Friday, 8 August 2008

Number Theory

One man deserves the credit, One man deserves the blame, And Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name!
- Tom Lehrer

I wasn't a very good student at university. I didn't work anywhere near hard enough, and didn't get very good grades. Nevertheless I did get my maths degree, and I still have some books on my bookshelf with titles such as "Elementary Differential Geometry", "An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers" (the classic work by Hardy & Wright). One day I might read them. Who am I kidding?

I also have a book which I may have mentioned before entitled "The Penguin Dictionary of Curious Interesting Numbers". I haven't read that either, and the definition of what constitutes "interesting" isn't exactly the same as most people's. For example, Emilia Kenevezou's phone number would be of interest to many of us. Instead we have entries such as "139854276 - Equal to 11826 squared." To be fair it goes on to explain that it is the smallest pandigital square. Maybe that's not interesting so much as curious?

Anyway, the reason I'm bringing all of this up is because of 8. The Dictionary has over a page devoted to it, and it mentions useful facts, like if you multiply any triangular number by 8, you get one less than a square.*

It doesn't mention that this is a lucky number for the Chinese. I am, of course, referring to the fact that the Olympic Games started today, 8/8/8, one of those rare days where even Americans manage to write the numbers in the correct order.

In Cyprus, and presumably other countries, they've have a lot of extra civil weddings today, with one couple tying the knot at 8:08 am. Spare a thought for those poor men who will have even less of an excuse to forget their anniversary.

Of course having studied numbers, I can't get at all excited by these "special" ones. After all, it's not really 8/8/8 but 8/8/2008, where the year is counted from some arbitrary point in history that wasn't even when Christ was born, and the months and years aren't much better.

As a C programmer, I'd have had a year 0. And a day 0 and a month 0, come to that, so it should really be 7/7/2007. But they didn't have zeros when they invented dates.

Here 888 is the teletext page for subtitles. If bingo went up to 888, then presumably it'd be "three fat ladies". In 888 days, it will be the 14th January 2011, and Harrods will just be starting their Christmas shopping campaign.

However, I'm looking forward to 9/9/9, because I'll have an easy day.

I'll be able to reuse this post.

Talking of the Olympic games, I saw the highlights of the opening ceremony on the news. I'm sure it was all very impressive, but it apparently went on for four hours. I imagine that the poor people in that stadium were suffering from "Spectacle Fatigue", not to mention piles...

*Because triangular numbers have the form: n(n+1)/2, and 4n(n+1) = (2n + 1)^2 - 1


Bee said...


Bee said...

Okay, numbers and I? We are like an old couple who needs each other for basic things like, zipping up a dress from the back, pointing out particles of food in a moustache but the rest of the time they argue because one can't understand the other.

Numbers don't understand me! But I need them when I have to cash my check.

Okay, I just re-read what I wrote and I don't understand me either...

for a different kind of girl said...

There appears to be what I believe to be math in this post. If not math, then a lot of number talk. Number talk gets me all confused, I must admit! I'm very bad with them! I am going to a wedding tonight, though. However, based on my whole number phobia, it took me until last week to realize the date for the ceremony was 8/8/08. See? Bad with numbers.

Brian o vretanos said...


You don't need numbers, you need money when you cash cheques, presumably ;-)


I don't think any of this number stuff has any significance, though I always used to say my lucky number was 13 ;-)

Enjoy the wedding!

Bee said...

No, my paycheck. I need to get my happy ass to the bank, fill out some form that asks very difficult questions:
How much is your check for?
How much do you want to deposit?
How much would you like to get back?
What does 7845521 x 45210447451 equal?
What is the common denominator for 41255463244464564654?

Bee said...

Plus, I just got a negotiation from an attorney who is worse off than I am.

He said he is dividing payment between 4 other places.
He said the hospital was getting 20%, we were getting 87%, PT was getting 10% and the ambulance was getting 3% of $18,000….

20% = $3600
87% = $15,600
10% = $1800
3% = $540

= $20,280?????????

I’ve stared at this math problem for about 30 minutes wondering if I’m wrong.

Well, I’m off to have a nice Margarita (the drink not the woman)!

Brian o vretanos said...


No, you're not wrong. The most likely thing is that he meant you were getting 67% rather than 87%, an easy mistake to make if he couldn't read his own (or someone else's) handwriting...

Jean Knee said...

all this math talk made me wet my pants a little.

Jean Knee said...

how many days until Halloween??? now that's an interesting number

I'm already selling evil skeletons in my shop

Brian o vretanos said...

Jean Knee:

Congratulations on being Eighth!

77 days, I think.

Jean Knee said...

and now I'm eleventh!

Tracy said...

Yeah, Brian? Here's the thing. I read this post, word for word, I swear. But see, I've have a busy day, not to mention emotionally draining with the nanny leaving me, and I swear I might have had more success if you had written it in Chinese.
I think that posts like this should be saved for Mondays or Tuesdays when I'm more.. what's the word? With it?
Not for a Friday night when I'm tired from the week and would like to sleep for six days.

And people really write these books? Just about numbers? I could totally do that I bet. I could just make each kid take a turn sitting at the computer banging out numbers and waalaa.. Book!

Maybe we'll teach that at the college.

Tracy said...

Oh and speaking of the college, I don't think that you should talk about what a bad student you were if you're going to be one of my professors.
From now on you were a stellar student who got straight As ok? Got it?

Brian o vretanos said...


Why don't you wait until Monday, then read it? Then you can spend the whole weekend looking forward to it.

Of course we won't tell the students about my lack of studiousness.

Kat said...

ROFL about the Americans writing the correct date for once. Something that gets me every time ;)

Brian o vretanos said...


The most logical thing would be for us all to switch to doing the same thing, say year/month/day, but it would cause no end of confusion - people turing up for check-ups on the 4/5 instead of the 5/4