Why I Love Math, Part 1: Because I Love Clever Movies

It’s no secret, I’m a mathy person. In fact, I just spent several hours of my free time this weekend trying to learn some new math, even though I didn’t need it for work.

Understandably, this seems ridiculous to a lot of folks. I probably get asked, “how can you enjoy this stuff?” more often than I get asked any other question about math or physics.

Well, one of the reasons I love math is that I love surprises, and math is full of them. Two mathematical concepts that initially look very different might turn out to be exactly the same. A problem that looks literally impossible might turn out to have a really easy solution, if you’re clever about it. Or a very simple idea might turn out to have much more important consequences than you’d ever have thought.

Whenever I find a situation like this in mathematics, I get a real thrill. But it’s not some esoteric, high-level pleasure reserved for academics. On the contrary, it’s the same sense of “Oh wow! Oh awesome!” that anyone can get from watching a good, clever movie.
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Less is More?

Last week, I wrote way too much about quantum teleportation. In response, several different people (not just you John!) suggested that instead of trying to explain such a complex topic, I should start with something smaller. Like quantum entanglement, which you really have to understand before you can appreciate teleportation. So I set out to write a small primer on quantum entanglement.

Then, after several paragraphs of explaining the background information you need to appreciate entanglement, I realized I’d need to take yet a further step back.

All this is to say, meet my new goal for WLOG blog: For the rest of the year, my new goal is to keep all my posts under 500 words. Stop laughing! I think I can do it. But wish me luck– this goes against the very nature of my being as a Stony Brook Babbler….

The End of the Federer Era (Or: “Roger and Me”)

Well, it’s over. I knew it had to happen some day.

I always naively assumed it would end with an epic loss. Federer would crumble in some key match, and I would know that he no longer had what it took.

There was that loss to Karlovic in Cincinnati in 2008, after his flat performance at the French and that crushingly close loss to Rafa at Wimbledon. It was the first time I’d seen Federer go into deciding set tiebreak looking completely certain he was going to lose. I thought it meant the end of his career. Two weeks later, he won the US open.

There was that heartbreaking loss to Rafa in the 2009 Australian open, when Federer broke down on court after it was over, and I thought I was seeing him weep for the end of an era. Later that year he won his first French Open to complete a career Grand Slam, and then broke the all time Slam title record at Wimbledon.

No, there’ve been losses, but Federer has always managed to bounce back, and win some more. He may never be as perfect or as indomitable as he was in, say 2004 (has anyone ever had that good a year, at any sport?), but as long as he’s playing tennis, he’s going to be a threat to win any tournament he enters, even if he’s no longer automatically the favorite.

And so I discovered a few weeks ago that, if I was waiting for a spectacular loss to signal the end of the Federer era, I was never going to notice its arrival. Instead, the event that heralded the beginning of a post-Federer tennis world was a victory, in a match where the talented Swiss wasn’t even playing.

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I Can’t Seem To Stop Blogging Tonight…

I guess I’m overcompensating for how long I was away. Still don’t have time to write much, but here’s something interesting I can communicate only through pictures. This famous logo:

I actually saw the original draft of this in an exhibition at the MoMa a month or so agoand this slightly less-famous one:

Were both designed by the same person, famed graphic artist Milton Glaser. You may also know a Bob Dylan poster he’s behind.

See below the fold for a T-Shirt I saw the other day which was not designed by Glaser.

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So Where Has My Blog Been?

Right here, silly. I just haven’t been adding posts to it for a couple of weeks now. Oops.

Sorry about that, to the small handful of you who not only read my blog, but notice when it’s not being updated. I don’t know why, but this semester has just worked against my blogging habits somehow. I guess it’s because various things have made it much much harder for me to work into a routine. Three different friends/family members came to visit at various times, which was amazing, but of course threw my schedule on end for a week every time. I’ve also had two shorter classes this semester that started and stopped in the middle of the year, switching days in between. And I have two early morning classes that have generally prevented me from doing the kind of late-night, right-before-I-go-to-bed blogging that worked so well last semester. I don’t know; It’s been a very fun few months, but it hasn’t been one I’ve been able to share with people as much as I’d like.

What I do have is several pages of moleskine notebook full of things I want to blog about. Some of these ideas have expired, of course, but quite a few of them are still relevant, so I promise that sometime in the near future, I’ll start writing some of them up. I’ve missed this more than you have I promise.

I will put up at least one more set of posts in the coming week, but then I may have to take a bit of a hiatus again, as I prepare for final exams. But after that, you can count on some new content here. In the meanwhile, just know I feel bad that I’ve left you out of the loop, and that I still have every intention of getting back to this at some point.

I guess if you all would stop coming to visit and you know, caring about me, then I’d be doing a better job of this. So it’s your own darn fault.

Happy May Day. Expect another post or two on Thursday, if not before.

15 of the Strangest Things That Can Legally Happen In Football

A few weeks ago a blogger named Skip Oliva compiled a list of “Eight Crazy Constitutional Scenarios,” in which he laid out a list of several surprisingly radical things that could happen in the United States without running afoul of our founding document (at least not technically). At the time, I desperately wanted to blog about the list and maybe try to add to it, but was still on my self-imposed winter blogging break. And now that I’m back, I’m discovering that it’s much harder to come up with scenarios like these than I expected. Still, if there are two things I love in this world besides the Beatles, it’s loopholes and lists of trivia. So instead of constitutional trivia, I offer you this list of totally ridiculous things that can happen in an American football game. You know, so that you have something to keep an eye out for this coming Sunday if for some reason the half time show is lame and the commercials don’t live up to the hype.

Disclaimer: I am not an authority on the rules of football, so this should not be considered authoritative. If you’re an NFL ref reading this on your iPhone from the sideline of the big game, please stop. It will not help you as much as you think it will. Okay, now, on to the unlikely-but-possible scenarios, approximately in order of increasing awesomeness:

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The Return of WLOG Blog (with free bonus preview of my semester)

Welcome back.

That’s addressed to me, not to you. For all I know you have been here all January. I wouldn’t know; I wasn’t here. I was at home in Colorado, hanging out with my family, who still have a dial up connection that only aspires to 56 kBps. In the past I’ve been very frustrated by this, but, perhaps in part because I’ve been realizing lately how rare it is to truly get some distance from the world, this time I found it kind of liberating. So I took a break from blogging, and for the most part also from Facebook, even though I know that so many people’s afternoons revolve around wondering what minuscule piece of science I might be about to trick them into thinking about. To all the people in that category, I apologize deeply, and encourage you to sit tight and wait for tomorrow afternoon’s post; It’ll be just what you’re looking for, I promise.

If by some chance, you also fall into the category of people who are curious about my day-to-day life, or at least about the life of a physics graduate student, the rest of this post is for you, because now that I’m settled back in at the Brook for some reason I feel like sharing a bit.

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