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The Calculus of Friendship

Steven Strogatz, my graduate school advisor, just released a wonderful book entitled The Calculus of Friendship. It’s about Steve’s thirty-year-long friendship with his high school math teacher, told through the letters they wrote to each other. But here’s the catch: while the stories of both Steve’s and Mr. Joffray’s lives are recounted in the book (and so much happened in both of their lives), there is scant mention of any of this in their letters to each other. The letters are just a collection of math problems.

And that’s one of main themes running through the book: men don’t share their feelings (though they should); they share math. It’s a memoir, told through letters of equations. But please don’t let the calculus scare you away. It’s a moving and powerful story, and while the math can be skipped, it actually enriches the story.

Here’s the trailer, with Steve telling more about the book:

And here’s a long video of Steve being interviewed by Alan Alda about the book (they’re good friends).

Michael Chabon’s Sitka World’s Fair

Michael Chabon, the author of many books, among them The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay, has a website whose front page currently shows a poster for the Sitka World’s Fair. At first I thought this was a just an interesting retro poster from 1977. However, between the Yiddish on the poster and the fact that Sitka is not a bustling metropolis but rather an Alaskan city of under 10,000 people, I realized that this is an artifact from the alternate-history of Chabon’s upcoming new book The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. This book, due out in May, supposes that a Jewish homeland was created in the mid-twentieth century in Alaska, instead of in Israel, and extrapolates outwards from this premise (there was a proposal like this actually made during WWII, but it was voted down). I’m looking forward to seeing how he crafts this scenario.


Now here’s an odd one: megapolisomancy is a fictional occult science¬†that predicts and alters the future using large cities. The concept for megapolisomancy appears in Fritz Lieber‘s novella Our Lady of Darkness:

At any particular time of history there have always been one or two cities of the monstrous sort — viz., Babel or Babylon, Ur-Lhassa, Nineveh, Syracuse, Rome, Samarkand, Tenochtitlan, Peking — but we live in the Megapolitan (or Necropolitan) Age, when such disastrous blights are manifold and threaten to conjoin and enshroud the world with funebral yet multipotent city-stuff.

This is most weird.

Fractal Cities

Fractal Cities Fractals are often used as a type of mind candy, in the sense that they are cool to look at and think about, but are usually not discussed in a rigorous way. In Fractal Cities: A Geometry of Form and Function, they are certainly used properly and are discussed in a highly quantitative manner. Unfortunately, since fractals are physical shapes, the book ends up mainly looking at the physical form of cities and does not delve into other factors related to cities (an aspect that the authors, Michael Batty and Paul Langley, acknowledge). While I must admit that I haven’t looked at the book in great detail, it certainly seems that it can provide lots of thought-provoking ideas and examples: mind candy of the healthiest kind.

Also, Michael Batty has written a more recent book called Cities and Complexity: Understanding Cities with Cellular Automata, Agent-Based Models, and Fractals, which also has a website that can be found here.