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Almanac – May 21

1471 – Albrecht Dürer born. German painter, engraver, printmaker, mathematician, and theorist.
His high-quality woodcuts (nowadays often called Meisterstiche or “master prints”) established his reputation and influence across Europe when he was still in his twenties,  and his introduction of classaicl motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, has secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance.

This is reinforced by his theoretical treatises, which involve principles of mathematics, perspective and ideal proportions.

 

 

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Almanac – May 18

1048 – Omar Khayyám born.  Persian polymath, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. He also wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, and Islamic theology.

Outside Iran and Persian speaking countries, Khayyám has had an impact on literature and societies through the translation of his works and popularization by other scholars.

The greatest such impact was in English-speaking countries; the English scholar Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) was the first non-Persian to study him.

The most influential of all was Edward FitzGerald (1809–83), who made Khayyám the most famous poet of the East in the West through his celebrated translation and adaptations of Khayyám’s rather small number of quatrains (Persian: رباعیات‎ rubāʿiyāt) in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

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1911 – Big Joe Turner born. American “blues shouter” (a blues-music singer capable of singing unamplified with a band) .

According to the songwriter Doc Pomus, “Rock and roll would have never happened without him.”

Although he had his greatest fame during the 1950s with his rock and roll recordings, particularly “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, Turner’s career as a performer endured from the 1920s into the 1980s.

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1913 – Charles Trenet born.  French singer and songwriter, most famous for his recordings from the late 1930s until the mid-1950s, though his career continued through the 1990s.

In an era in which it was exceptional for a singer to write their own material, Trenet wrote prolifically and declined to record any but his own songs.

While many of his songs mined relatively conventional topics such as love, Paris, and nostalgia for his younger days, what set Trenet’s songs apart were their personal, poetic, sometimes quite eccentric qualities, often infused with a warm wit. Some of his songs had unconventional subject matter, with whimsical imagery bordering on the surreal.

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1995 – Brinsley Le Poer Trench died. From 1956 to 1959 he edited the Flying Saucer Review and founded the International Unidentified Object Observer Corps.

In 1967, he founded Contact International and served as its first president. He also served as vice-president of the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA). He was an honorary life member of the now defunct Ancient Astronauts Society which supported the ideas put forward by Erich von Däniken in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?.

In 1975 he succeeded to the earldom of  Clancarty on the death of his half-brother, giving him a seat in the British House of Lords.

He used his new position to found a UFO Study Group at the  Lords, introducing Flying Saucer Review to its library and pushing for the declassification of UFO data.

Four years later he organised a celebrated debate in the House of Lords on UFOs which attracted many speeches on both sides of the question.

Trench also claimed to know a former U.S. test pilot who said he was one of six persons present at a meeting between President Eisenhower and a group of aliens, which allegedly took place at Edwards Air Force Base on April 4, 1954.

Clancarty reported that the test pilot told him “Five different alien craft landed at the base. Three were saucer-shaped and two were cigar shaped… the aliens looked something like humans, but not exactly.”

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1999 – Augustus Pablo died. Jamaican roots reggae and dub record producer, melodica player and keyboardist, active from the 1970s onwards.

He popularized the use of the melodica (an instrument at that time primarily used in Jamaica to teach music to schoolchildren) in reggae music, and was a committed Rastafarian.

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Almanac – April 15

1452 – Leonardo da Vinci born.  Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.

His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination“.

 He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.

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1802 – William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy saw a “long belt” of daffodils, on a walk around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District,  inspiring the former to pen I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud a couple of years later, inspired by Dorothy’s journal entry describing the walk –

When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up — But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway — We rested again & again. The Bays were stormy & we heard the waves at different distances & in the middle of the water like the Sea.

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1894 – Bessie Smith born. American blues singer. Nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, she was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, and is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on other jazz vocalists.

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1912 – The British passenger liner RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic at 2:20 a.m., two hours and forty minutes after hitting an iceberg. Only 710 of 2,227 passengers and crew on board survived.

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1980 – Jean-Paul Sartre died. French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.

He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

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Almanac – April 02

742 – Charlemagne born. King of the Franks from 768, the King of Italy from 774, the first Holy Roman Emperor,  called the “Father of Europe” (pater Europae),  his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire.

His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne encouraged the formation of a common European identity.  Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire.

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1725 – Giacomo Casanova born.  Italian adventurer and author from the Republic of Venice.

He was, by vocation and avocation, a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, pimp, gourmand, dancer, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, and writer. He wrote over twenty works, including plays and essays, and many letters. His novel Icosameron is an early work of science fiction.

He has become so famous for his often complicated and elaborate affairs with women that his name is now synonymous with “womanizer“.

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1891 – Max Ernst born. German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst was a primary pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

Ernst developed a fascination with birds that was prevalent in his work. His alter ego in paintings, which he called Loplop, was a bird. He suggested that this alter-ego was an extension of himself stemming from an early confusion of birds and humans.

 He said that one night when he was young he woke up and found that his beloved bird had died, and a few minutes later his father announced that his sister was born. Loplop often appeared in collages of other artists’ work, such as Loplop presents André Breton.

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1928 – Serge Gainsbourg born. French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director. Regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, he was renowned for his often provocative and scandalous releases, as well as his diverse artistic output, which embodied genres ranging from jazz, chanson, pop and yé-yé, to reggae, funk, rock, electronic and disco music.

Gainsbourg’s extremely varied musical style and individuality make him difficult to categorize. His legacy has been firmly established, and he is often regarded as one of the world’s most influential popular musicians.

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1941 – Dr. Demento born. American radio broadcaster and record collector specializing in novelty songs, comedy, and strange or unusual recordings dating from the early days of phonograph records to the present.

He is credited with introducing new generations of listeners to artists of the early and middle twentieth century whom they may not have otherwise discovered, such as Haywire Mac, Spike Jones, Benny Bell, Yogi Yorgesson, and Tom Lehrer, as well as with bringing parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic to national attention.

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2003 – Edwin Starr died.  American soul music singer. Starr is most famous for his Norman Whitfield produced Motown singles of the 1970s, most notably the number one hit “War”.

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Almanac – March 31

1596 – René Descartes born. French philosopher, mathematician, and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy‘, and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings.

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1878 – Jack Johnson born. American boxer. At the height of the Jim Crow era, Johnson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915).

In a documentary about his life, Ken Burns notes that “for more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth.”

Miles Davis‘s 1971 album entitled A Tribute to Jack Johnson was inspired by the boxer. The end of the record features the actor Brock Peters (as Johnson) saying:  “I’m Jack Johnson. Heavyweight champion of the world. I’m black. They never let me forget it. I’m black all right! I’ll never let them forget it!”

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1990 – 200,000 protestors took to the streets of London to protest against the newly introduced Poll Tax.

The Poll Tax Riots were a series of mass disturbances, or riots, in British towns and cities during protests against the Community Charge (commonly known as the poll tax), introduced by the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The London event was by far the largest.

The riot in central London, with the national opposition to the Community Charge (especially vehement in the North of England and Scotland) contributed to the downfall of Thatcher, who resigned as Prime Minister in November the same year, defending a tax which an opinion poll had found only 12% favoured. The next Prime Minister, John Major, announced it would be abolished.

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Almanac – February 17

1600 –  Giordano Bruno  burned alive, for heresy, at Campo de’ Fiori in Rome.

Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.

The free-thinking Roman Catholic church naturally embraced such views with the  same sort of enthusiasm that they now reserve for condoms, and, after the  Roman Inquisition  found him guilty of heresey,  he was burnt at the stake.

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1864 – Banjo Paterson born. Australian bush poet, journalist and author, he wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas, including the district around Binalong, New South Wales, where he spent much of his childhood.

Paterson’s more notable poems include “Waltzing Matilda”, “The Man from Snowy River” and “Clancy of the Overflow”.

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1909 – Geronimo died. Prominent leader of the Bedonkohe Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades during the Apache Wars.

“Geronimo” was the name given to him during a battle with Mexican soldiers. His Chiricahua name is often rendered as Goyathlay or Goyahkla in English.

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1982 – Thelonious Monk died. American jazz pianist and composer considered one of the giants of American music.

Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including “Epistrophy”, “‘Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”, “Straight, No Chaser” and “Well, You Needn’t”.

Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70.

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