Yearly Archives: 2011

The acceleration of history

Four hundred years ago, the idea that the Earth goes around the Sun rather than vice versa was not just a scientific breakthrough but also a cultural bombshell. People were asked to reimagine the world they were living in. Not … Continue reading

Posted in science | 10 Comments


I went to a magic show the other day. Nick Trefethen was giving a demo of Chebfun, a Matlab extension package he is building in collaboration with his Oxford students and colleagues. In the course of the talk, several mathematical … Continue reading

Posted in computing, mathematics | 7 Comments

How Did the Stars Get Their Points?

Those are hot young stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud—one of the puppy-dog galaxies that follow the Milky Way around—photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Detail cropped from a Wikipedia image.) Note that four rays seem to emanate from each … Continue reading

Posted in linguistics | 12 Comments

TNT Is Not TeX

The curious document above was produced sometime in the spring of 1980 by Don Knuth to show off the typographical prowess of his new programs, TeX and Metafont. The software was then being introduced to the mathematical community through the … Continue reading

Posted in computing, mathematics | 19 Comments


As a high school kid in the 1960s, I wrote a snarky term paper arguing that retirement is wasted on old people. By the time you get your promised years of leisure, you’re too worn out to enjoy them. So … Continue reading

Posted in modern life | 3 Comments