A great math commercial.

About a year ago, I came across the following commercial from IBM.  It is such a rare occurence to see math on TV that I showed it to my students to the point where I thought they were going to have me institutionalized.  Enjoy!

The perfect pencil

The number one tool of any mathematician is the pencil.  I know, some will argue that you prefer to use a pen.  In fact, I had a professor in college who believed that “real mathematicians” used only pen.  His argument was simple and logical:  a pen records all of your ideas while a pencil encourages a more permanent destruction of your old ideas. And, how many of us mathematical hobbyists have erased our graphite errors only to realize later that we had the perfect idea ten attempts ago?  (Of course, I never had the heart to provide him with the perfect counterexample to his argument … a pencil without an eraser.  I guess I am too kind.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I, too, enjoy using a pen to work on mathematics. In fact, I have a real love of fountain pens and nothing feels better than recording your ideas using one.  However, the real workhorse of our subject is the pencil.

Where was I?  Yes … the pencil.  So, what is the perfect pencil?  Well, again, the debate will rage on … some people love mechanical pencils and some people love wooden pencils.  Mechanical pencils are cool and can fit in your pocket.  Wooden pencils have a great smell and can fit behind your ear.  Myself, I love both.

But, if I had to choose, the perfect pencil would be the Dixon Ticonderoga.  Maybe it’s because it’s the pencil I grew up with or maybe it is the smooth writing, but nothing says math to me like that pencil.

Am I right?  Am I wrong?  Please leave me your comments on the perfect pencil.

Looking for that perfect gift idea?

Instead of giving that video game or other mind-numbing gift, why not give the gift of knowledge?  A mathematically related book can be the perfect gift to help stimulate the mind. Below are my top 6 picks for math books:

1) The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman

2) Men of Mathematics by E.T. Bell

3) Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics by William Dunham

4) The Education of T.C. Mits by Lillian R. Lieber

5) A Mathematician’s Apology by G.H. Hardy

6) Letters to a Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart

While these are my favorites, there are many others I like. To see a complete list of recommendations and/or to see descriptions of these books, click on my “Suggested Books” page on this blog.


The unique personality of a young mathematician.

A young genius ...

A young genius …

One of the all time great mathematicians was Paul Erdős.  Erdős published more original mathematics than any other mathematician in history.  However, Erdős was more than a mathematician.  He was also one of the most unique personalities in all of mathematics.  This “uniqueness” started at a young age.

Upon meeting a new “friend”, Erdős often introduced himself in a mathematical way.  Sometimes he would ask “how many ways can you prove the Pythagorean Theorem?”  (Erdős himself knew 37 different proofs by his early teens!)  Other times, he would ask a computational question.  Once, when 17, he was introduced to 14-year-old Andrew Vazsonyi.  Immediately, without any greeting, he asked Vazsonyi to give him a four digit number.  Without blinking, Erdős was able to square the number in his head.  However, he apologized for not being able to cube the number.  As he said, “I am getting old and decrepit and cannot tell you the cube.”  Amazingly, by the age of 17, he already viewed himself as an old man who was losing his mathematical talents.  In fact, this obsession lasted all 83 years of his life.  Fortunately, for the mathematical community, this obsession never came to be.  He produced original mathematics up until the day he died.

If you would like to learn more about Paul Erdős, you can click here to get his biography.

If you would like to read some great books about Paul Erdős, you can look for one of these:

  • The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman  (Click here to read my brief synopsis.)
  • My Brain is Open by Bruce Schechter  (Click here to read my brief synopsis.)

These are great books about one of the greatest talents and most compassionate human beings in the mathematical world.  You will not be disappointed.

Want to earn some extra money?

What better way to earn a little extra money than by solving a math problem? The Clay Mathematics Institute, an institute “dedicated to increasing and disseminating mathematical knowledge,” started a contest in 2000.  Solve one of the seven problems (six since the resolution of the Poincare Conjecture by Grigoriy Perelman) selected by the Institute and win one million dollars. These seven problems, known as the Millennium Problems, are some of the most famous and important unsolved problems in all of mathematics.

So, it’s that simple.  Perhaps, with a lot of luck and brainpower, you can earn some extra money.

Good luck!