Blog Archives

Fermat’s proof of his last theorem

Fermat famously claimed to have a proof of his last theorem that he didn’t have room to write down. Mathematicians have speculated ever since what this proof must have been, though everyone is convinced the proof must have been wrong.

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NYT Book of Physics and Astronomy

I’ve enjoyed reading The New York Times Book of Physics and Astronomy, a collection of 129 articles written between 1888 and 2012. Its been much more interesting than its mathematical predecessor. I’m not objective — I have more to learn

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Concepts, explosions, and developments

Paul Halmos divided progress in math into three categories: concepts, explosions, and developments. This was in his 1990 article “Has progress in mathematics slowed down?”. (His conclusion was no.) This three-part classification not limited to math and could be useful

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Historical perspective

“If you gonnna go into history, you can’t do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different.” — Deborah Lacks, daughter of Henrietta Lacks From The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Social networks in fact and fiction

SIAM News arrived this afternoon and had an interesting story on the front page: Applying math to myth helps separate fact from fiction. In a nutshell, the authors hope to get some insight into whether a myth is based on

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Baroque computers

From an interview with Neal Stephenson, giving some background for his Baroque Cycle: Leibniz [1646-1716] actually thought about symbolic logic and why it was powerful and how it could be put to use. He went from that to building a

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Posted in Computing

Fourier series before Fourier

I always thought that Fourier was the first to come up with the idea of expressing general functions as infinite sums of sines and cosines. Apparently this isn’t true. The idea that various functions can be described in terms of

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History of weather prediction

I’ve just started reading Invisible in the Storm: The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather. The subtitle may be a little misleading. There is a fair amount of math in the book, but the ratio of history to math is

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Posted in Math, Science

Size of ancient and modern bureaucracies

According to The History of Rome, episode 126, Diocletian increased the size of the Roman imperial bureaucracy from around 15,000 people to around 30,000. I wanted to compare the size of the bureaucracy that ran the Roman Empire to the

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Oldest series for pi

Here’s an interesting bit of history from Julian Havil’s new book The Irrationals. In 1593 Francois Vièta discovered the following infinite product for pi: Havil says this is “the earliest known.” I don’t know whether this is specifically the oldest

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Ancient understanding of tides

In his essay On Providence, Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) says the following about tides: In point of fact, their growth is strictly allotted; at the appropriate day and hour they approach in greater volume or less according as

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The 1970s

Here’s a perspective on the 1970s I found interesting: The decade was so embarrassing that climbing out of the ’70s was a proud achievement. The 1970s were America’s low tide. Not since the Depression had the country been so wracked

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An algebra problem from 1798

The Lady’s Diary was a popular magazine published in England from 1704 to 1841. It contained mathematical puzzles such as the following, published in 1798. What two numbers are those whose product, difference of their squares, and the ratio or

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Reading historical math

I recently received review copies of two books by Benjamin Wardhaugh. Here I will discuss How to Read Historical Mathematics. The other book is his anthology of historical popular mathematics which I intend to review later. Here is the key

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Life off the clock

There was a lot of work to do a few generations ago, but the work wasn’t regulated by a clock. With the growth of industrial capitalism during the post-Civil War years, more and more Americans were feeling pressure to be

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Posted in Business