Effect Measure

Albert Einstein: birthday greetings

Today is Einstein’s birthday. If he were still alive he’d be 131. Those of you who have been reading here for a long time know that Einstein was (and is) one of my “culture heroes.” When I was a kid I sent him birthday cards (yes, I’m that old) and when he died made a scrap book filled with news clippings. One of the great loves of my younger life gave me an Einstein bust as a present and it still sits on my desk, more than 40 years later (she reads the blog from across the ocean, so I hope she sees this! Mrs. R. knows and likes her so this isn’t a guilty secret). I also have first editions of his second and third published works and a fairly large library of books by and about him. Unlike quantum mechanics, relativity theory is essentially the achievement of a single person, Albert Einstein. Both are beautiful theories and quantum theory may be the most successful theory in the history of science. But relativity is no slouch, either, having been confirmed again as recently as this week. Not bad.

Given all this, it seems fitting to commemorate the occasion on the blog. Enjoy:

Happy birthday, Albert, hero of my youth. Still a hero.


  1. #1 Alex
    March 14, 2010

    Some people shouldn’t have to die. Now, about this:

    “One of the great loves of my younger life gave me an Einstein bust as a present and it still sits on my desk”

    How about a Karl Rove bust? Check this vid from Comedy Network Canada:


    I also have reason to celebrate. I’m a mathematician and it’s Pi Day. YAY!


  2. #2 Marc
    March 15, 2010

    “When I was a kid I sent him birthday cards (yes, I’m that old)”

    Did you know him personally? That would be amazing. I come from a family of mathematicians and my grandfather met Johann von Neumann at a math conference in the 1950s. Alex, who posted above, had a teacher of Mathematical Logic who met Kurt Godel in the 1970s.

  3. #3 Paula
    March 15, 2010

    While we’re at it, has anyone else here read the Logicomix graphic novel?

  4. #4 revere
    March 15, 2010

    Marc: Alas, I never met him (I was in elementary school when he died). But I later had a boss, who was/is a good friend of mine, who post doc’d for Willie Feller and had an office next door to Feynman and was asked one day to drive Prof. Einstein home to Mercer Street. I have known (because they were Professors of mine) Walter Rudin and Stephen Kleene, among others.

  5. #5 Tobby
    March 16, 2010

    happy birthday einstein!

  6. Einstein was my childhood hero as well. Chomsky became my university years hero. You’ve become my blogging hero :).

  7. #7 Marc
    March 17, 2010

    @Revere: HOLY SHIT! You knew these ppl personally?? WOW! My Mathematical Analysis books are by Rudin! And that guy drove Einstein home? WHAT AN HONOR! I’d quit school immediately if I was given a job as Einstein’s driver. I’d drive slowly and take detours on purpose just to have a longer conversation with him. And you knew other ppl who knew Feynman and Feller? WTH! Who are you? LOL!

    @alvaro: TOTALLY DUDE! Except I must say that I always held Newton in higher regard than Einstein. I mean Principia is pretty much a killer. But YEAH CHOMSKY IS GOD! AND REVERE IS BLOGGING GOD!

  8. #8 Alex
    March 17, 2010

    @Revere: Ok after revelations like that, I totally want to know who you are lol. You know too many important ppl to not be important yourself! But I don’t understand. If you knew all these famous mathematicians and physicists why go in epidemiology? I don’t mean it’s “smaller work” but I’m just saying usually when you have minds like these around, you don’t waste the chance to do research with them.

  9. #9 revere
    March 17, 2010

    Marc, Alex: There’s no trick to knowing people like that. Rudin taught me analysis as an undergrad (interestingly he used Creighton Buck’s book), my advisor was RH Bruck of the Bruck-Ryser Theorem and I learned logic from Kleene. George Mackey and I were friends by virtue of living close to each other. Chomsky I’ve known for almost 40 years, I knew Howard Zinn well and it was my boss that Feynman told to drive Einstein home while he (not me) was at the Institute. I’m on in years so many of the people I knew as friends and colleagues (as did many others) are famous now because they are of another generation (or two), so someday you will say you knew some professor or other whose acquaintance or friendship you take for granted who will be well known. As for me, I’m pretty well known in my own specialty but not famous (at least I don’t think I am; you never know what other people think of you).

  10. #10 Alex
    March 17, 2010

    @Revere: You’re exaggerating. Einsteins, Feynmans and Chomskys don’t run the streets. There’s very few of them. Yes, me and Marc know some math profs who have made great contributions to their fields. But they are nowhere near Feller, Rudin or Kleene. It’s unlikely we’ll look back at this decades from now and say “Hey I knew that prof who won the Nobel.” You may not realize it but your logic teacher is as important to his field as Alan Turing. So, I’m curious, how come you were surrounded by these giants but didn’t follow them in their line of work? At the same time, I don’t understand something. How did you have analysis and logic classes as an undergrad if you were in medicine? Took them just for fun?

  11. #11 revere
    March 17, 2010

    Alex: I knew Kleene was a giant. I had to prove Godel’s theorem on the final (it’s not that hard; I memorized it). I also know Hartley Rogers, same line of work. I was a math major and then went into medicine. My son is a mathematician (topology). I’ve had the good fortune to know a lot of pretty smart people, which you can do and not be that smart yourself). But remember, it was my boss, not me, who knew Feller, Feynman and Einstein. But I do have an Erdos number of 3.

  12. #12 Alex
    March 17, 2010

    @Revere: Were you planning on going into med from the start or did you change course after? Now about the Erdos number, it doesn’t mean much. A friend of mine has an Erdos # of 2 since his research advisor worked directly with Erdos. But a lot of ppl worked with Erdos. Besides, I just need to do research with him once to get a number of 3 as well.

    I’m into Functional Analysis myself. Marc above was corrupted by an evil sect of applied mathematicians known as climatologists. He was into Number Theory but has already been exposed to too many perversions of the Queen of Sciences. I fear it’s too late to save him.

  13. #13 revere
    March 17, 2010

    Alex: Yes, I planned to do mathematical biology from the outset. As for my Erdos number, you are correct. If you use the cognate idea of “degrees of separation” I am only two degrees removed from most of the world’s leaders in the second half o the 20th century. It means little. For the Erdos number, though, you at least have to have published in the mathematical literature, which is not all that easy for most people (including me). It is sort of an accident I have a number 3, and somewhat surprising how I got it. I also published with my boss who was editor in chief of the journal that published some of Chomsky’s early papers on formal grammars (I was for a time book review editor for the same journal) but that didn’t help my Erdos number since I don’t think either ever published with Erdos but are more consequential than the way I got it.

    But look, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people because I’m old and I’ve been in a big academic center for a long time. I knew Phil Morrison, Vicky Weiskopf and Joe Weizenbaum (about whom I wrote here when he died and who was a good friend). These are names you may or may not know but were giants in physics and computer science (one of Joe’s most famous creations was the computer program, Eliza). These were interesting and wonderful people and I am lucky to have known them but it says very little about me except I’ve been lucky.

  14. #14 Marc
    March 17, 2010

    @Revere: Lucky you lol. As Alex said (beyond the pure mathematician arrogance), I’m probably going to do research in climatology but I’m still thinking about epidemiology. Would be fun if our paths crossed one day. But then again I’d never know if they did lol. Hopefully, my research in climatology will help solve the huge problem we’re having right now (but that’s probably wishful thinking).

    Alex is either going into Functional Analysis or Algorithms (prolly the first). He was thinking about Algorithms since he’s interested in one of the best teachers in the field, currently working at Princeton, Bernard Chazelle.

  15. #15 Paula
    March 18, 2010

    Revere, this talk of Morrison and Feynmann is reminding me of the physics course I took from Bethe, very interesting phil. of science course from Black, and such. What I’m most reminded of is being surprised, in a *much* later journalism course from Peter Schrag, that most the other grad students had also been Ivies and then realizing that, of course, that’s where this particular university would get its students from.

  16. #16 Marissa DeCuir
    January 26, 2011

    I just came across your post (and loved it!) and I thought you might like to know about this darling children’s book coming out for Einstein’s birthday this year (http://meeteinstein.com/). I would love if you talked with the author about the meaning behind the book, thought you two would have some fun :)

  17. #17 vasudevareddy are
    March 14, 2013