Everything I need is on the ground

For me the biggest difference between undergraduate math and PhD life has been something I've never seen anyone else talk about: it's the feeling like I could no longer see the ground. To explain what this means, imagine that mathematics is this wide tower, where you start with certain axioms as a foundation, and then… Continue reading Everything I need is on the ground

A common type-error on the OTIS application

There's a common error I keep seeing on OTIS applications, so I'm going to document the error here in the hopes that I can pre-emptively dispel it. To illustrate it more clearly, here is a problem I made up for which the bogus solution also gets the wrong numerical answer: Problem: Suppose $latex {a^2+b^2+c^2=1}&fg=000000$ for… Continue reading A common type-error on the OTIS application

Circular optimization

This post will mostly be focused on construction-type problems in which you're asked to construct something satisfying property $latex {P}&fg=000000$. Minor spoilers for USAMO 2011/4, IMO 2014/5. 1. What is a leap of faith? Usually, a good thing to do whenever you can is to make ``safe moves'' which are implied by the property $latex… Continue reading Circular optimization

Hard and soft techniques

In yet another contest-based post, I want to distinguish between two types of thinking: things that could help you solve a problem, and things that could help you understand the problem better. Then I'll talk a little about how you can use the latter. (I've talked about this in my own classes for a while… Continue reading Hard and soft techniques

Math contest platitudes, v3

I think it would be nice if every few years I updated my generic answer to "how do I get better at math contests?". So here is the 2019 version. Unlike previous instances, I'm going to be a little less olympiad-focused than I usually am, since these days I get a lot of people asking… Continue reading Math contest platitudes, v3

A trailer for p-adic analysis, second half: Mahler coefficients

In the previous post we defined $latex {p}&fg=000000$-adic numbers. This post will state (mostly without proof) some more surprising results about continuous functions $latex {f \colon \mathbb Z_p \rightarrow \mathbb Q_p}&fg=000000$. Then we give the famous proof of the Skolem-Mahler-Lech theorem using $latex {p}&fg=000000$-adic analysis. 1. Digression on $latex {\mathbb C_p}&fg=000000$ Before I go on,… Continue reading A trailer for p-adic analysis, second half: Mahler coefficients

A trailer for p-adic analysis, first half: USA TST 2003

I think this post is more than two years late in coming, but anywhow... This post introduces the $latex {p}&fg=000000$-adic integers $latex {\mathbb Z_p}&fg=000000$, and the $latex {p}&fg=000000$-adic numbers $latex {\mathbb Q_p}&fg=000000$. The one-sentence description is that these are ``integers/rationals carrying full mod $latex {p^e}&fg=000000$ information'' (and only that information). The first four sections will… Continue reading A trailer for p-adic analysis, first half: USA TST 2003

New oly handout: Constructing Diagrams

I've added a new Euclidean geometry handout, Constructing Diagrams, to my webpage. Some of the stuff covered in this handout: Advice for constructing the triangle centers (hint: circumcenter goes first) An example of how to rearrange the conditions of a problem and draw a diagram out-of-order Some mechanical suggestions such as dealing with phantom points… Continue reading New oly handout: Constructing Diagrams

Revisiting arc midpoints in complex numbers

1. Synopsis One of the major headaches of using complex numbers in olympiad geometry problems is dealing with square roots. In particular, it is nontrivial to express the incenter of a triangle inscribed in the unit circle in terms of its vertices. The following lemma is the standard way to set up the arc midpoints… Continue reading Revisiting arc midpoints in complex numbers