Happy Birthday, Paul Erdos!

Happy Birthday!

March 26 is the birthday of one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, Paul Erdos.  Considering this fact, it should be easy to write some sort of tribute, right?  Well, maybe not.  When I started to write this post celebrating his birthday, I was very intimidated.  I was worried that, no matter what I wrote, I wouldn’t write enough to honor his memory.  I even wondered what I should write about.

Maybe I should write about the fact that he was gifted mathematician?  Erdos is said to rival Leonard Euler as the most prolific mathematician in history, having produced some 1500 mathematical papers, many with collaborators.

Maybe I should write about his quirks?  He could be known to appear at your doorstep, unannounced, for an extended visit, announcing that his “brain is open”.  Legend has it that he had trouble tying his shoes, buttering his toast and opening containers of orange juice.  He loved ping-pong.  Even his childhood was unique.

Maybe I should write about Erdos as the philanthropist?  Erdos had little need for money so most of the money he earned was donated … whether to charities, needy friends or to set up scholarships.  If there was someone, anywhere, who needed financial help, Erdos was there.

Or, maybe I should leave it up to a professional wordsmith?  In 1996, columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a beautiful and touching tribute to Erdos, titled “Paul Erdos, Sweet Genius”.   I think I made the right choice.

If this isn’t enough and you are interested in learning more about Paul Erdos, you can read a more academic biography by clicking on this link.  If reading a book is more to your liking, here are two to consider.

  • 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.)

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Calling all Einstein fans!

For the first time ever, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is releasing its collection of Albert Einstein‘s archives.  (Read the press release.)  Included are digital images of personal correspondences, speeches, fan mail, and most importantly, notebooks containing his groundbreaking scientific ideas.  These are the real deal … the images are so crisp that you can see the graininess of the pencil lead and the inconsistency of his fountain pen ink.  It is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen!

To begin the fun, click here:  http://alberteinstein.info/gallery/gallery.html

The sounds of Pi

Ever wonder what Pi would sound like if it were played on musical instruments?  Well, here it is … the musical interpretation of Pi to 31 decimal places or 3.1415926535897932384626433832795.  I always knew that mathematics was visually beautiful, but I never imaged how beautiful it could sound.  Just breathtaking!  (Thanks to the musician Michael John Blake for taking the time to create it and to my colleague for finding the link for me.)

Click here to enjoy:  http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2011/03/a-musical-interpretation-of-pi.html

I wonder what the number e would sound like?

The World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem

Every once in a while a math problem takes the world by storm … at least the world of nerds.  About five years ago, the “World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem” hit the internet.  Not that this problem was new or unique.  After all, it has been around for hundreds of years.  However, with the speed and ease of communication of the internet, the problem spread like wildfire.  In fact, according to rumors, the problem was so addictive that the whiteboards in the offices of Google were filled with attempted solutions.  As the story goes, one employee said that the problem probably cost Google about a quarter of a million dollars in lost time.

What was the problem that people couldn’t stop thinking about?  Think you can solve it?  Enjoy … and no cheating!  (For a PDF version of the problem, click World’s Hardest Easy Geometry Problem.)