## September 21, 2014

### A Packing Pessimization Problem

#### Posted by John Baez

In a **pessimization** problem, you try to minimize the maximum value of some function:

$min_x max_y f(x,y)$

For example: which convex body in Euclidean space is the *worst* for packing? That is, which has the *smallest* maximum packing density?

(In case you’re wondering, we restrict attention to *convex* bodies because without this restriction the maximum packing density can be made as close to $0$ as we want.)

Of course the answer depends on the dimension. According to Martin Gardner, Stanislaw Ulam guessed that in 3 dimensions, the worst is the round ball. This is called Ulam’s packing conjecture.

In 3 dimensions, congruent balls can be packed with a density of

$\frac{\pi}{\sqrt{18}} = 0.74048048 \dots$

and Kepler’s conjecture, now a theorem, says that’s their maximum packing density. So, Ulam’s packing conjecture says we can pack congruent copies of any *other* convex body in $\mathbb{R}^3$ with a density *above* $\pi/\sqrt{18}$.

Ulam’s packing conjecture is still open. We know that the ball is a local pessimum for ‘centrally symmetric’ convex bodies in 3 dimensions. But that’s just a small first step.

Geometry is often easier in 2 dimensions… but in some ways, the packing pessimization problem for convex bodies in 2 dimensions is even *more* mysterious than in 3.

## September 10, 2014

### Quasistrict Symmetric Monoidal 2-Categories via Wire Diagrams

#### Posted by Simon Willerton

**Guest post by Bruce Bartlett**

I recently put an article on the arXiv:

- Bruce Bartlett, Quasistrict symmetric monoidal 2-categories via wire diagrams.

It’s about Chris Schommer-Pries’s recent strictification result from his updated thesis, that *every symmetric monoidal bicategory is equivalent to a quasistrict one*. Since symmetric monoidal bicategories can be viewed as the syntax for ‘stable 3-dimensional algebra’, one aim of the paper is to write out this stuff out in a diagrammatic notation, like this:

The other aim is to try to strip down the definition of a ‘quasistrict symmetric monoidal bicategory’, emphasizing the central role played by the *interchangor isomorphisms*. Let me explain a bit more.

## September 6, 2014

### Ronnie Brown in Paris

#### Posted by David Corfield

Ronnie Brown has brought to my attention a talk he gave recently at the Workshop Constructive Mathematics and Models of Type Theory, IHP Paris, 02 June 2014 - 06 June 2014.

Title: Intuitions for cubical methods in nonabelian algebraic topologyAbstract: The talk will start from the 1-dimensional Seifert-van Kampen Theorem for the fundamental group, then groupoid, and so to a use of strict double groupoids for higher versions. These allow for some precise nonabelian calculations of some homotopy types, obtained by a gluing process. Cubical methods are involved because of the ease of writing multiple compositions, leading to “algebraic inverses to subdivision”, relevant to higher dimensional local-to-global problems. Also the proofs involve some ideas of 2-dimensional formulae and rewriting. The use of strict multiple groupoids is essential to obtain precise descriptions as colimits and hence precise calculations. Another idea is to use both a “broad” and a “narrow” model of a particular kind of homotopy types, where the broad model is used for conjectures and proofs, while the narrow model is used for calculations and relation to classical methods. The algebraic proof of the equivalence of the two models then gives a powerful tool.

Slides are available from his preprint page.