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January 12, 2021

This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Posted by John Baez

Take a copy of this!

This Week’s Finds in Mathematical Physics (1-50), 242 pages.

These are the first 50 issues of This Week’s Finds of Mathematical Physics. This series has sometimes been called the world’s first blog, though it was originally posted on a “usenet newsgroup” called sci.physics.research — a form of communication that predated the world-wide web. I began writing this series as a way to talk about papers I was reading and writing, and in the first 50 issues I stuck closely to this format. These issues focus rather tightly on quantum gravity, topological quantum field theory, knot theory, and applications of n-categories to these subjects. There are, however, digressions into elliptic curves, Lie algebras, linear logic and various other topics.

Tim Hosgood kindly typeset all 300 issues of This Week’s Finds in 2020. They will be released in six installments of 50 issues each, for a total of about 2610 pages. I have edited the issues here to make the style a bit more uniform and also to change some references to preprints, technical reports, etc. into more useful arXiv links. This accounts for some anachronisms where I discuss a paper that only appeared on the arXiv later.

The process of editing could have gone on much longer; there are undoubtedly many mistakes remaining. If you find some, please contact me and I will try to fix them.

By the way, sci.physics.research is still alive and well, and you can use it on Google. But I can’t find the first issue of This Week’s Finds there — if you can find it, I’ll be grateful. I can only get back to the sixth issue. Take a look if you’re curious about usenet newsgroups! They were low-tech compared to what we have now, but they felt futuristic at the time, and we had some good conversations.

Posted at January 12, 2021 5:13 PM UTC

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Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Your energy is as amazing as your talent as an expositor. Thank you for all you have written over so many years.

Posted by: Dan F. on January 12, 2021 8:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Thanks very much! I hope my energy continues to be amazing, since I still have 2400 pages of This Week’s Finds to edit. Why did I write so much?

Posted by: John Baez on January 12, 2021 8:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

The earliest mention of ‘baez’ in 1993 that I could find is this “informational” posting from the 19th Feb.

This search returns everything before and up to TWF#6, and there doesn’t seem to be any posts at all kept from before the 18th February 1993. It’s possible it got lost!

Posted by: David Roberts on January 13, 2021 10:58 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Thanks for checking! Maybe I started posting them on sci.physics before sci.physics.research was created.

Posted by: John Baez on January 13, 2021 6:57 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

If you did, they are not listed here (that’s apparently everything you posted in January 1993 to sci.physics.research).

Aha, here’s Week 3, in sci.math

Posted by: David Roberts on January 14, 2021 2:01 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Additional searching on sci.math and globally turned up nothing older than Week 3. The number of search results changes when simple parameters like the sorting of search results (relevance vs date), so it seems the searching algorithm is really badly behaved. And only certain search parameters even find Week 3, when it looks like all of the ones I tried should find it.

Here is Week 3 in sci.physics, though, for what it’s worth.

Posted by: David Roberts on January 14, 2021 2:32 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Back in the 1990s, I thought it was a good idea to print out lots of issues of TWF. I have a ring-binder full of them.

Printout of TWF1 in a ring-binder

(Click for hi-res.) I certainly wasn’t reading in 1993, though.

Maybe the best thing about this is Scott Carter’s email address.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on January 13, 2021 4:34 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

That’s great, Tom!

Scott and others will be glad to know that in editing the LaTeX version of This Week’s Finds I removed all the email addresses I saw. 1993 was a different age. There was no arXiv except for physics. At the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable to publish a mathematician’s email address so people could contact them for electronic preprints. I apologize for all the spam Scott has received in subsequent years.

In “week46”, written in December 1994, I chart the rise of the arXiv up to that point:

  • High Energy Physics — Theory (hep-th), started 8/91

  • High Energy Physics — Lattice (hep-lat), started 2/92

  • High Energy Physics — Phenomenology (hep-ph), started 3/92

  • Astrophysics (astro-ph), started 4/92

  • Condensed Matter Theory (cond-mat), started 4/92

  • General Relativity & Quantum Cosmology (gr-qc), started 7/92

  • Nuclear Theory (nucl-th), started 10/92

  • Chemical Physics (chem-ph), started 3/94

  • High Energy Physics — Experiment (hep-ex), started 4/94

  • Accelerator Physics (acc-phys), started 11/94

  • Nuclear Experiment (nucl-ex), started 11/94

  • Materials Theory (mtrl-th), started 11/94

  • Superconductivity (supr-con), started 11/94

I also describe the brand new American Mathematical Society preprint server, which never caught on.

Later I announced the mathematics arXiv.

Posted by: John Baez on January 13, 2021 6:54 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Very minor item: In week 6 (p. 29), the paragraph beginning “Quantizing gravity is mighty hard” has some inline math that isn’t in math mode (exp(iHt)\exp(-i H t), tt, HH).

Posted by: Blake Stacey on January 14, 2021 4:48 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Thanks! I fixed it in my own files. Every so often I’ll release an improved version. But not very often. First I want to edit the remaining issues and put them on the arXiv.

It would be great if someone good at computers could automatically create a version with an index, or at least some sort of index of papers discussed. But I don’t have the energy to do that myself, at least not now. Besides TWFs, I want to write some books based on courses I’ve taught, starting with one on Lagrangian mechanics and one on category theory.

Posted by: John Baez on January 15, 2021 8:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

More minor glitches in week 40:

  • quotation marks around “computer science”
  • Journal of Philosophical Logic should be italicized
  • use it up should be italicized instead of asterisked
  • spacing and quotation marks around “at once”
  • “by available at” in reference 2
  • URL in reference 3 runs off the page
Posted by: Blake Stacey on January 16, 2021 5:52 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Fixed, thanks! I’ll update the copy on my website more often than the arXiv version, and your changes so far are there.

In “week40” I also changed “premiss” to “premise”, since I’m not really trying to pretend to be British.

Posted by: John Baez on January 16, 2021 6:21 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

One more! In week 35 (p. 176), there’s a parenthetical

(See “tangles”.)

that looks like it should point somewhere but doesn’t. It’s also a nonlink in the website version of TWF35. Looking back at the Usenet version, maybe the target was intended to be an older version of this page?

Posted by: Blake Stacey on January 18, 2021 12:31 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Yes, I must have been linking to that page. But I think I’ll just get rid of the link (except on my website, where I’ll fix it).

In the process I caught some more mistakes. There’s an endless number!

Posted by: John Baez on January 18, 2021 2:00 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Weeks Finds (150)

Great to see these again. I can’t remember when I first tuned in.

I didn’t even have my own email address until around 1996, having used a colleague’s when necessary.

Posted by: David Corfield on January 15, 2021 10:49 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Weeks Finds (150)

It’s amazing how much communication methods have changed during the last 30 years or so. The future of communications seemed so rosy back then, before we thought hard about spam, cyber-warfare, propaganda, and the echo chamber effect.

Posted by: John Baez on January 15, 2021 8:49 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

thanks a lot for making the Finds available - they bring back nice memories of spr and Usenet in general (and the regret that this great medium didn’t really survive - even though IMHO nothing better came after). I glad to take this opportunity to say thanks for your time and effort to spread knowledge - I enjoyed following TWFs (and other threads - photons, schmotons come to mind) back then as a physics student (though most were over my head). I was then (and remain) impressed by your erudite, eloquent and extensive explanations - and seeing TWFs in toto reinforces that.

I noticed a few minor typos (in quotes, but I don’t suppose they’re there on purpose):

Week 27, p141: “even if the sates is” and “the vluae of a field”.

p143: “therefor”; “much to complicated”; “which sit eh one exploited”

Posted by: Geza on January 19, 2021 9:50 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: This Week’s Finds (1–50)

Thanks! Yes, reading This Week’s Finds reminds me, too, of a happy bygone age. By the way, Michael Weiss, who coauthored the Photons, Schmotons thread, has recently been explaining nonstandard models of arithmetic to me in a similar long series of dialogues! So not everything from that bygone age is gone.

Thanks for the corrections. I have trouble believing I wrote “vluae” for “value”, but there it is. Now it’s fixed, I hope.

Posted by: John Baez on January 19, 2021 8:26 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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