters of playing card prestidigitation. They were not household names. In my mind, someone like Dai Vernon was way too cool to be known by the uninitiated. But these were precisely the kind of mysterious masterminds of obscure arts that Martin Gardner would include among his buddies.

And finally as a humanities student at Stanford I learned about Martin Gardner’s contributions as literary critic and scholar. His annotated guide to Lewis Carroll is a classic work of textual deconstruction (although Gardner would never have used that term), and my boyhood hero also applied his sharp analytical mind to deciphering the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, G.K. Chesterton, and L. Frank Baum. I could continue the list, but you get the idea. Whatever your interests — whether the theory of relativity or “Jabberwocky,” the prisoner’s dilemma or a mean bottom deal from a clean deck, Martin Gardner was your man. He ranks among the greatest autodidacts and polymaths of the 20th century. Or, as I prefer to say, he was the most interesting man in the world, the fellow I would invite to that mythical dinner party where all parties, living or dead, are compelled to accept your invitation…

Read on for Ted Gioia‘s (@tedgioia) appreciation of Gardner’s autobiogrphical works: “Martin Gardner: The Most Interesting Man in the World.”

* Bertrand Russell


As we add it up, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to J. H. C. (Henry) Whitehead; he was born on this date in 1904. A mathematician (and nephew of Alfred North Whitehead), he was a topographer, one of the founders of homotopy theory, an approach to mapping of topological spaces.

Born in Chennai and educated at Oxford and Princeton, he joined the codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II and by 1945 was one of some fifteen mathematicians working in the “Newmanry,” a section headed by Max Newman that was responsible for breaking a German teleprinter cipher using machine methods– which included the use of Colossus machines, early digital electronic computers.

He spent the rest of his career at Oxford (where he was Waynflete Professor of Pure Mathematics at Magdalen College). He served as president of the London Mathematical Society, which created two prizes in his memory: the annually-awarded Whitehead Prize and the biennially-awarded Senior Whitehead Prize.


“Math is sometimes called the science of patterns”*…


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From Katie Steckles, help for the Holidays…

Special Holiday bonus:  the story behind those massive bows that bedeck cars given as Holiday presents.

* Ronald Graham


As we fold with care, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Walt Disney released the first full-length animated feature film produced in the U.S. (and the first produced anywhere in full color), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The original theatrical one-sheet




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December 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal”*…


During the period we now call the fin-de-siècle, worlds collided. Ideas were being killed off as much as being born. And in a sort of Hegelian logic of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, the most interesting ones arose as the offspring of wildly different parents. In particular, the last gasp of Victorian spirituality infused cutting-edge science with a certain sense of old-school mysticism. Theosophy was all the rage; Huysmans dragged Satan into modern Paris; and eccentric poets and scholars met in the British Museum Reading Room under the aegis of the Golden Dawn for a cup of tea and a spot of demonology. As a result of all this, certain commonly-accepted scientific terms we use today came out of quite weird and wonderful ideas being developed at the turn of the century. Such is the case with space, which fascinated mathematicians, philosophers, and artists with its unfathomable possibilities…

Further to yesterday’s nod to topography, and on the occasion of Halloween: hyperspace, ghosts, and colorful cubes – the work of Charles Howard Hinton and the cultural history of higher dimensions– “Notes on the Fourth Dimension.”

* H. P. Lovecraft, The Tomb


As we get down with the dead, we might recall that it was on this date in 1756 that Giacomo Casanova, who had been incarcerated in Venice as a blasphemer, cabalist, seducer, and ruffian, escaped from prison.  He made his way to Paris where, as “Jacques Casanova, the Chevalier de Seingalt,” he wrote his autobiography, launched the lottery, and made a killing.

Illustration in Casanova’s Histoire de ma fuite des prisons de la République de Venise qu’on appelle Les Plombs (Story of my Flight), 1787. From the German edition, 1788.


Casanova circa 1750-1755 (just before the escape)



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October 31, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Life is like topography”*…


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What if you could see Earth’s 5-billion year journey not just in a book or on screen, but on the planet’s very topography? That’s the idea behind the audio-visual performance Revolution of Topography, Cappadocia: Epic History of Humanity, which features 3D animations projection mapped onto the rocky surface of the Cappadocia Zelve Valley.

Produced by FikirbazZenger and directed by Ferdi Alıcı, Revolution of Topography has been billed as the world’s “largest mountain surface mapping”; and, with a 10-year screening time, will run for longer than any other projection mapping installation in history. The a/v installation, located at Cappadocia Zelve Valley Open Air Museum, will run through all phases of Cappadocia’s history, from geographical formation and topographical transformations to the emergence of civilization and religion…

More at “Mapping a Valley with Earth’s 5-Billion Year Journey.”

* “Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine and valleys of frustration and failure.”

– “Calvin,” Bill Watterson


As we take the long view, we might send spatially-sophisticated birthday greetings to William Paul Thurston; he was born on this date in 1946.  A pioneer in the field of low-dimensional topology, he was awarded the 1982 Fields Medal for his contributions to the study of 3-manifolds.  In later years, while his research continued, Thurston took on the challenge of  mathematical popularization and education. He served as mathematics editor for Quantum Magazine, a youth science magazine, and was one of the founders of The Geometry Center.  As director of Mathematical Sciences Research Institute from 1992 to 1997, he started a number of programs designed to increase awareness of mathematics among the public.



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October 30, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time,’ so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance”*…


“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

― A.A. Milne

How to prepare an essential– and exciting– part of any mathematically-correct breakfast…

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* Steven Wright


As we tangle tastefully with topography, we might spare a thought for Simon Willard; he died on this date in 1848.  A master clockmaker who created grandfather clocks and lobby/gallery clocks, Willard is best remembered for his creation of the timepiece that came to be known as the banjo clock, a wall clock that Willard patented in 1802.  Only 4,000 authentic “Simon Willard banjo clocks” were made; and while he had many imitators turning out replicas, these originals are highly-prized collectibles.

Banjo Clock


Simon Willard



Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

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