Progress Toward Twin-Prime Conjecture

This nice article came through on wired today:

Unknown Mathematician Proves Surprising Property of Prime Numbers

By Erica Klarreich, Simons Science News

Image: bwright923/Flickr

On April 17, a paper arrived in the inbox of Annals of Mathematics, one of the discipline’s preeminent journals. Written by a mathematician virtually unknown to the experts in his field — a 50-something lecturer at the University of New Hampshire named Yitang Zhang — the paper claimed to have taken a huge step forward in understanding one of mathematics’ oldest problems, the twin primes conjecture.

Editors of prominent mathematics journals are used to fielding grandiose claims from obscure authors, but this paper was different. Written with crystalline clarity and a total command of the topic’s current state of the art, it was evidently a serious piece of work, and the Annals editors decided to put it on the fast track.

Just three weeks later — a blink of an eye compared to the usual pace of mathematics journals — Zhang received the referee report on his paper.

“The main results are of the first rank,” one of the referees wrote. The author had proved “a landmark theorem in the distribution of prime numbers.”


This is very exciting news, and the whole story has a fantastic David & Goliath feel–“little known mathematician delivers a crushing blow to a centuries old problem” (not a fatal blow, but a crushing one). It’s such a feel-good story, almost like Andrew Wiles and Fermat’s Last Theorem. Here’s my favorite part of the article:

…during a half-hour lull in his friend’s backyard before leaving for a concert, the solution suddenly came to him. “I immediately realized that it would work,” he said.

Just chillin’ in his friend’s backyard…and it came to him! Anyone who has worked on math problems or puzzles has had this experience, right? It seems like an experience common to all people. This has definitely happened to me lots of times–an insight hits me out of nowhere and unlocks a problem I’ve been working on for weeks. It’s one of the reasons we do mathematics!

TI Calculator Emulators

Online Emulator

Check out this online TI-83 Plus emulator! This just came across my radar from Hackaday.

It requires that you upload a (legally acquired) rom, but once you do, this seems like it would be a very good ‘on-the-go’ resource for presentations, teaching, or just any other time and place when you might need at graphing calculator.

I don’t have a TI-83 plus rom lying around, and I tried a regular TI-83 rom (which I did happen to have) but it didn’t seem to work for me. Hmm.

Mobile Devices

[updated] I now recommend Wabbitemu as the best emulator on the computer and for Android devices. It accepts a very wide range of rom files and has a nice feature set. The whole process is pretty user friendly. Here’s a link to the app in the Google Play store and here’s their website where you can download the desktop app.

Another great emulator for Android is Andie Graph which can be obtained in the following way (instructions come from our student, Jim Best):

  1. Download the app “Andie Graph” on your market for the phone
  2. Go to this link on the phone to download the ROM.
  3. There will be ads promoting other products so click on the bottom link that says DOWNLOAD.
  4. Once this has finished downloading, Run “Andie Graph”
  5. Go to settings by pushing the little icon on the phone itself that looks like a garage door or a tool box.
  6. Go down to ROM and select the ROM you downloaded. If the app doesn’t find the ROM, then you can search for it from the app in the phone.

Jim also suggests this calculator if you have an Apple product:

There is an app that is a type of TI-83. It is called RK-83 on the app store for apple products such as the iPhone and iPod touch. This is a $0.99 app that has the same functionality as a TI-83. It does not have the best of reviews but for $0.99, its worth a shot. There is also an app by the same creator that has better reviews but it is an 89.

Of course, there are scads of other great calculators out there if you’re willing to give up the look and feel of the TI experience. Desmos is a popular choice and works nicely on all platforms but isn’t a powerhouse of a calculator.

Plain-old Software

And as far as plain-old desktop software goes, here are some great emulators:

I actually prefer the Wabbitemu and Rusty Wagner emulators to the TI-SmartView emulator, even though our school has purchased copies for all of the math teachers.

Rom Files

In almost all the above cases, you’ll need to obtain a rom file for the calculator you’re interested in emulating. This is like the brains of the calculator. The emulator is just the pretty buttons and interface that run on top of the rom.

To obtain the rom file for your calculator, follow the instructions at here. I actually preferred using the instructions here for my TI-84 Plus SE. You can create your own rom file, or you can try to hunt for a download somewhere. This page has a bunch of downloads, but it’s not comprehensive. Remember that, legally, you must own the physical calculator if you download and use one of these rom files.

Product Failure

I’ve been taking a grad course in statistics this semester and so I’ve been thinking about all sorts of real world examples of math, including the classic product-failure example that’s a mainstay of most stat classes.

One of the simplest continuous distributions is the exponential distribution which is a pretty decent way to model product failures. The probability of failure f(t) after time t is given by


I read this great article about product failure and testing in Wired this week. I encourage you to check it out. Read the last page of the article especially, where it talks about how cutting-edge companies are modeling minute variations in materials using an electron microscope and some statistics. Instead of actually testing the product over and over again using a fatigue machine, they can create surprisingly accurate models of the materials using computers. Prior to this, the behavior of materials was somewhat unpredictable.

Of course I was excited to see this figure in the article, which shows the Weibull distribution modeling failures of steel bars in a fatigue machine.

The Weibull distribution, unlike the exponential distribution, takes the age of a product into account. If the parameter k is greater than zero, than the rate of product failure increases with time. The probability of failure f(t) after time t is


The first obvious thing to note is that the exponential distribution is just a special case of the Weibull distribution, with k=1. The next thing to say is that this distribution is single-peaked. So how is the above a Weibull distribution? The article says it is, but I think it might be a linear combination of two Weibull distributions, don’t you? Whatever–normalize, and you’ve got yourself a probability distribution.

[pun warning!]

The real question is, if this is TWO Weibulls, would you settle for the lesser of two Weibulls?

Sorry. I had to.

Don’t flip out!

Well, not yet at least. Everyone’s flipping the classroom, but is it really worth it? Yes and no, as NCTM president Linda Gojak explains in her column this week. I don’t always highlight her column, but I especially appreciated the nuanced way in which she approached this trendy subject. There’s something more fundamental that we need to aim for: engaging our students in mathematics and problem solving. Whether we flip or not may be immaterial, as Linda points out.

Here are a few excerpts from her article, which you should check out in full here.

To Flip or Not to Flip: That Is NOT the Question!

By NCTM President Linda M. Gojak NCTM Summing Up, October 3, 2012

A recent strategy receiving much attention is the “flipped classroom.” Innovative use of technology to enhance student learning makes flipping possible and motivating for students and teachers.

I believe that we need to go further. As we consider effective instruction that leads to student learning, we must remind ourselves of the characteristics of mathematically proficient students.

Rich mathematical tasks provide students with opportunities to engage deeply in mathematics as opposed to a lesson in which the teacher demonstrates and explains a procedure and the student attempts make sense of the teacher’s thinking. Communication includes good questions from both teacher and students and discussions that develop in students a deep understanding by wrestling with the mathematical ideas.

Although the flipped classroom may be promising, the question is not whether to flip, but rather how to apply the elements of effective instruction to teach students both deep conceptual understanding and procedural fluency.


All that being said, I still DO want to try flipping my classroom on a small scale, one-lesson at a time basis. I promise I’ll try it someday.

Summer Odds and Ends

I promise I’ll start blogging again. But as followers of this blog might know, I like to take the summer off–both from teaching and blogging. I never take a break from math, though. Here are some fun things I’ve seen recently. Consider it my own little math carnival :-).

I love this comic, especially as I start my stat grad class this semester @ JHU. After this class, I’ll be half-way done with my masters. It’s a long road! [ht: Tim Chase]

Speaking of statistics, my brother also sent me this great list of lottery probabilities. Could be very useful in the classroom.

These math dice. Honestly I don’t know what I’d do with them, but you have to admit they’re awesome. [ht: Tim Chase]

These two articles about Khan academy and the other about edX I found very interesting. File all of them under ‘flipping the classroom.’ I’m still working up the strength to do a LITTLE flipping with my classroom. My dad forwarded these links to me. He has special interest in all things related to MIT (like Khan, and like edX) since it’s his alma mater.

I’ll be teaching BC Calculus for the first time this semester and we’re using a new book, so I read that this summer. Not much to say, except that I did actually enjoy reading it.

I also started a fabulous book, Fearless Symmetry by Avner Ash and Robert Gross. I have a bookmark in it half way through. But I already recommend it highly to anyone who has already had some college math courses. I just took a graduate course in Abstract Algebra recently and it has been a great way to tie the ‘big ideas’ in math together with what I just learned. The content is very deep but the tone is conversational and non-threatening. (My dad, who bought me the book, warns me that it gets painfully deep toward the end, however. That’s to be expected though, since the authors attempt to explain Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem!)

I had this paper on a juggling zeta function (!) sent to me by the author, Dr. Dominic Klyve (Central Washington University). I read it, and I pretended to understand all of it. I love the intersection of math and juggling, and I’m always on the look out for new developments in the field.

And most recently, I’ve been having a very active conversation with my math friends about the following problem posted to NCTM’s facebook page:

Feel free to go over to their facebook page and join the conversation. It’s still happening right now. There’s a lot to say about this problem, so I may devote more time to this problem later (and problems like it). At the very least, you should try doing the problem yourself!

I also highly recommend this post from Bon at Math Four on why math course prerequisites are over-rated. It goes along with something we all know: learning math isn’t as ‘linear’ an experience as we make it sometimes seem in our American classrooms.

And of course, if you haven’t yet checked out the 90th Carnival of Mathematics posted over at Walking Randomly (love the name!), you must do so. As usual, it’s a thorough summary of recent quality posts from the math blogging community.

Okay, that’s all for now. Thanks for letting me take a little random walk!

87th Carnival of Mathematics

The 87th Carnival of Mathematics has arrived!! Here’s a simple computation for you:

What is the sum of the squares of the first four prime numbers?

That’s right, it’s

Good job. Now, onto the carnival. This is my first carnival, so hopefully I’ll do all these posts justice. We had lots of great submissions, so I encourage you to read through this with a fine-toothed comb. Enjoy!


Here’s a post (rant) from Andrew Taylor regarding the coverage from the BBC and the Guardian on the Supermoon that occurred in March 2011. NASA reports the moon as being 14% larger and 30% brighter, but Andrew disagrees. Go check out the post, and join the conversation.

Have you ever heard someone abuse the phrase “exponentially better”? I know I have. One incorrect usage occurs when someone makes the claim that something is “exponentially better” based on only two data points. Rebecka Peterson has some words for you here, if you’re the kind of person who says this!

Physics and Science-flavored

Frederick Koh submitted Problem 19: Mechanics of Two Separate Particles Projected Vertically From Different Heights to the carnival. It’s a fun projectile motion question which would be appropriate for a Precalculus classroom (or Calculus). I like the problem, and I think my students would like it too.

John D. Cook highlights a question you’ve probably heard before: Should you walk or run in the rain? An active discussion is going on in the comments section. It’s been discussed in many other places too, including twice on Mythbusters. (I feel like I read an article in an MAA or NCTM magazine on this topic once, as well. Anyone remember that?)

Murray Bourne submitted this awesome post about modeling fish stocks. Murray says his post is an “attempt to make mathematical modeling a bit less scary than in most textbooks.” I think he achieves his goal in this thorough development of a mathematical model for sustainable fisheries (see the graph above for one of his later examples of a stable solution under lots of interesting constraints). If I taught differential equations, I would  absolutely use his examples.

Last week I highlighted this new physics blog, but I wanted to point you there again: Go check out Five Minute Physics! A few more videos have been posted, and also a link to this great video about the physics of a dropping Slinky (see above).

Statistics, Probability, & Combinatorics

Mr. Gregg analyzes European football using the Poisson distribution in his post, The Table Never Lies. I liked how much real world data he brought to the discussion. And I also liked that he admitted when his model worked and when it didn’t–he lets you in on his own mathematical thought process. As you read this post, you too will find yourself thinking out loud with Mr. Gregg.

Card Colm has written this excellent post that will help you wrap your mind around the number of arrangements of cards in a deck. It’s a simple high school-level topic, but he really puts it into perspective:

the number of possible ways to order or permute just the hearts is 13!=6,227,020,800. That’s about what the world population was in 2002. So back then if somebody could have made a list of all possible ways to arrange those 13 cards in a row, there would have been enough people on the planet for everyone to get one such permutation.

I think it’s good to remind ourselves that whenever we shuffle the deck, we can be almost certain that our arrangement has never been created before (since  52!\approx 8\times 10^{67}  arrangements are possible). Wow!

Alex is looking for “random” numbers by simply asking people. Go contribute your own “random” number here. Can’t wait to see the results!

Quick! Think of an example of a real-world bimodal distribution! Maybe you have a ready example if you teach stat, but here’s a really nice example from Michael Lugo: Book prices. Before you read his post, you should make a guess as to why the book prices he looked at are bimodal (see histogram above).

Philosophy and History of Math

Mike Thayer just attended the NCTM conference in Philadelphia and brings us a thoughtful reaction in his post, The Learning of Mathematics in the 21st Century. Mike wrote this post because he had been left with “an ambivalent feeling” after the conference. He wants to “engage others in mathematics education in discussions about ways to improve what we do outside of the frameworks that are being imposed on us by those outside of our field.” As a secondary educator, I agree with Mike completely and really enjoyed his post. Mike isn’t satisfied with where education is going. In his post, he writes, “We are leaping ahead into the unknown with new educational models, and we never took the time to get the old ones right.”

Edmund Harriss asks Have we ever lost mathematics? He gives a nice recap of foundational crises throughout the history of mathematics, and wonders, ultimately, if we’ve actually lost any mathematics. There’s also a short discussion in the comments section which I recommend to you.

Peter Woit reflects on 25 Years of Topological Quantum Field Theory. Maybe if you have degree in math and physics you might appreciate this post. It went over my head a bit, I’m afraid!

Book Reviews

In this post, Matt reviews a 2012 book release, Who’s #1, by Amy N. Langville and Carl D. Meyer. The book discusses the ranking systems used by popular websites like Amazon or Netflix. His review is thorough and balanced–Matt has good things to say about the book, but also delivers a bit of criticism for their treatment of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem. Thanks for this contribution, Matt! [edit: Thanks MATT!]

Shecky R reviews of David Berlinski’s 2011 book, One, Two Three…Absolutely Elementary mathematics in his Brief Berlinski Book Blurb. I’m not sure his review is an *endorsement*. It sounds like a book that only a small eclectic crowd will enjoy.


Peter Rowlett submitted this post about linear programming and provides a link to an interactive problems solving environment.

Peter Rowlett also weighs in on the recent news about a German high school boy who has (reportedly) solved an open problem. Many news sources have picked up on this, and I’ve only followed the news from a distance. So I was grateful for Peter’s comments–he questions the validity of the news in his recent post “Has schoolboy genius solved problems that baffled mathematicians for centuries?” His comments in another recent post are perhaps even more important though–Peter encourages us to think of ways we can remind our students that lots of open problems still exist, and “Mathematics is an evolving, alive subject to which you could contribute.”

Jess Hawke IS *Heptagrin Girl*

Here’s a fun-loving post about Heptagrins, and all the crazy craft projects you can do with them. Don’t know what a Heptagrin is? Neither did I. But go check out Jess Hawke’s post and she’ll tell you all about them!

Any Lewis Carroll lovers out there? Julia Collins submitted a post entitled “A Night in Wonderland” about a Lewis Carroll-themed night at the National Museum of Scotland. She writes, “Other people might be interested in the ideas we had and also hearing about what a snark is and why it’s still important.” When you check out this post, you’ll not only learn about snarks but also about creating projective planes with your sewing machine. Cool!

Mike Croucher over at Walking Randomly gives a shout out to the free software Octave, which is a MATLAB replacement. Check out his post, here. MATLAB is ridiculously expensive, and so the world needs an alternative like Octave. He provides links to the Kickstarter campaign–and Mike has backed the project himself. I too believe in Octave. I’ve used it a few times for my grad work and I’ve been very grateful for a free alternative to MATLAB.

The End 

Okay, that’s it for the 87th Carnival of Mathematics. Hope you enjoyed all the posts! Sorry it took me a couple days to post it–there was a lot to digest :-).

If you missed the previous carnival (#86), you can find it here. The next carnival (#88) will be hosted by Christian at For a complete listing of all the carnivals, and more information & FAQ about the carnivals, follow this link.