Getting around to it

Chaos and fractals were hot stuff in the 1980s and I spent quite a bit of time on the subject—at one point Cliff Pickover, a thoroughly nice person, sent me a large package of material by mail. So, one of the first courses I signed up for as a grad student was Chaotic Dynamical Systems. In the event, I had to drop the course, along with several other maths courses—my work was to be in other areas and the textbook ended up on my shelf for unread books.

The other day I decided to pick it up again and see what I’d missed out on. One thing was clear: I might have been able to do the exercises when I was a first-year student, but by now most of my calculus was just hazy memories. And indeed, in contrast with most of my other literature on the subject, this was a book about proper maths, rather than computer graphics, and spent most of its space on proving various theorems about seemingly simple functions, but which exhibited chaotic behaviour. Still, even if my understanding is patchy these days, I’ve been going through the book, picking up concepts and ideas.

In the book was still the receipt from when I bought it and as I was reading on the train home the other day I listened with half an ear to the two girls sitting next to me talking about their studies. The one just next to me turned out to be a first-year student at my alma mater and the continued conversation revealed she had been born just a couple of days after I bought the book I was finally reading. It’s so hard to keep up.

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