Sunday, April 30, 2017

Brahmagupta, 7th Century Indian Mathematician

Brahmagupta was born in Rajahsthan in 598 CE. He became the head of the observatory at Ujjain, and wrote math and astronomy texts. His Corrected Treatise of Brahma exposes flaws in earlier mathematical work. He introduced negative numbers, used math to predict positions of planets, and calculated the length of a solar year. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Qin Jiushao, Chinese mathematician and text writer

Image from cultural china

Qin Jiushao was born in Sichuan province in 1202. His great opus, Mathematical Treatise in Nine Sections, cast light on extracting positive and negative roots, among other things.

Author of a method of solving the Chinese Remainder Theorem, he also discovered what Europeans called the "Ruffini-Horner method" of solving polynomial equations about six hundred years before they did.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pythogoras of Samos

Image from pbs

The discoverer of the Pythagorean theorem was born less than two kilometers off the west coast of Turkey, on the Greek island of Samos.

He left no writings, but established a school to teach mysticism as well as mathematics. The idea that "all is number" was dominant. Odds were female, evens male and each number had meaning, eg. three: harmony.

Under his tutelage, students were vegetarians, following secret rites and bizarre prohibitions. The also extended and developed Pythagorean mathematical and scientific ideas.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Incite hat trick: Lisa See, Carys Davies and Michael Kaan

Hal Wake (bottom left) welcomed another great Incite panel to VPL last night.

Michael Kaan penned his work based on a rediscovered family diary dating back to Japan's WWII occupation of China.

Carys Davies (centre), is currently a fellow and writer at the New York Public Library.

Lisa See's novels tell "stories that have been lost, forgotten or deliberately covered up." The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane concerns a baby who is abandoned on a remote tea growing mountain in China and adopted by a US couple.  

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. This 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 was a pioneer in applying mathematics to the physical world.

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

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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kevin Spenst hosts Canadian Authors' Poetry Panel

Wednesday at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, Canadian Authors-Metro Vancouver celebrated a Night of Verse. Host poet Kevin Spenst (right) calls Kevan Cameron, aka "Scruffmouth the Scribe" (left), "a force for dub and diligence to the spoken word." Adele Barclay is "a force of poetic benevolence and dreamtime surrealism." Rob Taylor (left below) is "a force for poetical organizations on the page and across the country." Added Spenst, "What fun it was being able to help promote these great talents." See below:

Photo credits: Group shot by Margo Bates, other photos by Kevin Spenst

Evocative lines heard during the presentation:

A.B. "to make maple syrup from autumn" and "the ink of your letters is so like you I don't need to read them."

K.C. "Scruffmouth" "buzzer rang like a wrong answer on a quiz show" News flash! Kevan has been chosen for the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at Oxford University this coming July.

R.T. "hammers woke me today" and "have to go before you start hoovering"

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Habit of Secrecy: another revision complete

A final round of edits complete. Final until a publisher takes the novel, that is. Afterwards, the editing process will start all over again. Meanwhile, it's a great relief to have finished this round.

I'm now turning to the task of putting in the Shakespeare lines at the beginning of each chapter.

All are from his sonnets, Miraculously, I was able to find appropriate lines to head 58 chapters without looking further afield.

Besides the plays, Shakespeare published 154 love sonnets. Some of his best-known lines come from these. We use them in daily speech, or see them as book titles, not always realizing that Will the bard was their original creator.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pile driver seen and felt from car

Waiting at a left exit off Highway 91 south, I needed a green light to turn onto 72nd. Across the freeway, a pile driver was pounding posts into the earth. Each time the piston hit, the hollow whump caused the car to shake. Years ago in the old gravel Scott Road parking lot, I first felt the vibration of a pile driver. Then too it seemed an implacable attack by rough humans on Mother Earth.

Friday, April 7, 2017

White Rock gale and burned-out Cosmos

We had brief glimpses of sunshine this week. Spring flowers are finally blooming. Today, Gander staggers under the weight of spring snow. White Rock is blowing a gale. Last night, Cosmos, Marine Drive's signature Greek restaurant, was damaged by a fire that started upstairs.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

East Vancouver high school girls and boys rock at robotics

Image from

Today the Vancouver Sun reported that three "cool and nerdy" teams of high school students from Gladstone Secondary School in East Vancouver are heading to the Robotics World Championships in Kentucky this month.

Last year, an all-girl team from Gladstone earned the honour of coming sixth in the world. Go, girls of robotic expertise! In 2012, mixed Gladstone teams took first and second in international competitions.

At Gladstone, 80 students from Grade 9 up are studying robotics. In their lab, Robo Dojo, the kids have built 17 robots this year.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy

Might the entire universe be "written" in the language of equations? British mathematician G.H. Hardy pointed out that while languages die, mathematical ideas live on.

Certainly, mathematical problems and solutions have long horizons. At the Sorbonne in 1900, David Hilbert, one of the great mathematicians of his age, set out a list of 23 problems he thought should be explored in the coming century. By 2000, all were solved but the Reimann Hypothesis, which "seeks to understand the most fundamental objects in mathematics -- prime numbers."

Princeton mathematician Enrico Bombieri played an April Fool prank on his colleagues in 1997. On the website of the International Congress of Mathematicians, he announced that "Holy Grail" of mathematics had been proved.

However, in 2000, along with six new problems for the 21st century, the Reimann Hypothesis was offered once more to challenge mathematicians. This time the solver would earn both glory and money -- a million per problem.

Solving the puzzle of the primes would change mathematics, and the world. It is thanks to the inscrutable unpredictability of prime numbers that e-business thrives. Carl Friedrich Gauss died in 1855, but the calculator clocks he invented, with their faces bearing "more hours than there are atoms in the observable universe," are vital to the security of online transactions today. In the age of internet commerce, "advances in the most obscure or abstract corners of the mathematical world now have to potential to bring business to its knees."

Prime numbers remain deeply mysterious in spite of all the work that has gone into unmasking them. One early effort was made by Erastothenes, who developed a mathematical "sieve" to eliminate numbers that could not be primes.

Marcus du Sautoy's book is full of astonishing and fascinating details. Where else could you learn about the sex of numbers in ancient Chinese thought? The 22,000-year-old Ishango bone from equatorial Africa, with its ancient markings of prime numbers? The fact that the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid was the father of mathematical proof?

Math history also includes such stories as the miraculous WWII escape of French mathematician Andre Weil. Leaving France in 1939 for Finland, he hoped to avoid the war and go on to America, where he could continue doing mathematics. Unfortunately, the Finns took him for a spy when they found that his letters to Russian mathematicians were full of equations. On the eve of his planned execution, the chief of police happened to mention his presence in prison to a Finnish mathematician, who pleaded successfully for deportation rather than death.

Returning to France, Weil was jailed for desertion. However, during this period of incarceration, he produced a promising new line of thought that promised progress on the Reimann Hypothesis. He published from prison, and fellow-mathematician Cartan testified at his trial. Weil's 5-year sentence was commuted when he agreed to go into the army. Luckily, as it turned out. Shortly after, the Germans advanced on Rouen and all prisoners were shot. A second lucky escape. He did eventually get to to Princeton, the Mecca for fleeing mathematical Europeans during WWII.

New mathematical ideas begin with hunches and intuitions: the first sketch of the idea is called a conjecture. Later it becomes a hypothesis. Only when the new idea can be proven is it promoted to the status of a theorem.

Then there's the old question of pure versus applied mathematics. While academics remained true to the pure abstract beauty of the science they studied for its own sake, the industrial revolution pushed mathematical development into applied forms to serve industry. In 1789, Napoleon founded the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, to focus on the "needs of the state," hydraulics and ballistics for the war machine.

On the other hand, pure mathematics "has the ability to unite people across political and historic boundaries." The author quotes Julia Robinson's description of the unifying bond between mathematicians, 'a nation of our own without distinction of race creed, sex, age or even time (the mathematicians of the past and of the future are our colleagues too) -- all dedicated to the most beautiful of the arts and sciences.'

In this fascinating romp through centuries of mathematics, author Marcus du Sautoy says that "The primary drive of the mathematician's existence is to find patterns, to discover and explain the rules underlying nature, and to predict what will happen next." When it comes to prime numbers, though, those patterns and predictions have yet to be uncovered or explained.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Queen's handbag

Image from caspian media

Though the sight of her delving into it is rare, the Queen is never seen without her handbag. Ever wonder why?

I doubt she carries a cellphone, and I'm sure she doesn't need house keys or ID. So what does she carry? According to Lauren Smith, Queen Elizabeth's purse contains a mirror, mints, lipstick and reading glasses. And a few pounds on Sundays, for the church collection plate.

The purse has another essential function: to signal her staff. When she wants to end an interaction, she moves it from one hand to the other. If the bag goes on the floor, she's letting her lady-in-waiting know it's time to rescue her from a conversation she prefers not to pursue.

Monday, April 3, 2017

I Shall not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming

It's not the latest Claire Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, just the last one I read. But the order of reading them doesn't matter. Julia Spencer-Fleming is one of those authors that make you want to read everything she writes, in any order.

I love this writer for her use of language, whether she's describing a setting, or using puns, jokes, and double entendre in fresh and believable dialogue.

Clare experiences spring in Miller's Kill as "the scent of apple and thick May grass rising over the tinny smell of cars baking in the sunshine," and lawyer Geoff Burns in a snit stomps off "like a pint-size Godzilla looking for Tokyo."

When Karen Burns overhears Hugh make a witty and flirtatious comment to Clare, the Reverend tells her to ignore him, saying "He's only a few Internet sites away from complete deviancy."

Lois, the church secretary, teases Clare about leaving her new boyfriend "kicking his heels" while she danced all night with Chief Van Alstyne, then follows her blushing employer from the room, "smiling like the owner of a dumb dog who has just learned a new trick."

Clare, as usual, gets mixed up with criminal elements -- two of the villains are nicknamed Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber. Forced to confront an ex-con on a mountain top, she decides to play it crazy. "Are you a druglord?" she asks the con, trying to "sound like a teenybopper meeting a member of he latest boy band."

The best lines are not always funny. I loved this description of Amado, the young farm labourer, as against his better judgment, he falls for the sister of some local gangsters: "He could have resisted her bare skin, but her naked faith broke him."

Like Russ and Clare, Spencer-Fleming is concerned about social conflict. She writes eloquently of the plight of Latino farm labourers in the US. Amado, a Mexican, is worried because his fellow labourers are illegal. As soon as it finds out, a government agency is poised to deport these young men as criminals or terrorists. He is "tired of the patron relying on him, and the men looking to him, and the weight of responsibility, to his brother in this country, and to their family at home."

In this book, Deputy Chief Lyle McCaulay gets one of the really crucial lines. Trying to comfort Clare for quarreling while Russ, who now lies unconscious in hospital, Lyle tells the Reverend, "We don't have near enough time on this earth, and what we do have, we fritter away acting like damn fools."

It's a salutary reminder to focus on what matters. And that, in life as in the novel, is the love we share.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Daffodils, finally

We've had the rainiest March since 1937, giving new meaning to our epithet, the Wet Coast. It's been so cold that spring flowers are much later than usual. Today brought some welcome hours of sunshine. The past week has finally seen a few magnolias open, and an occasional cherry tree in bloom. Welcomg spring!

We're lucky. In Quebec City last week, water was running waist deep in the lower town. A recent windstorm in Newfoundland blew roofs off buildings. My heart goes out to the people of Peru and Colombia, devastated by flooding.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pursued by a wild mustang of memory

Once upon a time, I drove a Mustang. It was much like this, but a slightly earlier model. It was green too, but a green less appealing than this one. It was also less well-maintained. Front-heavy and back-light, it was hard to handle in snow. One year I nearly spun it out on the road to the Blackcomb parking lot, then brand new.

While I was parked on Broadway, this one pulled up behind my current car, a Mazda sedan. Seeing the galloping pony logo evoked memories of trips in my long-ago frisky horse.

It may be consumer-driven, short-sighted, even corrupt and foolish to define ourselves by what products we buy. That said, I must add that no car company, ever, has topped the Mustang logo.