Paris, number theory, Wikipedia and music

On March 15th, I received the keys to my new (rented) flat in the 14th arrondissement. My books, LP records and new furniture kits should arrive in a little over a week. The Parisian chapter (tome?) of my life can now be declared to have started well and truly.

Of course, at this very moment, I am in Cambridge, and will be here until next Saturday.


I must not be the only one to think that the current Number theory page on wikipedia is rather poor. Some time ago, I decided to write a replacement.

I stalled some time ago a short distance from completion, largely because a lack of feedback. It is probably a good idea to discuss it here. What do you think? What would you change?


I went to hear a local orchestra playing Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony tonight. (Note: the link leads to a performance with a controversial tempo.) In the programme notes I found, oh surprise, a myth that refuses to die. It is fairly clear by now that Volkov’s Testimony (reputedly by Shostakovich) was a fraud; here is a readable popular account of the matter. However, while the scholarly consensus has reached the New Yorker, it refuses to reach the writers of concert programmes and liner notes.

It is natural for there to be a lag, but this is starting to get a little obnoxious. A likely reason for this situation is that the account offered by the now discredited pseudo-memoirs offers a naively programmatic, and hence very accessible, view of the music the listener has just paid for, while making him believe that he is privy to a hidden meaning that his foolish predecessors could not notice. If this got people to listen, there would be something good coming out of it all – but do they listen?


Trivial question: what are some good alternatives to IKEA in the Paris area? In particular, where do I get a solid desk, preferably with some sort of bookshelves on top of it? Oh – and where in Paris would you go to get hi-fi components at a reasonable price? (Feel free to answer by personal mail.)

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About valuevar

I am a number theorist with side interests in combinatorics and group theory.
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5 Responses to Paris, number theory, Wikipedia and music

  1. Igor Pak says:

    Harald,
    I read the revised WP Number Theory page and I think it is a big improvement over the old one. I personally wrote “Combinatorics” WP page for more or less the same reason, and had to deal with some of the same issues – you can see that the article was really poor before I revised it. I have several comments.
    1) Specialized articles in WP tend to be better than general articles as editors feel more comfortable writing technicalities than broad overviews which require quite a bit of expertise. I strongly urge you to make your version to be the main version. “Be bold” as wikipedians say.
    2) General articles like “Biochemistry” or “Nuclear physics” can become controversial if more emphasis is given to some subfields and not the other, so it is not a bad idea to keep them brief and to the point. Perhaps expand one-sentence descriptions into paragraphs with a few links. Compare with the Combinatorics article.
    3) The history of the subject is a lengthy story of interest in its own right. It is a mistake to make it a large part of the general article – best to have it separate, as in “History of number theory”, keeping only a brief description on the main article. This is also better for the editors who might feel confident editing and expanding “history” but not the main article. So I suggest splitting your version into two.
    4) Your version is unfinished. Replace the main one with this one anyway. That way others can join your effort even if you abandon it.
    Best of luck! — IP

    • valuevar says:

      Hi Igor,

      Thanks for your comments!

      What’s unfinished is mostly two small sections in the history part – I could fill them out fairly quickly. Are there any bits in the non-history part that are obviously unfinished?

      On point (2), I would really appreciate it if you could point out any subfields whose mention needs expanding.

      Best
      Harald

      • Igor Pak says:

        Yeah, as a former part-time WP editor, I think your article is more of a Britannica-style than WP-style. This not bad per se, but a cause not to consider your proposed article in any form “finished” but rather a “breakthrough” on top of which many more changes will be made.

        What I really mean is that you need to replace NT article with your proposed article right away. I could do it in 1 min. if you want me to (I’d rather you do that, of course). Then I would edit it according to WP style guidelines. You see, your field-articles have several paragraphs but virtually no links to relevant material. The way WP thinks of generic articles is that should have many wiki-links to fundamental problems. For example, “artithmetic comb” should have a link to “Schur’s theorem”, “Van der Waerden’s theorem”, “Erdős conjecture on arithmetic progressions”, “Green-Tao theorem”, etc. I would greatly expand or maybe make a new section “Modern computational number theory” (post-decidability) with things like “Borwein’s algorithm”, “LLL algorithm”, “RSA”, “Miller–Rabin primality test”, “Pollard’s rho algorithm”, “AKS primality test”, etc. Remember, general articles are mostly portals, the actual beef is hidden elsewhere.

      • valuevar says:

        Hi Igor –

        I am now splitting the article into “History of number theory” and the main article, putting in a much briefer history section in the latter, as you suggested. I also need to fill in some of the “early modern number theory” subsections. Since this is something I do on my spare time, I predict I will be done at some point towards the end of next week.

        I don’t mind at all if you start putting wikilinks in the article as it is – you have the right to edit it, if I am not mistaken. As for computational number theory – put some links, but most of the material you mention sounds like a good way to expand the main “computational number theory” article (at present a pitiful stub).

      • valuevar says:

        Hi Igor –

        > Remember, general articles are mostly portals, the actual beef is hidden elsewhere.

        I am not sure I agree this has to be the case. A general article should present a fairly readable overall account of the field. Each of its sections on a subfield should have a link to an article on that subfield; most of the links of the kind you mention would belong in such an article.

        I don’t think it would be a good idea to have the names of living people (or names of people whose friends are alive) on the top Number Theory page. (a) This is a sign that the resolution is too fine; (b) we have to wait some time to get perspective; (c) this is going to give rise to endless jockeying to get in the page – and people will perhaps be afraid to argue against inclusions in the Talk page for fear that disputes might spill over to the ‘real’ academic world.

        That issue is an additional argument for keeping the top page descriptive, without too many direct links to recent specific results.

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