Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Math Hero: Gilbert Strang

When TV was invented, it was expected to enlighten and embiggen humanity by allowing top quality academic learnings, theretofore only the privilege of the lucky few, to be beamed directly to the unlucky many. Ditto for the internet. But up until now, the best scientific content I've seen on the internet was a bunch of clowns making fun of Tycho Brahe on his birthday.

So what gives? The problem has been a shortage of compelling, charismatic math and science lecturers to break it all down for us. That's why humanity and I are thankful for the sweet mathematical stylings of Professor Gilbert Strang. This man rocks the chalk old school, old school like '99 when these lectures were originally recorded. The definitive Strang collection, including some of his later stuff on the Moore-Penrose pseudoinverse which had previously only been available as a bootleg, can be found on MIT OpenCourseWare. There is nothing I like better than a cold beer and to kick up my feet while Dr. Strang works his matrix magic.

I was moved to post this by a recent article on another MIT professor (Walter Lewin) whose physics-related act is achieving a certain amount of popular success, also on OpenCourseWare. Now I'm glad to see the genre succeed no matter who the frontman happens to be, but someone has to point out that Dr. Strang was there first and was doing it before it was cool. He is the Lou Reed of online math and science lecturing, or the DJ Kool Herc if you prefer. The Strangian influences are clear:

Strang 1999

Lewin 2007
The new stuff on the bottom is obviously more commercial, but regard the characteristic blue-dress-shirt-and-khakis. Strang pioneered that look and he owns it. Plus, Dr. Strang has the pure rock-and-roll sensibility to wear a tie on stage. A tie! I rest my case.

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