How a mathematician spends his Sundays

Steven Strogatz, a professor of mathematics at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, has temporarily moved to the city to serve as a math ambassador, at National Museum of Mathematics, called MoMath.

As a digital guy, he sees the city in his own way. For example the shape of buildings. “There are a number of skyscrapers that zigzag up at an angle,” he said. “It’s really interesting.” Dr. Strogatz, who has been tasked with making math fun by the museum, has so far started a series of films and introduced a course called Math Gems, in which he presents proofs and calculations that he considered “jewelry” and invited participants to solve problems involving them (his next Session Math Gems will take place on Tuesday).

Dr. Strogatz, 62, lives in a museum-supplied apartment in NoMad Manhattan neighborhood with his wife, Carole Schiffman, 60, a visual artist. Their 75-pound Labradoodle, Murray, was also on the city tour, which ends in August.

INTERNAL CLOCK I wake up at 6:30 every day. Carole found it like, “Why don’t you sleep late?” But I did my PhD. about sleep, and waking up at the same time each day is actually a good way to stay asleep, as they say in the field of sleep research. Aside from the usual jokes about mathematicians putting people to sleep, I sometimes have trouble explaining why I study sleep as someone interested in sleep. math. But there’s a whole system of internal clocks and rhythms associated with sleep that can make it sound like math.

BRAN MAN Now that I’m up, I’m going to eat some All-Bran. I eat it every day for a couple of reasons. Number one is that I don’t cook and I won’t make scrambled eggs. Second, I don’t feel bored. I love having the same thing every day. I’m going to take some sunrise photos with my iPhone.

MESSAGE MESSAGE I really shouldn’t admit it, but then I’ll be wasting my time on Twitter. If the sunrise scene is worth posting, I can tweet it and comment on it. The city is a miracle to me, the way the sunlight hits the buildings, all the colors. Sometimes I wake up with some math thinking and I can tweet that. Twitter is like a bigger place to teach math, like I can reach out to the whole world. Do you remember the movie “The Sixth Sense”? That kid has seen dead people. I see math everywhere I’m looking. I want to share that.

THE MYSTERIOUS CURVES There’s some good math in the elevator in our building, I’ll be in after breakfast to take Murray for a walk in Madison Square Park. If you look up, there are very few lights on the ceiling. The way they shine on the door creates an interesting reflection. I don’t understand why it makes a curve, when does it make a parabola. I took a picture of it and tweeted it saying “Does anyone understand these curves?” No one can solve it.

STRESS WALK When we reached the lobby, my stress started. Murray is the kind of anxiety in the city. When it sees other dogs, it will lunge at them or bark a low, baritone bark. The other dogs look at him like, you’re a madman. I’d rather look at the structure, but I had to cover his eyes with my hand as if they were going blind on a horse.

AUTOGRAPHS The museum is open on Sundays, so I can drop in. Sometimes they’ll let me autograph books that I’m an author are selling in the gift shop. There are a lot of t-shirts, calendars and other things in there. People love giving them to the math-y people in their lives.

PERFECT DAY There is a place called Kalustyan’s I’ll go around lunchtime. I would describe it as a spice stall. It’s breathtaking in its color and density, and they have some of the best dates I’ve ever had. I don’t have any deals with them, but if you haven’t had a date since, I would say give it a go.

CHESS I do some work on Sunday afternoons, sitting in front of the computer. There’s also more hanging out with Murray, but that takes up a lot of your time playing chess online. I used to play in college, and I took it very seriously. I am a high level player. I care about winning. If I’m too hurt by it, I’ll stop.

DOLL, FOOD, PIZZA We may have some food from FreshDirect for dinner, or if we’re running low, we can take it away Great dumpling house. Isn’t that a great name? They have very good cold sesame noodles. Or we can get thin crust pizza from Vezzo, also close to us.

BRAINIAC New York Times Spell Bee is a constant source of joy. We’ll be on the phone with our two daughters in college and doing it as a family. I usually hit “genius” instantly, so they wipe out all the easy-to-understand words and I get to the end so I don’t spoil it for everyone. Around 11 o’clock there was some petting with Murray, then it was bedtime. And maybe a late-night tweet if a math idea pops into my head.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Steven Strogatz on Twitter at @stevenstrogatz. How a mathematician spends his Sundays

Fry Electronics Team

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