Tuesday 29 March 2011

Phone Bill for Adam Ries

Found this old file on Reuters news service just in time for the commemoration of the death of German mathematician Adam Ries (Ries died on March 30th in 1559):

BERLIN – A German mathematician who died 450 years ago has been sent a letter demanding that he pay long-overdue television licence fees, residents at his former address said today. Germany's GEZ broadcast fee collection office sent the bill to the last home address of Adam Ries, an algebra expert who bought the house in 1525. A club in his honour was set up at the property four centuries later.
"We received a letter saying 'To Mr Adam Ries' on it, with the request to pay his television and radio fees," said Annegret Muench, who now heads the club.
Muench returned the letter to the GEZ with a note explaining the request had come too late because Ries had died in 1559, centuries before the invention of television and radio. She nonetheless received a reminder a few weeks later.
And from My files on Ries (or Riese):
When the early Italian mathematicians began to develop the foundations of algebra using the new Arabic numerals, they used the Latin word cosa, unknown, to represent the unknown quantity in a problem. In the 15th and 16th century with the emergence of the German Rechenmeisters, or master reckoners, the word coss was used in the same role. One of the most influential of these master reckoners was Adam Riese, who played a significant role in the movement toward the use of "Hindu-arabic" numerals and away from the counting boards and Roman numerals that still persisted. His Die Coss in 1524, and his other arithmetic primers were so well received that "nach Adam Riese" is still used in Germany to describe mathematical accuracy and precision. One of the reasons for his popularity was that Riese wrote in German rather than Latin which was more commonly used for math books.  This allowed for much greater access to his work.  The image at right appeared on a German stamp on the 400th anniversary of his death. It is from a woodcut that appeared on the cover of Rechenung nach der lenge, auff den Linihen vnd Feder .  The word "cossist" became a term for algebraist throughout Europe during this period. Many of the symbols we now use were developed during this time, including the signs "+" and "-" for addition and subtraction, and the first use of decimal fractions.

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