Norwegian duo Ylvis have just released a music video about… well, essentially it’s about physical knot theory. It’s about tying “the greatest knot of all”, the Trucker’s hitch.

## September 18, 2014

## July 4, 2014

### Could a computer see a knot?

I don’t know about you, but when I tell non-mathematicians what knot theory is, I often find myself telling a story about identifying a knotted protein by its knottedness- something about different proteins tending to be bendy to differing degrees, so that certain types of protein tend to form knots with higher writhe than others, and that this helps biologists and chemists to distinguish proteins which they would otherwise need a lot of time and money and an electron microscope to tell apart.

One major problem with this story, and with similar stories, is that the knot diagrams have to be photographed (and thus identified) by hand. The pictures are not always easy to interpret (e.g. distinguishing overcrossings from undercrossings):

Also resolution might be low, objects might be in the way…

This is a computer vision problem as opposed to a math problem- but wouldn’t it be nice if a computer could recognise a knot type from a suboptimal picture? If you could snap a picture of yourself standing in front of an knot making bunny ears behind it, and your computer would automatically tag it with the correct knot type? Furthermore, wouldn’t it be nice if a computer could recognise your knot on the basis of many noisy pictures, perhaps taken from different angles? (more…)

## March 2, 2014

### SnapPy 2.1: Now with extra precision!

Marc Culler and I released SnapPy 2.1 today. The main new feature is the ManifoldHP variant of Manifold which does all floating-point calculations in quad-double precision, which has four times as many significant digits as the ordinary double precision numbers used by Manifold. More precisely, numbers used in ManifoldHP have 212 bits for the mantissa/significand (roughly 63 decimal digits) versus 53 bits with Manifold.

## January 24, 2014

### Distinguishing the left-hand trefoil from the right-hand trefoil by colouring

This morning, I’ve been looking through a very entertaining paper in which Roger Fenn distinguishes the left-hand trefoil from the right-hand trefoil in a way that could be explained to elementary school children.

R. Fenn, Tackling the trefoils. (more…)

## November 26, 2013

### What’s Next? A conference in question form

Mark your calendars now: in June 2014, Cornell University will host “What’s Next? The mathematical legacy of Bill Thurston”. It looks like it will be a very exciting event, see the (lightly edited) announcement from the organizers below the fold.

## November 19, 2013

### What is the Shannon Capacity of a coloured knot?

I see topological objects as natural receptacles for information. Any knot invariant is information- perhaps a knot with crossing number is a fancy way of writing the number , or a knot with Alexander polynomial is a fancy way of carrying the information . A few days ago, I was reading Tom Leinster’s nice description of Shannon capacity of a graph, and I was wondering whether we could also define Shannon capacity for a knot. Avishy Carmi and I think that we can (and the knots I care about are coloured), and although the idea is rather raw I’d like to record it here, mainly for my own benefit.

For millenea, the Inca used knots in the form of quipu to communicate information. Let’s think how we might attempt to do the same. (more…)

## October 13, 2013

### A noteworthy knot simplification algorithm

This post concerns an intriguing undergraduate research project in computer engineering:

Lewin, D., Gan O., Bruckstein A.M.,

TRIVIAL OR KNOT: A SOFTWARE TOOL AND ALGORITHMS FOR KNOT SIMPLIFICATION,

CIS Report No 9605, Technion, IIT, Haifa, 1996.

A curious aspect of the history of low dimensional topology are that it involves several people who started their mathematical life solving problems relating to knots and links, and then went on to become famous for something entirely different. The 2005 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Robert Aumann, whose game theory course I had the honour to attend as an undergrad, might be the most famous example. In his 1956 PhD thesis, he proved asphericity of alternating knots, and that the Seifert surface is an essential surface which separates alternating knot complements into two components the closures of both of which are handlebodies.

Daniel Lewin is another remarkable individual who started out in knot theory. His topological work is less famous than Aumann’s, and he was murdered at the age of 31 which gives his various achievements less time to have been celebrated; but he was a remarkable individual, and his low dimensional topology work deserves to be much better known. (more…)

## September 30, 2013

### SnapPy 2.0 released

Marc Culler and I pleased to announce version 2.0 of SnapPy, a program for studying the topology and geometry of 3-manifolds. Many of the new features are graphical in nature, so we made a new tutorial video to show them off. Highlights include

(more…)

## July 8, 2013

### Tangle Machines- Positioning claim

Avishy Carmi and I are in the process of finalizing a preprint on what we call “tangle machines”, which are knot-like objects which store and process information. Topologically, these roughly correspond to embedded rack-coloured networks of 2-spheres connected by line segments. Tangle machines aren’t classical knots, or 2-knots, or knotted handlebodies, or virtual knots, or even w-knot. They’re a new object of study which I would like to market.

Below is my marketing strategy.

My positioning claim is:

- Tangle machines blaze a trail to information topology.

My three supporting points are:

- Tangle machines
*pre-exist*in a the sense of Plato. If you look at a knot from the perspective of information theory, you are inevitably led to their definition. - Tangle machines are interesting mathematical objects with rich algebraic structure which present a plethora of new and interesting questions with information theoretic content.
- Tangle machines provide a language in which one might model “real-world” classical and quantum interacting processes in a new and useful way.

Next post, I’ll introduce tangle machines. Right now, I’d like to preface the discussion with a content-free pseudo-philosophical rant, which argues that different approaches to knot theory give rise to different `most natural’ objects of study.

## June 21, 2013

### Lots and lots of Heegaard splittings

The main problem that I’ve been thinking about since graduate school (so around a decade now) is the following: How does the topology of a three-dimensional manifold determine its isotopy classes of Heegaard splittings? Up until about a year ago, I would have predicted that most three-manifolds probably don’t have many distinct Heegaard splittings, maybe even just a single minimal genus Heegaard splitting and then all of its stabilizations. Sure, plenty of examples have been constructed of three-manifolds with multiple distinct (unstabilized) splittings, but these all seemed a bit contrived, like they should be the exceptions rather than the rule. I even wrote a blog post a couple years back stating what I called the generalized Scharlamenn-Tomova conjecture, which would imply that a “generic” three-manifold has only one unstabilized splitting. However, since writing this post, my view has changed. Partially, this was the result of discovering a class of examples that disprove this conjecture. (I’m hoping to post a preprint about this on the arXiv in the near future.) But it turns out there is an even simpler class of examples in which there appear to be lots and lots of distinct Heegaard splitting. I can’t quite prove that they’re distinct, so in this post I’m going to replace my generalized Scharlemann-Tomova conjecture with a conjecture in quite the opposite direction, which I will describe below.