### Success is the best revenge

Daniel Lemire says I’m the funniest math geek on the web. Y’hear that, everyone who ever called me a nerd back in middle school? *The funniest math geek on the web.*

*The funniest math geek on the web.*

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What we need is some of sort of “funny mathematician” prize. Why not? But who would sponsor it?

Then there’d be no contest: Underwood Dudley would kick my ass.

(PS - sorry for the double pingback; the second one is the one that works.)

Ralph Boas, who as “Henri Petard” wrote the classic piece on the mathematics of lion-hunting in the Sahara Desert. Perhaps John Horton Conway.

Ron Graham of Bell Labs is pretty funny, too. In the days before PowerPoint when overhead transparencies were the height of technology, Ron would occasionally put down a transparency of alleged references (for further reading) without looking at it. Soon someone in the audience would point out that the text was flipped left-to-right, whereupon Ron would apologize and quickly flip the transparency over. Then the chuckling would begin as people gradually realized that the still-unreadable list of references had the letters of each word individually reversed. It was wrong in all orientations on the diplay unit.

Ron is also the guy who tracked down some coauthors for a paper on Erdos numbers (”to fill a much-needed gap in the literature”) to prove that the Erdos graph (the graph whose nodes are mathematicians and where adjacency is coauthorship) is nonplanar. The proof? The graph connecting Ron and his selected coauthors is nonplanar. QED.

I’ve met both John H and Dudley - Conway is entertaining, but I’m partial to the dry curmudgeon brand of humour (such a shock, I know), and Dudley’s got that one nailed.

Other very funny mathematicians: the math performance team of Adams and Burger, whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform around a decade ago. (I actually saw them perform the skit I linked; it’s even funnier now that I understand (more of) the references).

Ron Graham sounds really funny, too. (Hi TonyB! I was wondering where you’d disappeared to…)

Donald Knuth is also a funny guy — he had an article published in Mad magzine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potrzebie).

Yeah, Conway is fun, but I don’t think I’d call him funny.

I’m kinda miffed that I never met Dudley. I’ve got some of his books! (somewhere… if I can ever find them…)

Ron Graham delivered the opening lecture at MC… 97?

You get my vote. Of course, among my cloe friends, “nerd” is a term of the highest admiration. We regularly send emails with the heading “Nerd Alert”. I Also have a sound file with the phrase on it (I think it’s from Monty Python, but I’m not sure).

I have to confess that you’re up there on my list, too, MS. I gave my whole department the URL for your “precalculus bingo” game, and everyone cracked up as much as I did.

My personal revenge: my insidious way of getting middle- and high-school kids to actually like some math despite their initial aversion. Someday, “jock” and “socialite” and “cool kids” will be the insults. That’s my revenge.

Woody Dudley gave a talk at Vanderbilt U. when I was in grad school there on mathematical cranks and the number pi. He talked about the various approximations to pi that have been found throughout the years, and then plotted the values of each approximation as a function of time. Turns out it this data plot was almost perfectly linear, with an R^2 of above 0.9. He fit the plot with a regression line and was able to predict that the value of pi would equal 0 at some point about 30,000 years in the future.

That was one of the funniest presentations I’ve ever seen, math or otherwise. I’m proud to call him a fellow Hoosier mathematician.

(Speaking of which, the Indiana section of the MAA held a joint meeting with the Kentucky and Illinois sections recently, and Woody gave the keynote address on — can you guess? —

trisections.)Polymath - ah, but did you

playprecalculus bingo? Because that’s the really fun part: it turns grading crappy tests into a win-win situation.And, Dudley is my role model. I want to be like him when I grow up. The talk I heard him give was called “Formulas for Primes”, and the point he wanted to make was this: just because something in math is

true, doesn’t mean that it’s any good. As an example, he talked about one article, published in some math journal in1986, which made the following claim:Dudley’s remark: “The person who decided to publish this result had bad taste in mathematics.” I concur.