## Archive for the 'Irish Times' Category

### From Sailing on a Rhumb to Flying on a Geodesic

If you fly 14,500 km due westward from New York you will come to Beijing. The two cities are on the fortieth parallel of latitude. However, by flying a great circle route over the Arctic, you can reach Beijing in 11,000 km, saving 3,500 km and much time and aviation fuel.  [TM124 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Great circle route from New York to Beijing (gnomonic projection).

On a gnomonic projection (as above) each point on the Earth’s surface is projected from the centre of the Earth onto a plane tangent to the globe. On this map, great circles appear as straight lines.

### Andrey Markov’s Brilliant Ideas are still a Driving Force

A A Markov (1856-1922)

Imagine examining the first 20,000 letters of a book, counting frequencies and studying patterns. This is precisely what Andrey Markov did when he analyzed the text of Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel Eugene Onegin. This work comprises almost 400 stanzas of iambic tetrameter and is a classic of Russian literature. Markov studied the way vowels and consonants alternate and deduced the probabilities of a vowel being followed by a another vowel, by a consonant, and so on. He was applying a statistical model that he had developed in 1906 and that we now call a Markov Process or Markov chain. [TM123 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### Euler and the Fountains of Sanssouci

When Frederick the Great was crowned King of Prussia in 1740 he immediately revived the Berlin Academy of Sciences and invited scholars from throughout Europe to Berlin. The most luminous of these was Leonhard Euler, who arrived at the academy in 1741. Euler was an outstanding genius, brilliant in both mathematics and physics. Yet, a myth persists that he failed spectacularly to solve a problem posed by Frederick. Euler is reputed to have bungled his mathematical analysis. In truth, there was much bungling, but the responsibility lay elsewhere. [TM122 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Sanssouci Palace, the summer home of Frederick the Great in Potsdam.

### It’s as Easy as Pi

Every circle has the property that the distance around it is just over three times the distance across. This has been known since the earliest times  [see TM120 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

The constant ratio of the circumference to the diameter, denoted by the Greek letter pi, is familiar to every school-child. You might expect to find a proof in Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, he could not prove it, and he made no mention of the ratio (see last week’s post).

### Quadrivium: The Noble Fourfold Way

According to Plato, a core of mathematical knowledge – later known as the Quadrivium – was essential for an understanding of the Universe. The curriculum was outlined in Plato’s Republic. The name Quadrivium means four ways, but this term was not used until the time of Boethius in the 6th century AD [see TM119 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Image from here.

It is said that an inscription over the entrance to Plato’s Academy read “Let None But Geometers Enter Here”. This indicated that the Quadrivium was a prerequisite for the study of philosophy in ancient Greece.

### Robert Murphy, a “Brilliant Meteor”

A brilliant meteor that flared intensely but all too briefly”; this was how Des MacHale described the Cork-born mathematician Robert Murphy in his biography of George Boole, first professor of mathematics in Cork. Murphy was a strong influence on Boole, who quoted liberally from his publications [see TM118 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### Fractal Complexity of Finnegans Wake

Tomorrow we celebrate Bloomsday, the day of action in Ulysses. Most of us regard Joyce’s singular book as a masterpiece, even if we have not read it. In contrast, Finnegans Wake is considered by some as a work of exceptional genius, by others as impenetrable bafflegab [See TM117 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Wavelet transform of sentence length sequence in Ulysses. Note the structural change around sentence number 13,000. Image from Drozdz, et al (2016).

### Beautiful Patterns in Maths and Music

The numerous connections between mathematics and music have long intrigued practitioners of both. For centuries scholars and musicians have used maths to analyze music and also to create it. Many of the great composers had a deep understanding of the mathematical principles underlying music. Johann Sebastian Bach was the grand master of structural innovation and invention in music. While his compositions are the free creations of a genius, they have a fundamentally mathematical basis [See TM116 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Johann Sebastian Bach, the grand master of structural innovation and invention in music.

### Yves Meyer wins 2017 Abel Prize

On 23 May King Harald V of Norway will present the Abel Prize to French mathematician Yves Meyer. Each year, the prize is awarded to a laureate for “outstanding work in the field of mathematics”. Comparable to a Nobel Prize, the award is named after the exceptional Norwegian, Niels Henrik Abel who, in a short life from 1802 to 1829, made dramatic advances in mathematics. Meyer was chosen for his development of the mathematical theory of wavelets. [See TM115 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### When Roughly Right is Good Enough

How high is Liberty Hall? How fast does human hair grow? How many A4 sheets of paper would cover Ireland? How many people in the world are talking on their mobile phones right now? These questions seem impossible to answer but, using basic knowledge and simple logic, we can make a good guess at the answers. For example, Liberty Hall has about 16 floors. With 4 metres per floor we get a height of 64 metres, close enough to the actual height. Problems of this nature are known as Fermi problems. [TM114 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### The Water is Rising Fast

Seventy percent of the Earth is covered by water and three quarters of the world’s great cities are on the coast. Ever-rising sea levels pose a real threat to more than a billion people living beside the sea. As the climate warms, this is becoming a greater threat every year [TM113 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Mean Sea level in Seattle from 1900 to 2013

### The Improbability Principle

Extremely improbable events are commonplace.

It’s an unusual day if nothing unusual happens”. This aphorism encapsulates a characteristic pattern of events called the Improbability Principle. Popularised by statistician Sir David Hand, emeritus professor at Imperial College London, it codifies the paradoxical idea that extremely improbable events happen frequently.  [TM112 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

From front cover of  The Improbability Principle

### A Life-saving Whirligig

Modern science is big: the gravitational wave detector (LIGO) cost over a billion dollars, and the large hadron collider (LHC) in Geneva took decades to build and cost almost five billion euros. It may seem that scientific advances require enormous financial investment. So, it is refreshing to read in Nature Biomedical Engineering (Vol 1, Article 9) about the development of an ultra-cheap centrifuge that costs only a few cents to manufacture [TM111 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Whirligig, made from a plastic disk and handles and some string

### Enigmas of Infinity

Children sometimes amuse themselves searching for the biggest number. After trying millions, billions and trillions, they realize that there is no end to the game: however big a number may be, we can always add 1 to produce a bigger number: the set of counting numbers is infinite. The concept of infinity has intrigued philosophers since antiquity, and it leads to many surprises and paradoxical results [TM110 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### The Spire of Light

Towering over O’Connell Street in Dublin, the Spire of Light, at 120 metres, is about three times the height of its predecessor [TM109 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]. The Spire was erected in 2003, filling the void left by the destruction in 1966 of Nelson’s Pillar. The needle-like structure is a slender cone of stainless steel, the diameter tapering from 3 metres at the base to 15 cm at its apex. The illumination from the top section shines like a beacon throughout the city.

### Voronoi Diagrams: Simple but Powerful

We frequently need to find the nearest hospital, surgery or supermarket. A map divided into cells, each cell covering the region closest to a particular centre, can assist us in our quest. Such a map is called a Voronoi diagram, named for Georgy Voronoi, a mathematician born in Ukraine in 1868. He is remembered today mostly for his diagram, also known as a Voronoi tessellation, decomposition, or partition. [TM108 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Voronoi diagram drawn using the applet of Paul Chew (see Sources below).

### The Library of Babel and the Information Explosion

The world has been transformed by the Internet. Google, founded just 20 years ago, is a major force in online information. The company name is a misspelt version of “googol”, the number one followed by one hundred zeros. This name echoes the vast quantities of information available through the search engines of the company [TM107 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Artist’s impression of the Library of Babel [Image from Here].

Long before the Internet, the renowned Argentine writer, poet, translator and literary critic Jorge Luis Borges (1889 – 1986) envisaged the Universe as a vast information bank in the form of a library. The Library of Babel was imagined to contain every book that ever was or ever could be written.

### The Citizens’ Assembly: Why do 10 Counties have no Members?

Recently, the Irish Government established the Citizens’ Assembly, a body of 99 citizens that will consider a number of constitutional issues. The Assembly meets on Saturday to continue its deliberations on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which concerns the ban on abortion. It will report to the Oireachtas (Parliament) on this issue in June [TM106 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### The Edward Worth Library: a Treasure Trove of Maths

Infinite Riches in a Little Room.  Christopher Marlowe.

The Edward Worth Library may be unknown to many readers. Housed in Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin, now an administrative centre for the Health Service Executive, the library was collected by hospital Trustee Edward Worth, and bequeathed to the hospital after his death in 1733. The original book shelves and cases remain as they were in the 1730s. The collection is catalogued online. [TM105 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### The Shaky Foundations of Mathematics

The claim is often made that mathematical results are immutable. Once proven, they remain forever valid. But things are not so simple. There are problems at the very core of mathematics that cast a shadow of uncertainty. We can never be absolutely sure that the foundations of our subject are rock-solid [TM104 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Left: Plato and Aristotle. Centre: Pythagoras. Right: Euclid [Raphael, The School of Athens]

The ancient Greeks put geometry on a firm footing. Euclid set down a list of axioms, or basic intuitive assumptions. Upon these, the entire edifice of Euclidean geometry is constructed. This axiomatic approach has been the model for mathematics ever since.

### Marvellous Merchiston’s Logarithms

Log tables, invaluable in science, industry and commerce for 350 years, have been consigned to the scrap heap. But logarithms remain at the core of science, as a wide range of physical phenomena follow logarithmic laws  [TM103 or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Android app RealCalc with natural and common log buttons indicated.

### A New Window on the World

The motto of the Pythagoreans was “All is Number” and Pythagoras may have been the first person to imagine that the workings of the world might be understood in mathematical terms. This idea has now brought us to the point where, at a fundamental level, mathematics is the primary means of describing the physical world. Galileo put it this way: the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics [TM102, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Visualization of gravitational waves. Image credit MPI/Gravitational Physics/ITP Frankfurt/ZI Berlin.

### Thank Heaven for Turbulence

The chaotic flow of water cascading down a mountainside is known as turbulence. It is complex, irregular and unpredictable, but we should count our blessings that it exists. Without turbulence, we would gasp for breath, struggling to absorb oxygen or be asphyxiated by the noxious fumes belching from motorcars, since pollutants would not be dispersed through the atmosphere [TM101, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Turbulent flow behind a cylindrical obstacle [image from “An Album of Fluid Motion”, Milton Van Dyke, 1982].

### A Ton of Wonders

Every number is interesting. Suppose there were uninteresting numbers. Then there would be a smallest one. But this is an interesting property, contradicting the supposition. By reductio ad absurdum, there are none!

This is the hundredth “That’s Maths” article to appear in The Irish Times [TM100, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]. To celebrate the event, we have composed an ode to the number 100.

### The next Hamilton

William Rowan Hamilton was Ireland’s greatest mathematician. His name is heard thousands of times every day throughout the world when researchers use the Hamiltonian function that encapsulates the dynamics of a vast range of physical systems. He achieved fame early in life and remains one of the all-time great scientists. [TM099, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### The Tunnel of Eupalinos in Samos

The tunnel of Eupalinos on the Greek island of Samos, over one kilometre in length, is one of the greatest engineering achievements of the ancient world [TM098, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Approximate course of the tunnel of Eupalinos in Samos.

### Recreational Mathematics is Fun

We all love music, beautiful paintings and great literature without being trained musicians, talented artists or accomplished writers. It is the same with mathematics: we can enjoy the elegance of brilliant logical arguments and appreciate the beauty of mathematical structures and symmetries without being skilled creators of new theorems. [See TM097, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Harding Gallery. Image from Science Museum, London (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk).

### Can Mathematics Keep Us Secure?

The National Security Agency is the largest employer of mathematicians in America. Mathematics is a core discipline at NSA and mathematicians work on signals intelligence and information security (US citizenship is a requirement for employment). Why is NSA so interested in mathematics? [See TM096, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Flag of the National Security Agency

### Computers Speaking in Irish

Most of us use computer terminals, tablets and smart phones, absorbing information quickly and easily. How do the many thousands of Irish people who are blind or visually impaired manage to interact with computers? For them, entering data by keyboard or voice is easy, but special software is needed to convert the text on screen into a form for output to a loudspeaker or headphones, or to drive a refreshable Braille display [TM095, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Braille display (www.humanware.com)

### Lateral Thinking in Mathematics

Many problems in mathematics that appear difficult to solve turn out to be remarkably simple when looked at from a new perspective. George Pólya, a Hungarian-born mathematician, wrote a popular book, How to Solve It, in which he discussed the benefits of attacking problems from a variety of angles [see TM094, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### Bloom’s attempt to Square the Circle

The quadrature of the circle is one of the great problems posed by the ancient Greeks. This “squaring of the circle” was also an issue of particular interest to Leopold Bloom, the central character in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, whom we celebrate today, Bloomsday, 16 June 2016 [see TM093, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Joyce’s Tower, Sandycove, Co Dublin.

The challenge is to construct a square with area equal to that of a given circle using only the methods of classical geometry. Thus, only a ruler and compass may be used in the construction and the process must terminate in a finite number of steps.

### Big Data: the Information Explosion

The world is awash with data. Large data sets have been available for many decades but in recent years their volumes have grown explosively. With mobile devices and internet connections data capture is simple and with powerful computers the analysis of “big data” is feasible [see TM092, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Google image search for “Big Data”

But there are challenges: many data sets are too large and too complex to be analysed or understood using traditional data processing methods. Our current armoury of analysis techniques is inadequate and new mathematical methods are needed.

### Andrew Wiles wins 2016 Abel Prize

A recent post described the Abel Prize, effectively the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, and promised a further post when the 2016 winner was announced. This is the follow-up post [also at TM091, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Next Tuesday, HRH Crown Prince Haakon will present the Abel Medal to Sir Andrew Wiles at a ceremony in Oslo. The Abel Prize, comparable to a Nobel Prize, is awarded for outstanding work in mathematics. Wiles has won the award for his “stunning proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem” with his research “opening a new era in number theory”. Wiles’ proof made international headlines in 1994 when he cracked one of the most famous and long-standing unsolved problems in mathematics.

Pierre de Fermat, a French lawyer and amateur mathematician, stated the theorem in 1637, writing in the margin of a maths book that he had “a truly marvellous proof”. But for more than 350 years no proof was found despite the efforts of many of the most brilliant mathematicians.

### Modelling Rogue Waves

Rogue wave [image from BBC Horizons, 2002]

There are many eyewitness accounts by mariners of gigantic waves – almost vertical walls of water towering over ocean-going ships – that appear from nowhere and do great damage, sometimes destroying large vessels completely. Oceanographers, who have had no way of explaining these ‘rogue waves’, have in the past been dismissive of these reports [TM090, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

### The Inexorable Rise in Life Expectancy

Life expectancy has increased in a spectacular fashion over the past 150 years. There has been a four-decade increase in average length of life over the period since 1850. World life expectancy has more than doubled, from about 25 years to around 65 years for men and 70 years for women.  [TM089, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Global (male) life expectancy in years. Image Wikimedia Commons.

### The Search is on for Planet Nine

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken.

John Keats: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Pluto, discovered in 1930, orbits in the Kuiper Belt, a ring of asteroids and icy debris beyond Neptune. About ten years ago, it was reclassified as a “dwarf planet”, so now we have eight planets. Is there a ninth anywhere? A recent paper in the Astronomical Journal presents evidence of a large planet in an orbit far beyond Neptune. If confirmed, this would be a dramatic confirmation of our understanding of solar system dynamics [TM088, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Orbits of six trans-Neptunian objects aligned in one direction, suggesting a perturbing body, Planet Nine (?). Caltech/Robert Hurt.

### Computus: Dating the Resurrection

Whatever the weather, St Patrick’s Day occurs on the same date every year. In contrast, Easter springs back and forth in an apparently chaotic manner. The date on which the Resurrection is celebrated is determined by a complicated convolution of astronomy, mathematics and theology, an algorithm or recipe that fixes the date in accordance with the motions of the Sun and Moon [TM087, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Iona Abbey, the last Celtic monastery to hold out against  Easter reform [Image Wikimedia Commons]

### The Abel Prize – The Nobel Prize for Mathematics

There is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, but there is a close equivalent: The prestigious Abel Medal is awarded every year for outstanding work in mathematics [TM086, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]. This years winner, or winners, will be announced soon.

When Alfred Nobel’s will appeared, the absence of any provision for a prize in mathematics gave rise to rumours of discord between Nobel and Gösta Mittag-Leffler, the leading Swedish mathematician of the day. They are without foundation, the truth being that Nobel had little interest in the subject, and probably didn’t appreciate the practical benefits of advanced mathematics.

### The Mathematics of Voting

Selection of leaders by voting has a history reaching back to the Athenian democracy. Elections are essentially arithmetical exercises, but they involve more than simple counting, and have some subtle mathematical aspects [TM085, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Rock-paper-scissors, a zero-sum game. There is a cyclic relationship: rock beats paper, paper beats scissors and scissors beats rock [Image: Wikimedia Commons].

### Entropy Piano Tuning

An ingenious method of tuning pianos, based on the concept of entropy, has recently been devised by Haye Hinrichsen of Würzburg University. Entropy, which first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century in thermodynamics and later in statistical mechanics, is a measure of disorder. Around 1948 Claude Shannon developed a mathematical theory of communications and used entropy as an indicator of information content [TM084, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com].

Tuning curve showing the stretch for high and low notes (Image: Wikimedia Commons).

### Richardson’s Fantastic Forecast Factory

Modern weather forecasts are made by calculating solutions of the mathematical equations that express the fundamental physical principles governing the atmosphere  [TM083, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]

The solutions are generated by complex simulation models with millions of lines of code, implemented on powerful computer equipment. The meteorologist uses the computer predictions to produce localised forecasts and guidance for specialised applications.

We all know the festive carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each day, “my true love” receives an increasing number of gifts. On the first day there is one gift, a partridge in a pear tree. On the second, two turtle doves and another partridge, making three. There are six gifts on the third day, ten on the fourth, fifteen on the fifth, and so on.

Here is a Christmas puzzle: what is the total number of gifts over the twelve days? [TM083, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com]

### The Flight of a Golf Ball

Golf balls fly further today, thanks to new materials and mathematical design. They are a triumph of chemical engineering and aerodynamics. They are also big business, and close to a billion balls are sold every year. [TM081: search for “thatsmaths” at Irish Times ].

Simulation of flow around the dimples of a golf ball. Image from http://www.bioe.umd.edu/~balaras/html/topics.shtml

### Mathematics Solving Crimes

What use is maths? Why should we learn it? A forensic scientist could answer that virtually all the mathematics we learn at school is used to solve crimes. Forensic science considers physical evidence relating to criminal activity and practitioners need competence in mathematics as well as in the physical, chemical and biological sciences [TM080: search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ].

Trigonometry, the measurement of triangles, is used in the analysis of blood spatter. The shape indicates the direction from which the blood has come. The most probable scenario resulting in blood spatter on walls and floor can be reconstructed using trigonometric analysis. Such analysis can also determine whether the blood originated from a single source or from multiple sources.

### Melencolia: An Enigma for Half a Millennium

Albrecht Dürer, master painter and engraver of the German Renaissance, made his Melencolia I in 1514, just over five centuries ago. It is one of the most brilliant engravings of all time, and amongst the most intensively debated works of art [TM079; or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ].

The winged figure, Melancholy, sits in a mood of lassitude and brooding dejection, weighed down by intellectual cares. Her head rests on her left hand while her right hand holds a mathematical compass, one of many symbols and motifs in the work that reflect Dürer’s interest in mathematics.

### It’s a Small – Networked – World

Networks are everywhere in the modern world. They may be physical constructs, like the transport system or power grid, or more abstract entities like family trees or the World Wide Web. A network is a collection of nodes linked together, like cities connected by roads or people genetically related to each other. Such a system of nodes and links is what mathematicians call a graph [TM078; or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ].

Detail of a Twitter communications network.

### New Tricks: No Clicks

The readable surface of a Compact Disc has a spiral track over 5 km in length.

The quality of music recordings on compact discs or CDs is excellent. In the age of vinyl records, irritating clicks resulting from surface scratches were almost impossible to avoid. Modern recording media are largely free from this shortcoming. But this is curious: there are many reasons why CD music can be contaminated: dirt on the disc surface, flaws in the plastic substrate, errors in burning on the recording, scratches and fingerprints, and so on [TM077; or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ]

### The Ubiquitous Cycloid

Puzzle: However fast a train is travelling, part of it is moving backwards. Which part?
For the answer, see the end of this post.

Timelapse image of bike with lights on the wheel-rims. [Photo from Website of Alexandre Wagemakers, with thanks]

Imagine a small light fixed to the rim of a bicycle wheel. As the bike moves, the light rises and falls in a series of arches. A long-exposure nocturnal photograph would show a cycloid, the curve traced out by a point on a circle as it rolls along a straight line. A light at the wheel-hub traces out a straight line. If the light is at the mid-point of a spoke, the curve it follows is a curtate cycloid. A point outside the rim traces out a prolate cycloid, with a backward loop. [TM076; or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ]

### James Joseph Sylvester

James Joseph Sylvester (1814-1897) as a graduate of Trinity College Dublin.

James Joseph Sylvester was born in London to Jewish parents in 1814, just 201 years ago today. The family name was Joseph but, for reasons unclear, Sylvester – the name of an anti-Semitic Pope from the Roman period – was adopted later. [TM075; or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ]

Sylvester’s mathematical talents became evident at an early age. He entered Cambridge in 1831, aged just seventeen and came second in the notorious examinations known as the Mathematical Tripos; the man who beat him achieved nothing further in mathematics!

### The Great American Eclipse

Just two years from now, on Monday, August 21, 2017, the Moon’s shadow will sweep across the United States at a speed of over 2,000 km/hr. The Great American Eclipse of 2017 will generate a frenzy of activity. [TM074: search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com ].

Moon between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Sun,
giving a partial solar eclipse from space on Jan. 30, 2014. Image NASA.