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An hour has 60 minutes and a minute has 60 seconds because the Sumerians used a base 60 counting system. Why *60*? A plausible explanation is that they could count to 12 with one hand, and to 60 with both hands. Alternate explanations from the MacTutor History of Mathematics archive.

posted by russilwvong on Oct 21, 2007 - 47 comments

posted by russilwvong on Oct 21, 2007 - 47 comments

The Johnson Solids are a set of 92 semi-regular polyhedra, all of which are uniquely named and numbered. Except for the familiar square pyramid they all have exotic names like the Hebesphenomegacorona. A Hebesphenomegacorona in space. Number 26, the Gyrobifastigium, is unique in that if copies of itself are properly stacked together they will leave no gaps, thus making it the only space filling Johnson Solid.

posted by Tube on Oct 3, 2007 - 28 comments

posted by Tube on Oct 3, 2007 - 28 comments

The *Suan shu shu* (筭數書) is an ancient Chinese collection of writings on mathematics discovered together with other texts [Chinese, incl. image of bamboo slips from same excavation] when in 1983 archaeologists opened a tomb at Zhangjiashan in Hubei believed closed in 186 BCE. Main link includes a downloadable full translation with commentary of this earliest extant Chinese work on mathematics by noted China scholar Dr Christopher Cullen.

posted by Abiezer on Sep 30, 2007 - 9 comments

posted by Abiezer on Sep 30, 2007 - 9 comments

More than fifty selected articles from *The Princeton Companion of Mathematics* (username: *Guest*, password: *PCM*) — a thematically-organized compendium of mathematics and mathematicians from Fields Medal-winner Tim Gowers. [via, previously]

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Sep 27, 2007 - 8 comments

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Sep 27, 2007 - 8 comments

Richard P. Feynman **{** Information Junkie **→** PhD **→** Atomic Bomber **→** Professor/Lecturer on Physics + Mathematical Artist [DIY] + Nanotech Knowledgist **→** 33.3% Nobel laureate + QEDynamic Speaker + Tiny Machinist + Challenger of Conclusions + Best-Selling Writer –**X**– Busted [outside Tuva] **→** Star Trek TNG Shuttlecraft **↓** Pepsi Black/Blue **↑** U.S. Postage Stamp **}** ∞

posted by Poolio on Sep 16, 2007 - 51 comments

posted by Poolio on Sep 16, 2007 - 51 comments

Dangerous Knowledge, BBC. In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians - Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing - whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide.

posted by nickyskye on Sep 4, 2007 - 39 comments

posted by nickyskye on Sep 4, 2007 - 39 comments

Fate, Absolute Life and Death, the Aleph, the Zeitgeist, the sinking of the Atlantis, the World Trade Center, the formation of the universe...what more could you want from art? There's probably already been a been a post on this guy, Paul Laffoley, but I should hope more people could get a glance at some of this man's work. Crazy or brilliant, you make your decision. A video from his website.

posted by moonbizcut on Aug 31, 2007 - 24 comments

posted by moonbizcut on Aug 31, 2007 - 24 comments

The Marquis de Condorcet and Admiral Jean-Charles de Borda were two men of the French Enlightenment who struggled with how to design voting systems that accurately reflected voters' preferences. Condorcet favored a method that required the winner in a multiparty election to win a series of head-to-head contests, but he also discovered that his method easily led to a paradoxes that produced no clear winners. The Borda method avoids the Condorcet paradox by requiring voters to rank choices numerically in order of preference, but this method is flawed because the withdrawal of a last-place candidate can reverse the election results. Mathematicians in the 19th century attempted to design better voting systems, including Lewis Carroll, who favored an early form of proportional representation. Economist Kenneth Arrow argued that designing a perfect voting system was futile, because his "impossibility theorem" proved that it's impossible to design a non-dictatorial voting system that fulfills five basic criteria of fairness. (more inside)

posted by jonp72 on Aug 27, 2007 - 43 comments

posted by jonp72 on Aug 27, 2007 - 43 comments

In Games, an Insight Into the Rules of Evolution. Carl Zimmer writes about Martin Nowak (previously mentioned here), a mathematical biologist who uses games to understand how cooperation evolved. [Via MindHacks.]

posted by homunculus on Aug 11, 2007 - 4 comments

posted by homunculus on Aug 11, 2007 - 4 comments

How Many Ways Can You Spell V1@gra? Building on previous research (Cockerham, 2004), Brian Hayes attempts to find the limits of Viagra-spammer ingenuity.

posted by Horace Rumpole on Jun 27, 2007 - 17 comments

posted by Horace Rumpole on Jun 27, 2007 - 17 comments

posted by frogan on May 28, 2007 - 29 comments

Aptitude Schmaptitude! *While the state of mathematical incompetence in this country has been much lamented, most famously in Paulos's brilliant 1988 book Innumeracy, it is still tacitly accepted . . . Being incompetent in math has become not only acceptable in this widely innumerate culture, it has almost become a matter of pride. No one
goes around showing off that he is illiterate, or has no athletic ability, but declarations of innumeracy are constantly made without any embarrassment or shame. *

posted by jason's_planet on May 3, 2007 - 140 comments

posted by jason's_planet on May 3, 2007 - 140 comments

The Narrow Road : in which a professional mathematician guides you through pure mathematics (and touches on tangential issues).

posted by phrontist on May 1, 2007 - 10 comments

posted by phrontist on May 1, 2007 - 10 comments

Win £500 from the Royal Society of Chemistry (or a place on a Chinese science undergraduate course) if your math skills are up to it.

posted by hoverboards don't work on water on Apr 25, 2007 - 25 comments

posted by hoverboards don't work on water on Apr 25, 2007 - 25 comments

Math Team Solves the Unsolvable E8

"If you thought writing calculations to describe 3-D objects in math class was hard, consider doing the same for one with 248 dimensions. Mathematicians call such an object E_{8}, a symmetrical structure whose mathematical calculation has long been considered an unsolvable problem. Yet an international team of math whizzes cracked E_{8}'s symmetrical code in a large-scale computing project, which produced about 60 gigabytes of data. If they were to show their handiwork on paper, the written equation would cover an area the size of Manhattan."

posted by ericb on Mar 19, 2007 - 67 comments

"If you thought writing calculations to describe 3-D objects in math class was hard, consider doing the same for one with 248 dimensions. Mathematicians call such an object E

posted by ericb on Mar 19, 2007 - 67 comments

Images of Aggregation "These works come from a study of organic natural forms and their relationship to simple mathematical rules." See videos, and also, Images of Flow. [via]

posted by dhruva on Mar 11, 2007 - 9 comments

posted by dhruva on Mar 11, 2007 - 9 comments

Alain Connes has a blog. Terry Tao also has a blog. Two Fields medalists blog on open problems, their views on mathematics, and Tomb Raider. Timothy Gowers doesn't have a blog, but does have a compendium of informal essays on topics like Why is multiplication commutative? If you prefer pictures to words: Faces of Mathematics.

posted by escabeche on Mar 10, 2007 - 15 comments

posted by escabeche on Mar 10, 2007 - 15 comments

Zelda and the Golden Ratio. A fascinating examination of the music from Nintendo's Zelda games, and the recurring appearances of 0.618, the bisection point on a line at which the relationship of the shorter segment to the longer one is the same as that of the longer section to the whole line.

posted by jbickers on Mar 7, 2007 - 24 comments

posted by jbickers on Mar 7, 2007 - 24 comments

Everything you know about Pythagoras is wrong (except the bit about the beans). Less the golden-thighed Einstein of the Ancient World and more the L. Ron Hubbard of Magna Graecia. [Last link has some rude words]

posted by Kattullus on Feb 22, 2007 - 41 comments

posted by Kattullus on Feb 22, 2007 - 41 comments

What if Euclid had been Japanese? There are traditionally stated and proved theorems *about* origami. And MetaFilter has previously explored modular origami (as well as the boring old artistic kind), which has a geometric foundation. However, origami itself is a powerful mathematical framework that allows one to, for instance, solve the famously insoluable problem of trisecting an angle. More generally: Traditional geometry solves quadratic equations, origami solves cubic ones. (Many more mathematical items about and using origami can be found in the excellent mathematics teachers' book: Project Origami: Activities for Exploring Mathematics, most of which are unfortunately not findable online).

posted by DU on Feb 13, 2007 - 9 comments

posted by DU on Feb 13, 2007 - 9 comments

Dr. Jeannine Mosely finishes building a level-3 Menger sponge from business cards. You can also build your own, though Dr. Mosely warns, "[a] level 4 sponge would require almost a million cards and weigh over a ton. I do not believe it could support its own weight — so a level 3 is the biggest sponge we can hope to build." (related)

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Feb 2, 2007 - 19 comments

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Feb 2, 2007 - 19 comments

Mathematicians in the 1940s became curious about Fair Division, thus birthing an entire branch of mathematics concerned with cutting cakes. Recently, this man came up with a new method, purported to be the most fair yet. Hard to disbelieve, coming from the topologist who has mastered shoelaces, although arguably he's missing the point.

posted by eparchos on Jan 15, 2007 - 28 comments

posted by eparchos on Jan 15, 2007 - 28 comments

The "Darwinian paradox" of homosexuality presents the conundrum of how a potential genetic basis for homosexual behavior could provide a survival benefit to offpsring and extend through generations, when sexual reproduction would seem to place strong selection pressure against such a "gene". Recently developed mathematical models (PDF) from researchers Sergey Gavrilets and William Rice not only show how a "gay gene" might proliferate within a population, but also provides testable hypotheses, including predictions of "widespread bisexuality" (subscription req'd).

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Jan 14, 2007 - 68 comments

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Jan 14, 2007 - 68 comments

Mysterious number 6174. An excellent recreational math article.

posted by fatllama on Jan 13, 2007 - 34 comments

posted by fatllama on Jan 13, 2007 - 34 comments

Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading's computer science department, claims to have defined what it means to divide by zero. It's so simple, he claims, that he's even taught it to high school students [via Digg]. You just have to work with a new number he calls Nullity (RealPlayer video). According to Anderson's site The Book of Paragon, the creation, innovation, or discovery of nullity is a step toward describing a "perspective simplex, or perspex [ . . . ] a simple physical thing that is both a mind and a body." Anderson claims that Nullity permits the definition of transreal arithmetic (pdf), a "total arithmetic . . . with no arithmetical exceptions," thus removing what the fictional dialogue No Zombies, Only Feelies? identifies as the "homunculus problem" in mathematics: the need for human intervention to sort out "corner cases" which are not defined.

posted by treepour on Dec 7, 2006 - 63 comments

posted by treepour on Dec 7, 2006 - 63 comments

Autodidactic goodies on a budget: Free computer books and online lectures, seminars and instructional materials from a variety of renowned institutions.

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Nov 21, 2006 - 19 comments

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Nov 21, 2006 - 19 comments

Platonic Realms is an online math academy. It features a searchable encyclopedia with extended articles on things from Cantor's Theorem to Zeno's Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles. You'll also find minitexts, such as "Coping with Math Anxiety" and "The Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher". Last but not least, a searchable math quotes database.

posted by owhydididoit on Sep 9, 2006 - 4 comments

posted by owhydididoit on Sep 9, 2006 - 4 comments

Grigory Perelman, awarded the Fields Medal for his work on the Poincare Conjecture, talks to the New Yorker.

posted by Gyan on Aug 29, 2006 - 17 comments

posted by Gyan on Aug 29, 2006 - 17 comments

Proofs and Pictures: The Role of Visualization in Mathematical and Scientific Reasoning [video] "The picture is a telescope for looking into Plato's heaven." -- James Brown [cached]

posted by Chuckles on Aug 20, 2006 - 27 comments

posted by Chuckles on Aug 20, 2006 - 27 comments

Grisha Perelman, where are you? Perelman has quite possibly solved one of mathematics biggest mysteries, Poincaré’s conjecture, but has since disappeared.

posted by kliuless on Aug 15, 2006 - 32 comments

posted by kliuless on Aug 15, 2006 - 32 comments

Among his collected works, in the few, short years before mathematician Alan Turing was driven to suicide, he published *"The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis"*, theorizing how a standing wave-like distribution of "cannibal" and "missionary" chemicals might explain how plants and animals develop their shape and pigmentation. Blogger Jonathan Swinton focuses on this more obscure aspect of Turing's research, and reviews some of his posthumous and unpublished efforts — including one of the earliest known examples of digital computation applied to the field of biology.

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Aug 7, 2006 - 10 comments

posted by Blazecock Pileon on Aug 7, 2006 - 10 comments

The Zero Saga contains a great deal of information about the concept of zero, and its relation to other numbers and concepts in mathematics. It was linked in Good Math, Bad Math; which contains a variety of other informative articles on the numbers that capture our imaginations. (**Note:** You may want to skip past part 4 of the Zero Saga, as it contains replies to the site, and as such should probably be at the bottom of the page. But, to compensate, the comments on Good Math are better than most blogs I've read.)

posted by Eideteker on Aug 3, 2006 - 11 comments

posted by Eideteker on Aug 3, 2006 - 11 comments

The Moving Sofa Constant. We have noticed you have a small personal problem with sofas. You move them and get them stuck in hallways. But it's nothing a little math won't fix.

posted by storybored on Jul 21, 2006 - 29 comments

posted by storybored on Jul 21, 2006 - 29 comments

Minimum Sudoku. It is believed (though not proven) that the minimum number of entries in a Sudoku grid that will lead to a unique solution is 17. Gordon Royle of the University of Western Australia has collected 36,628 "minimum Sudoku" grids. Additional reading: an article in American Scientist on determining the difficulty of a Sudoku problem; Wikipedia article on the mathematics of Sudoku; the Sudoku Programmers' Forum on Sudoku mathematics.

posted by Prospero on Jul 19, 2006 - 29 comments

posted by Prospero on Jul 19, 2006 - 29 comments

Math gets a patent.

"The field of invention relates generally to performing division operations using processing components and, more specifically but not exclusively relates to techniques for performing efficient software-based integer division using reciprocal multiplication."

posted by The Jesse Helms on Jul 13, 2006 - 33 comments

"The field of invention relates generally to performing division operations using processing components and, more specifically but not exclusively relates to techniques for performing efficient software-based integer division using reciprocal multiplication."

posted by The Jesse Helms on Jul 13, 2006 - 33 comments

Mapping the StarMaze A tale of mathematical obsession: "Before I can explain my decades-long quest to map the starmaze I must acquaint you with a small puzzle...I have a habit of seeing everything (cities, organizations, computers, networks, brains) as a maze, so I named this puzzle the starmaze....The first problem I ran into was that there were a lot of rooms...I invented wacky names for each room...But something funny happened...In that instant I finally grasped that the starmaze was arranged on the edges of a nine-dimensional hypercube..."

posted by vacapinta on Jun 4, 2006 - 38 comments

posted by vacapinta on Jun 4, 2006 - 38 comments

The Dot and the Line. (by Norman Juster) Read the book. Watch the movie.

posted by jrb223 on May 20, 2006 - 20 comments

posted by jrb223 on May 20, 2006 - 20 comments

Charles Babbage's Difference Engines. One built in 1853. A subsequent design completed in 1991. And again in Lego. Both designs recreated in Meccano parts. [more inside]

posted by slimepuppy on Apr 26, 2006 - 11 comments

posted by slimepuppy on Apr 26, 2006 - 11 comments

"...the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is..." "Yes? Yes!?" "...42."

via Dyson, Montgomery, Princeton, a cup of tea - as presented by Seed Magazine.

posted by loquacious on Mar 28, 2006 - 41 comments

via Dyson, Montgomery, Princeton, a cup of tea - as presented by Seed Magazine.

posted by loquacious on Mar 28, 2006 - 41 comments

The Value of Algebra: "*Gabriela, sooner or later someone's going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers.*"

posted by daksya on Feb 16, 2006 - 190 comments

posted by daksya on Feb 16, 2006 - 190 comments

Notable properties of specific numbers: From Planck time to milli-millillions and myriads.

posted by Rothko on Feb 5, 2006 - 16 comments

posted by Rothko on Feb 5, 2006 - 16 comments

posted by goatdog on Dec 16, 2005 - 14 comments

An awkward resemblance to a certain eigenface might get you pulled aside in Las Vegas. Prof. Hilbert is probably spinning in his grave.

posted by Rothko on Dec 12, 2005 - 24 comments

posted by Rothko on Dec 12, 2005 - 24 comments

Mathematical proofs *in sanus*, with some visualization from Martin Wattenberg's The Shape of Song. "The music here...is a raw and unadorned representation of the mathematics itself, involving few human preconceptions beyond a basic mapping needed to accommodate the Western tonal scale."

posted by Rothko on Dec 4, 2005 - 13 comments

posted by Rothko on Dec 4, 2005 - 13 comments

How to Draw a Straight Line - Until 1873, virtually all mathemeticians and engineers agreed that it was impossible to build a linkage that could convert circular motion to perfectly straight motion. In that year, Lipmann Lipkin rediscovered the Peaucellier cell which had been quietly created a decade earlier. Although much simpler to build, it was predated by Pierre-Frederic Sarrus' non-planar solution. Nowadays, though, linkages can do some extremely complex things. (via)

posted by Plutor on Nov 28, 2005 - 25 comments

posted by Plutor on Nov 28, 2005 - 25 comments

Beyond Discovery - illustrations of the path from research to human benefit

posted by Gyan on Oct 22, 2005 - 7 comments

posted by Gyan on Oct 22, 2005 - 7 comments

A View from the Back of the Envelope - approximations and the fun behind them.

posted by Gyan on Oct 18, 2005 - 25 comments

posted by Gyan on Oct 18, 2005 - 25 comments