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Roots of Unity

Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension (Book Review)

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Sometimes you want to learn a “new” multiplication algorithm from a general interest math book, sometimes you want to learn why voting systems are doomed to imperfection, and sometimes you just want to play with numbers, patterns, and pictures. Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker is the third kind of [...]

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Roots of Unity

The Media and the Genius Myth

Not many of us can be Serena Williams. Does that keep us from playing tennis? Image: Yann Caradec, via Flickr.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the genius myth, the notion that in order to be a successful in certain disciplines, you need to have a special innate talent that can’t be learned. Last month, a study in Science found that fields whose practitioners buy into the genius myth, say, mathematics, have lower proportions of [...]

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Roots of Unity

A Computer Scientist Tells Mathematicians How To Write Proofs

Leslie Lamport, clad in a t-shirt that says "You want proof? I'll give you proof!" gave a presentation at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. Image: HLFF/Kreutzer.

Believe it or not, I do have friends who would describe themselves as not liking math, and every so often one of them will share this meme on Facebook: And then Satan said, “Put the alphabet in math.” There are different background pictures each time the meme pops up, but the text is always the [...]

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Roots of Unity

What Is the Goal of a Math History Class?

An illustration from Oliver Byrne's 1847 edition of Euclid's Elements. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ll be teaching a math history class for the first time this semester. I’m excited to be teaching it, but I’ve noticed that preparing for this class has been very different from preparing for other classes I’ve taught, which have all been math content courses. I know how to teach a math content course. I [...]

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Roots of Unity

Math Twitter Bots, Reviewed and Rated

Math+Twitter Image: Design Shack.

In the course of being a math person on Twitter, I have run across some math-related Twitter bots and feeds. It would just be mean to grade my human tweeps, but I have no qualms about rating the bots! Taking a page from the Aperiodical’s integer sequence reviews, I’m rating them on a scale of [...]

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Roots of Unity

Some Infinities Are Bigger than Other Infinities, and Some Are Just the Same Size

How to count potatoes by pairing them with numbers. Image: Yen Duong.

Warning: contains minor spoilers for The Fault in Our Stars. I recently read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, now a major motion picture that has led to theft in Amsterdam and a shortage of dry eyes in movie theaters around the world. One of the ideas that resonates with Hazel, the 16-year-old narrator [...]

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Roots of Unity

How Not to Be Wrong (Book Review)

How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg. Image courtesy of Penguin Press.

How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg. Image courtesy of Penguin Press. How Not to Be Wrong, the first popular math book by University of Wisconsin-Madison math professor Jordan Ellenberg, just hit the shelves. In addition to a Ph.D. in math, Ellenberg has an MFA in creative writing and has been writing about math [...]

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Roots of Unity

MoMA to MoMath: a Mathematician’s Picks for Art in New York City

A sculpture made of matches from the Compounding Visions exhibition by Trevor and Ryan Oakes at the Museum of Mathematics. Photo: Adriana Salerno.

I was in New York City earlier this month, and in addition to finally having an excuse to ride the Staten Island Ferry (I gave a talk there), I managed to make it to a few of the excellent museums in the city. I don’t go to art museums to try to find connections with [...]

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Roots of Unity

The Math Wars, Lewis Carroll Style

Lewis Carroll in 1863, photographed by Oscar Gustave Rejlander. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1879, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, published an odd little book called Euclid and his Modern Rivals (available for free at the Internet Archive). Though it takes the form of a play, it is a defense of Euclid’s Elements as the best textbook for geometry. Carroll’s introduction lays out his purpose and why [...]

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Roots of Unity

Does 1+2+3… Really Equal -1/12?

Divergent series Lucille says, "1+2+3...=-1/12." Video from Fox, gif from fanpop.com.

A Numberphile video posted earlier this month claims that the sum of all the positive integers is -1/12. I’m usually a fan of the Numberphile crew, who do a great job making mathematics exciting and accessible, but this video disappointed me. There is a meaningful way to associate the number -1/12 to the series 1+2+3+4…, [...]

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