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Ron Graham has died (ams.org)
382 points by jhfdbkofdcho 36 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments

Very sad to hear about this. Graham apparently was the informal “administrator” who awarded the remaining prizes for problems set forth by Paul Erdős.

From Wikipedia [0]:

> Throughout his career, Erdős would offer payments for solutions to unresolved problems. These ranged from $25 for problems that he felt were just out of the reach of the current mathematical thinking (both his and others), to several thousand dollars for problems that were both difficult to attack and mathematically significant. There are thought to be at least a thousand remaining unsolved problems, though there is no official or comprehensive list. The offers remain active despite Erdős's death; Ronald Graham is the (informal) administrator of solutions. A solver can get either an original check signed by Erdős before his death (for memento only, cannot be cashed) or a cashable check from Graham.

I wonder if anyone else will continue the tradition.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Erd%C5%91s

Maybe his wife, Fan Chung, who was also a close collaborator of Erdős (13 joint papers), or one of Ron's students will continue the tradition (maybe Steve Butler).

Very sad news in any case.

In 2002, I was an undergraduate in mathematics at UCSD. I had taken Fan Chung's graph theory class and was captivated. I asked her if I could help with any projects, said I knew perl and python. She handed me off to a graduate student who ask me to build a web crawler. They wanted to analyze the www graph. I was introduced to Ron in the hallway by Fan. I knew of him - he was one of the most famous professors in the department. I was honored to shake his hand. I never made much progress on the www crawler. I regretted my laziness later in my subpar grad school.

That's all. Just a small memory from a random person.

I was there around the same time and I took a discrete math course he taught.

I wasn't a math major and had no idea who he was, but I remember some students mentioning that he was a well-regarded mathematician. He was a good teacher as well.

Fan, who was also Ron's wife, has a webpage about him: http://www.math.ucsd.edu/~fan/ron/

Very sad. If you haven't seen them, many of his Numberphile videos are quite interesting:


Here is the one on his famous, eponymous number:


He co-authored Concrete Mathematics, which has been recommended by readers on HN:


Ron was a wonderful guy - approachable, kind, creative, engaging, and brilliant. He's a model for all of us: welcoming to novices and experts, communicating with clarity, and encouraging a sense of whimsey. I will miss him deeply.

Besides being a famous mathematician he was an avid juggler. He inspired Steve Mills to invent what is known as Mills' Mess. Here is an old quote from him regarding math and juggling:

"The applications aren't the point," Graham says. "I look at mathematics pretty globally. It represents the ultimate structure and order. And I associate doing with [sic] mathematics with control. Jugglers like to be able to control a situation. There's a well-known saying in juggling: 'The trouble is that the balls go where you throw them. 'It's just you. It's not the phases of the moon, or someone else's fault. It's like chess. It's all out in the open. Mathematics is really there for you to discover."

-- Ronald Graham

Quoted from:


> The trouble is that the balls go where you throw them. 'It's just you.

Ditto for computer programs: they always do exactly what you tell them to do, which is rarely what you really want.

> Ditto for computer programs: they always do exactly what you tell them to do, which is rarely what you really want.

I guess this is a joke since I think you are good at programming, but on a more serious note if anyone actually has this problem they might want to change to a different language.

With a few different languages I actually feel they do what I want 99% of the time or more.

I'll leave out naming any names here as I'm not trying to change anyone who is currently happy where they are.

Every bug ever was a computer program that did exactly what the programmer told the computer to do but not what was intended. I'd like to meet the guy or girl that never coded up something with a bug, even the greats mess up.

Donald Knuth famously wrote: "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.", see also: the doctrine of testing.

> Every bug ever was a computer program that did exactly what the programmer told the computer to do [...]

Ironically, the first ever computer bug does not fit your claim [0].

[0]: https://www.computerhistory.org/tdih/september/9/

I knew someone would mention that.

He co-authored this great paper on the mathematics of juggling http://www.math.ucsd.edu/~fan/ron/papers/94_01a_juggling.pdf

Wow "Mills' Mess" is one juggling move that is a real pain to learn. but some beautiful to do once you have mastered it. It goes into muscle memory.

At that point you have reached the zen of juggling.

Concrete Mathematics was recommended to me as a fresh grad by my first mentor, and it had a profound impact on how I approached problems and improved my mathematical literacy immensely. It is probably the most approachable "high level" maths text I own, and after spending some of my career doing technical writing involving mathematics the one thing I've learned is that it takes a masterful mind to be a communicator of the abstract, and Ron Graham was one of the greatest masters of that skill of our time.

Truly a loss.

Ron was great. I'll cherish our emails back and fourth.

what he did to facilitate Erdos' way of life has always made me envious of his altruism. I wish I could be that good of a fellow human.

Anywhere I can read on that?

Somewhat in the book The Man who Loved Only Numbers[1], it's a biography of Paul Erdos who was mostly homeless and spent his life travelling around other mathematicians' homes staying with them a few days at a time, and Ron Graham did a lot of looking after him and his life, pay, bureacracy, etc, so gets quite a few mentions.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Loved_Only_Numbers

Read this a while ago, quite an enjoyable read. Recommended.

I (think I) remember a quote from that book, to the effect that Ron Graham was once asked how he could possibly be as productive as he was; his response was that there were 168 hours in the week.

Thank you for the followup, much appreciated.

Does anyone know what he died of?

The Reddit discussion at https://www.reddit.com/r/math/comments/hmngx7/ron_graham_pas... has comments by puleshan aka Steve Butler giving the time and place of death as 7:30 PM Monday night in La Jolla. But nowhere can I find a cause of death.

(The obvious guess given his age and the times being COVID-19...just like Conway.)

He commented "his health had been in decline for the last few years but accelerated dramatically in the last few weeks. Not covid." [https://www.reddit.com/r/math/comments/hmngx7/ron_graham_pas...]

It's via Ron that I have my Erdos number (of the first kind) of 2. He was warm, welcoming, kind, enthusiastic, engaging, and a wonderful person to be with, let alone work with.

I wrote[0] about how I first met him, and while we didn't meet often, it was always a pleasure, and he always greeted me warmly. I'm sad to think I won't see him again. I'll miss him.

[0] https://www.solipsys.co.uk/new/MeetingRonGraham.html?tg08hn

I took his discrete math course :) He was an amazing professor and it was such an honor to learn from him. He showed off his juggling skills on the last day of lecture and it was also quite impressive!

Wow, I didn't know this was the same Graham as the Graham's Number[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham%27s_number

WaitButWhy has a great longform piece explaining how big Graham’s number is. Like, make your stomach drop, big. Bonus, it contains an explanation of Knuth notation.


And then you get Tree(3) which when compared means "[Graham's number] might as well be 1".


Maths is wacky.

Here's a picture of it

    ┬───────────┬─────┬─────┬──── ┬─┬─┬──
    ┼─┬─────────┼─────┼─┬ ┬─┼─┬── ┼─┼─┼─┬
    └─┤ ┬───────┼─────┼ │ ┼─┼─┼─┬ │ │ ├─┘
      │ │ ──┬── ┼─┬── │ │ │ └─┤ │ │ ├─┘  
      │ │ ┬─┼── ┼─┼─┬ │ │ │   ├─┘ ├─┘    
      │ │ └─┤ ┬ │ ├─┘ │ │ ├───┘   │      
      │ │   ├─┘ ├─┘   │ │ │       │      
      │ └───┤   │     │ │ │       │      
      │     └───┤     │ │ │       │      
      │         ├─────┘ │ │       │      
      └─────────┤       │ │       │      
                └───────┤ │       │      
                        └─┤       │      
See discussion in https://www.reddit.com/r/math/comments/f1mr5y/expressing_gra...

That's Benjamin Graham. (since there's another reply, the parent article points to the wrong Graham).

Graham's Number, as in 3 ↑↑ 3, is named after Ron Graham.

[1] https://plus.maths.org/content/too-big-write-not-too-big-gra...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham%27s_number?oldformat=tr...

[3] And here is the man himself describing it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuigptwlVHo

3 ↑↑↑↑ 3 = g1, Graham's Number is g64. See the article for details.

I'd write it out, but this margin is too narrow.

I find it stupidly fascinating how notation compressed a quantity so large in so few.

Wow, very sad to hear this. I am a big fan of Professor Graham. I owned many of his books - Magical Mathematics, Rudiments of Ramsey Theory, Concrete Mathematics, Handbook of Combinatorics. I attended an AMS conference in San Diego a while back and asked him to sign my Erdos on Graphs book after listening to his talk. Professor Chung happened to be around and he waved her over to sign my book too.

Just here to pay tribute to this incredible human being. So many accomplishments. Brilliant mathematician and juggler. RIP.

While he was never my professor at UCSD, the respect the faculty had for him was palpable. His name must've been mentioned a dozen times throughout my undergrad, so much so I decided to look for his (empty) office in the CSE building one day. We're all fortunate for his contribution and my prayers are with his family.

My M.S. thesis was based upon his pioneering paper, the first paper to analyze the performance of a heuristic, "Bounds on Multiprocessing Timing Anomalies.", 1968. Thank you, Ron Graham! I was also privileged once to review a random graphs paper from Fan Chung his wife!

I recall reading about him as a teen in the great little bio book https://www.amazon.com/Mathematical-People-Interviews-Donald... There's a brief preview you can find in the Look Inside Amazon feature, navigating to the table of contents, which lists Ronald L. Graham on pg 105.

Very entertaining read.

Wow. Conway and now Graham.

Paul Hoffman talks about Ron Graham's house and Erdos in this interesting talk about The Man Who Loved Only Numbers:


Thank you for all of it, Dr. Graham!

What a life.

He's a great teacher. I miss him. Thanks.


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