Friday, July 23, 2010


Dear Mr. Bat,

I'm feeling terribly frustrated... but I thought of another metaphor of sewing in mathematics, and that is assembling ideas. The trouble is that, when it comes to communicating mathematical ideas, it is, for me, an awful lot like sewing in the dark: you have access to the needle and thread (that's words you can string together) and can maybe feel the cloth --- if you have any notion of what ideas are common to your audience --- but you can't necessarily see how the patches are stitched together; that is, without some decent back-and-forth, you (I) can't tell how your (my) readers are holding their patches, where the seams end up, what's the shape of the final product, how neat the stitches are...

Sometimes I really fear I'm not that good a tailor afterall. Back to the candle-lit space that is my own head, for now; but I'm told there's nothing for the rest but practise.

the sidewalk apprentice teacher

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poetics, primes, and $\pi_n$.

Dear Elsa,

I'm not today writing so much to say anything particularly mathematical, but to describe something of what it is like to study mathematics, and something of what my own mathematical interests are.

I'm not a historian, but I get the impression that the way maths are studied today is quite different from they way they were studied in, say, 1828, which is in turn different from what you'd have found in 1687, and so on, back to the lovely compilation of surveying tools and book-keeping tricks known as "Euclid's Elements of Geometry". Mathematics also has its fads and fashions, which come and go in various times and places.

Euclid, of course, studied plane geometry, starting from intuitive propositions and building towards elaborate consequences; and that at least has remained as a consistent motif in mathematics. It's an awful lot like building life-sized castles out of toothpicks and paste --- only at some point you don't really see the toothpicks anymore, just the bricks and framing you weave them into. Once you get really good at bricks and framing, you might not notice the toothpicks at all until you start thinking about patterned wallpaper, and realize you need something that isn't a brick, a beam, or a joist.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

verba quaesitaque

There are few things as compelling of poetry as being stuck in a bus for seven hours. And thus comes this blank novena.

In fields of purple vetch and goldenrod
I asked my Lord "Is't here?" He answered "No."

In time the wood was turned to red and gold;
"An unconsuming Flame? Now surely, here?"
In turn my Lord: "Not here, though not far-off."

Deep in the darkest month, the snows without
Could not have chilled my joy. "Is Heaven here?"
"Not here, Sir King; here lies the road thereto.
Keep on as now begin'st, thou shalt there come."

It's admittedly laconic --- a hint for who doesn't already know the allusion, the last person speaking is the Bishop St. Remigius. The earlier replies are meant to be the voice of God, speaking through the natural law which is, of course, written on all our hearts.

Anyways, the given word is "Month"; the question... you can figure it out, I'm sure.

some guy on the street

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Burrowing around familliar loci

It's me, in persona Chiropteri, writing to tell you about a fictional setting which also happens to be a family home, at the instigation of Enbrethiliel (who seems to blame me in some way for the particularity... ). This family home, invented by that most notorious waitressing-to-rich-author personality, J.K.Rowling. (And, yes, I'm claiming fair use for all excerpts.)

Here is our first view:
It looked as though it had once been a large stone pigsty, but extra rooms had been added here and there until it was several storeys high and so crooked it looked as though it was held up by magic (which, Harry reminded himself, it probably was). Four or five chimneys were perched on top of the red roof. A lopsided sign stuck in the ground near the entrance read `The Burrow'. Round the front door lay a jumble of wellington boots and a very rusty cauldron. Several fat brown chickens were pecking their way around the yard.

`It's not much,' said Ron.
`It's brilliant,' said Harry happily, thinking of Privet Drive.

The Burrow is of course the home of the Weasley family --- and what a family they are! In the recent round, Enbrethiliel has remarked on how houses are like reflections of the people that live in them. J. K. Rowling makes explicit use of this idea for most of the homes through the series, and The Burrow is an excellent example: it is as diverse and varied as its family, partly due to it's conjectured patch-work construction, partly through the active efforts of the family members themselves. Take, for instance, `Ronald's room':
Harry stepped in, his head almost touching the sloping ceiling,${}^1$ and blinked. It was like walkin into a furnace: nearly everything in Ron's room seemed to be a violent shade of orange; the bed-spread, the walls, even the ceiling.

(Imagine an orange that looks violent next to a born Weasley's hair!)

For much of the series, the Burrow also becomes like Harry's second real home (the first one being Hogwarts, of course), although for magical reasons he is forced anually to reside with his beloathed muggle relatives.

`It's a bit small,' said Ron quickly...
But Harry, grinning widely, said, `This is the best house I've ever been in.'

I'd say more, but I've a poem to write (dang it!)

some guy on the street

${}^1$ Does that remind you of somewhere else?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ever we fall, ever we get up again...

Dear Maurits,

I've recently been staring at a book of your prints, moved to sorrow for all those folks who have to keep climbing nowhere for all eternity. I almost fool myself that I feel some sympathy for them; and maybe they some for me. But the truth is that they don't really feel anything, being static, and I'm not stuck on a twisted bundle over $\mathbb{S}^1$; I'm not always climbing, because I keep falling. However much it might feel like an ongoing upward trudge, that feeling only persists so long as I forget having slid down that well-worn slope by the fascinating little rocky outcrop that you have to clamber through the briars and nettles to get at... and the rocks really aren't so nifty-looking up-close. It's just a heap of dead rocks.

Some people call your strange prints "illusions"; but that's really not right: they're properly paradox, a contradiction in pictures. What I occasionally suffer is illusion. You're just weird, and fascinating because of it.

I don't recall if you're the sort, but I'll ask you anyways, pray for me!

a sinful geometer