A new way to collaborate: DropBox

I have a long-time collaborator who lives in Georgia (I’m in Pennsylvania). I’ve had good luck collaborating with him via email, but it is a pain. As soon as one of us edits a file he sends it to the other person as an email attachment. We haven’t had any “forked” files, but we do…

The maypole braid group

Over the weekend I attended a May Day party thrown by one of my colleagues. During the party they had a traditional maypole dance. An example of a maypole dance is shown at left. A maypole is a tall pole with colorful ribbons attached to the top that are fanned out in a cone shape….

How to use KnotPlot

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m teaching a knot theory class this semester. I’ve been playing around with KnotPlot, a powerful piece of software for drawing and working with knots. I want my students use it, but it has a somewhat unintuitive interface. So I’m trying to write up a list of easy-to-use instructions for them. The…

Materials for a knot theory class

This is a call for help—or for suggestions, at least. I’m teaching a knot theory class next semester. I’m looking for good props to use in the class to make knots. I would like to be able to make knots such as the following (and have my students do so as well). I suppose the…

Möbius bubble wrap

This week’s New York Times Magazine has an article called “The Year in Ideas.” One feature in the article is “Bubble Wrap That Never Ends,” by Vanessa Gregory. She writes about the popular Japanese keychain called Mugen Puchi Puchi. It has six small buttons on it, and pressing them simulates popping bubble wrap. The keychain…

Four color theorem applets

The four color theorem is a beloved result with a long and fascinating history. The theorem says that four colors suffice to color any map so that no two bordering regions are the same color. The conjecture was made in 1852 by Francis Guthrie. After many, many failed proofs, the conjecture was finally put to…

Lipson’s mathematical LEGO sculptures

Ξ at the the 360 blog just posted a neat LEGO fact: it is possible to snap together two 2×4 lego bricks in 24 different ways. Given six of these LEGOs it is possible to snap them together in 915,103,765 different ways! This inspired me to post a link to a cool website by Andrew Lipson….

Flatland and other videos about dimension

Not long ago I watched the DVD of Flatland staring Martin Sheen as the voice of Arthur Square. The movie is based on Edwin Abbott Abbott’s 1884 book of the same title. Flatland is a story of polygons living in a two dimensional world and A. Square’s discovery of the third dimension. It is also…

Cutting and folding paper

Inspired by Chaim Goodman-Strauss’s recent video about symmetries, paper snowflakes, and paper dolls, I decided to post a few other paper-related videos. First is a video showing some cutting tricks for a Möbius strip. I show this to my topology class, then have them play around with Möbius strips—twisting them various numbers of times and…

Kuratowski’s closure-complement theorem (solution)

Stop!  This post contains spoilers.  This page has the solution to the problem posed in yesterday’s post. We challenged you to find a set from which we can make as many new sets as possible using only the closure and complement operations. In 1922 Kuratowski proved the following theorem. Theorem. At most 14 sets can…

Kuratowski’s closure-complement theorem

One of my favorite theorems in elementary topology is Kuratowski’s closure-complement theorem. First some notation.  For any set let denote the complement of and  denote the closure of .  (Recall that and  is the union of and all the limit points of ). Here’s the problem.  Find a set so that we can construct as many…

Königsberg today

In 1736 Leonhard Euler solved the now-famous bridges of Königsberg problem.  It is often hailed as the birth of topology and graph theory. Although no graph appears in Euler’s paper, his argument is topological in spirit. (He proved another famous topological theorem a decade and a half later.) The problem is stated as follows. If a resident of Königsberg…