Tag Archives: math

The State of Being Stuck

A high school mathematics teacher interviews Andrew Wiles. Wiles is one of the most famous mathematicians in the world today; best known for proving the 350-year-old Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Wiles explained the process of research mathematics like this: “You absorb everything about the problem. You think about it a great deal—all the techniques that are used for these things. [But] usually, it needs something else.” Few problems worth your attention will yield under the standard attacks.

“So,” he said, “you get stuck.”

“Then you have to stop,” Wiles said. “Let your mind relax a bit…. Your subconscious is making connections. And you start again—the next afternoon, the next day, the next week.”

Patience, perseverance, acceptance—this is what defines a mathematician.

Reaching pi

This is old, but randomly came across this TeX FAQ which explains why the version numbering of TeX is reaching pi:

Knuth has declared that he will do no further development of TeX; he will continue to fix any bugs that are reported to him (though bugs are rare). This decision was made soon after TeX version 3.0 was released; at each bug-fix release the version number acquires one more digit, so that it tends to the limit π (at the time of writing, Knuth’s latest release is version 3.1415926). Knuth wants TeX to be frozen at version π when he dies; thereafter, no further changes may be made to Knuth’s source. (A similar rule is applied to Metafont; its version number tends to the limit e, and currently stands at 2.718281.)

Reaching π isn’t as easy as it sounds though. So many iterations and still you won’t be there. You can’t achieve perfection.