Monday, April 18, 2011

I is for Irish

I am Irish and I love my language. I love to speak it, read it and hear it. It's like music to my soul. So it aches that I cannot use it very much any more. My husband and colleagues have very little (if any) Irish. It's only around my family that I get to use it for more than simple sentences, properly spoken with the real natural pronunciation and not the 'standard' dialect I use for non-native speakers. To go from fluent to the state my Irish is in now breaks my heart. Sadly given the international context of my work this is unlikely to change.

I-mathematician is Ito and 'i' is for the square root of minus one.

H is for Hotel

A hotel in Paris is where I spent last week. I couldn't get internet access on my laptop so I've to catch up on letters again! The hotel was undergoing renovations so getting into/out of my room was an adventure. The drain backed up one day and flooded the room, unfortunately the day I desperately needed a nap. More on this in later post. Then the water went entirely. Bit of a disaster hotel really. That said I had a great conference in Paris: my presentation went very well, I had lots of time with my colleagues and met mathematicians from around the world.

Hamilton is one of the most well known Irish mathematicians. Famed for his work on mechanics, differential equations and the invention of the quaternions. The quaternions are described by this equation

and are one of only four finite dimensional normed division algebras over the real numbers. There is an annual pilgrimage in Ireland from Dunsink Observatory where he worked to Broom Bridge where it is believed the idea for the quaternions struck him. Apparently he engraved the idea into the bridge and there is a plaque there now to commemorate him. Each October the RIA hold the Hamilton Lecture given by the best of mathematicians.

2005 was the 200th anniversary of his birth and a commemorative 10 Euro coin was minted in Ireland. I received one as a 21st birthday present and treasured it until giving it to my husband as part of our marriage ceremony. One side looked like this:

Finally a note on 'h' in the Irish Language. It is the third most frequently used letter as it is the most common representation of the 'séimhiú' since Irish switched to the roman alphabet about the 1950s. Previous to then a dot above the consonant to be leniated was used.

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for G

G is my wonderful husband, an ever patient ever kind man. I'm incredibly lucky to have found him and even luckier that I get to keep him.

G is also for guilt: I'm guilty of writing three letter-posts in one day to catch up on the blogfest!

Grá is the Irish word for love and how appropriate for today, dedicated to G my 'fíorghrá' - 'truelove'.

Gauss wrote 'Disquisitiones Arithmeticae' and many other important works. A pre-eminent mathematician there is too much to say about him so I will direct you to a biography. There is also Galois, who by his death at the age 20 had already begun the investigation of an entire new area of maths, Galois Theory.

F is for Fields Medal

Arguably the most important honour in mathematics the Fields Medal has been awarded every four years "to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement". Between two and four mathematicians, no older than 40, are chosen and the prize is awarded at the International Congress of Mathematicians. The medal bears the head of Archimedes and the inscription "TRANSIRE SUUM PECTUS MUNDOQUE POTIRI", one translation of which is "To transcend one's spirit and to take hold of the world". Sometimes called the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, as there is no such, it certainly carries the significance of such though the recently begun Abel Prize follows the Nobel Prize idea much closer. I used to dream as a child of earning a Fields Medal one day.

Favourite Fields Medalists: Jean Pierre Serre (the youngest so far), Timothy Gowers (co-founder of Tricki) and Terence Tao (mind-boggling genius).

'Fréamh' is one of my favourite Irish words, meaning 'root'.

F-ing Amazing mathematicians include Fibonacci, Fermat, Frobenius and Fourier.

Finally F is for fantastic friend, fried food and fabulous frock.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E is for Emergency Shawl

This is the shawl that took 6 days of frantic crocheting to make on time to wear to the wedding. It took almost 800m of laceweight merino (bought at This is Knit) and about half a tube of beads from Winnie's Craft Cafe. It's about 1.5m x 0.5m and delightfully soft and warm. I had a really painful swollen wrist after the constant fast crochet and couldn't crochet, type or knit for a few days. Couldn't fit my watch or wedding rings on either. Now it has returned to normal and I'm easing myself back into typing and crafting again.

E brings us many incredible Mathematicians: Euclid, Eratosthenes, Eisenstein, Erdos and Euler to name a few. Euclid wrote the geometry book 'The Elements' which still forms the basis of geometry today, despite being written over 2000 years ago. Eratosthenes was librarian at Alexandria in its prime, before it was burned down at the turn of the millennium. He calculated the circumference of the earth to remarkable accuracy considering the times and is renowned for his 'sieve' algorithm for determining the prime numbers. Euler was possibly the most prolific mathematician ever and introduced much of the notation that is used today, including the 'e' for that mathematical constant that is the base of natural logarithms. Famous also for his identity
His contributions to mathematics are vast and I am entirely in awe of him.

The Irish word of the day is the verb 'éalaigh' - to escape. Often you will find a sign saying simply 'éalú' for exit or emergency exit.

D is for Dancing

Dancing is one of my favourite things to do. Even more than maths, even more than knitting and crocheting. There is such freedom and soul in expressing oneself to music, spinning around in the arms of another or having a boogie with friends. Above is a little picture of my husband and I swing dancing.

D for Delightful ladies at knit night too, I was glad to be able to knit a row or two again but have to be careful of the wrist/hand still. No progress on anything until it heals fully. Can't wait to get back into the secret garden shawl!

Dirichlet is the magnificent mathematician of the day. He made progress on two cases of Fermat's Last Theorem and was generally amazing in number theory, potential theory and all of maths really.

D must also be for Dónal Mac Mathúna a man beyond compare and the Deora (tears) I shed when he left this world. Read and listen here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Coding

Coding Theory is the area of maths that I'm researching and writing my doctoral thesis on. Essentially it's all about achieving efficient information transmission (or storage) by adding or removing redundancy.

C is also for Ceol - the Irish word for music. Each year as part of National Irish Week (Seachtain na Gaeilge) there is an album released of popular music with Irish language lyrics instead. The 96cambridge channel on youtube has some of the songs from these.

For a mathematician we have Cauchy- one of the most prolific mathematicians of all time with almost 800 papers.His name appears frequently and in many seemingly disparate branches of maths.

As mentioned before C is for Commutative. In maths we say an operation * is commutative whenever a * b = b * a. Addition and multiplication are commutative but subtraction and division are not.

Honourable mentions go to Crochet, Cryptography and Calves that ache after dancing my socks off at the wedding!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Brian&Rachel

Today is the day that Brian and Rachel get married. I hope it is a Beautiful day and that they continue to love and cherish each other, to grow together and to work to make life better for each other. I felt after getting married that nothing had really changed but yet everything was somehow Better. I hope they feel the same.

B is also for the Irish word 'buamaite' meaning 'moment'. It's my brother's favourite word and I'm quite fond of it too.

Boole is certainly not a b-list mathematician as his concept of Boolean logic and algebra underlies the entire digital age. Find out more on wikipedia.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for April

This month I will be attempting to participate in the Blog a letter a day (excluding Sundays) challenge. This will be quite difficult as I'm travelling a lot in April. April is also Maths Awareness Month which I will endeavour to embody. I will be giving at least three mathematical talks this month as part of my travels so I think I'm set up.

A is for Anew, Afresh, Again.
Today I attacked my work with renewed vigour. Revising my paper and presentation for Paris, again. hopefully this fervency will continue to develop for the month and my work will progress quickly. I also took back up the Secret Garden shawl which languished while I was furiously crocheting the Emergency Shawl. This enterprise left me with a pretty shawl but a sore and swollen hand. One day of planning, 6 days of crocheting, 2 days of blocking and it's ready to pack for tomorrow.

A is also for the Irish words ait and áit meaning 'strange' and 'place' respectively. As in 'Is ait an áit é seo': this is a strange place. It is amazing the difference a fada can make.

Finally, in the mathematical world A is for Abel the mathematician and Abelian groups. More on this when we get to 'c is for commutative' day!