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RIP Benoît Mandelbrot

It has already made the internet rounds, but it seems appropriate, given his popular appeal, to remark on the passing of mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot. Mandelbrot, perhaps best well known for coining the term fractal (and for his related popular work on the subject), died last week at the age of 85.

Mandelbrot’s popularization of fractal geometry garnered him quite a bit of attention beginning in the 1980′s. There is even a fractal named after him, the so-called “Mandelbrot set,” which, like many fractals, is simple to generate, but looks complicated.

It’s no coincidence that popularity in fractals rose in step with advancing computer technology. Without computers to perform the tedious calculations necessary for fractal generation (and by extension, to output all the pretty pictures), the field received much less attention. Contrary to popular belief, though, Mandelbrot was not the first to consider these ideas – indeed, many properties of fractal . . . → Read More: RIP Benoît Mandelbrot

RIP Martin Gardner

Not long ago, I wrote an article in commemoration of Martin Gardner’s 95th birthday. Sadly, it seems this will be my last article in celebration of his birth, as he passed away late last month.

Through his passing, though, his influence has become even more apparent. Perhaps because he published mathematical games in Scientific American for 25 years, the magazine has been the most visible in its veneration of him. There are no less than six articles on Gardner at the SciAm website; while some are reprints of earlier articles, there is also new material from writers and mathematicians who were influenced in some way by Gardner’s unique career. Since I can’t do justice to Gardner the way others already have, let me summarize what you can find if you’re interested in learning more about this stand-up fellow.

If you’d like to learn more about Gardner’s life, SciAm has reprinted . . . → Read More: RIP Martin Gardner

Math Gets Around: Finding a Job and Keeping Your Soul

Hello friends. My apologies for not writing over the past couple of weeks, but I was away at a conference. Being at math conference has its pluses and minuses (pun intended), but one nice thing about being surrounded by other mathematically inclined individuals is that you never have to explain what it is mathematicians do. You may talk a great deal about your research specifically, but everyone understands what it is to do mathematics.

In general, however, math jobs don’t get much buzz, aside from academic jobs and the oft-mired quants who have received varying degrees of blame for the recent recession. That’s why I’d like to highlight this recent post from the Scientific American blog, which discusses quantitative non-academic job opportunities at start-ups that have nothing to do with finance.

At first glance, it might seem like these companies have nothing to do with one another. Kickstarter aims . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Finding a Job and Keeping Your Soul

Martin Gardner and the Three Way Duel

As you may have heard, last week Martin Gardner celebrated his 95th birthday. Gardner, who authored the “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American for a quarter of a century, is often credited for introducing generations of young students to the beauty and charm inherent in mathematics. My favorite quote in this vein comes from professor Ron Graham, who is quoted in a recent New York Times article on Gardner as saying that “Martin has turned thousands of children into mathematicians, and thousands of mathematicians into children.” A warm brain is the key to mathematical dexterity.

Both Scientific American and Wired ran articles on Gardner last week, and each one used a different expression to represent his age. Scientific American congratulated him on reaching an age of 25 x 3 – 1, while Wired proclaimed that Gardner had turned 5! – 25. Upon reflection I think I prefer the latter expression . . . → Read More: Martin Gardner and the Three Way Duel

The Math of March Madness

With the NCAA college basketball tournament now well under way, no doubt many of you are following the games closely, and vying for your teams to make it to that sacred promised land known as the Final Four. Even the President’s caught some of the madness.

When filling out a bracket, of course you would like to predict as many games correctly as possible. No doubt a thorough understanding of the teams can help in this endeavor, as well as a careful analysis of their performance throughout the season. But none of us is perfect, and we are bound to make some incorrect predictions.

Even if you are quite skilled when it comes to picking winners, and can pick correctly 75% of the time, the odds of you selecting the correct winner for each game of the tournament are about 1 in 74,325,939. Roughly speaking, this means that even if . . . → Read More: The Math of March Madness