Math in the Media

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Tony PhillipsTony Phillips' Take on Math in the Media
A monthly survey of math news

*"Mathematics is ... the fuel that NASA increasingly uses to bouncespacecraft all over the Solar System." Hear more about how mathematicsand chaos theory in particular help NASA save on propellant bylistening to NPR's Scott Simon interview mathematician Keith Devlin about the STARDUST mission. From Weekend Edition Saturday for January 30, 1999.

*The unreasonable omnipresence of Mathematics? The fiction piecein the Feb. 1 1999 New Yorker ("The Penultimate Conjecture" byLeonard Michaels) is about three mathematicians at what must be anA.M.S. meeting. An on-target and affecting look at the macho-math ethic.Many nice details.

*"A Multifractal Walk down Wall Street," by Benoit Mandelbrotappears in the February 1999Scientific American. "The geometry thatdescribes the shape of coastlines and the patterns of galaxiesalso elucidates how stock prices soar and plummet." Nodetailed forecasts, but a characterization of the sound ofthe stock market.

* "Once upon a Number: The HiddenMathematical Logic of Stories," by John Allen Paulos(Basic Books, New York 1998), is reviewed by Simon Singhin the the February 1999Scientific American. "The trial of O. J. Simpsonprovides a surprisingly rich source of mathematical anecdotes."Singh is the author of Fermat's Enigma.

*Ian Stewart in his Scientific American column "MathematicalRecreations" continues to simultaneously entertain and edify.Recent topics include card shuffling (11/98), cake slicingand other fairness problems (12/98 and 1/99), origami tesellations(2/99).

* André Weil. A sympathetic piece on "arguably themost brilliant mathematician of our time" appeared in theNew York Times Magazine Sunday January 3. The author is Paul Hoffman,who wrote a recent biography of Erdös. Weildied last August. His life and work will be celebrated in a special issue of the Notices of the A.M.S., April 1999.

*"The Geometry of the Universe" is a sidebar in an articleby Martin Bucher and David Spergel in the January 1999Scientific American. The three possible constant-curvaturegeometries are illustrated in graphics produced by Stuart Levyand Tamara Munzner. Bigger high-resolution images are available from Stuart. For related material see Measuring the Shape of the Universe by Neil Cornish and Jeffrey Weeks.

* Peter Griffin, author of "The Theory of Blackjack,"died last October 18. Griffin is remembered in a lengthyand lively New York Times obituary (Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. 11/2/98)and in an Engines of our Ingenuity broadcast whereJohn Lienhard also reminisces about his first encounter with Calculus, in atextbook by Peter's grandfather Frank Loxley Griffin.

*Japanese Temple Geometryor sangaku is an elegant formof "native mathematics" developed during the Edo period(1603-1867). Scientific American, May 1998