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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
Exactly 30 years ago, I and my family arrived in the U.S. from the U.K. to take up a one-year visiting position in the mathematics department at Stanford University. (We landed on July 28, 1987.) That one year was subsequently extended to two, and in the end we never returned...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
The great mathematician Karl Freidrich Gauss is frequently quoted as saying “What we need are notions, not notations.” [In “About the proof of Wilson's theorem,” Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (1801), Article 76.] While most mathematicians would agree that Gauss was correct in pointing out that concepts, not symbol manipulation, are at the heart of...
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Many math instructors use clickers in their larger lecture classes, and can cite numerous studies to show that they lead to more student attention and better learning. A recent research paper on clicker use devotes a page-long introductory section to a review of some of that literature. (Shapiro et al,...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
My May post is more than a little late. The initial delay was caused by a mountain of other deadlines. When I did finally start to come up for air, there just did not seem to be any suitable math stories floating around to riff off, but I did not...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
The first reviews of my new book Finding Fibonacci have just come out, and I have started doing promotional activities to try to raise awareness. As I expected,  one of the first reviews I saw featured a picture of the Nautilus shell (no connection to Fibonacci or the Golden Ratio),...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
Devlin makes a pilgrimage to Pisa to see thestatue of Leonardo Fibonacci in 2002. In 1983, I did something that would turn out to have a significant influence on the direction my career would take. Frustrated by the lack of coverage of mathematics in the weekly science section of my...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
For many of us, the linked video of Hans Rosling's 2006 TED Talk was our first encounter with the Swedish academic and his powerful data visualization tools Trendalyzer and Gapminder. I don't know when he first gave that talk, but over the ensuing years he gave essentially the same presentation...
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Two years ago, there was a sudden, viral spike in online discussion of the Ramanujan identity 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + . . . = –1/12 This identity had been lying around in the mathematical literature since the famous Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan included it...
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The author climbing the locally-notorious Country View Road just south of San Jose, CA As regular readers may know, one of my consuming passions in life besides mathematics is cycling. Living in California, where serious winters were wisely banned many years ago, on any weekend throughout the year you are...
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Keith Devlin mails his completed election ballot. What does math have to say about his act? With the United States is the final throes of a presidential election, my mind naturally turned to the decidedly tricky matter of election math. Voting provides a great illustration of how mathematics – which...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
The title of the famous Beatles song does not exactly apply to Devlin’s Angle. The online column (now run on a blog platform, but unlike most blogs, still subject to an editor’s guiding hand) is in its twentieth year, but it actually launched on January 1, 1996. In last month’s...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
Devlin’s Angle turned 20 this year. The first post appeared on January 1, 1996, as part of the MAA’s move from print to online. I was the editor of the MAA’s regular print magazine MAA FOCUS at the time, continuing to act in that capacity until December 1997. Keith Devlin...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
A scene from Zero Days, a Magnolia Pictures resease. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures The new documentary movie Zero Days, written and directed by Alex Gibney, is arguably the most important movie of the present century. It is also one of particular relevance to mathematicians for its focus is on...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
The recent (and in many respects ongoing) Brexit vote in the United Kingdom provides a superb example of poor use of mathematics. Regardless of your views on the desirability or otherwise of the UK remaining a member of the European Community (an issue on which this column is appropriately agnostic),...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
On May 30, Gary Antonick’s always interesting Numberplay section in the New York Times featured a contribution by Berkeley mathematician Ed Frenkel on the difficulties the human mind can encounter when trying to come to grips with infinity. If you have not yet read it, you should.Infinity offers many results...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
What does it mean to “do algebra”? In Part 1, published here last month, I described how algebra (from the Arabic al-Jabr) began in 9th Century Baghdad as a way to approach arithmetical problems in a systematic way that scales. It was a way of thinking, using logical reasoning rather than...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
Fig. 1: A problem from the first ever algebra textbook. The first ever algebra text book was written in Baghdad around 830CE, by the Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, our modern word “algebra” coming from the Arabic term al-Jabr, a technique for balancing an equation, described in the book....
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
March 1 saw the publication of the book The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions, by Andrew Hacker. MAA members are likely to recognize the author’s name from an opinion piece he published in the New York Times in 2012, with the arresting headline "Is Algebra Necessary?"Yes, I thought you’d...
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Posted by on in Keith Devlin
“Everyone excels at something.” We hear it all the time, usually said to console someone who is miserable after underperforming at something. Parents, in particular, often fall back on it with their children. What few people realize, though, is that the statement can be mathematically verified. You need only consider...
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If you are like me, you probably sigh and switch off when you read an article with a title claiming kids’ math scores show significant improvement after using some great new app for a few minutes each day. In which case, you may have paid little attention when a news...
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