Babylonian trigonometry

An interesting article that I read on Babylonian mathematics.

Cheat Sheet

The news clip below shows why, when I allow my students to use a 3×5 card on an exam, I specify — “that’s in inches. It must be handwritten. And no magnifying glasses.”

Student Outwits Prof By Bringing 3×5 FOOT Cheat Sheet To Exam

A Math Genius Blooms Late and Conquers His Field

I enjoyed reading this feature: https://www.wired.com/story/a-math-genius-blooms-late-and-conquers-his-field/

Some quotes from the opening paragraphs:

A bad score on an elementary school test convinced him that he was not very good at math. As a teenager he dreamed of becoming a poet. He didn’t major in math, and when he finally applied to graduate school, he was rejected by every university save one.

Nine years later, at the age of 34, Huh is at the pinnacle of the math world. He is best known for his proof, with the mathematicians Eric Katz and Karim Adiprasito, of a long-standing problem called the Rota conjecture.

Even more remarkable than the proof itself is the manner in which Huh and his collaborators achieved it—by finding a way to reinterpret ideas from one area of mathematics in another where they didn’t seem to belong. This past spring [the Institute for Advanced Study] offered Huh a long-term fellowship, a position that has been extended to only three young mathematicians before. Two of them (Vladimir Voevodsky and Ngô Bảo Châu) went on to win the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics.

That Huh would achieve this status after starting mathematics so late is almost as improbable as if he had picked up a tennis racket at 18 and won Wimbledon at 20. It’s the kind of out-of-nowhere journey that simply doesn’t happen in mathematics today, where it usually takes years of specialized training even to be in a position to make new discoveries. Yet it would be a mistake to see Huh’s breakthroughs as having come in spite of his unorthodox beginning. In many ways they’re a product of his unique history—a direct result of his chance encounter, in his last year of college, with a legendary mathematician who somehow recognized a gift in Huh that Huh had never perceived himself.

Thoughts on Silly Viral Math Puzzles

I’ve seen silly math puzzles like this one spawn incredible flame wars on social media, and for months I’ve wanted to write an article about how much I’ve grown to loath these viral math posts.

Of course, after months of dilly-dallying, someone else beat me to it: http://horizonsaftermath.blogspot.com/2017/08/sick-of-viral-math.html. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s the post’s outline of the myths perpetuated by these puzzles:

  1. Math is just a bag of tricks.
  2. Math is memorizing a set of rules.
  3. Math problems have only one right answer.
  4. Being smart means solving problems quickly.
  5. Math is not for you.

 

The Continuing Conflict Between Mathematics and Femininity

From a compelling opinion piece from Inside Higher Education:

The Continuing Conflict Between Mathematics and Femininity

Researchers have examined women’s experiences within the classroom and in professional settings in an effort to understand why and how young women become alienated from mathematics. The most interesting manifestation of this work looks specifically at how our culture constructs femininity and mathematics as mutually exclusive — in ways that ensure that girls and women have a difficult time understanding themselves as mathematical knowers.

Young female mathematics students feel forced to choose between their femininity and their identity as mathematicians. In interview transcripts, they either defend their talent as mathematicians in spite of their femininity or claim their identity as women while explaining away their mathematical achievements. But they clearly do not have the cultural tools available to reconcile both aspects of their identity. Some have argued that this may be one reason why young women who have achieved great success in the field nevertheless drop out of mathematics after secondary school.

We need to tell different stories to expand our cultural understanding of who can engage in mathematics.

I recommend reading the entire opinion piece.

Jobs in Mathematics

 

Courtesy of the Mathematical Association of America, here are some resources for finding a career in the mathematical sciences: http://www.maa.org/news/quantitative-careers-get-your-piece-of-the-math-jobs-pie

I’ll also link to the list of resources that my university provides to our math majors: http://math.unt.edu/support-math-department/careers-mathematics

A quick programming note: after 4 years (or roughly 1,500 consecutive days of posts), I’m going to be switching to posting on Mondays and Fridays. I recently moved to an administrative appointment at my university, and found through the school of hard knocks that I’m not going to be able to sustain daily posts while also doing my day job.

The Fold-and-Cut Theorem

Courtesy Mental Floss:

The fold-and-cut theorem, which first appeared in 1721—and was later proved by MIT computer scientist/computational origami wizard/former child prodigy Erik Demaine—asserts that any shape comprised of straight lines can be made from a single cut if you can just figure out the right way to fold the paper.

The Happy Ending Problem

Quanta Magazine recently published a nice description of the decades-old “happy ending” problem: https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-puzzle-of-clever-connections-nears-a-happy-end-20170530/

Passenger Delays Flight After Mistaking Math Equations for Terrorist Code

I wish I could say that this came from The Onion, but sadly this really happened:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/05/07/passenger_delays_flight_after_mistaking_professor_s_math_equations_for_terrorist.html?wpsrc=sh_all_mob_em_ru

A flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse, New York, was delayed for two hours on Thursday after a woman expressed fears to the cabin crew that the man sitting next to her was a terrorist scribbling some sort of terrorist code into a notepad. In reality, he was a 40-year-old tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was working on a differential equation…

Menzio insists he was “treated respectfully throughout” but says the whole incident served to illustrate a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently” and that anyone can end up causing a flight to be delayed for hours, no matter how ridiculous the suspicion.

A Long-Sought Proof, Found and Almost Lost

I enjoyed this article from Quanta Magazine, both for its mathematical content as well as the human interest story.

A Long-Sought Proof, Found and Almost Lost

From the opening paragraphs:

Known as the Gaussian correlation inequality (GCI), the conjecture originated in the 1950s, was posed in its most elegant form in 1972 and has held mathematicians in its thrall ever since. “I know of people who worked on it for 40 years,” said Donald Richards, a statistician at Pennsylvania State University. “I myself worked on it for 30 years.”

[Thomas] Royen hadn’t given the Gaussian correlation inequality much thought before the “raw idea” for how to prove it came to him over the bathroom sink… In July 2014, still at work on his formulas as a 67-year-old retiree, Royen found that the GCI could be extended into a statement about statistical distributions he had long specialized in. On the morning of the 17th, he saw how to calculate a key derivative for this extended GCI that unlocked the proof. “The evening of this day, my first draft of the proof was written,” he said.

Not knowing LaTeX, the word processer of choice in mathematics, he typed up his calculations in Microsoft Word, and the following month he posted his paper to the academic preprint site arxiv.org. He also sent it to Richards, who had briefly circulated his own failed attempt at a proof of the GCI a year and a half earlier. “I got this article by email from him,” Richards said. “And when I looked at it I knew instantly that it was solved” …

Proofs of obscure provenance are sometimes overlooked at first, but usually not for long: A major paper like Royen’s would normally get submitted and published somewhere like the Annals of Statistics, experts said, and then everybody would hear about it. But Royen, not having a career to advance, chose to skip the slow and often demanding peer-review process typical of top journals. He opted instead for quick publication in the Far East Journal of Theoretical Statistics, a periodical based in Allahabad, India, that was largely unknown to experts and which, on its website, rather suspiciously listed Royen as an editor. (He had agreed to join the editorial board the year before.)

With this red flag emblazoned on it, the proof continued to be ignored… No one is quite sure how, in the 21st century, news of Royen’s proof managed to travel so slowly. “It was clearly a lack of communication in an age where it’s very easy to communicate,” Klartag said.