Monday, October 6, 2008

2008 Competitions

Hello again to the mathematical community here at Hopkins.

It is again the fall, and it is again the time for competition. The two upcoming fall events are:
(a special note: The Putnam link above is to the page that should be shortly updated to reflect the 2008 exam information.)

As last year's post stated, both are distributed exam competitions, offered locally here at Hopkins, at the undergraduate-level. Both offer cash prizes and all the prestige your time can buy. Read last year's post for more details.

For this year, we are already registered for VTech, whic is given November 1 in the morning. Again, there is no need to individually register for this until the day of the competition. I will post more about this in a couple of week. Also, I wil broadcast via email to all math majors and Math Club members.

Registration for the 69th national Putnam exam closes sometime around October 12, and the exam is held on Saturday, December 6, from 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm.

Again, we will be offering training sessions, organized with the Math Club here at Hopkins, which will again be weekly seminars, hosted by the same graduate student we used last year. Details to come.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Low Stress Job?!!?

Very interesting quick view from the outside on the life of a mathematician, from the world out-there: According to Laurence Shatkin, author of "150 Best Low-Stress Jobs," as detailed in the Yahoo! hotjobs section, a mathematician with a Ph.D. can earn a starting salary in the 80s while enjoying a relatively stress-free life: The money quote:

"[T]he most stressful aspects of the job are the importance of being exact and a level of competition, in essence it's all good."

I have to admit that there may be a bit more stress in one's life than simply the overpowering compulsion to be exact. And the competition among mathematicians can be quite fierce in its own way (although in truth we have nothing on the social scientists: Our theories (theorems) are usually not judged on the matter of being correct. We cannot have competing theorems like in economics and sometimes in physics. What is right is right, after all. Our competition is more a matter of who proves something first, or in the most beautiful way, or just how "interesting" our results are).

And while some of my mathematician friends over at the National Security Agency and NASA, or some of the securities specialists on Wall Street (you would be surprised on how many mathematicians work in lower Manhattan) may quibble with Shatkin's quote that "[m]athematicians are not under pressure as this isn't life and death; they're dealing with theoretical realms," I have to admit it is a good life.

Something to consider, anyway....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Putnam Results!

The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition for 2007 results have just been announced. And we have good news to announce: Two of our participants have received special recognition for their performance. The recognition comes in the form of a set of special categories marking the top performers and based on their ranking given by their overall exam score. Our two top finishers placed in the top 100 out of the 3753 participants of this year's competition:

Kihyuk Hong, a senior, received the title of "Honorable Mention", given to those whose score ranks them between 27.5 and 74, out of the 3753 contestants who participated.

Sunny Kam, a freshman, placed in the next category (oddly titled only category "I"), for rankings between 78 and 94.

These two contestants will have their names published as top performers on this examination in the American Mathematical Monthly in the near future. The results of the exam this year, and the distribution of scores, can be found at the Mathematical Association of America's American Mathematics Competitions website for the Putnam at:

Also, three registrants can act as a team for the competition. Hopkins was one of the 413 institutions to enter a team, and we placed 22 this year.

Altogether, this was an excellent performance by our students. Congratulations to all who participated.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Math in the Media - Pi Day

Kind of a weird thing to me, but weird can be fun also, eh?

Happy Pi Day, 3-14, that is....

But what about the actual Pi Moment? Maybe 3-14 at 59 minutes, 26.54 seconds...? Close, anyway, what?

Research Opportunity

Here is an interesting internship that may run for a while: Acting as a resident Math Expert for a series on fairly low-level mathematics-based puzzles set to air on public television here in Maryland. Can you think of a better way to enter an interesting career path as an Expert right out of the box?

I am filing this as a research opportunity, although I think it is more of a fun thing to do and a good resume builder, especially for those of you who want to fill out your resume with serious activities of a more unusual flavor.

The only less-than-ideal thing about this internship is that it is unpaid. But I believe the bragging rights and networking (please excuse the pun) possibilities make a strong alternative form of payment. I will stay in contact with the person over there who sent me this. I definitely think this is quite interesting and wonder what else we could do for Maryland Public Television.... Ideas?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Math in the Media - The Price of Higher Ed 2

As a follow up to the last post, the Washington Post this morning contained an article detailing current legislation pending in Congress (passed by the House actually) that addresses many of the costs associated with higher education. While the main thrust of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act is to provide more aid for students of need to attend college, there are provisions in the bill designed to dampen textbook prices.

For instance, forcing publishers to state the price of a textbook up front when promoting a book to a professor for possible use in the classroom (this is not often done currently). And ending the practice of packaging textbooks with tons of rather useless addons which are typically not used in the course and are almost always of little or no value (think of that CD you never touched attached to the inside back cover of your calculus text (well, at least not our book for 108-109)).

A similar bill has also passed the Senate, and now the reconciliation between the two must begin. It is also said in the article that the White House opposes the bill. No threat of a veto, but Bush wuill seek changes before he signs.

I believe it is a good thing that Congress is paying attention. Let's also hope the publishers are....

Math in the Media - The Price of Higher Ed

Interesting editorial in the Washington Post yesterday. Well, interesting to those who aren't constantly confronted with the soaring costs of a university education. The world outside of the Ivory Tower sees clearly the number of zeros in the tuition bill. What those on the inside also face is textbook prices; sometimes over $1000 a year (a stat from the University of Maryland, mentioned in the article).

The article, "Required Reading", correctly details many points that frustrate professors as well as students. One is the extraneous material of little or no value packaged in with the book: CDs with "helpful" software, solutions manuals, study guides, etc. which are then valued greatly by publishers. We don;t use them and do not need them.

Also, when "new editions" come out every two or three years, the "old edition" becomes worthless, both for students retaking a course and for any possible resale of the book. This again keeps prices high. The editorial staff at the Post are correct that at the level of Calculus, there are really no new innovations that would possibly lead to a maor overhaul of the subject. In fact, many of the calculus texts are so overevolved that there is movement in the textbook business to actually pare down the content.

Our choice, seen at right, is a bioled down version of a calculus text. It retains the basic core of the subject while relegating the extra stuff to a publicly accessible website. The result is that the price is at a level of somewhere around 10 years ago. Not great, but there is a recognition amongst publishers that their customers are not happy.

And professors aren't happy either. Some years back at American University, I chose a book for a PDEs class that was $12.95 (it was a reprint of an out-of-print book). I chose it because 1) it was quite adequate for the class, and 2) it was 12 bucks.

Boy, did that get noticed....

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Math in the media - Killing Fractions?!?

We all know making a seemingly outrageous statement to gather attention, and then expounding on your point once the audience is yours, is a sure-fire way to start a conversation. I am not sure it is always the best way to bring the topic to the floor, however.

Dennis DeTurk, a professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of Pennsylvania, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there, and Evan C Thompson Endowed Term Professorship for Excellence in Teaching, advocates the abolishment of fractions as a mathematical tool, and to simply use decimal representations of real numbers (there.... how's that for an outrageous statement to start the conversation?).

The USA Today article by Maureen Milford is here:

Needless to say, he has attracted attention, some quite critical.

Well, to be fair, he doesn't really hate fractions at all, and isn't leading the charge to erase their existence. I will let you read the short USA Today article fully, but all he really seems to be saying is that it would be better to teach kids decimals when it is time for them to learn about parts of numbers and their arithmetic. Then later, when they are a bit more mature mathematically, teachers can introduce the ratio format of a fraction. True or not, his quote in the article is well-reasoned, IMHO:

"Mathematicians are always questioning the axioms. Everybody knows that questioning those often results in the most substantial gains in terms of progress."

I not sure whether it would matter, personally. I have kids that recently went through the first fraction stage in school. It can be troublesome, but I have always found that complicated abstract mathematical structures are not a hindrance to kids generally. They tend to eventually master almost anything you throw at them. So what if it takes a little while. I always viewed it a a "good wiring" technique for learning future, even more complicated abstract structures.