Odd to Obscurity
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by M. Gemignani
Gauss, Euler, and Hilbert - we often read about the great mathematicians, but
rarely about the thousands who toil in total obscurity. While it is obviously
fitting to pay homage to the truly great, once in a while we should pause to
honor common banality, if for no other reason than that it is so abundant and
prolific. To pay homage to the mediocre multitude, I have selected a few of its
most average representatives and here present a short summary of the work that
made then totally unknown so that they might serve as an inspiration and
consolation to us all.
Luigi Testadura (c. 1756 - ?). Even Testadura's mother was not sure when he was
born, and nobody really missed him when he died, thus the confusion about his
birth and death dates. For all we know, he might still be alive.
His most ignored work is his proof of the irrationality of mathematics, which
still remains to be read in the original Italian. His equally unknown "Table of
Even Integers from 2 to 200" has yet to be duplicated.
Since he was a polite male chauvinist, Testadura held many chairs throughout
Italy; even so, most people considered him a crashing boar* at the dinner table.
Henri Malchance (1853-1801). Malchance was often ridiculed for constantly
looking backward and living in the past. Nevertheless, he was the first to
envision modern computers and invented Malchance's loop, which is still in vogue
among many students in computer courses today:
1 GOTO 2;
2 GOTO 1.
He consistently used such words as "stop", "go", and "end", words which form an
important part of the computer literature today. He died of a broken heart after
he computed pi to 2 million places and then couldn't get anyone to check his
addition.
Oskar Kopfwehundleerevongluck (1895-1931). Kopfee (as he was known to his dog)
was a forerunner of the renowned Murphy; Kopfee would have been the first to
publish Murphy's Law, which then would have been known as Kopfwehundleerevon-
gluck's Law, but the secretary typing his manuscript ran off with his wife, the
original manuscript was destroyed in a fire, a replacement was lost in the mail,
and the journal in which it was to appear was shut down by the police.
Undaunted, Kopfee turned his talent to prove Euclid's fifth postulate and
showing that pi is an integer. He hurled himself into the Rhine after his rope
broke in an unsuccessful attempt to hang himself upon learning he was not to
receive tenure at the mail order university where he was an assistant envelope
stuffer.
Chambers Cadaver (1847-1901). Cadaver was an obscure English musician who was an
total unknown as a mathematician. Despite the fact that he attended both Oxford
and Cambridge, not a single instructor there would admit to having had him in
his class. Cadaver submitted no less than twenty papers to the Royal Society;
these went unrefereed until his death, at which time they were thrown away.
According to on commentator on his life, "No one would have read them anyway and
who would have paid the page charges?"
All that remains of Cadaver's works are the titles of three of his lesser works:
"A proof of Fermat's last theorem", "The four color problem solved", and
"A discourse on the continuum hypothesis and the axiom of choice and a proof
that they are indeed independent".