This blog is about Simon, a young gifted mathematician and programmer, who had to move from Amsterdam to Antwerp to be able to study at the level that fits his talent, i.e. homeschool. Visit https://simontiger.com

Today, Simon returned to a problem he first encountered at a MathsJam in summer: “Pick random numbers between 0 and 1, until the sum exceeds 1. What is the expected number of numbers you’ll pick?” Back in June, Simon already knew the answer was e, but his attempt to prove it didn’t quite work back then. Today, he managed to prove his answer!

The same proof in a more concise way:

At MathsJam last night, Simon was really eager to show his proof to Rudi Penne, a professor from the University of Antwerp who was sitting next to Simon last time he gave it a go back in June. Rudi kept Simon’s notes and told me he really admired the way Simon’s reasoning spans borders between subjects (the way Simon can start with combinatorics and jump to geometry), something that many students nurtured within the structured subject system are incapable of doing, Rudi said. Who needs borders?

Later the same evening, Simon had a blast demonstrating the proof to a similar problem to a larger grateful and patient audience, including Professor David Eelbode. The first proof was Simon’s own, the second problem (puzzle with a shrinking bullseye) and proof came from Grant Sanderson (3Blue1Brown) on Numberphile.

“Don’t allow any constraints to dull his excitement and motivation!” Rudi told me as Simon was waiting for us to leave. “That’s a huge responsibility you’ve got there, in front of the world”.

Today we have heard about a new accident involving a teenager electrocuted by her mobile phone. Luckily, this time it was not a lethal case, but a quick search on the web has revealed that this is no joke: several teens have died in just a few years because they were either holding their phone with wet hands while the phone was being charged at the same time, or dropped their phone into the bath tub while the phone was plugged in, or because they were using wired headphones while charging their phone!

At first Simon and I didn’t believe this could be so dangerous, as he knew for sure that a mobile phone adaptor always has a voltage control built into it that reduces the voltage from 220V to something like 5 to 20V. But then we dove into it and found out that apparently, once a short circuit occurs, the adaptor’s voltage control unit also malfunctions and lets the 220V current through!

It’s Sinterklaas season in the Dutch-speaking world and, of course, as we have started baking the traditional spiced cookies called kruidnoten (“gingerbread buttons”) Simon didn’t want to miss an opportunity to play a version of peg solitaire with eatable pieces!

Simon working on a simplified version of a search engine, including just a few documents, and performing calculations to determine how many searches one should do to make creating an index of all the documents efficient (something he has picked up in Brilliant.org’s Computer Science course.

Simon’s sister Neva has started a vlog and Simon, busy as he is, enjoys editing her videos. For the first 17-minute video he has also done all the subtitles (translating from Dutch to English), which was a project that took him two days and something like 7 hours of work! Neva, in her turn, has got Simon increasingly interested in environmental issues.

Such a pleasant play date last week with another eager learner. Simon shared his GeoGebra skills and some geometrical paper tricks, among other things. It’s heartwarming to see Simon blossom socially, he is growingly attentive to younger kids and generally engaging with people of various ages, as long as they show interest in anything Simon has an understanding of.

In an earlier post, I have mentioned that for many games he programs Simon got his inspiration from the site Maths Is Fun. Perhaps I should add that at our home, Maths Is Fun has become an endless source of fun word problems, too! The problem below has been our favourite this week:

Some of the puzzles Simon likes to recreate with paper and scissors rather than program:

For the jug puzzle game, Simon has developed a graph plotting the winning strategy (analogous to what he once saw Mathologer do for another game).

Simon and Neva have also especially liked the Tricky Puzzles section (puzzles containing jokes).

Simon’s September visit to CERN has been featured in a World Science Scholars newsletter:

Here’s our update on the World Science Scholars program. Simon has finished the first bootcamp course on the theory and quantum mechanics by one of program’s founders, string theorist Professor Brian Greene and has taken part in three live sessions: with Professor Brian Greene, Professor Justin Khoury (dark matter research, alternatives to the inflationary paradigm, such as the Ekpyrotic Universe), and Professor Barry Barish (one of the leading experts in gravitational waves and particle detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”).

At the moment, there isn’t much going on. Simon is following the second course offered by the program, at his own pace. It’s a course about neurology and neurological statistics by Professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel and is called “Big Brains, Small Brains: The Conundrum of Comparing Brains and Intelligence”. The course is compiled from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s presentations made at the World Science Festival so it doesn’t seem to have been recorded specifically for the scholars, like Professor Brian Greene’s course was.

Professor Herculano-Houzel has made “brain soup” (also called “isotropic fractionator”) out of dozens of animal species and has counted exactly how many neurons different brains are made of. Contrary to what Simon saw in Professor Greene’s course (mainly already familiar stuff as both relativity theory and quantum mechanics have been within his area of interest for quite some time), most of the material in this second course is very new to him. And possibly also less exciting. Although what helps is the mathematical way in which the data is presented. After all, the World Science Scholars program is about interdisciplinary themes that are intertwined with mathematical thinking.

Another mathematical example: in Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course on brains we have witnessed nested patterns, as if they escaped from Stephen Wolfram’s book we’re reading now.

Simon has also contributed to the discussion pages, trying out an experiment where paper surface represented cerebral cortex:

Simon: “Humans are not outliers because they’re outliers, they are outliers because there’s a hidden variable”.

Simon is looking forward to Stephen Wolfram’s course (that he is recording for world science scholars) and, of course, to the live sessions with him. The information that Stephen Wolfram will be the next lecturer has stimulated Simon to dive deep into his writings (we are already nearly 400 pages through his “bible” A New Kind of Science) and sparked a renewed and more profound understanding of cellular automata and Turing machines and of ways to connect those to our observations in nature. I’m pretty sure this is just the beginning.

It’s amazing to observe how quickly Simon grasps the concepts described in A New Kind of Science; on several occasions he has tried to recreate the examples he read about the night before.