Winter Q-BIO Quantitative Biology Meeting February 15-18, 2016

Bookmarked Winter Q-BIO Quantitative Biology Meeting February 15-18, 2016 (
The Winter Q-BIO Quantitative Biology Meeting is coming up at the Sheraton Waikiki in Oahu, HI, USA

A predictive understanding of living systems is a prerequisite for designed manipulation in bioengineering and informed intervention in medicine. Such an understanding requires quantitative measurements, mathematical analysis, and theoretical abstraction. The advent of powerful measurement technologies and computing capacity has positioned biology to drive the next scientific revolution. A defining goal of Quantitative Biology (qBIO) is the development of general principles that arise from networks of interacting elements that initially defy conceptual reasoning. The use of model organisms for the discovery of general principles has a rich tradition in biology, and at a fundamental level the philosophy of qBIO resonates with most molecular and cell biologists. New challenges arise from the complexity inherent in networks, which require mathematical modeling and computational simulation to develop conceptual “guideposts” that can be used to generate testable hypotheses, guide analyses, and organize “big data.”

The Winter q-bio meeting welcomes scientists and engineers who are interested in all areas of q-bio. For 2016, the meeting will be hosted at the Sheraton Waikiki, which is located in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. The resort is known for its breathtaking oceanfront views, a first-of-its-kind recently opened “Superpool” and many award-winning dining venues. Registration and accommodation information can be found via the links at the top of the page.

Source: Winter Q-BIO Quantitative Biology Meeting

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Shinichi Mochizuki and the impenetrable proof of the abc conjecture

Read The biggest mystery in mathematics: Shinichi Mochizuki and the impenetrable proof of the ABC Conjecture (Nature News & Comment)
A Japanese mathematician claims to have solved one of the most important problems in his field. The trouble is, hardly anyone can work out whether he's right.

The biggest mystery in mathematics

This article in Nature is just wonderful. Everyone will find it interesting, but those in the Algebraic Number Theory class this fall will be particularly interested in the topic – by the way, it’s not too late to join the class. After spending some time over the summer looking at Category Theory, I’m tempted to tackle Mochizuki’s proof as I’m intrigued at new methods in mathematical thinking (and explaining.)

The abc conjecture refers to numerical expressions of the type a + b = c. The statement, which comes in several slightly different versions, concerns the prime numbers that divide each of the quantities a, b and c. Every whole number, or integer, can be expressed in an essentially unique way as a product of prime numbers — those that cannot be further factored out into smaller whole numbers: for example, 15 = 3 × 5 or 84 = 2 × 2 × 3 × 7. In principle, the prime factors of a and b have no connection to those of their sum, c. But the abc conjecture links them together. It presumes, roughly, that if a lot of small primes divide a and b then only a few, large ones divide c.

Thanks to Rama for bringing this to my attention!

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Dr. Michael Miller Math Class Hints and Tips | UCLA Extension

An informal orientation for those taking math classes from Dr. Michael Miller through UCLA Extension.

Congratulations on your new math class, and welcome to the “family”!

Beginners Welcome!

Invariably the handful of new students every year eventually figure the logistics of campus out, but it’s easier and more fun to know some of the options available before you’re comfortable halfway through the class. To help get you over the initial hump, I’ll share a few of the common questions and tips to help get you oriented. Others are welcome to add comments and suggestions below. If you have any questions, feel free to ask anyone in the class, we’re all happy to help.

First things first, for those who’ve never visited UCLA before, here’s a map of campus to help you orient yourself. Using the Waze app on your smartphone can also be incredibly helpful in getting to campus more quickly through the tail end of rush hour traffic.

Whether you’re a professional mathematician, engineer, physicist, physician, or even a hobbyist interested in mathematics you’ll be sure to get something interesting out of Dr. Miller’s math courses, not to mention the camaraderie of 20-30 other “regulars” with widely varying backgrounds (from actors to surgeons and evolutionary theorists to engineers) who’ve been taking almost everything Mike has offered over the years (and yes, he’s THAT good — we’re sure you’ll be addicted too.) Whether you’ve been away from serious math for decades or use it every day or even if you’ve never gone past Calculus or Linear Algebra, this is bound to be the most entertaining thing you can do with your Tuesday nights in the Autumn and Winter. If you’re not sure what you’re getting into (or are scared a bit by the course description), I highly encourage to come and join us for at least the first class before you pass up on the opportunity. I’ll mention that the greater majority of new students to Mike’s classes join the ever-growing group of regulars who take almost everything he teaches subsequently.

Don’t be intimidated if you feel like everyone in the class knows each other fairly well — most of us do. Dr. Miller and mathematics can be addictive so many of us have been taking classes from him for 5-20+ years, and over time we’ve come to know each other.

Tone of Class

If you’ve never been to one of Dr. Miller’s classes before, they’re fairly informal and he’s very open to questions from those who don’t understand any of the concepts or follow his reasoning. He’s a retired mathematician from RAND and long-time math professor at UCLA. Students run the gamut from the very serious who read multiple textbooks and do every homework problem to hobbyists who enjoy listening to the lectures and don’t take the class for a grade of any sort (and nearly every stripe in between). He’ll often recommend a textbook that he intends to follow, but it’s never been a “requirement” and more often that not, the bookstore doesn’t list or carry his textbook until the week before class. (Class insiders will usually find out about the book months before class and post it to the Google Group – see below).

His class notes are more than sufficient for making it through the class and doing the assigned (optional) homework. He typically hands out homework in handout form, so the textbook is rarely, if ever, required to make it through the class. Many students will often be seen reading various other texts relating to the topic at hand as they desire. Usually he’ll spend an 45-60 minutes at the opening of each class after the first to go over homework problems or questions that anyone has.

For those taking the class for a grade or pass/fail, his usual policy is to assign a take home problem set around week 9 or 10 to be handed in at the penultimate class. [As a caveat, make sure you check his current policy on grading as things may change, but the preceding has been the usual policy for a decade or more.]

Parking Options

Lot 9 – Located at the northern terminus of Westwood Boulevard, one can purchase a parking pass for about $12 a day at the kiosk in the middle of the street just before Westwood Blvd. ends. The kiosk is also conveniently located right next to the parking structure. If there’s a basketball game or some other major event, Lot 8 is just across the street as well, though it’s just a tad further away from the Math Sciences Building. Since more of the class uses this as their parking structure of choice, there is always a fairly large group walking back there after class for the more security conscious.

Lot 2 – Located off of Hilgard Avenue, this is another common option for easy parking as well. While fairly close to class, not as many use it as it’s on the quieter/darker side of campus and can be a bit more of a security issue for the reticent.

Tip: For those opting for on-campus parking, one can usually purchase a quarter-long parking pass for a small discount at the beginning of the term.

Westwood Village and Neighborhood – Those looking for less expensive options street parking is available in the surrounding community, but use care to check signs and parking meters as you assuredly will get a ticket. Most meters in the surrounding neighborhoods end at either 6pm or 8pm making parking virtually free (assuming you’re willing to circle the neighborhood to find one of the few open spots.)

There are a huge variety of lots available in the Village for a range of prices, but the two most common, inexpensive, and closer options seem to be:

  • Broxton Avenue Public Parking at 1036 Broxton Avenue just across from the Fox Village and Bruin Theaters – $3 for entering after 6pm / $9 max for the day
  • Geffen Playhouse Parking at 10928 Le Conte Ave. between Broxton and Westwood – price varies based on the time of day and potential events (screenings/plays in Westwood Village) but is usually $5 in the afternoon and throughout the evening

Dining Options

More often than not a group of between 4 and 15 students will get together every evening before class for a quick bit to eat and to catch up and chat. This has always been an informal group and anyone from class is more than welcome to join. Typically we’ll all meet in the main dining hall of Ackerman Union (Terrace Foodcourt, Ackerman Level 1) between 6 and 6:30 (some with longer commutes will arrive as early as 3-4pm, but this can vary) and dine until about 6:55pm at which time we walk over to class.

The food options on Ackerman Level 1 include Panda Express, Rubio’s Tacos, Sbarro, Wolfgang Puck, and Greenhouse along with some snack options including Wetzel’s Pretzels and a candy store. One level down on Ackerman A-level is a Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr., Jamba Juice, Kikka, Buzz, and Curbside, though one could get takeout and meet the rest of the “gang” upstairs.

There are also a number of other on-campus options as well though many are a reasonable hike from the class location. The second-closest to class is the Court of Sciences Student Center with a Subway, Yoshinoya, Bombshelter Bistro, and Fusion.

Naturally, for those walking up from Westwood Village, there are additional fast food options like In-N-Out, Chick-fil-A, Subway, and many others.

Killing Time

For those who’ve already eaten or aren’t hungry, you’ll often find one or more of us browsing the math and science sections of the campus bookstore on the ground level of Ackerman Union to kill time before class. Otherwise there are usually a handful of us who arrive a half an hour early and camp out in the classroom itself (though this can often be dauntingly quiet as most use the chance to catch up on reading here.) If you arrive really early, there are a number of libraries and study places on campus. Boelter Hall has a nice math/science library on the 8th Floor.

Mid-class Break Options

Usually about halfway through class we’ll take a 10-12 minute coffee break. For those with a caffeine habit or snacking urges, there are a few options:

Kerckhoff Hall Coffee Shop is just a building or two over and is open late as snack stop and study location. They offer coffee and various beverages as well as snacks, bagels, pastries, and ice cream. Usually 5-10 people will wander over as a group to pick up something quick.

The Math Sciences Breezeway, just outside of class, has a variety of soda, coffee, and vending machines with a range of beverages and snacks. Just a short walk around the corner will reveal another bank of vending machines if your vice isn’t covered. The majority of class will congregate in the breezeway to chat informally during the break.

The Court of Sciences Student Center, a four minute walk South, with the restaurant options noted above if you need something quick and more substantial, though few students use this option at the break.

Bathrooms – The closest bathrooms to class are typically on the 5th floor of the Math Sciences Building. The women’s is just inside the breezeway doors and slightly to the left. The men’s rooms are a bit further and are either upstairs on the 6th floor (above the women’s), or a hike down the hall to the left and into Boelter hall. I’m sure the adventurous may find others, but take care not to get lost.

Informal Class Resources

Google Group

Over the years, as an informal resource, members of the class have created and joined a private Google Group (essentially an email list-serv) to share thoughts, ideas, events, and ask questions of each other. There are over 50 people in the group, most of whom are past Miller students, though there are a few other various mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and even professors. You can request to join the private group to see the resources available there. We only ask that you keep things professional and civil and remember that replying to all reaches a fairly large group of friends. Browsing through past messages will give you an idea of the types of posts you can expect. The interface allows you to set your receipt preferences to one email per message posted, daily digest, weekly digest, or no email (you’re responsible for checking the web yourself), so be sure you have the setting you require as some messages are more timely than others. There are usually only 1-2 posts per week, so don’t expect to be inundated.

Study Groups

Depending on students’ moods, time requirements, and interests, we’ve arranged informal study groups for class through the Google Group above. Additionally, since Dr. Miller only teaches during the Fall and Winter quarters, some of us also take the opportunity to set up informal courses during the Spring/Summer depending on interests. In the past, we’ve informally studied Lie Groups, Quantum Mechanics, Algebraic Geometry, and Category Theory in smaller groups on the side.


As a class resource, some of us share a document repository via Dropbox. If you’d like access, please make a post to the Google Group.

Class Notes

Many people within the class use digital pens to capture not only the written notes but the audio discussion that occurred in class as well (the technology also links the two together to make it easier to jump around within a particular lecture). If it helps to have a copy of these notes, please let one of the users know you’d like them – we’re usually pretty happy to share. If you miss a class (sick, traveling, etc.) please let one of us know as the notes are so unique that it will be almost like you didn’t miss anything at all.

You can typically receive a link to the downloadable version of the notes in Livescribe’s Pencast .pdf format. This is a special .pdf file but it’s a bit larger in size because it has an embedded audio file in it that is playable with the more recent version of Adobe Reader X (or above) installed. (This means to get the most out of the file you have to download the file and open it in Reader X to get the audio portion. You can view the written portion in most clients, you’ll just be missing out on all the real fun and value of the full file.) With the notes, you should be able to toggle the settings in the file to read and listen to the notes almost as if you were attending the class live.

Viewing and Playing a Pencast PDF

Pencast PDF is a new format of notes and audio that can play in Adobe Reader X or above.

You can open a Pencast PDF as you would other PDF files in Adobe Reader X. The main difference is that a Pencast PDF can contain ink that has associated audio—called “active ink”. Click active ink to play its audio. This is just like playing a Pencast from Livescribe Online or in Livescribe Desktop. When you first view a notebook page, active ink appears in green type. When you click active ink, it turns gray and the audio starts playing. As audio playback continues, the gray ink turns green in synchronization with the audio. Non-active ink (ink without audio) is black and does not change appearance.

Audio Control Bar

Pencast PDFs have an audio control bar for playing, pausing, and stopping audio playback. The control bar also has jump controls, bookmarks (stars), and an audio timeline control.

Active Ink View Button

There is also an active ink view button. Click this button to toggle the “unwritten” color of active ink from gray to invisible. In the default (gray) setting, the gray words turn green as the audio plays. In the invisible setting, green words seem to write themselves on blank paper as the audio plays.


For those interested in past years’ topics, here’s the list I’ve been able to put together thus far:

Fall 2006: Complex Analysis
Winter 2007: Field Theory
Fall 2007: Algebraic Topology
Winter 2008: Integer Partitions
Fall 2008: Calculus on Manifolds
Winter 2009: Calculus on Manifolds: The Sequel
Fall 2009: Group Theory
Winter 2010: Galois Theory
Fall 2010: Differential Geometry
Winter 2011: Differential Geometry II
Fall 2011: p-Adic Analysis
Winter 2012: Group Representations
Fall 2012: Set Theory
Winter 2013: Functional Analysis
Fall 2013: Number Theory (Skipped)
Winter 2014: Measure Theory
Fall 2014: Introduction to Lie Groups and Lie Algebras Part I
Winter 2015: Introduction to Lie Groups and Lie Algebras Part II
Fall 2015: Algebraic Number Theory
Winter 2016: Algebraic Number Theory: The Sequel
Fall 2016: Introduction to Complex Analysis, Part I
Winter 2017: Introduction to Complex Analysis, Part II
Fall 2017: Introduction to Algebraic Geometry
Winter 2018: Introduction to Algebraic Geometry: The Sequel

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The Mathematics Literature Project

Bookmarked The Mathematics Literature Project (

“The Mathematics Literature Project intends to survey the state of the freely accessible mathematics literature. In particular, it will index freely accessible URLs for mathematics articles. These are legitimately hosted copies of the article (i.e. at publishers, the arXiv, institutional repositories, or authors’ homepages), which are freely available in any browser, anywhere in the world.”

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Can computers help us read the mind of nature? by Paul Davies | The Guardian

Paul Davies waxes poetic about the application of physics, chemistry, and information theory to biology, genetics, and the origin of life.

For too long, scientists focused on what we can see. Now they are at last starting to decode life’s software.

“A soup of chemicals may spontaneously form a reaction network, but what does it take for such a molecular muddle to begin coherently organising information flow and storage? Rather than looking to biology or chemistry, we can perhaps dream that advances in the mathematics of information theory hold the key.”

Paul Davies, physicist, writer, and broadcaster
in Can computers help us read the mind of nature? in The Guardian


 ‘When we look at a plant or an animal we see the physical forms, not the swirling patterns of instructions inside them.’ Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA
‘When we look at a plant or an animal we see the physical forms, not the swirling patterns of instructions inside them.’ Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA
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Stephen Hawking says he’s solved a black hole mystery, but physicists await the proof

Bookmarked Stephen Hawking says he's solved a black hole mystery, but physicists await the proof by Eryn BrownEryn Brown (
Physicist Stephen Hawking made a splash this week when he announced that he had solved a vexing conundrum that had puzzled generations of leading physicists -- including the 73-year-old scientific superstar himself -- for the better part of a half-century.
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Algebraic Number Theory | UCLA Extension

Mike Miller is teaching Algebraic Number Theory in the Fall!

Only Me

Like a kid anxiously awaiting Christmas morning, I spent some time refreshing UCLA Extension’s web page over the weekend in hopes of seeing the announcement of Mike Miller’s Fall math course with no results.

I checked again a half hour ago and their site was down!

My salivating hit a fever pitch!

Refreshing, refreshing, refreshing… and now it’s live again with:

Mike Miller is teaching Algebraic Number Theory in the Fall!

Register quickly before it fills up.  And let the pool for the guesses about which textbook he’ll recommend begin!

Algebraic Number Theory

MATH X 450.8 | 3.00 units

In no field of mathematics is there such an irresistible fascination as in the theory of numbers. This course, the first in a two-quarter sequence, is an introductory, yet rigorous, survey of algebraic number theory, which evolved historically through attempts to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem. Beginning with a quick review of primality and unique factorization for ordinary integers, the course extends these notions to more exotic domains: quadratic, cubic, cyclotomic, and general number fields. This development is then applied to the representation of integers as sums of squares and, more generally, to classic Diophantine equations. Topics to be discussed include: Euclidean, principal ideal, and Noetherian domains; integral bases; binary quadratic forms; algebraic field extensions; and several remarkable theorems/conjectures of Ramanujan.

UCLA: 5137 Math Sciences
Tuesday, 7-10pm,
September 22 – December 8
11 meetings total
(no mtg 11/17)

See you all in just a few weeks!


A Note For the Reticent

Exercise Your Brain

As many may know or have already heard, Dr. Mike Miller, a retired mathematician from RAND and long-time math professor at UCLA, has been offering incredibly inexpensive upper level undergraduate and graduate level math courses for 30+ years through UCLA Extension.

Whether you’re a professional mathematician, engineer, physicist, physician, or simply a hobbyist interested in mathematics you’ll be sure to get something interesting out of this course, not to mention the camaraderie of 20-30 other “regulars” with widely varying backgrounds (actors to surgeons and evolutionary theorists to engineers) who’ve been taking almost everything Mike has offered over the years. Once most new students have taken one class, they’re incredibly prone to want to take them all (and yes, he’s THAT good — we’re sure you’ll be addicted too.)

“Beginners” Welcome!

Even if it’s been years since you last took calculus or linear algebra, Mike (and usually the rest of the class) will help you get quickly back up to speed to delve into what is often a very deep subject. Though there are a handful who will want to learn the subject for specific applications, naturally, it’s simply a beautiful and elegant subject for those who just want to meander their way through higher mathematics for the fun of it (this will probably comprise the largest majority of the class by the way.)

Whether you’ve been away from serious math for decades or use it every day or even if you’ve never gone past calculus, this is bound to be the most entertaining thing you can do with your Tuesday nights in the fall.  If you’re not sure what you’re getting into (or are scared a bit by the course description), I highly encourage to come and join us for at least the first class before you pass up on the opportunity – there’s no need to preregister or prepay if you’re unsure.  I’ll mention that the greater majority of new students to Mike’s classes join the ever-growing group of regulars who take almost everything he teaches subsequently.

For the reticent, I’ll mention that one of the first courses I took from Mike was Algebraic Topology which generally requires a few semesters of Abstract Algebra and a semester of Topology as prerequisites.  I’d taken neither of these prerequisites, but due to Mike’s excellent lecture style and desire to make everything comprehensible to the broadest number of students, I was able to do exceedingly well in the course. Also keep in mind that you can register to take the class for a grade, pass/fail, or even no grade at all to suit your needs/lifestyle.

My classes have the full spectrum of students from the most serious to the hobbyist to those who are in it for the entertainment and  ‘just enjoy watching it all go by.’

Mike Miller, Ph.D.


Textbook: Introductory Algebraic Number Theory

Update (8/19/15) Per my email conversation with Dr. Miller, despite that neither the Extension website nor the bookstore have a book listed for the class yet, he’s going to be recommending Introductory Algebraic Number Theory by Saban Alaca and Kenneth S. Williams (Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN: 978-0521183048).

Introductory Algebraic Number Theory


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I’m a sucker for references to math and pastry

Math is about understanding processes and not just eating end results.


hat can I say? I’m a sucker for references to math and pastry.


“One of the wonderful features of math is that, like with pastry, it can use quite simple ingredients to make very complicated situations. This can also make it rather offputting, like making puff pastry. Actually, I don’t think puff pastry is that difficult if you follow the instructions carefully. But even if you don’t want to try doing it yourself, perhaps you can still enjoy the fact that such simple ingredients can turn into delicious puff pastry. Math is about understanding processes and not just eating end results.”

Eugenia Cheng, mathematician, amateur chef
in How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics (Basic Books, 2015)
How to Bake Pi
How to Bake Pi
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The Math That Connects Pluto to DNA — NOVA Next | PBS

Bookmarked The Math That Connects Pluto to DNA by Alex RileyAlex Riley (NOVA Next | PBS)
How a mathematical breakthrough from the 1960s now powers everything from spacecraft to cell phones.

Concurrent with the recent Pluto fly by, Alex Riley has a great popular science article on PBS that helps put the application of information theory and biology into perspective for the common person. Like a science version of “The Princess Bride”, this story has a little bit of everything that could be good and entertaining: information theory, biology, DNA, Reed-Solomon codes, fossils, interplanetary exploration, mathematics, music, genetics, computers, and even paleontology. Fans of Big History are sure to love the interconnections presented here.

Reed-Solomon codes correct for common transmission errors, including missing pixels (white), false signals (black), and paused transmissions (the white stripe).
Reed-Solomon codes correct for common transmission errors, including missing pixels (white), false signals (black), and paused transmissions (the white stripe).
Microscopic view of glass DNA storage beads
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Game Theory’s Tit-for-Tat is Just a Mathematically Complete Version of Religion’s Golden Rule

Francis Fukuyama (1952- ), American political scientist, political economist, author
in The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)


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Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies

I just ordered a copy of Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo. Although it seems more focused on economics, the base theory seems to fit right into some similar thoughts I’ve long held about biology.

Why Information Grows: The Evolutiion of Order from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo
Why Information Grows: The Evolutiion of Order from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo


From the book description:

“What is economic growth? And why, historically, has it occurred in only a few places? Previous efforts to answer these questions have focused on institutions, geography, finances, and psychology. But according to MIT’s antidisciplinarian César Hidalgo, understanding the nature of economic growth demands transcending the social sciences and including the natural sciences of information, networks, and complexity. To understand the growth of economies, Hidalgo argues, we first need to understand the growth of order.

At first glance, the universe seems hostile to order. Thermodynamics dictates that over time, order–or information–will disappear. Whispers vanish in the wind just like the beauty of swirling cigarette smoke collapses into disorderly clouds. But thermodynamics also has loopholes that promote the growth of information in pockets. Our cities are pockets where information grows, but they are not all the same. For every Silicon Valley, Tokyo, and Paris, there are dozens of places with economies that accomplish little more than pulling rocks off the ground. So, why does the US economy outstrip Brazil’s, and Brazil’s that of Chad? Why did the technology corridor along Boston’s Route 128 languish while Silicon Valley blossomed? In each case, the key is how people, firms, and the networks they form make use of information.

Seen from Hidalgo’s vantage, economies become distributed computers, made of networks of people, and the problem of economic development becomes the problem of making these computers more powerful. By uncovering the mechanisms that enable the growth of information in nature and society, Why Information Grows lays bear the origins of physical order and economic growth. Situated at the nexus of information theory, physics, sociology, and economics, this book propounds a new theory of how economies can do, not just more, but more interesting things.”

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How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics | Category Theory

Eugenia Cheng's new book How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics helps to introduce the public to category theory.

For those who are intimidated by the thought of higher mathematics, but are still considering joining our Category Theory Summer Study Group, I’ve just come across a lovely new book by Eugenia Cheng entitled How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics.

Eugenia Cheng's book How to Bake Pi
Eugenia Cheng’s book How to Bake Pi

It just came out in the U.S. market on May 5, 2015, so it’s very new in the market. My guess is that even those who aren’t intimidated will get a lot out of it as well. A brief description of the book follows:

“What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi, math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen: we learn, for example, how the béchamel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number 5, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard. Of course, it’s not all cooking; we’ll also run the New York and Chicago marathons, pay visits to Cinderella and Lewis Carroll, and even get to the bottom of a tomato’s identity as a vegetable. This is not the math of our high school classes: mathematics, Cheng shows us, is less about numbers and formulas and more about how we know, believe, and understand anything, including whether our brother took too much cake.

At the heart of How to Bake Pi is Cheng’s work on category theory—a cutting-edge “mathematics of mathematics.” Cheng combines her theory work with her enthusiasm for cooking both to shed new light on the fundamentals of mathematics and to give readers a tour of a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before. Lively, funny, and clear, How to Bake Pi will dazzle the initiated while amusing and enlightening even the most hardened math-phobe.”

Dr. Cheng recently appeared on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow to discuss her book.  You can listen to the interview below. Most of the interview is about her new book. Specific discussion of category theory begins about 14 minutes into the conversation.

Eugenia Cheng, mathematician
Eugenia Cheng, mathematician

Dr. Eugenia Cheng can be followed on Twitter @DrEugeniaCheng. References to her new book as well as some of her syllabi and writings on category theory have been added to our Category Theory resources pages for download/reading.

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The Category Theory Site Is Now Live

Administrative notes and a new website for the Category Theory Summer Study Group 2015

Platform Choice

I’ve made a few posts here [1] [2] about a summer study group for category theory. In an effort to facilitate the growing number of people from various timezones and differing platforms (many have come to us from Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, GoodReads, and friends from Dr. Miller’s class in a private Google Group), I’ve decided it may be easiest to set up something completely separate from all of these so our notes, resources, and any other group contributions can live on to benefit others in the future. Thus I’ve built Category Theory: Summer Study Group 2015 on WordPress.  It will live as a sub-domain of my personal site until I get around to buying a permanent home for it (any suggestions for permanent domain names are welcome).


We’ve actually had a few people already find the new site and register before I’ve announced it, but for those who haven’t done so yet, please go to our participant registration page and enter your preferred username and email address.  We’ll email you a temporary password which you can change when you login for the first time. Those who want to use their pre-existing WordPress credentials are welcome to do so.

Once you’ve registered, be sure to update your profile (at least include your name) so that others will know a little bit more about you. If you’d like you can also link your account [or sign up for one and then link it] so that you can add a photo and additional details.  To login later, there’s a link hidden in the main menu under “Participants.”

You can also add your details to the form at the bottom of the Participants page to let others know a bit more about you and where you can be reached. Naturally this is optional as I know some have privacy issues. In the notes, please leave your location/timezone so that we can better coordinate schedules/meetings.

Category Theory Blog

Your username/password will allow you to post content directly to the study group’s blog. This can be contributed notes, questions, resources, code, photos, thoughts, etc. related to category theory and related areas of mathematics we’ll be looking at. Initially your posts will be moderated (primarily only to prevent spam), and over time your status will be elevated to allow immediate posting and editing. If you have any questions or need administrative help, I’m easy to find and happy to help if you get into trouble. Most of the interface will hopefully be easy to understand.

For those with questions, please try to read posts as you’re able and feel free to comment with hints and/or solutions.  I’ve created “categories” with the chapter titles from the text we’re using to facilitate sorting/searching. Depending on the need, we can granularize this further as we proceed. There is also the ability to tag posts with additional metadata or upload photos as well.

As appropriate, I’ll take material out of the blog/posts stream and place it into freestanding pages for easier reference in the future. As an example, I’ve already found some material on YouTube and MIT’s Open Course Ware site (Spivak posted his 2013 class using our same text, though it unfortunately doesn’t include video or audio) that may be relevant to many.

For those interested, WordPress supports most basic LaTeX, though I doubt it supports any of the bigger category theory diagramming packages, so feel free to draw out pictures/diagrams, photograph them, and upload them for others to see if necessary.

As an advocate of the open web and owning one’s own data, I highly recommend everyone publish/post their content here as well as to their favorite site/platform of choice as they see fit.


In emails and chatter around the web, I haven’t heard any major objections to the proposed textbook so far, so unless there are, I’m assuming that it should serve most of us well. Hopefully everyone has a copy by now (remember there are free versions available) and has begun reading the introductory material.  Those requiring a bit more mathematical rigor and challenge can supplement with additional texts as I’m sure I and many others will. If you’re posting questions to the site about problems/questions from other texts, please either state them explicitly or tag them with the author’s last name as well as the problem/exercise number. (I’ll try to make them all canonical on the back end as we progress, so don’t worry too much if you’re not sure how or what to tag them with.)

Conference Call Tool

At the moment, most people have been fairly open to the three big platforms, though a few on either Linux or Chromebooks don’t have access to be able to install/operate anything but Google Hangouts, so I’m presently proposing that we adopt it for our group. Nearly everyone in the group already has a gmail account, so I don’t expect it to be an undue burden. If you haven’t used it before, please download/install any plugins you may require for your platform in advance of our first “call.”

Meeting Times

I’ve only heard back from a small handful of people on availability so far, but it doesn’t look like it will be difficult to find an appropriate time.  If you haven’t already done so, please fill out the “survey,” so we can determine a good call time for next week. If necessary, we can do additional times to help serve everyone’s needs. We don’t want to leave out any who sincerely want to participate.

Office Hours

As most of the participants are spread over the United States, Europe, and Asia, I’m suggesting that everyone carve out a standing block of time (we can call them “office hours”) that they can use to be available (via Google Hangouts or otherwise) to help out others having difficulty or who have questions. Since there isn’t a “professor” I’m hoping that we can all serve each other as unofficial teaching assistants to get through the process, and having standing office hours may be the easiest way to catch others for help in addition to the web site itself.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?

If you have any questions, or I’ve managed to miss something, please don’t hesitate to make a comment below.  I’m hoping to get enough responses by Friday/Saturday this week to post our first meeting time for next week.


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Commutative Diagrams in LaTeX

A meta-review of resources for typesetting commutative diagrams in TeX & LaTeX. Save time in trying to find the right commutative diagram package on CTAN.


With my studies in category theory trundling along, I thought I’d take  moment to share some general resources for typesetting commutative diagrams in \LaTeX. I’ll outline below some of the better resources and recommendations I’ve found, most by much more dedicated and serious users than I. Following that I’ll list a few resources, articles, and writings on some of the more common packages that I’ve seen mentioned.

Naturally, just reading through some of the 20+ page user guides to some of these packages can be quite daunting, much less wading through the sheer number that exist.  Hopefully this one-stop-shop meta-overview will help others save some time trying to figure out what they’re looking for.

Feruglio Summary

Gabriel Valiente Feruglio has a nice overview article naming all the primary packages with some compare/contrast information. One will notice it was from 1994, however, and misses a few of the more modern packages including TikZ. His list includes: AMS; Barr (diagxy); Borceux; Gurari; Reynolds; Rose (XY-pic); Smith (Arrow); Spivak; Svensson (kuvio); Taylor (diagrams); and Van Zandt (PSTricks). He lists them alphabetically and gives brief overviews of some of the functionality of each.

Feruglio, Gabriel Valiente. Typesetting Commutative Diagrams.  TUGboat, Volume 15 (1994), No. 4

Milne Summary

J.S. Milne has a fantastic one-page quick overview description of several available packages with some very good practical advise to users depending on the level of their needs. He also provides a nice list of eight of the most commonly used packages including: array (LaTeX); amscd (AMS); DCpic (Quaresma); diagrams (Taylor); kuvio (Svensson); tikz (Tantau); xymatrix (Rose); and diagxy (Barr). It’s far less formal than Feruglio, but is also much more modern. I also found it a bit more helpful for trying to narrow down one or more packages with which to play around.

Milne, J.S. Guide to Commutative Diagram Packages.

Spivak Pseudo-recommendations

David Spivak, the author of Category Theory for the Sciences, seems to prefer XY-pic, diagXY, and TikZ based on his website from which he links to guides to each of these.

Resources for some of the “Bigger” Packages

Based on the recommendations given in several of the resources above, I’ve narrowed the field a bit to some of the better sounding packages. I’ve provided links to the packages with some of the literature supporting them.

Diagxy: Michael Barr

XY-pic: Kristoffer Rose & Ross Moore

Diagrams: Paul Taylor

TikZ-CD: Florêncio Neves

Is there a particular package you recommend? Feel free to add your thoughts, comments, and additional resources in the comments below.

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Category Theory Summer Study Group 2015

A suggested syllabus for a summer study group on category theory.


Initial details for putting  the group together can be found at

Below is a handful of suggestions and thoughts relating to the study group in terms of platforms to assist us in communicating as well as a general outline for the summer.  I’m only “leading” this in the sense that I put my foot forward first, but I expect and sincerely hope that others will be active leaders and participants as well, so please take the following only as a suggestion, and feel free to add additional thoughts and commentary you feel might help the group.

Primary resources:

General Communication

Since many within the group are already members of the Google Group “Advanced Physics & Math – Los Angeles.” I suggest we use the email list here as a base of communication. I believe the group is still “private” but am happy to invite the handful of participants who aren’t already members. Those actively participating are encouraged to change their settings so that they receive emails from the group either as they’re posted, or in batches once a day.  Those subscribed only once a week or less frequently are likely to miss out on questions, comments, and other matters.

Alternately we might also use the discussion group within the “Mathematics Students” group. I believe only about three of us so far may already be goodreads members, so this may require more effort for others to join.

If anyone has an alternate platform suggestion for communicating and maintaining resources, I’m happy to entertain it.

I wouldn’t be opposed to setting up a multi-user WordPress site that we could all access and post/cross-post to. Doing this could also allow for use of \LaTeX as well, which may be useful down the line. This would also have the benefit of being open to the public and potentially assisting future students. It also has built-in functionality of notifying everyone of individual posts and updates as they’re entered.


I’ll propose a general weekly meeting online via Google Hangouts on a day and time to be determined.  It looks like the majority of respondents are in the Pacific timezone, so perhaps we could shoot for something around 7pm for an hour or so if we do something during weekdays so that East coasters can join without us running too late. If we decide to do something during the weekend, we obviously have a good bit more flexibility.

If we could have everyone start by indicating which days/times absolutely won’t work for them and follow up with their three to four preferred days/times, then we might be able to build a consensus for getting together.

Alternate videoconference options could include Skype, ooVoo, or others, in some part because I know that most participants are already part of the Google ecosystem and know that one or more potential participants is using Google Chromebooks and thus may not be able to use other platforms.  Is anyone not able to use Google Hangouts? If we opt for something else, we want something that is ubiquitous for platform, allows screen sharing, and preferably the ability to record the sessions for those who aren’t present.

Ideally the videoconference meetings will be geared toward an inverted classroom style of work in which it would be supposed that everyone has read the week’s material and made an attempt at a number of problems. We can then bring forward any general or specific conceptual problems people may be having and then work as a group toward solving any problems that anyone in the group may be having difficulty with.

I’ll also suggest that even if we can’t all make a specific date and time, that we might get together in smaller groups to help each other out.  Perhaps everyone could post one or two regular hours during the week as open “office hours” so that smaller groups can discuss problems and help each other out so that we can continue to all make progress as a group.

Primary Textbook

Spivak, David I. Category Theory for the Sciences. (The MIT Press, 2014)

Given the diversity of people in the group and their backgrounds, I’ll suggest Spivak’s text which has a gentle beginning and is geared more toward scientists and non-professional mathematicians, though it seems to come up to speed fairly quickly without requiring a large number of prerequisites.  It also has the benefit of being free as noted below.

The textbook can be purchased directly through most book retailers.  Those looking for cheaper alternatives might find these two versions useful. The HTML version should be exactly in line with the printed one, while the “old version” may not be exactly the same.

Following this, I might suggest we use something like Awody’s text or Leinster’s which are slightly more technical, but still fairly introductory. Those who’d like a more advanced text can certainly supplement by reading portions of those texts as we work our way through the material in Spivak. If all of the group wants a more advanced text, we can certainly do it, but I’d prefer not to scare away any who don’t have a more sophisticated background.

Additional References

Proposed Schedule

The following schedule takes us from now through the end of the summer and covers the entirety of the book.  Hopefully everyone will be able to participate through the end, though some may have additional pressures as the beginning of the Fall  sees the start of other courses. Without much prior experience in the field myself, I’ve generally broken things up to cover about 35 pages a week, though some have slightly more or less.  Many, like me, may feel like the text really doesn’t begin until week three or four as the early chapters provide an introduction and cover basic concepts like sets and functions which I have a feeling most have at least some experience with.  I’ve read through chapter two fairly quickly already myself.  This first easy two week stretch will also give everyone the ability to settle in as well as allow others to continue to join the group before we make significant headway.

If anyone has more experience in the subject and wishes to comment on which sections we may all have more conceptual issues with, please let us know so we can adjust the schedule as necessary.  I suppose we may modify the schedule as needed going forward, though like many of you, I’d like to try to cover as much as we can before the end of the summer.

Week One: May 24 (24 pages)

Administrative tasks

  • Purchase Textbook
  • Decide on best day/time for meeting
  • Decide on platform for meetings: Google Hangouts /Skype /ooVoo /Other
  • 1 A brief history of category theory
  • 1.2 Intention of this book
  • 1.3 What is requested from the student
  • 1.4 Category theory references
  • 2 The Category of Sets 9
  • 2.1 Sets and functions
  • 2.2 Commutative diagrams

Week Two: May 31  (50 pages)

  • 2.3 Ologs
  • 3 Fundamental Considerations in Set 41
  • 3.1 Products and coproducts
  • 3.2 Finite limits in Set

Week Three: June 7 (40 pages)

  • 3.3 Finite colimits in Set
  • 3.4 Other notions in Set

Week Four: June 14 (31 pages)

  • 4 Categories and Functors, Without Admitting It 115
  • 4.1 Monoids
  • 4.2 Groups

Week Five: June 21 (38 pages)

  • 4.3 Graphs
  • 4.4 Orders

Week Six: June 28 (19 pages)

  • 4.5 Databases: schemas and instances

Week Seven: July 5 (36 pages)

  • 5 Basic Category Theory 203
  • 5.1 Categories and functors

Week Eight: July 12 (28 pages)

  • 5.2 Common categories and functors from pure math

Week Nine: July 19 (48 pages)

  • 5.3 Natural transformations
  • 5.4 Categories and schemas are equivalent, Cat » Sch

Week Ten: July 26 (45 pages)

  • 6 Fundamental Considerations of Categories
  • 6.1 Limits and colimits

Week Eleven: August 2 (15 pages)

  • 6.2 Other notions in Cat

Week Twelve: August 9 (26 pages)

  • 7 Categories at Work 375
  • 7.1 Adjoint functors

Week Thirteen: August 16 (32 pages)

  • 7.2 Categories of functors

Week Fourteen: August 23 (19 pages)

  • 7.3 Monads

Week Fifteen: August 30 (23 pages)

  • 7.4 Operads

Additional resources

Requested/Required Responses from participants:

Preferred platform(s) for communications:

Email and/or online discussions

Platform Can use Can’t use Prefer Not to Use
Google Group
WordPress Site
GoodReads Group


Platform Can use Can’t use Prefer Not to Use
Google Hangouts


Dates and times you absolutely CAN’T make for meetings (please include your local time zone):




Dates and times you prefer (please include your local time zone):




One or two time periods during the week you could generally/reliably be available for “office hours”:


Any other thoughts on the material above:

  • Textbooks
  • Schedule
  • Additional resources for the group
  • Other

If you’d like to join us, please fill out the contact information and details below based on the material above:

Please indicate which videoconference platforms you are able to use by placing a checkmark in the corresponding boxes below. If you’re technically unable to use one or more, please indicate which in the “general comments” box above, and provide the reason why.

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