NAA Link: Margaret Wertheim on coral, crochet, and hyperbolic geometry

26 February 2010

Every once in a while I drop by to watch a TED talk (if you’ve never heard of TED talks, feel exhorted to check out the sight), and I usually pull up something on technology or world issues.  It finally dawned on me that typing “math” in the search box might be worth doing.  And was it ever.

The first math-related TED talk I saw is by Margaret Wertheim, speaking on the beautiful math of coral.  The combination of natural science, theoretical mathematics (specifically hyperbolic geometry), and the craft of crochet makes for something one-of-a-kind.


Hard to believe I haven’t mentioned Taylor Mali in this blog until now…

24 February 2010

Sometimes I get an email that just arc-welds a smile on my face for a couple hours.  Such a thing occurred last night while I was waiting for the bus in the snow.

On March 26th, the Michigan Education Reform Club (MERC) is hosting an education-themed poetry slam entitled Yes! This Will Be on the Test: An Open-Mic Tribute to Education.  It turns out that several of the organizers were my students last fall, when I taught a course in geometry for future teachers.  They remembered all the times I talked with enthusiasm about math and poetry and education, and are inviting me to put my money where my mouth is.  Or, more precisely, to put my mouth where my mouth said it would be.  But with rhythm.  What fills me with glee is that someone thought “Education? Poetry slam? Let’s ask Dr. Cap!”  Hard not to love that when at least someone does free-association on education / poetry, I pop up.

Have I ever done anything even remotely resembling a poetry slam? Emphatic no!

Am I accepting the invitation? Emphatic yes!

(For anyone in the Ann Arbor area who may be interested in attending, I’ll provide more information as I receive it.)

Now, when I think the words “poetry slam” and “education”, there is only one name that comes to mind: Taylor Mali.  If you’ve never heard of Taylor Mali, he is a legendary educator, poet, and spoken word artist.  (If you are an educator or you get a lot of email forwards from an educator, you may have read his poem “What Teachers Make”, which is either a cult classic or cyberspam depending who you ask.)  If you’re saying now “Who’s Taylor Mali?”, you should really read his answer to that question or just nose around his site a bit (linked above), where you’ll find a raft of texts.

Fortunately for you all, it turns out that there are quite a few spectacular performances by Taylor Mali on youtube.  These five are my favorites.

xkcd: Freedom

24 February 2010


xkcd #706: Freedom

I think about this a lot.  Too much.  I used to have an irrational fear that in the middle of an important conversation or a class I would do something insane.

Mathematical Fiction: Riot at the Calc Exam and Reality Conditions « Not About Apples

23 February 2010

Today at Not About Apples, I comment on two collections of “mathematical fiction”: Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories by Colin Adams and Reality Conditions: Short Mathematical Fiction by Alex Kasman.

My favorite line of the post: “Mathematics is still looking for its Victor Borge.”

Permalink: Mathematical Fiction: Riot at the Calc Exam and Reality Conditions

Poetry for Children (with digressions into Upside-Down Pictures and the Land of Lost Socks)

16 February 2010

Who were your favorite poets when you were 6 or 7?

I don’t seem to remember being very enthusiastic about poetry when I was that age, though I could very easily be mistaken. The books I still remember, the ones that made up the mythos of my childhood, weren’t poetry (unless you count the little rhymes at the beginning of Berenstain Bears books).

Digression 1: Speaking of the books of the mythos of my childhood, you know what’s great about being a grown-up with access to university libraries? I was able to find one of the picture books from my childhood. I remember being so blown away by this book at school in kindergarten or first grade or so that I insisted that my parents find it so I could read it at home. The book is Round Trip, and it’s got a lovely gimmick. The story is of a child’s journey with his/her family from their small country house into the big, big city and back. The illustrations are all black and white, and when you get to “the end” of the book, you flip it over and go back the other way, with the pictures upside-down. The way that a daytime scene of travel away and a nighttime scene of return are the same, just upside down, is the kind of play with figure-and-ground that still makes me think “Cool!”, even as I close in on 29. The memory rattled toward the front of my mind sometime early last year or so, and I tracked it down so I could read it to my daughter. The feeling of recapturing a bit of the magic of childhood, even if it’s just getting your hands on a book once seen as magical, was a special one, made more so by my intention to share it with my daughter.

I like reading to my daughter, though it’s not always easy to find something to read to her. She has rather specific preferences in things, and very little patience for things that she doesn’t decide that she likes. But I do like reading to her, telling her stories. I prefer any bit of quality end-of-day time with her to just turning on a bedtime movie. Based I think on some positive response to nursery rhymes, I decided at one point to try poetry. I tried reciting some little bits of verse I happened to know from my adventures, and that went well. I got a book of poetry about faeries from the library (I know my audience), and some of those were good and some were boring.

The big triumph came when I heard a review of a book on NPR one weekend morning with Datura, and I headed to the library to snatch it up. The book was Flamingos on the Roof, by Calef Brown, and it consists of very short poetry accompanied by paintings. The content is pitched at small children and quite silly, but the real beauty is in what’s happening with the sounds, rhymes, and rhythm; it’s just a joy to have these poems coming out of my mouth. We had a winner.

Somewhere around this time I discovered that my wife owned the set of three books of Shel Silverstein poetry. She thought the set of big white books looked cool, and I read to her. Over many nights, over many months, I’ve probably read her more than a hundred different Shel Silverstein poems. She has zero interest. Zero.

Last night I went back to reading from Calef Brown’s Flamingos on the Roof (we read them all, most twice, and we sounded out the words in some of her favorites), and I reached, at long last, a conclusion. I need to get this girl some more books of poetry.

Digression 2: Why did Round Trip and Flamingos on the Roof both feature in a post today of all days, you ask? Because yesterday, when Susie was doing a heroic amount of housework, she uncovered, in the middle of Datura’s floor, both of these books. We have both spent long periods of time looking for these books on previous occasion. Flamingos on the Roof is my property now, but only becacuse I had to pay the library after being quite sure that I had lost it. Round Trip I’d been seeking for quite a white — hadn’t seen it in the better part of a year — and was steeling myself for owing the . Then they both appeared. Ta-da. They fell back out of hammerspace, or wherever it is that small children can lose your left slipper and a dozen pen caps in, and from whence they manifest candy and noisemakers. Where is that place? Is it Hofstadter’s Tumbolia? And is it the same place where all the dirt goes when a dog digs a hole? Have you ever seen a dog dig a hole? You get big holes and little tiny piles of dirt. The dirt would never even come close to filling the hole. Where does the dirt go?

I know there are some moms who read this blog, and I know there are some people with a background in education (and some overlap between these groups). So what do you think? Who are some good poets for early elementary children? Good illustrations, a plus. Words at a difficulty that it would be worI know there are some moms who read this blog, and I know there are some people with a background in education (and some overlap between these groups). So what do you think? Who are some good poets for early elementary children? Good illustrations, a plus. Words at a difficulty that it would be worthwhile for a beginning beginning reader to give them a shot, a superplus.thwhile for a beginning beginning reader to give them a shot, a superplus.

There are probably obvious answers, but I’m just not knowledgable in this area, so give me the obvious and the obscure.

Thanks in advance.

NAA Link: Mathematical Poetry

12 February 2010

I recently stumbled across the Mathematical Poetry blog, which explores the interplay between mathematical concepts and artistic creation in a way not quite like anything I’ve ever seen.

An interesting place for readers of this blog to start might be these delineations.

NAA: Bhargava’s Factorials

8 February 2010

New post at Not About Apples.

Not About Apples is back with a vengeance.  Today, Bhargava’s generalized factorials, a relatively recent gem of mathematics (discovered in our lifetime) gleaned from the Joint Math Meetings in January.  Who’d have thought there was more to say about n!? It’s a little weightier than some of my posts, but I think it’s one of the most worth-the-effort.

Permalink: Bhargava’s Factorials.