For those of you who are a bit more technically minded, I’m keeping some lecture notes for an Inverse Problems course at UW here. I may also add some discussions of papers I’m reading, etc. I didn’t want to flood this blog with them.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to get something on this blog. I’m thinking about it. Just busy.
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update
The boys and I have been talking a lot about number theory lately — GCD’s, LCM’s and primes — and one thing that keeps coming up is the Sieve of Eratosthenes. They love the sieve, and this is how we have been doing it:
 I write a list of numbers on a grid (e.g. the numbers 1 to 105 on a 7by 15 grid)
 They circle “2” with a color, then mark out all of the even numbers with that color.
 The circle “3” with a different color, and mark out every third number with the new color.
 Continue like this for 5, 7, 11, etc. Always circle the next number that hasn’t been colored with a new color.
As you do this, you will find interesting patterns that speed up the coloring and teach you a bit about numbers. It is interesting to try grids with different widths and find new patterns too.
Eventually I got tired of writing these grids out by hand, so I wrote a little web page to do it for me. It colors the grid too — try it!
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Education,
Number Theory,
Tools
When we were building squares from triangles, we found a few interesting identities. One of the more striking ones showed how we could make a square from two triangles:
This opens the door to a little bit more fun. Remember that
So we know
Let’s arrange the terms on top of each other, like this
1 
+ 2 
+ 3 
+ 4 
… 
+ n 

+ 1 
+ 2 
+ 3 
… 
+ n – 1 
Now if we group the terms that are on top of each other, we se we can write
OR
And we see that the nth square number is just the sum of the first n odd numbers!
Now in pictures
There are other ways to see this. Read more »
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Arithmetic,
Figurate Numbers,
Geometry
In my last post about triangle numbers, I claimed we could find all sorts of arithmetic identities just by moving our triangles around and sticking them together to build new shapes. Here we will get our first taste of how this works.
We all know that we can split a square into two equal triangles by drawing a line down the diagonal:
Breaking a square into two triangles
When we try this for the “blocky” triangles we used to build our triangle numbers, it doesn’t quite work. Have a look at what happens for the “4triangle”:
A rectangle from two equal triangles
We get a 4by5 rectangle rather than a square. Read more »
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Arithmetic,
Education,
Figurate Numbers
Figurate numbers can add a bit of fun to otherwise dry Arithmetic practice. Triangle numbers are my current favorites. What is a triangle number? Well, here are the first few:
1 
1 + 2 = 3 
1 + 2 + 3 = 6 
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10 
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 = 15 
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 = 21 
So the nth triangle number is just the sum of the first n numbers. Why are they called triangle numbers? Have a look at this picture:
The first 6 triangle numbers
In some future posts, all available in this blog’s Figurate Numbers category, I’ll show how we can put triangles and squares together to build new triangles and squares. These pictures will translate directly to equations, or Arithmetic problems. We’ll see how some tedious looking problem sets are really telling us stories about shapes.
Some other reasons triangle numbers are important
I like the fact that triangle numbers allow us to play some fun games with numbers, and provide a simple example of how Arithmetic can represent seemingly unrelated concepts like “shape”. They are also valuable because they give us the simplest example of an arithmetic series, and once you know how to compute triangle numbers, it is pretty easy to figure out how to add any arithmetic progression (again, I’ll go into the details in a later post).
Once we know how to sum these series, we’ll be able to move into elementary Calculus and evaluate our first integrals. Along the way, we’ll also find a way to test whether a number is a triangle number and develop a formula that tells us which triangle number it is.
These numbers give us a nice setting to introduce some real Mathematical thought in a fairly elementary way. This is a theme I plan to come back to repeatedly on this blog.
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Arithmetic,
Education,
Figurate Numbers
As I was playing around with logo the other day I remembered about one of my favorite little proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. I was going to throw together a little program to draw the picture, but when I thought about it a little bit, I realized that it would be more fun to turn this proof into a puzzle my kids could play with.
In case your Geometry is a little rusty, the Pythagorean Theorem tells you how to compute the length of one side of a right triangle when you know the length of the other two. If we have a right triangle like this one:
then the Pythagorean Theorem states that .
Here is one way to see that it is true. Let’s take four of these triangles and arrange them like this:
Now we have made a large square, with sides of length , out of four of our triangles. We just have a little square “hole” in the middle. Read more »
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Geometry
With the last couple of posts under our belt, we’re ready to have a peek at something a little more exciting: the Riemann function and it’s relationship to the prime numbers. This is at the heart of one of the most famous unsolved Mathematics problems around, the Riemann Hypothesis.
No, we won’t take on the Riemann Hypothesis, but I will try to convince you that understanding how the function behaves is really the same as understanding prime numbers and how they are distributed. We’ll start this by proving a specific result, namely
In other words, the sum of the reciprocals of the primes diverges.
Here I’ll give the simplest proof I can think of, relying only on a little bit of Algebra II. If anyone can do better, please let me know! I’m not aiming for rigor here, although I’m happy to provide rigor on request.
Read more »
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Analysis,
Infinite Series,
Number Theory
Before we can start looking at the Riemann function and the prime numbers, we need to add a couple more tools to our tool kit. In particular, we need to understand harmonic series and some related sums.
The harmonic series
Here is a sum that shows up frequently in Mathematics:
This is called the harmonic series. Read more »
Posted in
Analysis,
Infinite Series
Infinite series come up frequently in Analysis and Number Theory and you’ll need to be adroit at managing them to make progress in these fields. Luckily there are a few simple concepts that will take you far if you leverage them well. In this series of posts, I’ll talk about a few of these ideas and use them to help us peer into the cutting edge of Mathematics: we’ll see why the Riemann Zeta function has every thing to do with the distribution of the prime numbers.
If that sounds like it’s beyond the scope of your Calculus class, don’t worry. All you need are good Algebra skills and a bit of motivation.
Let’s start by looking at one of the simplest types of series around, the Geometric Series. Read more »
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Algebra,
Analysis,
Infinite Series