Reading spines up or down?

Among the minor cultural differences that separate countries is the question of the orientation of the text on the spine of books that identify their title and author when conveniently packed on book shelves: going up

Les Misérables   Der Zauberberg

proudly as French and German books, or going down

The Big Sleep  Il Principe

as English or American or Italian books? When books are ordered by topic or author, this leads to rather uncomfortable switches of orientation of the head as one scans bookshelves for the right oeuvre to read during a lazy afternoon.

Actually, these are more or less contemporary examples, and it seems that these conventions change with time. For instance, I have an old English paperback from 1951 where the title goes up instead of down:

The Greeks
The Greeks

Another from 1962 goes down. When did the change happen? And why? And how do other languages stack up? Is it rather a country-based preference? Are the titles of Italian-language books printed in Switzerland going up (like the French and German ones do), or down? And does this affect the direction in which shivers run along your spine when reading a scary story of murdered baronets in abandoned ruins?

(There’s of course the solution, admittedly snobbish, of writing the title and author’s name horizontally

Le comte de Monte Cristo
Le comte de Monte Cristo

as the Pléiade does, for instance).

Jacques Ménard, author of Nicolas Bourbaki

My punning title about James Maynard must have given me somewhere the undeserved reputation of a Borges specialist, since I’ve just received a curious reworking of the story of Pierre Ménard.

The email address from which it came ( jlb@limbo.ow ) is probably not genuine, so I wonder who the author could be (the final note “Translated, from the Spanish, by H.A.H” is of course suggestive, but one would then like to see the original Spanish…)

Number Theory Days 2016

As usual, with Spring comes the annual Number Theory Days of EPFL and ETHZ, this time in Zürich during the week-end of April 15 and 16. The website is online, and the poster should be ready very soon (I will update the post when it is…)

The meeting is organized by the Forschungsinstitut für Mathematik, and (again as usual!) there is a certain amount of funding for local expenses made available by FIM for young researchers (graduate students and postdocs). Please register on the FIM web page before March 21 if you are interested!

Is MathOverflow insane?

Since my post contra MathOverflow, already five years ago, I’ve continued watching the site and enjoying many of its mathematical discussions, and seeing myself evolve a bit concerning some of my critical opinions. However, I read today with amazement the discussion that evolved from a question of Richard Stanley on the topic of gravitational waves. I applaud the question, the answer and (among the voices of reason) the comments of Lucia.

The negative comments embody the perfect distillation of the perverse puritanical hair-splitting competition known as “Is this question a good fit for MO?” (to be read in a slightly hysterical voice) that is now what I find most annoying on the site. This is not what mathematics (not even “research” mathematics, that seems to replace here the “pure” mathematics illusion of yesteryears) is about for me. I must confess to finding particularly annoying that some of the most vocal critics (e.g., the pseudonymous “quid”) seem to be people with little actual mathematical contributions and too much time to spend and to write for ever and ever on the finer points of etiquette of a web site as if it were some platonic object to protect from all interlopers.

What would Arnold think of this discussion, where “mathematicians” throw away much (he would say “most”) of the whole history, motivation and insights of their science? Would a question of Kolmogorov on what the brain looks like as graph have passed through the fourches caudines of Signor Quid?