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Grothendieck’s gallery No. 154

Since mid May the Montpellier part of Grothendieck’s gribouillis are online and for everyone available at the Archives Grothendieck.

The story is well-known.

End of June 1990, Grothendieck phoned Jean Malgoire warning him to come asap if he wanted to safeguard the better part of G’s mathematical archive, for he was making a bonfire…

A second handover apparently took place on July 28th 1995.

Malgoire kept these notes (in huge Pampers boxes!) until 2010 when he got cold feet as a result of Grothendieck’s letter. He then donated the boxes to the University of Montpellier in 2012.

After Grothendieck’s death in 2014, Montpellier started a project to scan each and every page and put them online, with the backing of Grothendieck’s children (and generous financial support from the local authorities).

So here we are now, and… nobody seems to care.

I’m aware only of this post on MathOverflow by someone who wants to LaTex some of the material on motives.

Perhaps this is due to the less than optimal presentation of the material, or more likely, Grothendieck’s terrible handwriting. Perhaps the University of Montpellier should partner up with the (older generation of) French pharmacists.

But then, there’s this artistic gem in the archive: cote 154 systemes the pseudo-droites written in 1983-84.

It is written on ancient matrix-plotter page. Here’s a typical example

Which mathematical department wouldn’t want to acquire a framed version of one of these original pages?

That’s the point I wanted to make early may in this G+-post, hoping to raise money to safeguard the Lasserre part of Grothendieck’s gribouillis.

When in need for a header picture, I’ll use a page of Grothendieck’s gallery No 154 from now on.

Here’s evidence that Grothendieck was working on GUTS! (literally).

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Ulysses and LaTeX

If you’re a mathematician chances are that your text-editor of choice will be TeXShop, the perfect environment for writing papers. Even when writing a massive textbook, most of us stick to this or a similar LaTeX-frontend. The order of chapters in such a book is usually self-evident, and it is enough to use one TeX-file per chapter.

If you’re a blogger, chances are you spend a lot of writing time within the WordPress-editor. If you have a math-blog, there’s no longer the issue of including TeX-output images in some laborious way, thanks to MathJax. Even for a longer series of blog-posts there’s no problem staying within the WordPress-environment.

However, if you’re reckless enough to want to write a novel, or a math-book for a larger audience, you may need different equipment.

You will have to be able to follow story-lines, to follow your main characters throughout the plot, get word counts on scenes and chapters, jot down ideas and results from research, but most of all: you will have to be able to remain focussed just on your writing, as far away as possible from all bells and whistles and thrills of internet and preview-on-the-go editors.

In short, you may consider moving all of your writing to Ulysses.

I’ve been an early adopter from the days their iPad-app was called Daedalus, which I found cute, being a pathetic Joyce-fan. However, the app’s iCloud syncing sucked, but it is now replaced by the which works like magic, syncing every keystroke between iPad, iPhone and whatever Mac you use as your workhorse.

But, what if you want to write about math and are unwilling to ban all LaTeX-formulas from your text.

Well, I’ve tried everything, including the approach below (in a faulty way), and figured it was impossible due to the fact that Ulysses is a MarkDown editor in which underscores are entirely different from indices.

Fortunately, yesterday Eline Steffens posted “Writing Mathematical Equations in Ulysses” showing me what I did wrong.

If you want MathJax to parse your text you need to include the standard code in your header. What I missed was that you have to include it as a ‘Raw source block’ (under ‘Markup’ in Ulysses).

Further, I forgot to prepend dollar-signs with a tilde, which works as an escape character in Ulysses so that all underscores are safe within the LaTeX-boundaries.

But now it works like a charm.

Ulysses is able to export your text in a variety of ways. You can preview it as HTML, including all rendered LaTex, and you can export directly either to Medium (on which I should begin to cross-post stuff asap) or your own WordPress-site.

In fact, I wrote this in Ulysses, then clicked the export-icon, choose ‘Publishing’ and NeverEndingBooks, and bingo I was able to post it as a draft. I can even fill in categories and tags, even add the featured image appearing at the top of this post, check everything in WordPress-admin and hit: “Publish”.

I guess I’ll be doing all my non-paper writing from now on entirely in Ulysses.

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Grothendieck’s gribouillis

A math-story well worth following in 2015.

What will happen to Grothendieck’s unpublished notes, or as he preferred, his “gribouillis” (scribbles)?

Here’s the little I know about this:

1. The Mormoiron scribbles

During the 80ties Grothendieck lived in ‘Les Aumettes’ in Mormoiron

In 1991, just before he moved to the Pyrenees he burned almost all of his personal notes in the garden. He phoned Jean Malgoire:

“Si tu ne viens pas chercher mon bordel mathématique, il va brûler avec le reste.”

Malgoire sped to Mormoiron and rescued 5 boxes containing about 20.000 pages. The next 20 years he kept them in his office, not exactly knowing what to do with them.

On january 3rd 2010, Grothendieck wrote his (in)famous letter forbidding others to share or publish any of his writings. (Picture via the SecretBloggingSeminar)

Malgoire feared that Grothendieck would soon ask him to destroy the Mormoiron-gribouillis and decided to donate them to the University of Montpellier.

They are kept somewhere in their archives, the exact location known only to Jean Malgoire, Luc Gomel (who is in charge of the patrimonium of the University of Montpellier) and the person who put the boxes away.

After Grothendieck’s death on november 13th, FranceTV3 did broadcast a short news-item.

If Grothendieck’s children agree, the University of Montpellier intends to make an inventory of the 5 boxes and will make them available, at least to researchers.

2. The Lasserre scribbles

The final 23 years of his life, Grothendieck lived in the small village of Lasserre in the French Pyrenees.

Here he could be glimpsed blurrily through the window as he wrote for hours during the night.(Picture via the GrohendieckCircle)

Leila Schneps and her husband Pierre Lochak did visit the house and met with Grothendieck’s family the week after his death.

Before she went, she was optimistic about the outcome as she emailed:

“I have already started modifying the Grothendieck circle website and it will of course eventually return completely. Plus many things will be added, as we will now have access to Grothendieck’s correspondence and many other papers.”

Her latest comment, from december 16th, left on the Grothendieck-circle bulletin board, is more pessimistic:

“Il a ecrit a Lasserre sans cesse pendant plus de 20 ans. Je n’ai pu que jeter un rapide coup d’oeil sur tout ce qu’il a laisse. Il y a de tout: des maths, des reflexions sur lui-meme, et des reflexions sur la nature humaine et sur l’univers. Rien n’est disponible pour le moment. Ces manuscrits finiront dans une bibliotheque et seront peut-etre un jour consultables.”

The good news is that there appears to be some mathematics among the Lassere-gribouillis. The sad news being that none of this is available at the moment, and perhaps never will.

So, what happened? Here’s my best guess:

Grothendieck’s children were pretty upset a private letter from one of them turned up in the French press, a couple of years ago.

Perhaps, they first want to make sure family related material is recovered, before they’ll consider donating the rest (hopefully to the University of Montpellier to be reunited with Grothendieck’s Mormoiron-notes).

This may take some time.

Further reading (in French):

Grothendieck, mon tresor (nationale)

Un génie mystérieux, un secret bien gardé

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bookworm arXiv

One of the nicer tools around is bookworm arXiv which ‘is a collaboration between the Harvard Cultural Observatory,, and the Open Science Data Cloud. It enables you to explore lexical trends in over 700,000 e-prints, spanning mathematics, physics, computer science, and statistics’ posted on the arXiv.

One possible use is to explore the popularity of certain topics. Below is the graph of the number of papers submitted monthly to the arXiv in noncommutative geometry, quantum groups, cluster algebras and symplectic reflection (algebras).

The default gives the graphs in the percentage of all papers submitted, but it is better to change this to the number of papers (I think). Sadly, at present one can only search for one- and two-word phrases.

Extremely useful is that it gives you the full list of papers (with direct links to the papers) containing the search terms when you click on that months point in the graph. For example, there are 4 sheets of papers in noncommutative geometry for october 2011

Clearly, there are plenty of other fun uses for this bookworm. For example, you can graph the number of papers in a topic in function of the nationality of the submitter. Here are the papers in noncommutative geometry, submitted by people from the US, France, the UK and Italy.

Or, you can use it for vanity reasons, giving you the list of all papers containing a reference to your work, which may not always be a good idea, blood-pressure wise…

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the matrix reloaded

The dinosaurs among you may remember that before this blog we had the ‘na&g-forum’ to accompany our master-class in noncommutative algebra & geometry.

That forum ran on an early flat-panel iMac G4 which was, for lack of a better name, baptized ‘the matrix’.

The original matrix did survive the unification of the three Antwerp universities and a move to a different campus but then died around bloomsday 2007 and was replaced by an intel iMac.

This second matrix did host a number of blogs and projects started (and usually ended rather quickly) such as ‘MoonshineMath’, a muMath-site called, the ‘F-un Mathematics’ blog dedicated to the field with one element and, of course, this blog.

About a month ago matrix-II was replaced by a state-of-the-art iMac running 10.7. The transition went smooth apart from the fact that 10.7 doesn’t like ‘localhost’ but prefers ‘’ in setting up wordpress blogs.

Besides neverendingbooks, matrix-III runs angs@t – angs+ which is the blog of the antwerp noncommutative geometry seminar. It will be revamped over the summer and will probably be the website for our renewed master-class, starting next year.

The ‘F-un Mathematics’ blog was dropped in the transition but still survives at Ghent University where it is managed by Koen Thas.

As far as NeverendingBooks is concerned i hope to make a fresh start with blogging and will try to get more structure in this site by changing to a responsive wordpress theme (‘These responsive, fluid, or adaptive WordPress themes, automatically adjust according to the screen size, resolution and device on which they are being viewed’).

As a result this page will look weird from time to time over the next week or so. My apologies.

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