22 March 2010


In today's NYTimes, Steven Strogatz continues his hugely informative and entertaining series on math -- this installment titled Think Globally. The shortest distance between point A and point B on a flat sheet of paper like a map (a plane) is simply a straight line. The shortest distance between two points on the surface of the Earth (a sphere) is called a great circle, and once the notion is explained, it makes perfect sense, and explains why aircraft routes appear to follow non-intuitive, non-"straight" lines.

Carrying things a step further, Strogatz describes and illustrates elegantly what a line might look like on a cylinder or a two-holed torus -- depending on the initial conditions which we impose on the search. Even for the math-challenged, this is fun stuff, especially the videos.

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