I read this book a couple years ago, a great read, I would suggest anybody that happily considers themselves a geek, a nerd, or similar, to pick up a copy. It was called “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers” and is more-or-less a biography about Paul Erdős. Recently I was listening to This American Life and my main man Ira opened one the show with a short anecdote from the book about a mathematician named Frank Nelson Cole.
From ‘Frank Nelson Cole‘ on Wikipedia:
In 1903 Frank Nelson Cole famously made a presentation to a meeting of the American Mathematical Society where he identified the factors of the Mersenne number 267-1, or M67. Édouard Lucas had demonstrated in 1876 that M67 must have factors (i.e., is not prime), however he was unable to determine what those factors were. During Cole’s so-called “lecture”, he approached the chalkboard and in complete silence proceeded to calculate the value of M67, with the result being 147,573,952,589,676,412,927. Cole then moved to the other side of the board and wrote 193,707,721 × 761,838,257,287, and worked through the tedious calculations by hand. Upon completing the multiplication and demonstrating that the result equaled M67, Cole returned to his seat, not having uttered a word during the hour-long presentation. His audience greeted the presentation with a standing ovation. Cole later admitted that finding the factors had taken “three years of Sundays”.
Three tedious, mind numbing, hopeless, years of Sundays.
Homie sat there every. single. Sunday. methodically dividing 267-1 by hand. There was no end in sight! Cole’s homie Edouard had demonstrated that somewhere in all of those 147,573,952,589,676,412,927 numbers there was a solution, but that’s a pretty darn big haystack to sieve through for a needle that might not even exist.
This really hit the right note on my harp, because like I have previously stated about entrepreneurship – This s@#$ is hard. It’s not about that brilliant idea, this incredible life we have committed to is not made up of one life changing epiphany, its made up of many tiny tedious attempts, and a belief in a greater purpose for ourselves.
The interesting thing about Frank Nelson Cole is that “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers” wasn’t even written about him, he just got a short story, an anecdote! But what’s interesting is that from my understanding a standing ovation at an American Mathematical Society conference is unprecedented, it just doesn’t happen.
Most of us in the end we wont end up with 267-1 dollars, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for the chance that we will end up with a standing ovation, and for me that’s more than enough.
About Jordan Skole
Jordan Skole was the Technical Director of Robot Couture, a boutique social agency located in Metro Detroit. He currently runs the Social Media & Reputation Management department at Search Optics. He loves travel, dogs, bikes, and coffee, in no particular order. You can follow him on twitter at @jordanskole.