How a mathematician spends his Sundays

Steven Strogatzmath professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, has temporarily moved to the city to serve as a math ambassador, of sorts, to the National Museum of Mathematicsknown as MoMath.

A man of numbers, he looks at the city in his own way. There is the geometry of buildings, for example. “There are winding skyscrapers rising at an angle,” he said. “It’s so interesting.” Dr. Strogatz, who the museum has commissioned to make math fun, has so far launched a series of films and introduced a course called Math Gems, in which he presents proofs and calculations that he considers ” jewelry” and invites participants to solve problems related to them (his next Math Gems Session will take place on Tuesday).

Dr. Strogatz, 62, lives in a museum-provided apartment in Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood with his wife, Carole Schiffman, 60, a visual artist. Their 75-pound labradoodle, Murray, is also on board for the city break, which ends in August.

INTERNAL CLOCK I wake up at 6:30 every day. Carole finds it a bit like “Why don’t you sleep late?” But I did my doctorate. on sleep, and getting up at the same time every day is actually good sleep hygiene, as they say in the field of sleep research. Beyond the usual bad jokes about mathematicians putting people to sleep, I sometimes struggle to explain why I studied sleep as someone interested in math. But there’s a whole system of internal clocks and rhythms involved in sleep that can make it feel like math.

THE MAN OF SOUND Now that I’m up, I’m going to eat All-Bran. I eat it every day for several reasons. #1, I don’t cook and it wouldn’t occur to me to make scrambled eggs. Number 2 is that I’m not bored. I like to have the same thing every day. I’m going to take some pictures of the sunrise with my iPhone.

MATHEMATICAL MESSAGING I shouldn’t really admit it, but I’m gonna waste time on Twitter. If the sunrise was worth posting, I might tweet it and comment on it. The city is a wonder to me, the way the sunlight hits the buildings, all the colors. Sometimes I wake up with a math thought and I can tweet that. Twitter feels like a bigger place to teach math, like I can reach the whole world. Do you remember the movie “The Sixth Sense”? This kid has seen dead people. I see math everywhere I look. I like to share that.

MYSTERY CURVES There’s some good math in the elevator in our building, which I board after breakfast to take Murray for a walk in Madison Square Park. If you look up, there are small lights on the ceiling. The way they shine on the door makes for an interesting reflection. I don’t understand why it makes the curve it does, when it should make a parabola. I photographed it and tweeted it with “Does anyone understand these curves?” Nobody solved it.

ANTI-STRESS WALK When we arrive in the hall, my stress begins. Murray is a bit anxious around town. When he sees other dogs, he lunges at them or barks his deep baritone bark. The other dogs look at him like you’re crazy. I prefer to look at the architecture, but I have to put my hands over his eyes like they’re blinders on a horse.

AUTOGRAPHS The museum is open on Sundays, so I might drop by. Sometimes they make me sign books I’ve written that are on sale in the gift shop. There are also lots of t-shirts, calendars and other things. People like to give them to the mathematicians in their lives.

THE PERFECT MEETING There’s a place called by Kalustyan I will go around noon. I would describe it as a spice shop. It’s visually spectacular in terms of color and density, and they have the most delicious dates I’ve ever had. I have no deal with them, but if you haven’t had a date from there I would say give it a try.

CHESS I work a little on Sunday afternoons, sitting in front of the computer. There are also more walks to take with Murray, but that leaves plenty of time to play online chess. I used to play in college and was very serious about it. I am a master level player. I care about winning. If I’m too pissed off about it, I quit.

DUMPLINGS, NOODLES, PIZZA We could have food from FreshDirect for dinner, or if we get weak we could have takeout from Excellent dumpling house. Isn’t that a great name? They have very good cold sesame noodles. Or we could get a thin crust pizza from Vezzowhich is also close to us.

BRAINIAC The New York Times Spelling Bee is a constant source of pleasure. We are going to phone with our two daughters, who are at university, and do it as a family. I usually get to ‘genius’ right away, so they mop up all the easy words and I come in last so I don’t mess everyone up. Around 11 o’clock, there are cuddles with Murray, then it’s bedtime. And maybe a late night tweet if a math idea comes to mind.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Steven Strogatz on Twitter at @stevenstrogatz.

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