Rarer books: Singmaster’s notes

David Singmaster‘s “Notes on Rubik’s magic cube” are a collectors item, but it is still possible to buy a copy. I own a fifth edition (august 1980).

These notes capture the Rubik craze of those years really well.

Here’s a Conway story, from Siobhan Roberts’ excellent biography Genius at Play.

The ICM in Helsinki in 1978 was Conway’s last shot to get the Fields medal, but this was the last thing on his mind. He just wanted a Rubik cube (then, iron-curtain times, only sold in Hungary), so he kept chasing Hungarians at the meeting, hoping to obtain one. Siobhan writes (p. 239):

“The Fields Medals went to Pierre Deligne, Charles Fefferman, Grigory Margulis, and Daniel Quillen. The Rubik’s cube went to Conway.”

After his Notes, David Singmaster produced a follow-up newsletter “The Cubic Circular”. Only 5 magazines were published, of which 3 were double issues, between the Autumn of 1981 and the summer of 1985.

These magazines were reproduced on this page.

Grothendieck, at the theatre

A few days ago, the theatre production “Rêves et Motifs” (Dreams and Motives) was put on stage in Argenteuil by la Compagnie Les Rémouleurs.

The stage director Anne Bitran only discovered Grothendieck’s life by reading the front pages of French newspapers, the day after Grothendieck passed away, in November 2014.

« Rêves et Motifs » is a piece inspired by Récoltes et Semailles.

Anne Bitran: ” In Récoltes et semailles we meet a scientist who has his feet on the ground and shares our curiosity about the world around us, with a strong political engagement. This is what I wanted to share with this piece.”

Some of Grothendieck’s dessins d’enfant make their appearance. Is that one Monsieur Mathieu in the center? And part of the Hexenkuche top left? (no, see Vimeo below)

And, does this looks like the sculpture ‘Grothendieck as Shepherd’ by Nina Douglas?

More information about the production can be found at the Les Remouleurs website (in French).

RÊVES ET MOTIFS from Les Rémouleurs on Vimeo.

In case you are interested, make sure to be in Lunéville, November 29th or 30th.

in praise of libraries

I’m back in Antwerp for over a week now, and finally got hold of our copy of Shimura’s “Introduction to the arithmetic theory of automorphic functions”.

The sad story of disappearing libraries at our university, and possibly elsewhere (everywhere?).

Over 20 years ago our maths department shared a building with the language departments, as well as a library.

The ground floor was taken up by languages, science books were in the cellar. There were years I spend more time on the ground floor than in the maths section.

I must have read most of the Dutch novels published between 1980 and 2000. For some time I could even pass as a Joyce-scholar, at least to those interested in a tiny part of Finnegans Wake.

All that changed when they united the three different branches of Antwerp university and we had to move to another campus.

We were separated from the language departments (they moved to the center of town) and, sadly, also from their library.

On the positive side, we moved to a nice building with a gorgeous library. And, an added bonus, it was on the same floor as my office. To kill an hour it was fun to stroll over to the library and spend some time between books and journals.

Then, some years ago, they closed down the maths-library and moved a tiny fraction of it to the science-library (located at a different campus).

Administration argued that too few people visited the library to keep it open.

But more important, they needed the space to create what they call a ‘study landscape’: a lounge where students can hang out, having enough power outlets for all their computers and smartphones.

So, the maths-library had to go for a place where, during term, students can recharge their phones, and during examination periods like now, students can sit together to study.

It seems that millennials need to have visual confirmation that their fellow students are also offline.

Today even the science-library is transformed into such a study-landscape, and only a handful of math-books remain on the shelves (well-hidden behind another door).

For the few odd ones, like me, who still want to browse through a book occasionally, you have to request for it online.

A few days later you get an email saying that your request is granted (they make it sound as if this is a huge favour), and then they need some more days to get the book from the storehouse and deliver it (sometimes randomly) to one of the few remaining university libraries, sorry, study landscapes…

The return of the Scottish solids

In Januari’s issue of the Notices of the AMS there’s a paper by Mohammad Ghomi Dürer’s Unfolding Problem for Convex Polyhedra.

Here are the opening lines:

“Convex polyhedra are among the oldest mathematical objects. Indeed the five platonic solids, which constitute the climax of Euclid’s books, were already known to the ancient people of Scotland some 4,000 years ago; see Figure 1.”

It sure would make a good story, the (ancient) Scotts outsmarting the Greek in discovering the five Platonic solids. Sadly, the truth is different.

Once again, hat tip to +David Roberts on Google+ for commenting on the AMS announcement and for linking to a post by John Baez and a couple of older posts here refuting this claim.

Perhaps the most readable of the two posts is:

Scottish solids, final(?) comments

in which I tell the story of the original post and its aftermath. The bottom-line is this:

Summarizing : the Challifour photograph is not taken at the Ashmolean museum, but at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and consists of 5 of their artifacts (or 4 if ball 3 and 4 are identical) vaguely resembling cube, tetrahedron, dodecahedron (twice) and octahedron. The fifth Platonic solid, the icosahedron, remains elusive.

David Roberts drafted a letter to the editor of the Notices of the AMS.

Grothendieck’s gribouillis (3)

As far as I know there are no recent developments in the story of Grothendieck’s Lasserre writings.

Since may 2017 the Mormoiron part of the notes, saved by Jean Malgoire, are scanned and made available at the Archives Grothendieck.

Some of Grothendieck’s children were present at the opening ceremony, and an interview was made with Alexandre jr. :

Rather than going into Grothendieck’s mathematics, he speaks highly of his father’s role in the ecological (Survivre et vivre) and anti-nuclear movements of the early 70ties.

The full story of Survivre et Vivre, and Grothendieck’s part in it, can be read in the thesis by Celine Pessis:

Les années 1968 et la science. Survivre … et Vivre, des mathématiciens critiques à l’origine de l’écologisme

Here’s her talk at the IHES: “L’engagement d’Alexandre Grothendieck durant la première moitié des années 1970”.

Returning to Montpellier’s Archives Grothendieck, Mateo Carmona G started a project to transcribe ‘La Longue Marche à travers la Théorie de Galois’ at GitHub.

From an email: “I am specially interested in Cote n° 149 that seems to contain Grothendieck separate notes on anabelian geometry.”

If you want to read up on the story of Grothendieck’s gribouillis, here are some older posts, in chronological order:

Grothendieck’s gribouillis

Grothendieck’s gribouillis (2)

Where are Grothendieck’s writings?

Where are Grothendieck’s writings (2)?