Monday, 10 August 2009


What is in a number?

There is always a fascination with numbers we are associated with, especially one’s birth date numbers. We look for ‘lucky’ numbers into our roll numbers in class, the number on the hall ticket, numbers on our addresses and telephones – (though today’s ten digit numbers leave me fatigued, with trying to memorise them in the right order).

Mathematicians find intriguing mysteries and even romance in all numbers. One of our friends is a Professor in Maths, and can do all sorts of sums and calculations in his head. He is totally engrossed in his subject. I once asked him what he did for relaxation. He said “I read books.” “Oh, what books, fiction, or non-fiction?” I asked. He answered, “Books on Maths”.

Car number plates are endlessly fascinating. When we travel by road, while the rest of the family looks at the make of the car and records the speed it is travelling at, I look at the number plates, and invariably end up adding the digits.

I am not alone in this interest in number plates. One of my favourite stories is that of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and his mentor G. H. Hardy. Ramanujan, ill equipped to cope with the vagaries of the inclement British weather, fell ill in England. Hardy visited him in hospital, taking a ride in a taxicab. The number of the taxi was, according to Hardy, uninteresting – 1729. Ramanujan disagreed with him and said that it was on the other hand a very interesting number. “It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."

To most laymen (including me) this would be Greek and Latin, but to those number lovers it was sheer poetry. I can only imagine the following minutes when the two would have discussed and dissected the magic of the number.

"Every positive integer is one of Ramanujan's personal friends.", said J. E. Littlewood, Hardy’s collaborator, after hearing this incident.

This morning I received a mail from Indiblogger, saying that my blog was ranked 77th. The ranking did not affect me one way or the other, but the number did. I was tickled, because it was my roll number in college, and later my son’s rank in the Joint Entrance exam of the IIT.

You can see the widget here on the right side. However, I was happy to see Maiji outranked me - her blog is ranked 58th!


Swarna said...

I think the query "what's in a number" ranks evenly with "what's in a name?".
And I can never fail to be amazed at that Ramanujam anecdote with Hardy.

Happy Kitten said...

Numbers have fascinated even me...nd I continue to visit the astrology sites but not the Maths sites:)

Bina Soundarajan said...

Maybe this is a very Tam / TN thing :)

I almost unconsciously calculate every number plate to see if the number's divisible by 11 ( very easy: add alternate digits and subtract, the difference should be 0 or a multiple of 11).

Been doing this since I was in school, my classmate and I would change the digit every now and then, but the 11 stuck with me.

btw - I once saw a taxi with the number 1729! Couldn't take a picture though, but hope to do so one day...

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi Raji:)


Very interesting post on numbers. I also believe in numbers. For me any number ending with 3 or divisible by 3 are lucky numbers. But Friday, the 13th always frightens me because some major disasters in the world took place on that day.

So whether it is car number, lottery ticket number or telephone number I would like to have a number divisible by 3. May be this is superstition. What do you think?

Have a lovely day Raji:)

Winifred said...

That is an interesting post. Isn't it strange how people are so different. When you add numbers on car numberplates, I try to make the letters into words.

I think it's because I'm not very good with numbers. Well that's my perception of how I am. It's probably not really true because in shops I sometimes add up my purchases in my head before the cashier adds them on the machine. I think school teachers had a lot to do with it telling you that it's not your strength. Maybe that's how I moved to words. Interesting.

Devika said...

Numbers - i have a friend Ramanathan in Engineering college..he had this way with numbers and I couldn't believe when after about 20 years he would remember the phone numbers of all our friends by-heart -- tell him any long digit number once and he would repeat it as it is in a breath!

as for me..i find words more interesting ...but yes, if I see a 6 -- I am happy; supposedly my lucky number :)

and Raji I finally reached Maiji's blog today :)


Devika said...

I should've said -- i 'had' a friend Ramanathan in Engineering college...

He is now with HPCL :)


pradeep said...

I am impressed by people who have a way with numbers. But numerology still hasn't caught my fancy.

Indrani said...

Congratulations on the rank!
And A Very Happy Birthday to you!! :)

Maddy said...

numerology as well as interest in numbers are subjects that very few understand, let alone follow. i certainly don't, but i found some parts intriguing when studying the story of Aryabhata..

radha said...

Indiblogger ranking is strange - the higher the ranking - the more popular or so they say! So you are ranked higher than 58.