Unrelated to all that, 8/15 edition

Where people in each state are born

Oregon births

Click through for all the states

Fifty Years of Fun

You might imagine that glow-in-the-dark bacteria is some sort of trippy side-show to Mainstream Molecular Biology, but in fact the Hastings Lab’s studies of bioluminescence led to a baffling number of fundamental biological breakthroughs. Most famously, the Hastings Lab was the first to describe quorum sensing (which they called “autoinduction”), the means by which bacteria communicate and interpret their population density. For bioluminescent bacteria, quorum sensing is important because the glow is only visible when bacteria are at present in large numbers, so these microbes need to be able to coordinate their glow-making gene expression based on population density. Thus, the Hastings’ lab gave the first evidence that gene expression could be directly regulated by signals sent by other bacteria. We now know that quorum sensing is widely used by bacteria, and is important for such medically-relevant phenomena as biofilm formation, virulence, and antibiotic resistance.

If I Reacted to Other People’s Careers the Way They React to Me Becoming a Mathematician

You’re a writer? I had a terrible writing teacher in high school. I bet I wouldn’t like you.

You’re a carpenter? You must be super good at carpentering.

You’re a singer? I stopped singing in 11th grade. The last song I sang was… hmmmmm… let’s see… Mozart’s Requiem. I wasn’t very good at that song.

You’re a project manager? God, I fucking hate project management.

How Math Got It’s ‘Nobel’

As for Fields, he proposed his award not as a substitute for the Nobel Prize but as a symbol of international unity. In the aftermath of World War I, the scientific community was fractured by national rivalries. When the International Mathematical Union was first founded, in 1920, it explicitly banned representatives of the former Central Powers. Fields so wanted “to avoid invidious comparisons” among candidates for his award that he suggested it be presented “with a view to encouraging further achievement” rather than just honoring past accomplishments…For decades the Fields Medal was relatively obscure. In 1950, neither of the two recipients had heard of the award before being told that he had won it. So how did it become the Nobel Prize of mathematics? The true story helps illuminate the often neglected intersection of mathematics and politics.

A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract Surfaces

Great explanations and biographies of all five Fields and Nevanlinna Prize Winners. From Mirzakhani’s:

Today, Mirzakhani — a 37-year-old mathematics professor at Stanford University — still writes elaborate stories in her mind. The high ambitions haven’t changed, but the protagonists have: They are hyperbolic surfaces, moduli spaces and dynamical systems. In a way, she said, mathematics research feels like writing a novel. “There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better,” she said. “Things evolve, and then you look back at a character, and it’s completely different from your first impression.”


Smells that don’t exist anymore, or are harder to find in real life

When I was a kid (in rural Australia) everyone raked up their autumn leaves into a big pile and burned them before winter started in earnest. It’s illegal now to do this. I remember that the slightly damp leaves would smoke and the town would be filled with the smell – it was the smell of winter and crisp, frosty, sunny days!

Emptied but not cleaned ashtrays. When I was growing up, everybody had ashtrays all over the place, and at our house it was one of my chores to empty ashtrays. It wasn’t exactly a good smell, but not gross (not in those days). That smell is gone.

The smell of the markers used on overhead transparencies. (Similarly, the smell of burning dust heated by the bulbs on poorly maintained overhead projectors.)

The Startling Story behind a Famous Footnote

Progress is a slippery word; but none can doubt that price theory, the preoccupation with markets that historically has at the heart of economics, has seen a great deal of elaboration in the least 75 years…What happened? The post-war mathematization of economics stems in general from two epochal works, Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947), by Paul Samuelson, and, with a lag, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944), by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. But books are advertisements for particular programs seeking concrete results. One mathematical adventure more than any other is said to underlay the expansion of microeconomics in the second half of the twentieth century: the proof, in 1952 or ’53 or ’54, of the existence of a competitive general equilibrium.

8-bit Matrix


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