Monday, October 31, 2022

Friday, October 28, 2022

In Praise of the Irrational

     Japanese-American poet and retired math teacher Amy Uyematsu recently has published a new poetry collection, That Blue Trickster Time (What Books Press, 2022) and she has given me permission to share this fascinating mathy poem -- which vividly links the mathematical with the personal --  from that collection.

   In Praise of the Irrational     by Amy Uyematsu

        :  Kanpai (that's Japanese for “cheers”)

       Hooray for the illogical,
       this tale of built-in contradictions,
       each perilous paradox that can
       drive us bananas – and the curious
       ways we keep the faith.

       There's a logic to zero –
       ask any mathematician, poet or priest -
       but don’t expect them
       to explain.

       There's a profound dependability
       in the irrational instincts
       of women – yes us – all
       tenderness, guts, and a fierceness
       no man will ever fathom.  

Monday, October 24, 2022

Remote Schooling has hurt Math Learning

 Is it true that in any sequence
of thirty words in The Washington Post
at least two of the words will start with the same letter?

      Today's Washington Post has a story about recent declines in learning-assessment scores, especially in math -- both morale and persistence fell as students were remote from the watchful encouragement of in-person teachers.  

     Back in this blog posting in January, 2011, I offered poetic views of four of my important teachers.  Here is a repeat of one of those -- its lines remember Dr. Miriam C. Ayer  (d.1972), one of my mathematics professors at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1960s.  Even though I found it hard to like Ayer, I learned a great deal from her "Introduction to Topology" class.

     Nervous in class and tough
     to follow—she made errors
     on the blackboard yet demanded
     we write perfect mathematics
     in perfect English sentences. This was not
     an East Coast finishing school, and I hoped
     she’d be lenient with the Asian students
     even as fear made me work infinitely hard
     on papers that she gave back bright
     with red-ink from her difficult hand.

     No one before or since has read my words
     so carefully.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Communicating Mathematics with Poetry

     Each year MoMath (The National Museum of Mathematics) sponsors The Steven H. Strogatz Prize for Math Communication -- a contest for high school students; guidelines for next year's contest (deadline:  April 28, 2023) are available here.

      The 2022 Strogatz Prize winners include a poem -- "a proof of the function me" -- by Wyeth Renwick; here are its opening lines.

a proof of the function me     by Wyeth Renwick

          step one.
   find u.

          step two.
   add u to me and watch how the whole graph shifts upwards
   to make a u sized space where before it was only me
   until we're floating above the x-axis, u + me, an infinite
   line that stretches on past billions of little boxes
   on this graph paper grid.  let yourself think
   that maybe, just maybe, we were made for this - let yourself
   solve for the limits of the function and find that
   u + me approaches infinity.

          step three.

   square it all, square everything - make us into the parabola
   that my smile can't help but curve into when you pull
   our pinkies together and hold on real tight . . . 

 Renwick's complete poem is available here (click on poem-title).

The MoMath website offers these thoughtful comments about the poem:

     Wyeth Renwick’s poem is intriguingly ambiguous and open to interpretation: some of the judges read it as a love poem that winks at the reader with its use of mathematical concepts and language, while others saw it as a poetic animation of a human relationship, viewed as the graph of a function.  Either way, it makes math and poetry both seem more accessible to students who might otherwise not be drawn to these subjects.

Here is a link to previous postings in this blog that mention MoMath.

Monday, October 17, 2022

MacArthur Awards -- a Math-Woman, a Math-Poet



Recently the 2022 MacArthur Fellowship awards have been announced and the recipients include Melanie Matchett Wood of Harvard University, a a female mathematician who is a specialist in Number Theory and June Huh of Princeton University, a male mathematician who is credited with discovering underlying connections between disparate areas of mathematics and proving long-standing mathematical conjectures.  (This article about Huh tells of his high school ambition to be a poet BUT I have not been able to find online any of his poems.)

      While a high school student in Indianapolis,  Melanie Wood (then aged 16) became the first, and until 2004 the only female American to make the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad Team, receiving silver medals in the 1998 and 1999 International Mathematical Olympiad.

     In honor of Melanie Matchett Wood and her work in Number Theory, here are the several lines from a poem on that topic by noted Czech mathematician Olga Taussky-Todd (1906-1995). (The complete poem is available here.)

          Number theory is like poetry
          they are both of the same kind
          they start a fire in your mind.
          Number theory is not just clever and smart
          it has a beauty that fills your heart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Poetry and Mathematics -- Learning by Heart

     Many mathematical ideas are learned "by heart" -- that is, stored in  memory -- definitions, calculation, etc -- even for those who are not math-focused. 

      I grew up on a farm -- and, in addition to all of the learning opportunities related to farming, we had a book-case that included a set of Compton's encyclopedias, a collection of Aesop's Fables, and (my favorite treasure) Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.   There are a number of these verses that I still know portions of "by heart" -- "My Shadow," "The Cow," "The Swing" -- and here is a two-line favorite:

       Happy Thought     by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

       The world is so full of a number of things.
       I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Monday, October 10, 2022

A Sonnet by William Rowan Hamilton

     Despite their similar lifespans, it is said that British mathematicians William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) and George Boole (1815-1864) had no significant interactions; however, both wrote poetry.  Back in my posting on 9/12/2022, I offered a sonnet by Boole.   Below, a sonnet by Hamilton -- found, along with a rich supply of poetry and science, at this MIT website.

A sonnet by William Rowan Hamilton  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Math Jokes and Other Mathy Applications

     Each week I get an email from Feedspot that tells me of mathy blog postings that I may have missed and may be interested in.  One of the reminders that I particularly enjoyed today was to visit the blog of Boston Mathematician Tanya Khovanova;  the actual blogsite is at this link: Tanya Khovanova 's Math BlogYesterday's posting involved some wordplay (math jokes); here are samples:

   I hate getting into debates about Möbius strips. They’re always one-sided.
        * * *
   4 out of 3 people have trouble with fractions.
        * * *
   Why was algebra so easy for the Romans? X was always 10.

When I visited Khovanova's blog, I searched for poetry -- one of my finds was a wedding poem composed by Gregory Adam Marton; here are its opening lines:

       In this summation, may there be no subtraction;
       May you multiply blissfully, and find no division;
       May the roots of the power of your love run deep;

 Marton's complete poem is available here.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Women in Mathematics -- Netherlands

      Below I offer a poetic quote from Marta Pieropan -- a faculty member at Utrecht University and a member of a European Women in Mathematics -- the Netherlands (EWM-NL), an activist organization supporting math-women.  They are involved, for example, in a Wikipedia Project and have developed a poster that celebrates math-women (and is available in several different languages, including English).


Thank you, Marta Pieropan, for your poetic words (which I found here).

P.S.  Let us all remember that Tuesday, October 11, 2022 is this year's Ada Lovelace DayIf you'd like to browse, here is a link to previous mentions of Ada Lovelace in this blog.