How to Read, Understand and Study Proofs

(This talk was given on March 31, 2014, at the University of Toronto to a class of mostly MAT 137 students. It was standing room only!)

In my first year of undergrad I was bad at proofs. In my second year of undergrad I was terrible at proofs. In my third year I was okay at proofs, but I was terrible at studying proofs.

The way I used to learn proofs was by memorizing the words in the textbook’s proof, word by word, with almost no understanding. I knew math, and I was fairly good at problems, but I just couldn’t get any purchase when it came to learning proofs.

Eventually I started to pick up various “tricks” and strategies for learning proofs. This talk is aimed at me in first year, and what I needed to hear so that I could have studied proofs better. (“I no proof good.”)

We’ll look at the basics of proof reading, the idea of definition unwinding and clever ideas, and finally we’ll present a general method for reading proofs.

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Using Dushnik-Miller to prove that every sigma-compact group is ccc

(This is the write-up for a talk I gave in the Toronto Student Set Theory and Topology seminar on May 2, 2013.)

A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk for the set-theoretic topology course I was in, on the topic of cardinal invariants of topological groups. While I was preparing that presentation I discovered the following fact:

Theorem [Tkachenko, 1983] Every \sigma -compact group is ccc.

I will present a proof that I have adapted from Tkachenko’s original paper (“Souslin property in free topological groups on bicompacta”) and the proof that appears in Arhangel’skii & Tkachenko’s big purple book (Section 5.3 of Topological Groups and Related Structures). Both proofs involve first proving a Ramsey result about covers of a space, then using this to prove that a particular space has “weak-precalibre \aleph_1 ” (i.e. Property K) which is a property that implies ccc. Learning this proof has been part of my ongoing attempt to learn how Ramsey results show up in topology.

Continue reading Using Dushnik-Miller to prove that every sigma-compact group is ccc

A Survey of Cardinal Invariants of Topological Groups

(This is a presentation I gave for Bill Weiss’ course Set-Theoretic Topology on April 19, 2013. In class we discussed some cardinal invariants and how they are related; here I will survey what happens when we look at the cardinal invariants of topological groups.)

This review follows very closely the discussion in section 5.2 of Arhangel’skii and Tkachenko’s book “Topological Groups and Related Structures“. Another good resource is section 3 of Comfort’s article “Topological Groups” in the Handbook of Set-Theoretic Topology. The only thing I claim to be my own are the (unsourced) pictures I have provided.

Continue reading A Survey of Cardinal Invariants of Topological Groups

Kangaroo Contest 2013 Talk about Cryptography

On Sunday March 24, 2013, I gave a talk on the History of Cryptography [PDF], at the University of Toronto (Scarborough) for the parents of students writing the Kangaroo Contest. I had many questions after my talk, so here are some answers to the questions I received.


Where did you get this information?

Most of this talk came from Elementary Number Theory by David M. Burton, the Wikipedia article for RSA, and the Wikipedia article for Diffie-Hellman. As a general rule of thumb, Wikipedia is a reliable source for things of a mathematical nature (as only experts tend to edit the articles).

My child is interested in codes, what are some resources for them to learn more?

Here is a great introduction to modular arithmetic which serves as the foundation for learning about the math of cryptography. Modular arithmetic is like “clock math”, where 4 hours after 10 o’clock is 2 o’clock.

Codecademy is a very good way to start learning computer programming. It is a very fun website and is very motivating, and fun!

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Let’s Make Some T-sequences

(This was the basis for a talk I gave at the Toronto Student Set Theory and Topology seminar on January 15, 2013. The assumed knowledge is an undergraduate course in general topology. This is only a draft, and will be updated soon.)


There are many questions in mathematics and sciences in general whose main object of study is the topological group. These objects are very versatile and can represent many of the structures we encounter. One question that I’ve been working on examines the (extreme) dynamical properties of topologies on the integers. On the recommendation of Vladimir Pestov (one of my advisors) I have been learning about T-sequences, which provide a rich method for producing topological groups with extreme behaviour. Here I will present two techniques involving T-sequences that help to answer two different questions about topological groups; one is about dynamics and the other is about combinatorial properties of \mathbb{N}^\N . These results all come from “Topologies on the Integers” by Protasov and Zelenyuk.

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Hindman’s Theorem write-up

It came to my attention that Leo Goldmakher had written up notes for a lecture I gave in August 2011 on the proof of Hindman’s Theorem via ultrafilters. The notes are quite nice so I thought I would share them.

Here is a link to the notes (pdf) and here is Leo’s website.

The lecture I gave follows the papers:

  • “An Algebraic Proof of van der Waerden’s Theorem” by Vitaly Bergelson, Hillel Furstenburg, Neil Hindman and Yitzhak Katznelson. (L’enseignement Mathematique, t. 35, 1989, p. 209-215)
  • Ultrafilters: Some Old and some New Results” (pdf) by W.W. Comfort. (Bulletin of the AMS, Volume 83, Number 4, July 1977)

My Recent Talks on Itzkowitz’ Problem

On Friday May 18th, I gave the following presentation (here) at the Ottawa Mathematics Conference 2012. It was 25 minutes long and went over well.

On Friday May 25th, I gave an expanded talk (here) at the Toronto Set Theory and Topology Seminar. The talk lasted about 55 minutes and afterwards I had some interest from two of the participants.

Pictures to follow!

Erdös numbers

(This talk was given as part of the What We Talk About lecture series at No One Writes to the Colonel on May 17, 2012)

Paul Erdös

Math is many things: beautiful, fundamental, universal, but ultimately, math is hard. So hard in fact that mathematicians often need to phone up their other mathematician friends for help. The idea of the crazy-maned recluse furiously working in his office alone is an outdated one. While some modern mathematicians still fit this bill, collaboration is increasingly the norm. By the year 2000, the number of mathematics papers with a single author had shrunk to 50%. More and more people are tackling difficult math problems as a team.

No one embodies the idea of mathematical collaboration more than Paul Erdös (pronounced err-desh or air-dish), a Hungarian mathematician who lived in the twentieth century. A legendary figure in mathematics, Erdös published around 1500 papers and had around 500 co-authors. To contrast, most mathematicians write 7 papers in their entire life! Erdös was heavily in support of working together to solve math problems and questions, and also had incredible mathematical taste. He asked very interesting questions and would often attach a dollar amount to the questions. If you were clever enough to solve one of these Erdös questions, Paul Erdös himself would send you a cheque. These cheques were so revered in mathematics that often people frame them rather than cash them. More information on his very interesting life is available here.

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