3n + 1

This weekend I gave a middle school version of a keynote lecture at the local Mathcounts tournament, as a group of 5th to 8th graders finished slices of pizza and waited for the contest results to be posted. The talk actually went quite well. It was my first ever powerpoint, and I must admit there is some real power to …

Steve Strogatz explains math for the Times

Link: Steve Strogatz explains math for the Times I seem to be falling further behind, as my opinion that the public at large is ready for actual mathematics in their lives is adopted by more and more capable people. The latest is Steve Strogatz, who will be explaining math, from simple topics (counting) to, apparently, very complicated (??). I’m curious …

How math is written

Link: How math is written Abstruse Goose, the mathy-est comic there is (even beating out xkcd.com) has this great look at how math proofs are written. I, meanwhile am in the middle of writing my thesis, and I just discovered a much quicker proof for a result that was pretty long before. So, should I replace the long version with …

Planning inspiration judiciously

I have begun teaching two, not one, but two sections of differential equations this quarter, and immediately, the classes are different from each other. In one, the students contribute, respond, emote; in the other, I feel like I’m facing a mute wall. This is natural, of course, and not anything to worry about, but what does occur to me is …

My response to the question: What could be done to make math seem less uncool?

Link: My response to the question: What could be done to make math seem less uncool? Here are a few suggestions: 1. Take student questions seriously. In my experience, students aren’t born disliking math, and probably everyone is naturally interested in the subject. But once they’re taught that it has no relevance to their lives, and that there are no …

Gelfand Passes

Link: Gelfand Passes The mathematician Israel Gelfand died today. His obituary contrasts the direction of his work—fundamental and tool developing—with his advisor’s, which was more ambitious and difficult to follow. More and more, I’m becoming convinced that spanning fields rather than pushing into the stratosphere of a single one, is the more valuable contribution, if you have the potential to …

Forgetting and learning

One of the remarkable things about learning math is that steps forward in understanding require a kind of forgetting. Everything always looks simple in retrospect; it’s letting go of your biases that prevent you from learning that is difficult. There are great examples of this in the book Ender’s Game: the main character goes into zero gravity for the first …

Progress and Simplicity

I had a little progress on my thesis work, recently. Essentially, I was able to prove what form a composition of transformations would take in the most general case. I had a hunch (and a hope) that it would be the simplest thing I could think of: given two transformations defined by two numbers, the composition of them should be …

Turtles all the Way Down

I’ve been terribly delinquent about posting here recently. I’ve just finished my second week of my summer course, Turtles All the Way Down, which I’ve been teaching through the Robinson Center at the University of Washington. I have to say, it’s been a thrilling and tiring ride so far. We meet from 9-2:20, Monday, Tuesday, and Thurdsay, which adds up …