Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Archimedes of Syracuse

Image from liveoaksf

Archimedes was born in 287 BCE in Syracuse on Sicily, then a Greek city-state. The son of an astronomer, he was a brilliant mathematician, engineer, astronomer, physicist. and inventor.

Perhaps his greatest mathematical contribution was his calculation of an upper limit to pi, which lasted until the late twentieth century, when electronic calculators came into play and made even more precise calculations possible. He also discovered and proved formulae for the surface area and volume of spheres. He pioneered in applying mathematics to the physical world.

It was he who was said to have leapt from his bath and run down the street naked yelling "Eureka," I've found it, after an insight hit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Euclid, ancient Greek mathematical genius

Image from mathlair

Euclid was born in the city of Alexandria, now in Egypt. The father of geometry died in 265 BCE, but his name lives on. Mathematicians still study Euclid's Elements, and his name defines Euclidean geometry.

The Euclid Mathematics Contest is hosted annually by the University of Waterloo, with e-workshops available online for those wanting to bone up for the competition.

The town of Euclid, Ohio, is home to the Euclid Public Library, both names derived from this much revered mathematician. A Euclid Branch Library is located in Anaheim, California, and Euclid Avenue can be found in Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago and Thunder Bay.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Platonic solids associated with 4 elements

Image from mathspadilla

Mathematics and philosophy have long been intertwined. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was also a mathematical thinker.

He conceived the idea that these five convex and symmetrical polyhedrons with equivalent faces, the only ones that could exist, were the building blocks of the universe. That's why they're called the Platonic solids.

The Story of Math, a film by Oxford math prof Marcus du Sautoy, mentions the connection between these figures and the old idea of the four basic elements. These elements in turn connect with the chakras. Earth (Root chakra) is represented by the cube and Water (Sacral chakra) by the 20-sided isocahedron. The octahedron or Fire element relates to the Solar Plexus chakra and the tetrahedron, Air, to the Heart chakra. The fifth solid, the dodecahedron, is a twelve-sided figure associated with a fifth element, Spirit or Ether, which connects to the Throat chakra, seat of communication.

It is interesting to note that yogic tradition also teaches of five elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. Traditional Chinese medicine postulates five elements as well: Earth, Metal, Wood, Fire and Water.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hypatia of Alexandria -- early female mathematician

In ancient Alexandria, Hypatia was killed rather than appreciated for her mathematical and astronomical skills. The daughter of Theon, another mathematician, Hypatia became the head of the Platonist School at Alexandria in about 400 CE, where she taught mathematics and the philosophy of Neoplatonism, emphasizing Plotinus, who said reality lay beyond human comprehension.

Some Christians studied with Hypatia, but others saw  her emphasis on science and learning as pagan, and therefore anathema. Unfortunately, by befriending the Roman Prefect Orestes, she got caught up in a political power struggle before (St.) Cyril became Patriarch of  Alexandria. She was killed by a mob in 415.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Writing follows tidying up

Image from sources of insight

Ivan Coyote said it years ago: "I can't write in a messy house; I have to tidy up first." At the time, my office was a bit of a mess, so I had a vested interest in not fully attending to this. Now with the office clean and organized, I'm attuned to the essential clear desk top (oak not screen). Never begin a new task without it. Two simple cures for those sticky notes that keep trying to pile up on my desk. File the info and schedule the tasks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Val McDermid: a writing woman of many parts

Image from the independent

Before reading The Skeleton Road, I associated mystery writer Val McDermid with simple Scottish noir. I've now discovered that her work is much more wide-ranging. In this opus, she paints -- some would say skewers -- Oxford University in a way that reveals a more than passing association with her alma mater. The "skeleton" murder goes back to the Balkan wars, connecting to an Oxford professor of human geography who built her career on time spent in a besieged Dubrovnik.

After the war ends, lawyers and others work tirelessly to bring war criminals to justice at the Hague. But in the aftermath of such bloody civil strife, how can a neutral justice system repair the damage? What happens when cycles of vengeance become self-perpetuating? What about the war criminals who got away?

Having witnessed Balkan horrors first-hand, how can academics and seekers of impartial justice remain separate from this history? Can they remain coldly pragmatic enough to lay charges where evidence can be obtained, hope for convictions, and then get on with their lives? Even Scottish detective Karen Pirie, working on an eight-year-old murder, is deeply affected by the war story that led to what turns out to be a revenge killing, though not pure revenge. Personal ambition, sexual jealousy and ego come into it too.

McDermid's novelistic creation reflects the complexity of how we live in society. No person, group or nation can stand above or apart from another. We are all tarred by various forms of chauvinism, tainted by the history of our innumerable warring tribes, both within and without.

From this book, I moved on to a masterpiece of another sort. Splinter the Silence features detective Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Dr. Tony Hill, two damaged souls who still come down on the side of right. This novel portrays the contemporary issue of cyber-bullying. In this case, it's bad enough to lead three high profile women to kill themselves. But could the apparent suicides be murders? Are they connected to the deaths of prostitutes who are being bumped off at the same time?

McDermid's fictional world can be harsh. Though characters like Jason "the Mint" provide a welcome relief and counterpoint, the author's troubled but deeply sympathetic protagonists implicate the reader in a dark world. I can't decide whether the author's determination to educate readers in the seamy side of life is salubrious, or just morbid. Meanwhile, I keep reading.

In emotional evocation, McDermid's work reminds me of the work of Anosh Irani, After reading Irani's The Song of Kahunsha on a cruise, I dropped it like a hot coal in the ship's library. Splinter the Silence was another of those books I was glad I read, but relieved to finish. I couldn't wait to get it out of the house and back to the library.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A pain in the neck called writer's block

Image from etsy

Five months since my novel query. Time to follow up. I brooded on the wording, prepared to polish those crucial early pages once more. This time, I'd send her an even more honed version. Next day I woke with a stiff, sore neck.

"Aha!" I said to the pain, "I'm onto you." On other occasions, the fear of getting it down had caused chest and leg pains. "This won't stop me," I told myself ominously. But I still had to see my naturopath for treatment.

I'm writing again now. Query on the query goes today. It sure is nice to have my neck back.