Math, Stories

Biography of one typewriter (that puts biographies of our smartphones to shame)

It was a Remington typewriter, probably like the one in the photo below. It had a sturdy case. The owner used it heavily and took it everywhere he went. He was a frequent traveler


At the end of the 1920’s the typewriter was lucky enough to go on a lengthy boat trip on the Volga river. The owner and two other men started their journey in Yaroslavl and sailed to Kazan’ city, where one of them got off the boat. The owner of the typewriter and his new friend continued sailing toward Samara city. Sometimes they used a primitive home-made sail. But most of the time the typewriter’s owner was the main rower, and his friend was the navigator.  At that time they did not yet know that they will remain best friends for the rest of their lives. They were enjoying the weather, the nature, and conversations about math.  The typewriter was sitting in the boat next to a box of biscuits.  The history omits the circumstances under which both aforementioned items ended up in the Volga river. We also do not know anything about the fact of the biscuits (there are good reasons to expect that they have stopped existing in their biscuit-like form at that moment. The fauna of the river probably had a feast though). The typewriter, however, was rescued successfully.  As soon as it dried up it resumed working just as it has worked before.

The typewriter continued following its owner around the world. It has witnessed all of his mathematical discoveries, professional crises, conversations with his students and colleagues. This typewriter was meant to live a dangerous life, just like its owner.  On October 15th, 1945 it followed its owner along the streets of Moscow that was immersing itself into the dusk of a gloomy and sad evening. The tanks were rolling along the Gorky street toward the centre of Moscow.  It was a miracle that the typewriter along with its owner did not get hit by one of the tanks while crossing the street. Suddenly, the typewriter was violently shaken inside its case. The owner heard a sharp metallic sound. The typewriter’s case hit the light pole. A scratch remained on it forever, but the typewriter was still working as though nothing has ever happened. This fact, however, was discovered only after its owner’s arrival to Kazan – the place where he needed to be evacuated along with his life long friend.

After 1945 the typewriter did not experience serious injuries and has never even been to a repair shop! Now, all of us would love to be THAT healthy!

During the late 1970‘s, this typewriter still belonged to its original owner – Professor of mathematics Pavel Alexandrov. His life long friend was Professor of mathematics Andrei Kolmogorov.

P. S.: compare this biography with a biography of any smartphone… it usually ends with a tragic drowning in a kitchen sink, a coffee mug or a toilet; or with a fatal fall from a pocket onto the pavement. “What a tragic and ungraceful way to go” – Alexandrov’s typewriter would think

information was taken from Pavel Alexandrov’s memoirs. You can read them in original language (in Russian) here

Art, Creative writing, Grad School, Math, Outreach, Research, Stories, Uncategorized

Work day of a mathematician

 “What does a usual work day of a mathematician look like?” (grade 8 student)

“Unlike writers and novelists, mathematicians do not even publish their work too often. What do they do all day?” (grade 9 student)

“What do professors do when they are not teaching undergraduate courses?” (grade 11 student)

“How do researchers manage their time when they do not have strict deadlines to follow?” (grade 11 student)

“How do co-authors work together when a lengthy research project needs to be completed?” (grade 9 student)

These are some of the questions questions that I often hear from high school students and even from junior undergraduates.  Most students do not observe mathematicians at work too often, so their questions are perfectly valid.  Every student knows what a shoe maker, a chef or a painter does because they see the direct products of these people’s work.  The situation is different with mathematician because often the outcomes of mathematician’s work cannot be immediately observed. Thinking about problems and experimenting with various solutions could take days, weeks or even months! Many attempts to solve a problem could fail.  Extreme persistence is needed to keep going forward and to avoid quitting. So, really, how do mathematicians keep themselves on track every day? How do they stay productive and motivated?  The answer is different for every mathematician. For example, here are some strategies for balancing academic work and hobbies that professor Andrei Kolmogorov and his co-author professor Pavel Alexandrov practiced:

First, they chose a pleasant setting to work in.  Both professors adored nature and often spent 3 to 4 days of the week outside Moscow in a cottage near a small river. Second, professors placed great value on physical activities to keep their minds fresh.  Their day usually started at 7am with various sports-related activities.  Both preferred taking walks and hikes every day after lunch (2pm) and short walks before bed time (10pm). Third, Kolmogorov and Alexandrov dedicated lengthy unbroken time periods to their research (usually from breakfast till lunch and from 3pm till dinnertime).  Fourth, both researchers did not neglect their shared hobby – music, and dedicated some time to listening and discussing various records every day. Fifth, professors aimed to get about 10 hours of sleep every day.  That often included short naps during the day.  Of course, when their research was going especially well, they altered their schedule and often spent entire days discussing the solutions to the posed problems.

In summary, in order to stay academically productive and motivated, try following these five simple suggestions:
1)      Find comfortable setting to work in
2)      Find common interests that you share with your co-author and dedicate time to pursue these interests
3)      Exercise regularly and get plenty of fresh air
4)      Get enough sleep!
5)      Organize your day in a way that will allow for lengthy unbroken work periods
6)      Be flexible in your planning and don’t hesitate to change your routine!
What do you think of these tips? Would you dare to try living several days by this demanding schedule?

Note: most of the information about professor Kolmogorov’s work habits was taken from the interview published in the “Quantum” (Квант) magazine in 1983.

The original version in Russian can be found here

The image is taken from