The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 25, 2013

July 25, 1912

Ralph Boas was born August 8, 1912, in Walla Walla, Washington. He died at his home in Seattle July 25, 1992. In between Boas was a mathematician at Northwestern University (Chicago Illinois) from 1950 to 1972. He graduated with a Ph.D in mathematics from Harvard in 1937 and also "studied Greek, Latin, French, Sanskrit and German." His obituaries stress his committee work and editorial talents. His tenure as president of the Mathematical Association of America, is highlighted. Boas wrote a dubious limerick--

A.W. Tucker has found
Results both new and profound,
But none that attract
Me more than the fact
That degenerate cycles bound.


I  have no clue what it is about,; still the fact he wrote it is charming. Although:

He wrote almost 200 papers on real and complex analysis, which were mainly concerned with functions of exponential type, polynomial expansions of analytic functions, Fourier series and power series with positive coe cients, growth of analytic functions and of the partial sums of in nite series, moment problems, and Tauberian, completeness, uniqueness, and integrability theorems...

his notable contribution may turn out to be his humor.

There are no pretensions in mathematics to be punctured. So about the best that can be done is parody, using the lofty and formal language of mathematics for something silly. The best example is probably R. P. Boas's list of ways to catch a lion in the desert...

Editors G.L. Alexanderson and D.H. Mugler collected some of Boas' best pieces of writing in Lion Hunting and Other Mathematical Pursuits: A Collection of Mathematics, Verse, and Stories by Ralph P. Boas, Jr. (1995).

One of these jokes goes back to 1938. We read that Boas with colleagues, devised a spoof titled ''A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting'' which came out in American Mathematical Monthly . He used a pseudonym, H. P├ętard (a reference to farting). We read that the paper offers short spoofs of "theorems and proofs from mathematics and physics, in the form of applications to the hunting of lions in the Sahara desert. One 'proof' parodies the Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem..."

Well that's enough of that. Most of our information in this post on Ralph P. Boas comes from his MAA obituary.

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