Tuesday, April 14, 2020

John Conway, RIP

Sue Gee:

John Conway, the mathematician who will be forever known to many programmers as the man who invented The Game of Life, died on April 11, 2020 at the age of 82, a victim of COVID-19.


As we reported back in 2014, see Does John Conway Hate Life, the popularity of GOL had been something of a millstone to to Conway himself - he regretted the way it overshadowed his other, more important, achievements.

Siobhan Roberts (book, excerpt):

For the last quarter century Conway has held the position of Princeton’s John von Neumann distinguished professor in applied and computational mathematics, now emeritus. Before that, he spent three decades at Cambridge, where in the 1970s, he dived deep into the vast ocean of mathematical symmetry. He discovered a 24-dimensional symmetry group that came to bear his name, and, with his colleague Simon Norton, he illuminated the 196,883-dimensional Monster group with a paper titled “Monstrous Moonshine”. Conway also discovered a new class of numbers, infinitely large and infinitesimally small, which are now known as “surreal numbers”.


In 1993, Conway attracted the attention of a New York Times reporter. The resulting profile opened with what Conway calls his “doomsday rule”, an algorithm by which he can calculate the day of the week for any given date[…]

John Gruber:

The Wikipedia entry on Conway’s Game of Life is excellent. Google has a good Easter egg for the query “Conway’s Game of Life”.

David Smith:

I distinctly recall the very first ‘genuinely cool’ program I ever wrote, Conway’s Game of Life in Computer Science 101. It seemed like magic that something so simple could be so beautiful. I wanted to pay a little tribute to him, so I’m adding this is an option in v1.0.4 [of Watchsmith].

See also:

Update (2020-05-14): Reg Braithwaite (via Hacker News):

Like so very, very many, I mourn Conway’s passing, and yet I also celebrate his life. I celebrate his accomplishments, I celebrate his curiosity, and I celebrate his skill at making important topics in mathematics engaging and interesting.

One of the finest examples of that skill is the programming language FRACTRAN, the subject of this essay.

Update (2021-01-07): zverok (via Hacker News):

At this point, I felt that probably some of APL approaches and examples could be translated to Ruby pretty straightforwardly, and that would be an idiomatic Ruby. To challenge this feeling, I experimented with translating the (in)famous APL’s one-line Conway’s Game of Life implementation—and succeeded to implement GoL in exactly one Ruby statement.

Siobhan Roberts (via Hacker News):

Dr. Conway was partial to the triangle, for which he discovered the Conway circle theorem: If you extend the sides of any triangle beyond each vertex, at a distance equal to the length of the opposite side, the resulting six points lie on a circle.

Siobhan Roberts:

“I used to go around saying, ‘I hate Life,’” Dr. Conway says in the film. “But then I was giving a lecture somewhere, and I was introduced as ‘John Conway, Creator of Life.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s quite a nice way to be known.’ So I stopped saying ‘I hate Life’ after that.”

Recently, some of Life’s most steadfast friends reflected upon its influence and lessons over half a century.

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