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Wolfram on Golomb

I was checking out Stephen Wolfram’s blog and found this excellent obituary of Solomon Golomb, the mathematician who invented the maximum-length linear-feedback shift register sequence, characterized by Wolfram as “probably the single most-used mathematical algorithm idea in history.” But Golomb is probably more famous for inventing polyominoes.

The whole thing’s a good read, and it even includes this cool nonperiodic tiling from Wolfram’s 2002 book:

There’s also some interesting stuff on cellular automata, itself a fascinating topic. Wolfram should hire someone to prove some theorems about it!

P.S. Wolfram’s blog has lots of good stuff. In fact, I just added it to the blogroll! For example, here’s a long post from a few months ago on cellular automata and physics. It’s a funny thing, though: Wolfram seems to have an extreme aversion to talking about his collaborators. With Wolfram, it’s all through the day, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk about myself too. But science as I experience it is soooo collaborative, it’s hard for me to imagine being in Wolfram’s situation: he has all the resources in the world but he works all on his own. So lonely. On one hand, he has these interesting ideas that he wants to share with the world, with complete strangers on his blog. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to be able to collaborate with people directly. In literature, this would not be surprising—we don’t demand or even expect that Matthew Klam, Francis Spufford, Alison Bechdel, etc., find collaborators—but in science it seems like a mistake to work alone. Then again, what do I know. Andrew Wiles didn’t seem to require a research team or even a research partner.


  1. Ed Hagen says:

    “Then again, what do I know. Andrew Wiles didn’t seem to require a research team or even a research partner.”

    This article describes how others found a flaw in the original proof, which might count as a form of collaboration, and also the help he got from a former research student:

  2. I enjoyed this spontaneous “men-de”* reflection on working alone vs. working with others. Yes, I can see how certain scientific fields (and branches within them) demand much more collaboration than literature does. On the other hand, there have been famous collaborations between authors and editors, and collaboration can take many forms.

    In any case, I do see a difference between solitary work and a “I, me, and mine” attitude. One can work alone but still acknowledge others’ contributions.

    *”men-de” is shorthand for “on the one hand … on the other hand.” (Those are the Greek particles that together mean just that.)

  3. Another odd thing about Wolfram is that he does an obsessive amount of self-tracking (for example, he counts all his keystrokes). But it’s all pointless, stupid stuff – nothing that might lead to discovering useful interventions (à la the self-experimentation of the late Seth Roberts).

  4. Martha (Smith) says:

    Everybody’s different; takes all kinds to make a world.

    Then there’s the old joke: The Quaker man said to his wife, “Everyone is strange but me and thee, and even thee is a little strange.”

  5. Statsgirl says:

    Could also be because Wolfram doesn’t want to gone other people credit.

  6. Ana says:

    Writing is too much like talking to yourself – except for letters; both might be overheard …

    [attempted humour]

  7. Carlos says:

    I wanted to read about Golomb but it’s really hard to get through paragraphs and paragraphs of text like “I was at Caltech, a 21-year-old physicist who’d just received some media attention from being the youngest in the first batch of MacArthur award recipients” before getting to the real story (supposing there is any).

  8. I’m just here for the Beatles references.????

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