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Who Was Ramanujan? (backchannel.com)
508 points by thepoet on April 28, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 121 comments

A very nice article.

Personally I'm not bothered by the "self-promotion" others perceive in Wolfram's posts. The criticism in the comments here are all very repetitive and tiresome. I presume many read anything written by Wolfram with the hope of finding something they can point out as self-promotion ;)

I completely agree. It seems like it's fashionable to immediately jump on any new Wolfram article and slate it. His tone and personality might not be to everyone's taste but he's brilliant and has achieved a huge amount.

This is the most comprehensive article I've read about the Ramanujan (and I've read a few before, I've always been interested in his story). I especially liked the parts about Hardy, who always seems to be overlooked. The comments about Mathematica aren't really as shoe-horned in as people are making out anyway, Ramanujan's method was very experimental so it fits well.

Correct, and it's time for HN to let go of it. Think of it as a test for this community: can we focus on what's interesting in what the man says and resist being trolled by the rest.


Is there a meta-syndrome, wherein all submissions of Stephen Wolfram content end up discussing how unfortunate it is we're all preoccupied discussing his self promotion?

That's a secondary infection.

Maybe more like an autoimmune / allergic response?

I hope you put this everytime you find the syndrome as you call it. Because "the rest" might be newcommer. After I read your explanation in the link, i think it makes sense. But i must say that everyone gets that impression of SW writing doesnt know that it has been there since forever and would not change, and we can do nothing about it (as a comment below says that SW himself says he writes like that bc arrorange helps him solve problem).

Treatment needs time.

Too bad it's advertising for a company that uses slave labor.

It isn't that simple: yesterday, after seeing your comment I carefully read Wolfram's article from beginning to end. I enjoyed it while trying to skip the ads.

Today, when I was thinking about Ramanujan, he was inextricably linked to Wolfram/Mathematica. This sort of thing is sinister and it's exactly the reason why people are getting worked up about it.

That's a fair point but I think it might be too subtle for this level of discussion. If we ever get HN to the place where we can work on refining discourse to that level, I'll be delighted, but it seems to me a long-term goal.

So accepting blatant advertising is a test for the community? And blatantly incorrect spam at that.

Oh, and calling it a derangement syndrome is both denigrating to those of us with real mental problems and a cheap way to duck the charges of spamming.

You can also not read it, if you don't want to.

I don't want to what a slave-labor-using company has to say to be featured here.

It's understandable that you want sponsored content on HN, but could you at least mark it as such?

> I presume many read anything written by Wolfram with the hope of finding something they can point out as self-promotion ;)

Do not presume. It's the first time I've read anything by Wolfram. And before I read it, I had a positive opinion of him (love Mathematica and find Alpha to be occasionally rather useful).

The ratio of self-promotion to content in the article bothered me enough to

1. make a top-level comment here about it (I rarely comment on HN); and

2. decide not to read anything by Wolfram again. Because the content is both interesting and well-written, but filtering out all the self-aggrandizing BS to get to the content is sufficiently annoying for me to make the result not worth the bother.

Fully agree with you.

To me, that will never achieve in this life something like Wolfram did or will do, it seems HN is full of people envy of his accomplishments and the only way they can get over it is complaining how much self-promoted he is.

Yes, he did not program all the company products alone and has a team behind it, but someone is needed to steer the ship into good direction.

So, I always enjoy reading his articles, regardless of the self-promotion that might be present.

Are you also bothered by half the blog posts posted on here from startups/amazon/microsoft/facebook?

Wolfram is unabashedly self-promoting, but so is a significant percentage of other things posted on here. I suppose the difference is most people on HN are much more likely to use AWS or $saas_product then they are Mathematica.

No, sorry but I can't agree with you. I had no idea the post was by Wolfram until the end due to loading it on a poor connection, and while at first it seemed just here and there, why not. It's also the first time I read a piece by him and honestly I was furious at the promotional tone of it long before the end. But his story is so beautiful and tragic, I wanted to read it again (I remember reading other accounts in the past).

What's worst: it seems to appropriate a wonderful story by making it seem as if Mathematica is the natural outcome of Ramanujan's work.

Yeah, it wasn't too distracting in this article, and it was so well written that it's actually hard to notice.

I wrote this up last night but decided not to post it, but why not, since it's topical now. He might've learned from the criticism last time.

  sed 's/[^a-zA-Z]/ /' rama.txt | tr ' ' '\n' | tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]' | egrep "^(mine|his|me|i|him|he)$"| sort | uniq -c | sort -n 
     11 me
     15 him
     82 i
    107 his
    148 he

  sed 's/[^a-zA-Z]/ /' minsk.txt | tr ' ' '\n' | tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]' | egrep "^(mine|his|me|i|him|he)$"| sort | uniq -c | sort -n 
      4 him
     11 me
     22 his
     45 he
     51 i

Well, Wolfram also spent time with Minsky, so he'd have stories to recount, but not with Ramanujan. That alone would explain the numbers.

I find the Ramanujan story actually reads more like a Mathematica advert, whereas the other more like a very self-involved eulogy.

Nah, I agree. I was mostly being facetious :)

I agree. There is already enough literature on Ramanujan to sate the most curious appetites, so the only thing Wolfram can offer that others can't, is his relationship ship as a scholar, to that of another scholar he admires.

It is completely OK for him to do self-promotion (it might not have been deliberately). But it would have been far far better if hand't mentioned mathematica or himself. The article then would have been gold

It's too bad they rely on slave labor.

I was lucky enough to see The Man Who Knew Infinity this past weekend at the San Francisco International Film Festival. And I'd just like to say that it is a truly beautiful film, and I encourage everyone to go see it.

After the showing, there was a panel discussion with the director, composer, producer, two actors (Stephen Fry!), and three consulting mathematicians who helped the production. One of the topics that came up was the recent (finally!) interest in Hollywood for making movies about technical people. Since the dawn of cinema, we've made movies about artists, writers, and poets. But it is only recently that we've started making movies about scientists (Stephen Hawking) and mathematicians (Alan Turing).

In my opinion, this movie puts both The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game to shame. It is much more moving and beautiful than both, and it doesn't fall into the either the trap of overly simplifying the math, nor of overly dramatizing his life. If you have any interest in math, science, or computer science (much of which is underpinned by his work in number theory), I highly encourage you to go see this film.

We have been making films about technical people for a while. A Beautiful Mind comes to mind first I am sure I can find some more.

Takedown, and Pirates of Silicon Valley are some others.

Funny as I search for more about actual people, a lot of fictional movies were created around the time the dot com bubble burst.

A Beautiful Mind isn't as long ago as you think: less than 15 years. In the space of cinema (which was producing films about famous artists at least as early as the '30s) that's not very long. Takedown and Pirates of Silicon Valley are also a bit different: hacking has been part of "pop culture" since the mid 90s at least, and Pirates is a documentary anyway.

Huh. I was at the same showing and didn't care for it much. The movie only rarely touched on the mathematics and instead focused on his life and personal troubles. At least Theory of Everything and Imitation Game actually showed a bit of work happening. The closest we get in this movie is a bit of argument about primes and then a little of his partitions work (at an extremely consumable level, so much so it was boring). I kept thinking "Hmm, I wonder why they felt hiding mathematics and making it a personal biopic was better than getting people interested in the actual math?".

In my opinion, Carl Sagan's books remain a much better "popular interest in X" method. Explain things to people, sometimes slowly or incompletely, but avoid the hero worship.

You're absolutely right. But the movie is not meant to be a documentary about the math, it is meant to be a story about his life. The same goes for Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, and A Beautiful Mind. The different here is that what math they show is actually correct.

I was also disappointed that the discussion afterwards put so much emphasis on him as a person, and not on the actual math, but I don't hold that against the film itself. Movies about artists and authors have never been about their works of art either: the movies are about their lives, and I think it is appropriate for cinema to be used as a medium for biography rather than as a medium for education.

I agree. This is such a great movie. They put a lot of effort in making the math accessible to all.

I am very proud that I am sharing the same native place [Erode]

I happened to read about his life story before quite sometime. It was full of wonders. During his life-period, He used to go to some calm place(temple) with few notebooks and after few minutes having his eyes closed, would start to write solving problems in his notebooks. Those periods the opportunities for exploring was very difficult. Since, the people were very conservative to accept him for being unique(different from others). Because, he was very genius in mathematics unlike other subjects. The society where he belongs did not acknowledge(unable to understand his works) him for what he was deserved. He could not get even the normal job to survive. His family became upset for his incomplete qualification(in terms of degree). So, he absconded from his place. In fact he tried to commit suicide too. Later period fortunately few people came to understand the value of his efforts few bits. With help of few elite members in society, he put the letter to Mr Hardy which was the turning point for all mathematician's life which gave full of challenges to understand his work. He was moved to UK. There his health was not supportive, then he died very early.

P.S: If he was given full freedom to function himself in earlier times, The maths society would have gotten more and more theorems and evolution would have been quite speedy.

Whatta truly inspiring life he lived.

[Erode] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erode)

The (sadly all too predictable) comments about Wolfram's self-promotion and product placement give me an idea.

Someone should create a blog called "Wolfram minus Wolfram" (in the vein of the excellent "Garfield minus Garfield") which exists solely to republish Wolfram's (often very interesting) writings, minus the references to his own products and his own past achievements. I think it would be popular.

Republishing? I suspect you would immediately find yourself in boiling water with Wolfram's lawyers. See this nice story: http://bactra.org/reviews/wolfram/

Subtitled A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity

Before opening the link I thought you were joking.

Surprisingly you weren't.

That's actually the subtitle.

Thanks for the link - a nice review of 'a new kind of science'

Great review even though I took NKS with a grain of salt and did not get hypnotized by it. I feel like NKS is not pseudo science but lacks much rigor and it written much like a treatise for computational experimental research on entropy and information. So Wolfram still is ok in my book despite his vices

Why sadly? It's good that people vigorously and relentlessly call out Wolfram on the same self-aggrandizing, self-promotional shit that he spews into every article. Even better that it helps highlight the ways he degrades the quality of his own (otherwise good and useful) writing by pumping it in, just as in the Ada Lovelace article too.

Personally, as long as Wolfram keeps doing this, I always hope to see a giant wall of comments deriding him for it every single time it gets shared here or anywhere. It's uplifting to see such a large number of community members recognize his bullshit and call it out. That's a good thing!

Well given that writing a blog post is a form of advertising, this could just be an add-on for existing adblockers. We could just use NLP to eliminate plugs from all corporate and personal blogs.

I can already see a future where forbes issues a big message: "we've noticed you're using plugblockerplus, please disable it if you love our writing!"

i'm sure the criticism has him crying all the way to the bank.

Mixed feelings about this article:

1. A fine easy read about Ramanujan and Hardy. It was well-summarized and nicely written, with excellent pictures that I had not seen before.

2. A disgusting vein of self-promotion runs throughout the article. Much has been said about Stephan Wolfram's occasionally self-centered behavior, and many of his writings have a self-aggrandizing tone to them. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find the piece start out with little self-reference by the author, until:

> The other, slightly more famous, track — less austere and less mathematically oriented — was Eton and Oxford, which happens to be where I went.

How is that relevant in an article titled Who was Ramanujan? It got worse a few paragraphs later, as Wolfram began discussing numeric approximations, and engaging in what was effectively product placement for WolframAlpha and Mathematica. There I was, trying to read about Ramanujan, and Wolfram kept interjecting with comments about his computation engine and his implementations of Ramanujan's formulae.

Toward the end of the article, after the biography of Ramanujan was complete and Wolfram turned to discussing expansions of Ramanujan's results, such topics were fair game. "What if Ramanujan had had Mathematica?" is a valid question. Discussing cellular automata and Wolfram's principle of computational equivalence, etc., etc. was fine at that point, since these are valid expansions to the topic at hand.

Nonetheless, the blatant product placement and continuous breaking of the flow of the text to push some function implemented in WolframAlpha on the reader was extraordinarily annoying, and, frankly, deeply disappointing. If Wolfram sets out to write the unlikely tale of a mysterious letter, and its place in the history of mathematics, as advertised by the subtitle, then I would have hoped that he could leave his egregious self-advertising to the end of the article -- or better yet -- to a separate one altogether.

"...Eton and Oxford, which happens to be where I went"

I prefer to be charitable and assume that he wrote this for the purposes of disclosure and to qualify his knowledge of those institutions. I don't think he was drawing a comparison between himself and Ramanujan.

Yes - Wolfram has a tendency for self-promotion, and this can be a bit tiresome. But, like others who have commented here, I find the seemingly obligatory condemnation of him to be tiresome too. The difference between Wolfram and his detractors on HN is that Wolfram (as well as clearly being very smart) invariably has something interesting to say.

Agree. I read the article from another source, and came to HN expecting that very criticism. Its so tiresome. They didn't even consider that this article by Wolfram took a rare effort to go into lot of Math of Ramanujan. And the core insight of experimental (Ramanujan style) Math vs formal proof oriented (Hardy style) Math and its parallels i.e. the former approach is definitely enabled by Wolfram Mathematica, is very convincing.

And to miss all that, and just harp on self promotion by Wolfram is disingenuous or a very stereotypical comment. And its the top HN comment.

Yes I read it at first, and enjoyed the article in full before seeing these comments too. Reading through some of the points in the negative, I am not sure I get it. He remarks he went to a school mentioned in the article. So? And he uses Mathematica in the article to highlight some math points. Does anyone expect him to ignore the software and company he founded, and do manual calcs, or better yet, use an iPython notebook (which took the best of Mathematics - the notebook), so as to avoid any chance of 'Oh, he's self promoting again.' I like Mathematica, I enjoy Stephen Wolfram's articles, and I can easily overlook the points that are always mentioned. I look forward to the movie even more after having read Stephen Wolfram's article. OT: I was browsing a CNC manual written in Bahasa Indonesia just 2 days ago, when I saw Wolfram Carbide, and did a double take. Wolfram means tungsten in Indonesian!

The name Wolfram (for the metal) is of German origin, IIRC. Indonesia having been a Dutch colony probably got it from the Dutch language, if I might hazard a guess.

Thanks for the source. I was just using Mathematica and seeing the 'Wolfram' in the Indonesian text just popped for me. Having a Wolf as a PL mascot for Wolfram Language is pretty cool too!

> He remarks he went to a school mentioned in the article.

There is only one mention of Eton in the piece; the statement that Wolfram went there.

So it's not ok to point out blatant product placement in an otherwise great article on a historic figure?

If somebody wrote a piece on Abraham Lincoln, then interjected the piece several times with discussion about their political research website product, you'd remain silent and think to yourself 'oh God HN, focusing on the wrong thing again' if anybody dared comment on it?

And how is it disingenuous? Have you read the piece? It's pretty blatant!

I consider that it took a lot of effort, and find the piece really excellent other than this stuff, but it can't just go uncommented on because some overly sensitive souls can't tolerate dissenting comments.

Personally I find these hipster-ish 'I hate the hate man' type comments disingenuous...

Yes, I read the piece fully. Found it to be quite insightful, compared to other ones, I read earlier. And of course I too noticed the product placement, must add, that I found it to be quite relevant e.g. the link for the no. 1729 . Which adds few more key facts regarding the number.

Also his article point out a lot of interesting things. For example some new photos of Ramanujan, (I didn't know for e.g. he was stout and short, having just seen his passport photo in earlier articles), and some very relevant observations onto his Math and style (experimental & the analogy with Mathematica quite apt I thought).

So overall for such an elaborate article covering so many details in different domains - personal, historical & mathematical. Just to see somebody harp on product placement does seem like a deliberate nit-pick if not disingenuous.

Moreover the guy wrote the original piece on his blog first. And he is fully entitled to his thoughts. And the parallels he draws actually make sense. Just put aside your prior image of him for a minute. To me, honestly, the critique looked to of pattern matching to Wolfram's known stereotype. He is actually making that case. I would rather like to read a critique of why Wolfram is wrong, in making that comparison, than a shallow product placement criticism.

> Personally I find these hipster-ish 'I hate the hate man' type comments disingenuous

Wow. You must love recursion. I like to discuss, but please make specific points. Like I did above.

>Wow. You must love recursion. I like to discuss, but please make specific points. Like I did above.

I made points, a number of them, not sure what you're saying here? And how is it recursive? I am responding to you, that's how discussions work.

You were the one to talk about these kind of comments being disingenuous, I was both parodying that and wondering whether you are in fact being so yourself - it seems fashionable to 'go against the grain', I was openly wondering if that's what you were doing.

If you read the article he repeatedly interrupts the story to make comments about his products and how wonderful they are, in fact he talks as if they are the only means of doing mathematics in software available.

I cannot be bothered to pull down all the quotes and make this line-by-line because it's a waste of everybody's time, if you didn't find it jarring/interrupting then I envy you, and fine we can agree to disagree on subjective grounds. I do not at all find them subtle and in line with the article's text, so I disagree entirely with you on that.

I hate the 'he is entitled to' arguments - and? Yes he is entitled, he is entitled to write anything, what does it matter? I and others who read a really interesting piece about a historical figure interjected with what _we_ find to be jarring product placement are entitled to comment on it, and I am also entitled to disagree with you about how incredibly tiresome and 'disingenuous' these comments are.

I don't disagree the article wasn't good, in fact I've said about 3 times now I find it excellent apart from this aspect, so that whole bit about how wonderful it is is totally irrelevant...

To finish (because this discussion is becoming... tiresome), let me correct your straw-manning of me - I actually didn't come in to it with a known image of him as a self-aggrandising bullshitter. I read this with an open mind because I find Ramunjan fascinating, having heard about him 15 years ago when I was hoping I could pursue mathematics as a career (before events out of my control screwed that up.)

I put aside my 'prior image' of him for more than a minute, as I didn't maintain one to start with... be careful of these kind of assumptions, it's probably part of why you find these kind of comments so frustrating!

I didn't care it was Wolfram, but as I read the whole article, I found these things jarring and just sad, since the piece is otherwise excellent and well written. Ah well.

Okay. Some points taken :-) ... I too realize, there is nothing much to argue here, just differ on that article.

Great :) I am glad there was something at least somewhat constructive in there, I did intend to debate the points rather than you or anybody else personally if that wasn't clear.

The irony is that I am not _hugely_ that interested in Wolfram and his tendencies anyway :)

I saw the link to 1729 and the rest of the links to the Mathematica wormhole and noted (but resisted) the opportunity to go exploring. As it was it they were largely inline. That's some pretty subtle calls-to-action, marketing folks can't be happy with that. Whither the shaded buttons? Whither the popovers?

Wolfram's efforts to relate how Ramanujan's maths differ from the mainstream were certainly worth the price of admission. He spent a lot more time fleshing out several of the other historical figures than his own background; possibly he could have mentioned more people who are currently working in this exploratory mathematics, perhaps that's another post. Maybe we can take this for what it is, and precisely what one has come to expect from Wolfram – nerdy native advertising, in the form of a well-researched long-form essay by a dude with subject-matter expertise. If he starts skipping the inline links we'll know that he's secretly divested shares.

If a well-known politician wrote a piece on Abraham Lincoln, then interjected the piece several times with discussion about their political opinions, I'd say that was fair for an article by the politician about another politician.

And? This bears no relevance to the point I made.

What I said was:

'...then interjected the piece several times with discussion about their political research website product'

If you're making the comparison in that Wolfram is a mathematician giving his opinion on Ramanujan, a historical mathematician, well you're missing my point entirely - in fact if you read my comments here you'll see that I find the article really excellent in those parts where he refrains from his advertising.

My issue is with comments like:

"Today with Mathematica and the Wolfram Language we have immensely more powerful tools with which to do experiments and make discoveries in mathematics (not to mention the computational universe in general)."

Well, today with 'modern software' would do don't you think? If it was once or twice it'd be forgiveable, but there are several paragraphs like this throughout the article.

Yes, I realise it was first posted on the wolfram blog, but I think it would have been a little more respectful had Wolfram restrained himself at least a bit in this regard, it's incredibly jarring when you're talking on a historical subject.

> I find the seemingly obligatory condemnation of him to be tiresome too.

It is indeed totally boring. In fact this whole thread that happens every time anyone posts anything by Wolfram is very dull.

I would say that I do get some value from seeing a rough inappropriate sales pitch : interesting information ratio on posts (not just Wolframs), and it is one of the reasons I frequently visit the comments before going to the page. HN can be susceptible to front page links that have poor ratios.

Still, I'm not sure how we can get that benefit without these terminally dull threads of condemnation and counter condemnation. Really I'd just like a bot to figure out the ratio and display it next to the link. Sounds like a hard problem.

It also makes the article more personal, which is something that generally improves communication.

I can only imagine some of the folks reaction to the old storytellers who constantly interjected their personal experience (and sometime the audiences) into the old stories. It honestly shows how the teller relates to the subject. If I had a mathematical tool or language, I would use it to show the work in a story about a mathematician.

Exactly. In general, relating things to the persons behind them gives a lot of context and clarifies why things end up as they are. Although it doesn't only touch these, "Connections", from James Burke, comes to mind. There was a link here a couple of months ago (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11075430).

How would you feel if you read the same piece on a microsoft site with constant interjections about how you can do amazing stuff with excel now?

Would you find the comments here 'tiresome' and make a passive aggressive comment about how irritating and uninteresting those commenters are compared to this microsoft guy?

I find the piece really fascinating, but filling an otherwise excellently written article on a really fascinating historical figure with what is blatantly product placement is frustrating, and guess what - people get to comment on it on a comment site. If you find the comments tiring, don't read them.

And note what your comment is doing - you're meta-commenting on tiresomeness, how riveting! Perhaps we can have another meta level and then... they'll be interesting? ;)

Also just to clarify - are you claiming that Wolfram doesn't self-promote? I'd suggest re-reading the piece if you don't agree.

I was thinking the same thing as the top commenter here, and was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who noticed it (I wasn't aware there was a tendency towards disdain - probably justified - for Wolfram here beforehand actually.)

Having said all that, it's a fascinating piece once you filter out that noise!

I agree that Wolfram has a tendency for self promotion, and didn't claim otherwise. When people on HN constantly point this out and assume negative intent, every time something he has written is submitted, the result is tiresome noise. But having read both of your extensive comments, I get it that you feel strongly about this: that comes across very clearly.

Edit: second sentence for clarity.

Tip for these kind of discussions - don't get personal unless it's relevant - my feelings on this (which you misinterpret actually) are irrelevant, and this just sounds like a bit of an underhand dig whether you intended it as such or not.

In actuality I am not really that bothered about Wolfram at all haha, I just disagreed with what _you_ said :)

Back to the discussion, I am glad you agree on the self-promotion aspect. Personally I don't ascribe negative intent, but I do think it's worth pointing out this stuff when you see it, so still fundamentally disagree with what you said.

Also, I tend to write a lot in every comment, so length of comment != importance to me, rather consider me overly verbose...

EDIT: Downvoted for criticising an ad hominem - ah HN, don't you ever change, you cute, cute little dandelion!

I can barely tolerate anything he writes. It is hard to understand how a person could reach his position without learning how to express himself tastefully.

Funny to read this after reading the Claude Shannon profile posted a few hours ago [1]. An actual giant of 20th century mathematics, and so humble.

[1] http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/software/claude-shannon-t...

It is hard to understand, indeed. Wolfram is clearly extremely accomplished by all standards. We all know this. Why in the world does he pump all his written work with insufferable self-promotion? Anyone in a position to make good use of Mathematica has heard of it. I haven't met anyone who doesn't know about WolframAlpha, and I've taught mathematics to high-schoolers.

Moreover, it should be obvious to Wolfram that his incessant self-promotion greatly reduces the probability that a reader will recommend his writing to their friends -- if Wolfram's goal is to promote his software, research, or even just himself, then he's clearly going about it in a ham-fisted way.

"Narcissistic personality disorder" is a real thing, and like any other neurosis is not mutually exclusive with real ability or accomplishment.

You shouldn't have been down-voted, this is about the most truth I've read in this thread. Wolfram is a Narcissistic plain and simple, that's why he can't stop promoting himself, he needs his fix, he needs people to worship him. That he actually is brilliant just makes it sad.

Same reason why Kanye West keeps talking about Kanye West even though everyone already knows about Kanye West

I agree with these comments wholeheartedly.

However, there is a surprisingly high amount of high school and science bachelors, including math, that actually does not know about it (or other cas for what matter). Each time I am quite stunned by it, and it does not seem to improve with time.

I should start making a proper survey if next year I teach a first year course.

Could be simply that his need to promote his products (i.e. marketing) create a need to self-promote.

many possible sources - "daddy isues" are on one way or another responsible for more messed up people I've ever met than anything else. it grows on men too, just in different way than ladies - unhealthy competitiveness, never-good-enough syndrome inwards and outwards, never happy with what you have/achieve even if you have billions and fame and recognition. abandoning stable relationships etc...

and then there are true extroverts, who just need the feeling of being hot topic, controversial, whatever. to be polite i don't like these so much.

of course i don't know him personally, could be different reason but probably somewhere along those lines.

See I neither agree or disagree with your opinions about wolfram.

But by discussing wolfram's character in this thread you have managed to steer entire discussion on wolfram rather than mathematics of Ramanujan. Unfortunately this happens too often in any online discourse, where subject matter is entirely ignored but most of the discussion focuses on tangential stuff. It is especially true when commenting on actual subject matter requires some solid background or research, but somehow many people feel obligated to comment anyways. It is classic low hanging fruit vs contributing something real to the discussion.

This is a good point but aren't you doing the same thing? sorry that was a cheeky response.

One thing I will say on your point is that this sort of "side" discourse sometimes brings about real good discussion. Maybe the actual article itself dosent spawn anything new or maybe it is too complex for most folks. However, sometimes the comments lead to new articles to explore a "side" idea that came out from the online comments.

So many articles I've read lately start with "There was a great discussion on hacker news on this topic I felt obligated to write about it, you can find it here".

I think this is healthy.

My reaction to the article (even the end of it) was "wow, this is far less bombastic and egotistic than Stephen's normal writing, how refreshing." There are lots of books and articles purely about Ramanujan, why not offer something that's more of a personal reflection and interesting/relevant to Mathematica users? Maybe it only seemed good by contrast, but the level here of self-referencing his own background, work, products, interests didn't seem to me to be "disgusting", "extraordinarily annoying" or "deeply disappointing", it all seemed quite nicely tied in.

The great question in artificial intelligence: who will become self-aware first, Wolfram Alpha or Stephen Wolfram?

I vote for the silicon entity.

It happens to be where he went. I think you're reading too much into a simple factoid.

There's always this discussion about the author, yet recently it was posted here in HM his blog [1] about Ada Lovelace, which I read and enjoyed quite a bit, and of which I don't remember being distracted by any of his self-promotion at all. I do remember "A New Kind of Science", but it's also ok to forgive and forget.

[1] http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2015/12/untangling-the-tale-o...

The fact that this article was first posted on Wolfram's blog should cut him some slack

Look up "content marketing"

It kills me how time and again Wolfram writes self-aggrandizing, egotistical articles filled with glib little self-promotional asides, yet so many people seem to jump in to defend him.

The Ada Lovelace article he wrote a while back was really egregious, littering it with comparisons to his Wolfram products, talking about how he had seen further than Babbage because of his cellular automata work. Ugh. So detestable.

Every time there is a Wolfram post, people rightfully point out his pedantic and self-selling attitude, then other people either argue they didn't perceive it that way, or that they are tired of hearing about it and prefer to bash the people doing the important work of calling Wolfram on it instead of bashing Wolfram himself for it.

I'd go further and argue that "What if Ramanujan had had Mathematica?" is ludicrous to appear in an essay like this. It's obviously meant to privilege Wolfram's own products and position them as if they could empower productive and once-in-a-lifetime talented mathematicians, when really few such people would get value from a tool like Mathematica, and who is to say that Ramanujan wouldn't be a supporter of FOSS and boisterously argue that no one should use Mathematica and instead use FOSS tools that approximate it?

It's not reasonable to defend Wolfram on this account by saying of course he will promote his own products, or that he could have promoted them even more but chose not to. That's not reasonable because he is setting out to write a historical essay, not a puff piece, it's not about him or his products. Shoehorning them in has no place and it's not forgivable just because "people plug their own products" or something. If you want to plug your products, write a puff piece about your products, not a historical essay.

Your comment appears to be about the article but you seem unable to do so without focusing on yourself. It was all going fine until you wrote "I had not seen before". How is it relevant whether you had seen it before or not? In all, you make four references to yourself and your feelings in this comment. What egregious self-promotion! /sarcasm

I previously wrote here how on his Wikipedia page there is nothing about his family other than some vague reference. A user below pointed out this was because of his fear for his family's privacy. Which is fair enough.

What does that have to do with anything?


Are you implying that he wrote his own Wikipedia page?

In a 1997 article in Technology Review, the author said that Wolfram politely deflected personal questions about his wife and newborn child out of privacy concerns prompted by the Unabomber case.

It is not out of the question that Stephen Wolfram, if it is not he himself, does indeed have some publicists policing his Wikipedia article.

Compare the edit statistics of Stephen's page:


...to those of the page of an arguably even more famous research scientist, Terence Tao:


Notice that, (as might be reasonable to expect of many Wikipedia articles), Terence's page experienced rapid growth a few years after it's creation, then received sustained updates over time. In contrast, Stephen's page does not display this trend at all and is rather bursty.

Also notice that whereas the top editors of Tao's page are evenly distributed among many users, on Stephen's page nearly 10% of the edits and a quarter of the text comes from one editor who happens to have been affiliated with Wolfram Research.

Of course this is all anecdotal evidence and eyeball statistics at best.


I think that might just be a (perfectly reasonable) desire for privacy... he is a fairly public figure, after all.

So what?

To me it seems, Stephan Wolfram talking about his company with nary a "Wolfram" would approach Knights of Nee don't say it absurdity. His name is on the door and the box.

Perhaps there is some vanity behind ̶i̶t̶ that. If so, ̶i̶t̶ the vanity is in the tradition of Ford, Bell, those HP fellows, Cray the supercomputer, and a long line of entrepreneurs. Yet, if the naming is vanity, tis a wan one by Silicon Valley benchmarks, I am thinking of Sherman Fairchild who did not bring the valley to the silicon but instead brought silicon to the valley...and put his cameras in his planes up among the clouds.

For me, putting one's name on the door is not just vanity. Doing so also entails taking the-Truman-buck-stops-with-me responsibility. When Wolfram Mathematica produces an erroneous numerical result, I don't search in vane for Bob Pentium and Lawrence K. Intel, I am afforded the convenience of curseing the man Wolfram directly by the intertweetsbook.

Irregardless of vanity or responsibility motivations, seems to me that people much prefer writing of their contemporaneous experience than writing of the historical Ramanujan. Curiously evidenced here, is writers love more writing of Wolfram not writing of Ramanujan. Who can blame clever Stephan for combining the two.

There are some nice videos on youtube explaining the 1+2+3+...=-1/12 equation.

For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcKRGpMiVTw

This is the best video on the topic I have seen.

Many other ones I have seen often revert to using properties that don't work for ill-behaving series, like rearranging terms.

I just discovered this guy's channel the other day - and now I'm completely addicted! Help!

Me too! Ive started learning math. It seems like math is taught as number crunching but is really the philosophy and study of computation and operations on objects. Higher level math seems fundamental to CS and all the other sciences. Im now on my journey to understand the syntax and basic ideas. Wikipedia is great. And this video series is amazing:


Thank you kindly - subscribed.

Fun fact: the Mathologer is also an amazing juggler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zabtIAUKVXY&feature=youtu.be...

I knew it - he's the German Claude Shannon!

For an in-depth treatment, see Hardy's scandalous "Divergent Series"

One thing that really stood out to me was that Ramunajan got lost in the traditional system of Academia which persists even now. There could have been (and may still be) so much talent out there that may never get a chance.

I also really wish the letters were more legible. I think it would be interesting to read some of these older mathematics texts.

Last year, I had a talk with Stephen Wolfram, he said that, for him, the most important secret helping him solve problems is "some version of confidence or arrogant". That make him never fear any difficulty, but this arrogant inevitably behave in some other aspects of his life, and affect people's impression of him.

Then, his writing style never bother me again.

Why doesn't that bother you? It reminds me a little of the giant middle finger that Bezos recently gave to his workers via his letter to shareholders, in which he effectively said that he knew the workplaces he fostered at Amazon were unhealthy, toxic, soul-crushing graveyards, but basically that he didn't plan on changing it and didn't give a shit if people didn't like it or even if it was demonstrably unhealthy for them.

Saying "I've become successful" (or in Wolfram's case, very marginally successful) "because of some arrogance" is not some redeeming, insightful virtue. In fact, in many ways the person is saying, "I took the lazy way of using my laurels and status to treat others badly and act entitled to my asshole tendencies."

Instead of working hard to succeed with class, Wolfram, like so many other tedious and unremarkable people that pinch up some minor bit of fame for a while, is just excusing his own laziness.

That's just an excuse, it doesn't make bad behavior OK.

Plain and simple, Ramanujan was the Mozart of mathematics. Seemingly god-like insight into numbers that even he could not completely explain. There are excellent anecdotes about his life in the book Music of the Primes.

50% of the text is the fascinating story of Ramanujan. Unfortunately, the other 50% is a series of shameless product placements for the author's software and boasts about the author's personal and intellectual accomplishments. The story, the boasts, and the ads are all mixed together, so reading the thing all the way to the end was seriously painful.

True. Maybe, skimming through the article without bothering about the hyperlinks would be so much better.

He went to the extent of hyperlinking the words `Madras` and `Sanskrit` to their WolframAlfa search links :/

So you mean google employees should put bing links in their blog posts rather than google links?

They should not put any links to a damn search engine in such texts. If people want to Google "Sanskrit", I'm sure they will manage.

So according to your logic, link to this article should be removed and anyone wanting to find it should manage.

I also find it delightfully ironic that you used the term to Google "Sanskrit". and not to WolframAlpha "Sanskrit".

Hypocrisy is oozing out of your comment.

I was not very careful in phrasing my previous comment.

I was thinking of a situation where a Google employee puts links in the actual copy of an article not primarily about search engines. I find it more permissible in the case of WolframAlpha, because it calls itself a knowledge engine, and provides carefully curated content. Google is a more generic beast, and I just don't think it makes sense to litter a text with hyperlinks. If I see a link, I will presume that the author wants me to click it and read it. If it is very general "further reading", I prefer having these presented after the main material. A lot of preferences and assumptions on my part.

My gripe with OP is how it integrates the product into the text. I like hyperlinks, but I prefer separation of copy and generic resources.

haha :D This is typical. I sign up my email and always get advertising mails in disguise of good cause and buzzwords. SW is very keen on selling his expensive baby. And I think he is a rare combination of genius and salesman.

So maybe Trump can sell his presidency, who knows.

It's worth noting this was originally a blog post on Stephen Wolfram's personal blog, where you'd expect an author's voice to permeate the content (although that didn't stop people from complaining about his other blog entries). I personally appreciate authors dropping their own biographical details when they write about something else, it gives it a more personal voice. Plus, Mathematica is relevant. It's not as if he's doing product placement for Purina Puppy Chow, which is a great way to feed your growing puppy and give him all the nutrients he needs.

Very nice write-up. As an Indian, I grew up hearing about stories of Ramanujan, but never understood what it is that he did, or how he did it. I think Wolfram is perfect person to show us behind the curtain. For example, I remember hearing that Ramanujan stated some theorems that people in the west are still trying to prove. I didn't know what to make of it. Wolfram nicely showed the iterative (and approximate) approaches Ramanujan took to achieve this.

For personal reasons, I was pretty interested by one of the digressions: the origins of the phrase “mathematics… is a young man’s game”, and a discussion of whether it is still (or ever was) true (focusing on the age question, not the gender bias, of course).

Nice read. Product placements didn't really bother me. I just skipped them.

Towards the end, it reminded me of the book "Gödel, Escher, Bach".

That handwriting tho woah!

Amita? I thought everyone knew her.

I haven't even begun to read the article and I'm fascinated already. Stephen Wolfram speaking of someone who is not called "Stephen Wolfram". Woooah!

Edit: Finished reading the article, and after blocking out all self-references, I must grudgingly admit I had a good time. This was a nice quick narrative, and I appreciated the insight about the exploratory style of Ramanujam's mathematics (rather than lemma-theorem-corollary style)

This article is blatantly incorrect.

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