Easing into Summer with a Little Bit of Math

There is nothing like a good book and a beach to kick of the start of summer.   For me, this means finally being able to finish The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick.   Information theory is not a subject for the faint-of-heart,  but Gleick’s treatment of Claude Shannon’s break-through work is absolutely fascinating and very accessible.

In the chapters leading up to Shannon’s work, Gleick relates anecdotes mixed in with detailed research that  together,  offer a riveting history of information encoding.  One of the most interesting of these discussions  offers an analysis of African drumming and how messages are created by matching the tonal patterns of the indigenous languages with drum pitches and rhythm.   By the time Gleick gets to Shannon’s work, one cannot help but be amazed by the range of inventions—from the alphabet to Boolean algebra to the Internet–used to encode and share information.

Reading the book, I cannot help but wonder whether there are lessons to be learned from studying how cultures have encoded and shared information for those of us interested in data quality, terminologies, and data exchange.    Since I began reading this book, I have begun to ponder this question: What is the smallest viable unit of clinical information?   Is this even a sensible question?…

Even without having finished The Information, I can safely say it has joined my list of favored science/technical books. In fact, it ranks right up there with Gödel, Escher, and Bach; The Dancing Wu Li Masters; and The Dreams of Reason.

Among other things, reading about information theory has reinforced the idea that discrete math and linear algebra can be useful in understanding clinical systems.   Clinical care is replete with information and patterns that seem perfect for logic, sets, functions, relations, and graphs (which I’ll be writing more about over the summer).   With this in mind, here are a few great websites that focus on mathematics.

Math ? Programming
This is one of the best teaching blogs I have come across.  Written by Jeremy  Kun, a  PhD candidate  in pure mathematics, it covers a range of mathematics topics.    Even obscure areas (at least for the rest of us), such as group theory, make sense when he explains them.

Design and data visualization techniques are important tools for understanding the mountains of information being produced.   Visual.ly addresses data visualization with a keen sense of aesthetics, and well…elegance.

Online Mathematics Textbooks
Free math books covering just about every topic.  Knock yourself out!

See you in a couple of weeks!


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