Math Bytes

by Tim Chartier

Math bytes

Traditionally, a bookjacket tells the reader a little about the book contents and the author whose short bio is often accompanied by a photograph. In the photo, mostly universally, authors smile. Tim Chartier managed to put his second smiling photograph within the book. This is in the chapter where he explains an algorithm of approximating a picture as a weighted sum of the photographs of several celebrities. (This is an entertaining way to introduce the least squares approximation and the related linear algebra.) Now, what the author's smile has to do with a book review? Here it is: on reading the book, I got the feeling that Tim never let go of that smile of his while writing the book. Both the style and selection of the material leave no doubt that the author has been enjoying writing that book from the first page to the last. There is no pretense, no attempt to endear mathematics in general, or any specific topic in particular, on the reader. The author's humanistic, sincere enjoyment of communicating his selections permeates and I think defines the book.

The book consists of fourteen chapters, covering mathematical (in a very broad sense) topics whose treatment may benefit from using computers - most, but not all; the first chapters simply deal with big numbers and history of computing. The choice of topics and exposition details make the book entertainingly relevant. Say, exponential growth in Chapter 3 is illustrated by the avalanche of tweets generated by Beyoncé's tweet during a 2012 NFL playoffs game. Shrinking Beyoncé's photo is used judiciously in Chapter 4 as a way of creating Sierpinski's gasket; Chapter 5 looks into now popular game of Angry Birds; Chapter 11 addresses the March Madness phenomenon; Chapter 12 explains the workings of the google's PageRank. The book is beautifully illustrated with computer generated and authentic photographs of well known personages. Among these, Bart Simpson's image made into an intricate maze, stylized portrait of Barak Obama, one genuine and a couple of hugely distorted images of Merilyn Monroe, smiling Larry Page and Sergey Brin are there just to bolster the notion that a bright mathematical idea coupled with a computer implementation may redefine the world we and the idea's authors live in.

In short, this is a pleasant book to behold, browse, and of course read. One shortcoming I should mention is the complete absence of anything remotely reminding programming, even though, the mathematics in the book and the illustrations, relate very much to computing. In Preface, the author refers to the web site of the publisher, and encourages to search there for supplemental resources. Unfortunately, there is none to be found - and I have tried. I hope this is just a slight omission on the part of the Princeton University Press that could be easily fixed. It should.

Math Bytes: google bombs, Chocolate-covered Pi, and other cool bits in computing, Tim Chartier, Princeton University Press, 2014

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