Archive for January, 2006

Symmetry and Mercury

MC Echer pattern
Yesterday, one of my favorite radio shows, Studio 360, was themed “Symmetry”. Symmetry is the little bit of mathematician in all of us. And since there is probably more mathematician in me than in most I really enjoyed the show, what part of it I was able to catch. As I write this you can only find full info on the page for the current show but soon I expect the page will move to a place in the archive.

Speaking of radio shows. It was a funny coincidence that just moments before Living On Earth came on I was talking to Latika about canned tuna and its dangers, if any. The headlining story on Living on Earth? Mercury in Fish. It is a interesting and subtle issue. It turns out that some fish, light canned tuna, which the goverment specifically recommends for people at particular risk of mecury poisoning (pregnant woman and young children, mostly) can frequently contain high mecury fish. Also, it is surprising how little mecury testing is done our our food supply. As few as a handful of fish of a particular species have been tested in a decade of fishing. In some cases no testing has been done at all and when tested it was found the fish clearly didn’t satisfy FDA requirements. But, on the other hand, fish is seemingly the best form of meat you can be eating with all those healthy omega-3 fatty acids, mmmm mmm good! Plus, there are large safety factors built into the FDA recommendations and a reasonably healthy fish-devouring Japanese population to point to. So, where do we a draw a line and start worrying? Tricky. I know I will continue eating as much fish as I can, particularly that most prominently from my Northwest heartage: wild Alaskan salmon.

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Raoul Bott

Raoul Bott
Sadly a great mathematician died this winter. Raoul Bott was important enough to score a headlining obituary in the New York Times. He is most famous for a theorem regarding what’s now called Bott Periodicity. It’s a tricky result to describe to a layperson, and not in a field I know very well, but I can tell you this bit of trivia: the periodicity is in some sense eight-fold. Eight happens to be my favorite number; and in the days, years ago, when I was more inclined to dwell on such topics, I made a list of all the reasons eight was my favorite number. Bott periodicity was on that list. Of course, long before that, back in 3rd grade when I was first accepting nominations for favorite number, Bott periodicity wasn’t one of the topics on the table; but, maybe there was something insightful going on in that frog-poking, Transformer-coveting 3rd grade mind of mine.


University of Michigan on Wikipedia

University of Michigan seal
The University of Michigan article on Wikipedia is the featured article today. It’s unfortunate that as an encylopedia they have a standard of objectivism, because otherwise the sentence “North and Central Campuses each have unique bell towers reflecting the predominant architectural style of their surrounding architectural styles.” must reasonably be followed with the note, “Thus, with one glance toward the tower, one easily identifies the predominate architectural style of North Campus as post-neo-%!@# ugly.”