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Prime Obsession

timothy posted more than 8 years ago | from the claire dept.

Science 325

jkauzlar writes "Popular mathematics books don't come along often and when they do, they're only occasionally worth the read. John Derbyshire, a controversy-stirring political propagandist by day, and mathematician-enthusiast by night, has composed what may turn to out to be one of the classics of mathematical literature for the lay-person." Read on for the rest of jkauzlar's review.

Bernhard Riemann came to the University of Goettingen in 1846 at the age of 19, originally to study theology. The University, however, was home to Carl Friedrich Gauss, "the greatest mathematician of his age and possibly of any age," and the impressionable young Riemann, succumbing to the privilege of Gauss's presence and following his already blossoming interest in mathematics, refocused his studies on the area in which he would soon attain distinct immortality. As early as 1851 he was impressing even Gauss with the results of his doctoral dissertation and in 1859 was appointed a corresponding member of the Berlin Academy. To this honor, Riemann responded with his most famous paper, entitled "On the number of prime numbers less than a given quantity," containing therein what became known as the Riemann Hypothesis.

At the heart of the RH is the Zeta function which, in its basic form, looks like this: Z(s)=1 + 1/2^s + 1/3^s + 1/4^s + ... and which, through some simple algebraic manipulation as demonstrated by the mathematically gifted journalist Derbyshire, can be given in the form (1 - 2^-s)^-1 * (1 - 3^-s)^-1 * (1 - 5^-s)^-1 * (1 - 7^-s)^-1 * ... And it is in this second form which Derbyshire calls "The Golden Key" where the non-mathematician gets the first glimpse of the Zeta function's relationship with prime numbers.

But where this Golden Key appears as this "novel's" turning point--its central conflict-- it is not until Prime Obsession's climax when the Key is at last turned and the Zeta function's true relationship to the prime counting function pi(x)--the number of primes less than a given x--is at last made clear. Along the way, from the introduction of the Zeta function to the final explanation of its relevance to prime numbers (the turning of the Key), Derbyshire enlightens us with clear, mostly English language descriptions of the mathematics involved, as well as plentiful anecdotes that give readers a sense of the life and work of the major figures in the history surrounding the RH from Euler, Gauss and Dedekind in the late 18th century through Riemann's 1859 paper, and from 1859 onward to recent advancements in the '80s and '90s.

The Riemann Hypothesis states that "all nontrivial zeros of the Zeta function have real part one-half." Understanding the statement of the hypothesis is Derbyshire's first mission for the reader. In short, most functions with a dependent variable, say f(x)=x^2-2x+1, have a value for which if you replace x with this value, the function returns zero. In the example given, it is at the value x=1 where f(x)=0. The Zeta function has an infinite number of these zeroes and an infinite number of these is "non-trivial." The non-trivial zeroes come from complex number values. Riemann's guess, his hypothesis, is that the real part of each of these non-trivial zeroes is equal to one-half. The imaginary part can be anything.

Derbyshire explains all of the mathematics in very readable language. It's unlikely that anyone who did well in high school mathematics will not be able to follow Derbyshire's mathematics (and it's unlikely that those who didn't do well will pick up a 400-page book on this topic). The Zeta function is explored from a number of angles--numerically, graphically, algebraically, statistically, and there's even a link between the non-trivial zeroes of the Zeta function and quantum physics! By a larger margin, however, Prime Obsession's intrigue lies in Derbyshire's expositions on Riemann, Hilbert, Turing, Gauss, et al, as well as those modern mathematicians he's interviewed personally. The line between the mathematical half of the book and the historical is clearly defined; the odd-numbered chapters are devoted to the former, the even to the latter.

Those fans and foes of Derbyshire's most public line of work as a journalist/editorial writer for National Review will be comforted to know all political polemics have been set aside. John Derbyshire gives a virtuoso performance as an informed journalist and maintains his stance as a personable and careful guide through a sometimes difficult terrain. Anyone with some interest in the topic will find it hard to put down Derbyshire's book once begun. If we are lucky (hint, hint, JD) perhaps Derbyshire's next book will cover the newly-proven Poincare Conjecture ...


You can purchase Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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This is long overdue (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161494)

Who isn't obsessed with the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime?

Re:This is long overdue (2, Funny)

JackBurtonLives (842479) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161536)

I don't think MegaTron was too obsessed with Optimus Prime. If he was, maybe he would have won a battle or two. After all a gun should stop a truck

Re:This is long overdue (0, Offtopic)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161564)

I wrote a design document for Transformers Online a few days ago. Its a pretty intense MMOG that bases its action off PlanetSide, but has RTS elements, and a long character progression. I don't think Hasbro executives will pick up on it, but its a good read if you're interested in where next generation MMOGs should be heading.

Transformers Online [geocities.com]

"Propagandist"?!? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161508)

Go back to Canada, you left-wing hippie piece of trash.

Re:"Propagandist"?!? (1)

Sophrosyne (630428) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161619)

First: the guy is from Long Island NY.
Second: Here [reference.com] is a definition of the word propagandist.
-Hope that makes you feel less stupid now.

Definition of propaganda (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161625)

Definition of propaganda: information, facts, or opinions that you don't agree with. Therefore, you want them belittled or censored.

frist prost (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161511)

woot!

No thank you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161526)

It may be a fine book, but I see no reason to do anything to help line the pockets of John Derbyshire. If I decide to read it, I'll get it from the library. Vote with your feet.

What is bad about him? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161593)

I really don't know a thing about the guy. What is repugnant about him?

Re:What is bad about him? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161631)

*gasp* He's a conservative! Run for the hills!

It's entirely people's prerogative to mix politics and pleasure, but my God, what a silly prerogative to exercise.

Chomsky gets away with it. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161757)

Reminds me of the situation with Noam Chomsky, then. A truly gifted scientist in the field of linguistics. Outside of that, however, he indulges in the worst sort of paranoid conspiracy theories filtered through the gauze of Stalinism. Truly loony-tunes. (He's one of those who thinks that bin Laden is a hero just because bin Laden hates the US. A rabid hatred of the US and its people is one of Chomsky's hallmarks).

Re:What is bad about him? (2, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161918)

Could be worse -- he might've been *gasp* a liberal!

Besides, in the field of mathematics, being conservative is not a bad thing as long as the Earth is still round. ;)

Re:What is bad about him? (1)

kuriharu (756937) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162057)

>> Could be worse -- he might've been *gasp* a liberal! But aren't liberals the ones who don't want to admit they're liberals? Conservatives toss that label around easily. It's liberals who dodge the title! Only a select number of Hollywood types (read: fools) accept it openly: Micheal Boore, Al Freakin, etc. I openly admitted my conservatism, even when I went to 2 liberal colleges.

Re:What is bad about him? (3, Informative)

fenix down (206580) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162126)

He had a little bitchy slap-fight with the student body of the University of Michigan a while ago that resulted in this pretty good guide [umich.edu] though his profound love of the word "buggery". Seriously, he writes articles where he'll use it like 16 times in a single paragraph.

lay person? (4, Insightful)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161540)

...may turn to out to be one of the classics of mathematical literature for the lay-person

Ummm...what would its peers be? Just how many "classic" math books does the lay-person have now?

Could it be that the lay-person wouldn't be interested in any book about math, no matter how well written?

I dunnnoooo...almost sounds completely probable.

Examples of Math books for lay people (5, Informative)

thegameiam (671961) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161604)

Try Mathematics for the Million [amazon.com] by Hogben - it's fantastic, and the most coherent Calculus explanation I've ever encountered.

Re:Examples of Math books for lay people (2, Insightful)

photon317 (208409) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161796)


I second this - Mathematics for the Million is truly a classic that belongs in this category that the story author referred to. It should be handed out to every child at a reasonable age, so that they can use it as an extra-curricular guide as they learn their way through the horrors of school-taught math.

Re:Examples of Math books for lay people (1)

claytongulick (725397) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162016)

Don't forget "The Golden Ratio" and "A History of the Circle". Two of my personal favorites.

Re:lay person? (1)

Ev0lution (804501) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161607)

Could it be that the lay-person wouldn't be interested in any book about math, no matter how well written?

In the UK, at least, Simon Singh's book on Fermat's last theorem was very successful, so they can be interested. However, most Maths books, even 'popular' Maths books, are awful for the lay-person.

Re:lay person? (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161699)

In the UK, at least, Simon Singh's book on Fermat's last theorem was very successful, so they can be interested.

Not to mention, of course, his Code Book (assuming you consider cryptography as a branch of mathematics, which I think most people do).

Re:lay person? (5, Insightful)

Shimmer (3036) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161608)

What a sad, sad assumption: That lay-people have no interest in math.

Martin Gardner's series of Mathematical Games books certainly qualifies as classic.

I would put some of Douglas Hofstadter's books in there too. Certainly _Godel, Escher, Bach_ is highly (though not entirely) mathematical.

Richard Smullyan also has a number of very good math/puzzle books.

There are others, too, but you get the idea. I don't think you need to be professional mathematician to enjoy any of these.

Re:lay person? (1)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161823)

I wasn't stating that as the assumption - I was stating that they wouldn't be interested in reading a /book/ about it enough for it to be "classic," no matter how well it was written.

"Moby Dick" is a classic. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (sp?) is a classic.

The *lay person* won't find a *math book* worthy of being a "classic" anything. It will be, at best, something they read when they're feeling like dorks.

That being said, don't project your own interests onto the masses. The lay person simply isn't interested in math, really. My wife is extrodinarily intelligent, is a scientist, and knows enough calculus/statistics to do what she needs with it. She has no interest in math - and she's a smart one! The lay person, on the other hand, is definately not going to be interested.

Re:lay person? (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161898)

The lay person has only as much use for high level theoretical mathematics as high level theoretical mathematics is able to accurately model reality. In other words, not very much.

Re:lay person? (1)

Shimmer (3036) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162060)

The lay person, on the other hand, is definately not going to be interested.

There's that assumption again. Your wife may not be interested in math, but fortunately there are other lay people who are. (And, frankly, anyone who is competent in calculus can't really be considered uninterested in math.)

This is an important issue because the future of our society depends on our ability to produce citizens who have the intellectual ability/curiosity to understand how the society actually works. Math is a big part of that understanding.

If we continue to marginalize "dorks" who read math books, then we're going to be in big trouble down the road.

Re:lay person? (2, Insightful)

Mr. Flibble (12943) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161680)

I consider myself a lay person. I always did poory in mathematics because I did not care about it. The reason I did not care, is that throughout high school no one could show me a use for it. Granted, certain function such as compounded interest held me with a grand fascination - but the rest bored me to no end.

I am always looking for "laypersons" math books, because after reading Richard Feynmans (non-math) works, I want to understand his Physics Lectures.

As a helpful AC http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=131989&cid=110 23946 [slashdot.org] pointed out to me in a post, "Calculus Made Easy" has been helping immensely.

I fully admit that I don't know calc, and that in this regard I am a layperson. I however, don't wish to remain a layperson forever.

So who is this book for?

I would say it is for someone like me.

Re:lay person? (1)

sfjoe (470510) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161988)

The reason I did not care, is that throughout high school no one could show me a use for it.

Hey buddy - got six quarters for a dollar?
Consider yourself "shown".

Re:lay person? (1)

SMQ (241278) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161700)

Ummm...what would its peers be?

Martin Gardner's math puzzle/game books [barnesandnoble.com] ? or mabye Godel, Escher, Bach [barnesandnoble.com] for the more philosophicaly inclined? Not all non-mathematicians are turned off by math...

Re:lay person? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161736)

why is the parent insightful when half a dozen people have instantly given examples of maths books that were generally popular?

Re:lay person? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161879)

because a "half a dozen people" didn't give examples.

Re:lay person? (2, Insightful)

Pacifix (465793) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161769)

I think you're being cruel. Lots of laypersons have intellectual curiosity that may not have been fed either because they were too poor to go on to higher education, there were family problems, whatever. Not everyone who ends up without an education is dumb and uninterested. Lots of people are interested in space travel, chemistry, astronomy - why not math? I have a lady at work who is always asking me questions about some math thing or another she heard about and I've been looking for a good book like this to give her. Although I think I'll start with "The Myster of the Aleph" on Kantor and Infinity - that was a rocking read!

Re:lay person? (1)

Philosinfinity (726949) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161921)

Classic
Foundations of Arithmetic - Gottlieb Frege
Contributions to the Founding of the Theory of Transfinite Numbers - Georg Cantor
Complete works of Spinoza - Spinoza

Douglas Adams (5, Funny)

MalaclypseTheYounger (726934) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161548)

Superior mathematician.

The answer? 42.

The question? What is 6 times 9.

The part he didn't tell you is that the question/answer machine was devised by a group of aliens that had 13 fingers. They wouldn't count in base 10, they would count in base 13, naturally.

6 x 9 does in fact equal 42. In base 13.

Re:Douglas Adams (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161577)

Great, now we have to destroy the universe and rebuild it in a more complex form.


I bet you didn't think about all the work involved before you opened your big mouth, did you.

Re:Douglas Adams (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161908)

No, we won't have to destroy and rebuild the Universe. "What do you get when you multiply six by nine" is a question, not the question because you can't have both the question and the answer in the same universe. Now that we know the answer, it's impossible to know for sure what the question is.

Re:Douglas Adams (2, Informative)

nebaz (453974) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161613)

Actually the question is
"What do you get when you multiply six by nine?"

People have argued that since Arthur Dent got this by picking letters out of his homemade scrabble set at random, that this is impossbile, as there are not 4 Y's in a standard Scrabble set.

Re:Douglas Adams (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161646)

But that's it.

That's all there is.

Re:Douglas Adams (1)

Naikrovek (667) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161678)

i doubt anyone that makes a homemade scrabble set would keep the set number of 'Y' tiles as prescribed by the official version. ... parent could be a HHGTTG joke that i'm not getting though. on slashdot its impossible to tell when someone is being serious and when they're quoting some obscure literature (or the not-so-obscure HHGTTG).

Re:Douglas Adams (1)

Kredal (566494) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161771)

Who said his homemade scrabble set was regulation?

And the question not exactly matching the answer only goes to prove that there's something fundamentally wrong with the universe.

Re:Douglas Adams (1)

JCOTTON (775912) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161672)

and OCT 31 = DEC 25

that is
Octal 31 = Decimal 25

Happy Holidays!

Re:Douglas Adams (1)

cheeseSource (605209) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161971)

I think the actual question turned out to be "What is your favorite blend of Earl Grey?" His just happend to be 42...

Offtopic...rant... (5, Insightful)

nebaz (453974) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161552)

Why is it, that if you have studied math that people get you these books for Christmas, etc. People say, "Wow, he's into math, I'm sure he'd like that", when books like this are written for the lay person, as a fun introduction to the subject. People don't get Literature majors "Shakespeare for Dummies".

Re:Offtopic...rant... (5, Insightful)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161645)

People get those gifts because they try. They don't understand math at all, but they know that you do "something mathy".

I get the same thing all the time. Last year, my mother-in-law got me a put-it-together kinetic flashlight kit for kids. (I'm an Electrical Engineer.) She tried.

This book might be an interesting read. That's probably what they thought.

MOD PARENT UP! (4, Insightful)

GuyMannDude (574364) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162075)

People get those gifts because they try. They don't understand math at all, but they know that you do "something mathy".

Exactly right. They are trying to get you something that they think you might like even though they don't know very much about math. Instead of the grandparent getting all hot under the collar that his family and friends dare insult his grant intellect by purchasing him a "Math for Dummies" book (as he seems to think this historical work is), he should feel gratified to know that he family cares enough about him to actually put forth some effort to getting something that attempts to match his interests. There are lots of people who simply buy generic gifts for family like socks or shit like that. Isn't this book a lot better than a gift like that?

Reading the grandparents rant, I was reminded of an article in The Onion awhile back about some film snob getting all upset because his family -- damn their incompetance! -- dared buy him the widescreen edition of one of the Matrix sequels when he actually wanted the letterboxed edition (opportunity for karma whoring here if someone can link to it). For chrissake, your family and friends are trying their goddamned best and you get your panties in a bunch over details? That's so incredibly childlike, I can hardly believe this above "rant". Christmas isn't really about getting exactly what you want -- at least once you're an adult it's not. Christmas is just an opportunity to get together with loved ones and exchange gifts as a token of affection. It doesn't have to be the "perfect gift"; as long as it's somewhere in the ballpark you should feel happy that your family is at least aware of your interests.

GMD

Re:Offtopic...rant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161669)

The parent post is already at +5, but I'll still say, "Mod Parent Up" just for the hell of it.

Re:Offtopic...rant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161677)

No kidding! That's like all the 'introduction to Pascal' and 'introduction to BASIC' programming books that I kept getting for Christmas... well past the time I'd moved into C/C++ programming.

Re:Offtopic...rant... (5, Insightful)

Ev0lution (804501) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161711)

People don't get Literature majors "Shakespeare for Dummies".

The problem is that a lack mathematical understanding verging on innumeracy is socially acceptable, cool even. Imagine boasting that you couldn't "do reading", and found books aimed at ten-year-olds too much of a challenge. If that was true, then you wouldn't admit it - but go out to eat with half a dozen friends or workmates, and when it comes to the bill people will cheerfully admit that they're rubbish at Maths and can't divide the total by six. I had one colleague who was impressed that I could divide £45 between seven people...

Now, if you've ever shown any ability to do any Maths, however basic, from their point of view you're forever "good at Maths". They don't know this book from Landau & Lifshitz, but you're "good at Maths" so you'll like it. Won't you?

Re:Offtopic...rant... (1)

Carbonite (183181) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161996)

I had one colleague who was impressed that I could divide £45 between seven people.

It depends on how many decimal places you calculated to. If you estimated it to be about 6 per person, I'm not too impressed. If you went to two digits (6.42) that's pretty good. Of course, if you had to use pencil and paper, then I'm not impressed at all. ;)

Re:Offtopic...rant... (1)

rcw-work (30090) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162111)

It depends on how many decimal places you calculated to.

Not so much when dividing by seven.

1/7 = .142857142857...
2/7 = .285714285714...
3/7 = .428571428571...
4/7 = .571428571428...
5/7 = .714285714285...
6/7 = .857142857142...

Of course, depending on your audience, simply knowing that may be enough to impress.

Re:Offtopic...rant... (2, Insightful)

EnronHaliburton2004 (815366) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161722)

Because it's Christmas, and there is all this pressure to buy SOMETHING for you, even if they have no farging idea what you would like.. they just have to buy something... anything.

PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE! BUY BUY BUY! STUFF STUFF STUFF!

Jesus who?

Re:Offtopic...rant... (0, Troll)

huge colin (528073) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161978)

With no due respect, buying things for the hell of it is way better than silly fairy tales.

Majored in math, away from it for a year (2, Insightful)

HeaththeGreat (708430) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161797)

After working at Initech for a year and not using any of my math skills, this was a welcome dip in the math kiddie pool.

I would probably need to do a few laps before I could go playing around near the high-dive again or anything. I don't think this speaks to my grasp of the subject or my intelligence, but to my complete abandonment of study for a long period.

This wouldn't be a book to get someone that works in a heavily mathematical field, but its a great choice for the coder in your live that likes math but has to write boring code all day to pay the bills.

Re:Majored in math, away from it for a year (2, Funny)

operagost (62405) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162077)

Initech, eh? So did you ever get those TPS reports worked out?

Re:Offtopic...rant... (0, Offtopic)

cheese_wallet (88279) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161814)

You should consider a more grateful approach toward life.

Re:Offtopic...rant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161914)

LOL!

I have a friend that's persuing a master's degree in literature.

I love giving funny/absurd gifts, so this one fits perfectly! Procrastinating pays off once again.

To be honest, I'm surprised I hadn't thought of it before.

No joke: Thank you, nebaz.

Seriously: what else would you have liked instead? (1)

elgatozorbas (783538) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162023)

... if you don't know (immediately), how can you expect them to know?

Z

Re:Offtopic...rant... (1)

daniil (775990) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162093)

People don't get Literature majors "Shakespeare for Dummies".

No, they don't. They give them children's books instead :7

Propaganda (3, Insightful)

TrollBridge (550878) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161560)

One man's propaganda is another man's editorial opinion.

Why must we use such slanted terms to describe the views of people we disagree with?

perhaps I just answered my own question.

Re:Propaganda (1)

BushIsEvil (839548) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161622)

of course, because this is slashdot, and the slash is to the left.

Re:Propaganda (2, Insightful)

LibertyLovesCompany (842682) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161682)

It's the same reason that anytime you express a conservative opinion you're modded Troll.

Re:Propaganda (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161902)

Trolls are inherently conservative creatures. And vice versa.

Trolls are conservative? (2, Insightful)

AtariAmarok (451306) | more than 8 years ago | (#11162051)

Trolls are conservative? That must explain why the cave troll [angband.com] from Lord of the Rings looked a lot like Alexander Haig [lvb.net] .

I'm in charge in Moria!!

Re:Propaganda (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161919)

While I will grant that you do have a point the National Review IMHO is propaganda. If you read David Brock's book "Blinded By the Right" or follow the careers of a few others you will see that the National Review is, in a very specific sense propaganda. Rather than carving out a distinct and clear editorial stance the journalists there are paid to attack specific targets in the most vicious way possible.

While there Brock referred to Anita Hill as "A little bit nutty and a little bit slutty" They also knowingly published false information that the editors and publishers wanted them to because it said what they wanted.

I am not of the opinion that anyone who disagrees with me is just spreading proaganda or that the democrats are good and republicans evil (or vice versa) but I don't think that rags such as the national review should be dignified with terms such as "editorial" which implies a standard of conduct to which they do not adhere.

Re:Propaganda (1)

kuriharu (756937) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161986)

You've got to be kidding. NR is propaganda? What is Slate or the Nation? Let's not forget NY Times, Newsweek, Time, LA Times, etc. I'd get Carpal Tunnel just from listing them all.

I guess we'll never get tolerance for views with which liberals don't agree. *SIGH*

Brock is insane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11162019)

Brock has a sanity problem. He was so far one way, and all of a sudden he is so far the other. Here's a clue: he's blinded by the left for the time being. He has knowingly published false information in his books, especially the most recent one which brands any media that is not far left as Republican-controlled.

He'll do this for a few more years, and then, in a fashion like manic-depression he'll waffle to the right again.

" am not of the opinion that anyone who disagrees with me is just spreading proaganda " Yet, that is exactly how you came across. Vicious opinion by Brock is "truth", but vicious opinion by NR is "propaganda". You have once again made use of the real definition of the word "propaganda": information that I do not agree with.

If you are interested in solving math puzzles (3, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161572)

You might check out my current MD5hash Challenge [suso.org] . Some people have told me that it is impossible to solve, some have said that mathematically it is solveable.

Not quite related to primes, but close and can certainly create an obsession. Also, look behind the scenes for something simpler to solve.

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (2)

julesh (229690) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161662)

You might check out my current MD5hash Challenge. Some people have told me that it is impossible to solve, some have said that mathematically it is solveable.

They're both right. It might be possible to solve, but will certainly require some developments in cryptography that have yet to be made.

Failing that, a brute force search of all 128 bit inputs would do the job. I wouldn't expect it to finish quickly though.

All in all, I'd wager that your money's safe for at least the next ten years.

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161673)

Some people have told me that it is impossible to solve, some have said that mathematically it is solveable.

The number of solutions follows a Poisson distribution. The probability that it's impossible is 1/e = 37%. The probability that there is at least one solution is 1-1/e = 63%.

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (1)

DevCybiko (694026) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161684)

thats an interesting puzzle. a corrolary would be

md5sum(x) = cat(x)

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (0, Flamebait)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161747)

people with web sites with black background and light text, a design consistently cited in top ten lists of bad web design principles, are, in some sense, morons

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161896)

Oh Yeah? [jwz.org]

You where saying that such people are morons?
You can take your foot out of your mouth now.

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (0, Flamebait)

Brakz0rz (773616) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161953)

Bullshit. A black background makes it easier to read. White backgrounds are like staring into a lightbulb.

And what do you gain by being an asshole in your response anyway?

Some people say that those who can't properly punctuate are, in some sense, morons.

OT: your sig (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11162036)

The arrogance of your comment was compounded by the atrocious spelling.

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161805)

Not solvable.

md5sum(X) = cat(Y) && md5sum(Y) = cat(X)
So...
md5sum(Y) = cat(X) && md5sum(X) = cat(Y)

Replacing variables we get...

md5sum(X) = cat(X) && md5sum(X) && md5sum(Y) = cat(X)

md5sum(X) = cat(X) && md5sum(X) && cat(X) && md5sum(X) = cat(X)

We can quickly see this turns into an infinitely recursive function.

Re:If you are interested in solving math puzzles (1)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161939)

The first file is 92.8 gigs. The second is 14.3 terabytes. I thought I would warn you to clean out your inbox first, so that you don't go over your mailserver quota.

I also have five more solutions, though they aren't small like the one I'm submitting. I'd be willing to submit them too, though you'll have to buy the HDs and pay freight to have them shipped.

B) 601.4 petabytes and 993,563,124 exabytes
C) 886 terabytes* and 221,454,442,899 exabytes
D) 6.82 x 10^884 exabytes and 1.31 x 10^1019 exabytes
E) 4.2 gigabytes and 6.24 x 10^2034 exabytes
F) 904 terabytes and 8.12 x 10^4086 exabytes

* Note: Interestingly, though not necessarily mathematically significant, this file contains a 900 meg block of bytes that is valid mpeg2 and depicts slightly grainy video that shows what looks like a man that closely resembles Hugh Grant** fellating a younger George W. Bush. Numerologists should remember that this doesn't mean that the video is real, nor should it be considered such.

** Note: If you know anyone that goes by the nickname of "Bubby" and could have passed for a Hugh Grant look-a-like from 1980-1990, please email me with a picture of their face. We might be able to collaborate on a best-seller, guaranteed book deal.

Evens and odds in GEB (2, Informative)

kzinti (9651) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161574)

The line between the mathematical half of the book and the historical is clearly defined; the odd-numbered chapters are devoted to the former, the even to the latter.

It's been a long time since I read Douglas Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach", but didn't it use the same kind of formula, alternating between dialogs and discussion chapters? I really loved that book. I've heard a lot of criticism of it from mathematicians and musicians, but that noise always sounded like so much professional nitpicking to me.

Of Course (2, Interesting)

Icephreak1 (267199) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161933)


I've heard a lot of criticism of [Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher and Bach"] from mathematicians and musicians..

Of course mathematicians and musicians will criticize the book. It challenges the very logical foundations upon which their theories are based. Perhaps the most dogmatic disciplines outside of Christian fundamentalism are the sciences. It's the age old case of man believing his logic is impenetrable, where in reality it amounts to nothing more than the finger pointing to the moon. The sciences may have theory-this and theory-that, but they will never in an infinite amount of lifetimes be able to run the full course of reality with their tools. And that's a fact that mathematics itself asserts.

I once ran into an old friend of mine I knew back in middle school. He has a twin brother that, over ten years since he left highschool is still in university plugging away at some mathematics doctorate. I silently asked myself. What are his aims, his purpose? To solve the universe? It was clear he was always a brilliant student; I'm sure his I.Q. is off the chart, but ambitious mathematicians have to learn to let go. All their combined knowledge amounts to one drop in the Pacific ocean of reality.

If you take a liking to esoterics and esoteric knowledge, you will notice there's a smooth transition between scientists and esoterics; that is, there is the complete scientist who deems it worthless to search for truth in the unseen and the non-constant -- that the only universe worth pursuing is the visible and measurable universe. Then you have the transition scientists (Godel, Heisenberg) who through experiments of their own come to the realization that the sciences are not adequately equipped to be able to completely ascertain truth and that there must be more -- another form of reasoning perhaps outside the realm of postulation and thought where paradox becomes perfectly logical, but they may at the same time reserve making any definite statement about one or the other, effectively taking up the agnostic position.

Finally you have the esoteric, who acknowledges science as a method for ascertaining some degree of truth, though a limited portion of it, but through experience is assured that complete truth is to be found outside the dualistic disciplines of science and philosophy. Zen masters, enlightened sufis or Christian mystics might fall into that category. Due to their highly honed awareness, they are able to acertain more in a ten minute period about the laws of life than ten scientists could over the course of a hundred years. These, quite rightfully are higher order human beings. I imagine it's the same sort of higher order, perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree, that allows the idiot savant to blast through hundreds of years of perpetual calendars or calculate ridiculously large numbers in their heads almost instantaneously. Savants appear to have a firm, instinctual understanding of computational causality. They may very well be solving our mathematics from some other conscious plane the rest of humanity haven't yet achieved, a plane that allows them to blaze logical trails in parallel and from a figurative bird's eye view, through our "world." The same thing goes for enlightened men. Though we may plug along attempting to understand the unverse with 4-bit effectiveness, they do it from a conscious vantage point that may exceed a figurative 1024-bits or more. They simply know.

- IP

uh... (-1, Flamebait)

0racle (667029) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161583)

Was that review English?

Re:uh... (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161652)

That's 'speelchekur', you dummy! Where'd you learn to speel?

Re:uh... (1)

taradfong (311185) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161882)

Sense of humor turn on

Re:uh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161691)

Why would you want to post: "I'm ignorant, and I want everyone to know it!"?

Re:uh... (1)

0racle (667029) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161993)

Oh excuse me
Warning: The following post requires Humour 2.1 or higher

Was that review English?

ISBN not prime (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161588)

ISBN 0452285259 = 3 * 1009 * 149417

The author must be sad.

Motivation (2, Informative)

Juiblex (561985) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161616)

Let serve as motivation the fact that anyone who can actually proof (but not disproof) the Riemann Hipothesis will won a prize of US$ 1E6 (i.e, US$ 1000000.00)!

Re:Motivation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161763)

shit, I read that as IE6 and thought, "why the fuck would anyone who won the Clay Institute prize want to use IE?"

Don't come along often? (5, Informative)

JackBuckley (696547) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161638)

It's a minor point, but I have to take issue with the poster's statement that popular math books don't come along often. How about:

Mathematics And Sex (2004)

Pi: A Biography of the World's Most Mysterious Number (2004)

Chance: A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market and Just About Everything Else (2004)

Entanglement: The Unlikely Story of How Scientists, Mathematicians, and Philosphers Proved Einstein's Spookiest Theory (2003)

The Mathematical Century : The 30 Greatest Problems of the Last 100 Years (2003)

The Golden Ratio : The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number (2003)

When Least Is Best : How Mathematicians Discovered Many Clever Ways to Make Things as Small (or as Large) as Possible (2003)

The Honors Class: Hilbert's Problems and Their Solvers (2001)

An Imaginary Tale (1998)

e: The Story of a Number (1998)

Just to pick some recent examples (i.e. not including the masterpieces of Martin Gardner and other recreational mathematicians in the 1960s and 70s, and apologies if I left off your favorite). I would agree, however, that good pop-math books are a great deal more rare.

Re:Don't come along often? (1)

Qinopio (602437) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161781)

You're forgetting "The Life of Pi".

Re:Don't come along often? (2, Insightful)

littlem (807099) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161836)

Not to forget N. Bourbaki, "Elements de Mathematique".

Re:Don't come along often? (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161840)

I look at that list and I've heard of two of them. Am I the only person to wonder whether "popular" in your first sentence means "written for the people" rather than "known about by the people"?

Re:Don't come along often? (1)

JackBuckley (696547) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161952)

Good point. What I mean here by popular (and what I think the poster means) is only that the books are written for a general audience--not that they are best sellers by any means. Think of Popular Mechanics, for example. Making math books for the masses by no means implies that the masses will buy them!

Amazon link (1)

norculf (146473) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161666)

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0309 085497/qid=1103745016/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl 14/104-9691547-0499969?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 [amazon.com]

Slashdot's vendetta against Amazon is rediculous. Freedom of choice is more important than silly patents. You may click the link in the article to buy it from B&N, or this link to buy it from Amazon.

Choice is good... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11161701)

...as long as it's our (Slashdotters) choice.

Review: Review: Prime Obsession (4, Insightful)

daVinci1980 (73174) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161750)

... f(x)=x^2-2x+1... x=1 where f(x)=0

It's called white space. Look into it. Humans parse on it much faster then they parse on operators.
... f(x) = x^2 - 2x + 1... x = 1 where f(x) = 0

Darn them! (0, Offtopic)

Kredal (566494) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161807)

And here I was a book about Samus Aran... Ah well.

My favorite. (3, Interesting)

standards (461431) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161907)

My favorite book on math is The Mathematical Tourist by Ivars Peterson.

It's very readable, and has chapters on interesting stuff like knot theory, cellular automata and primes.

I highly recommend it. It isn't going to turn anyone into a math professor, but it is very interesting reading.

Why I believe this book to be of interest. (4, Interesting)

stromthurman (588355) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161967)

I know very few mathematicians and math students who aren't familiar with the Riemann Hypothesis (largely due to the million dollar prize associated with its proof), so a book exclusively on such a topic probably wouldn't interest too many people. What makes this book interesting, at least to me, is the Math History covered in it. In particular, the author goes into great depth into the personality and character of each of the principle figures in this book: the anecdote regarding Hilbert's torn pants, Gauss's (perhaps justified) arrogance, and Riemann's quiet nature. All of these aspects of the book add a lot more depth to the people behind this problem, and I find that to be far more valuable, as a mathematician, than yet another essay on the Riemann Hypothesis.

I agree with the reviewer's sentiment that the book is well written, and it is very enjoyable. The author writes in a very audience-centric fashion, even going as far to discuss the "scaffolding" of the book itself (all of the "hard math" stuff is found in odd chapters, the author had debated putting this information in only the "prime" chapters, but then said "there is such a thing as being too cute.")

Anywho, if you have a math friend you need to buy a gift for, definitely consider this book.

John Derbyshire (2, Informative)

JeffWhitledge (675345) | more than 8 years ago | (#11161975)

Those interested in his other writings should check out John Derbyshire's homepage [olimu.com] .

Rubbish? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11162071)

Which ones specifically are rubbish? I checked a few of his opinions, and they were quite well rooted in fact.

Ted (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#11162013)

Ted Kaczynski has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and was a professor in mathematics.

There may be a statistically-significant relationship here!

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