John von Nsoferatu

John von NeumannThe day is almost over and I am finally getting to the birthday post. As you will see, the main person today is difficult. And it isn’t much of a day for birthdays. That’s fine. My perfect day is one where there are two or three people who I have something interesting to talk about. The worst days are the ones where I have ten or more people like that, because most of them are just going to get piled in with the “other birthdays.” If all I did was the birthday post each day, I could make it really interesting. As it is, I think what I do is better than what most people do. At least this is personalized.

On this day in 1888, the great silent film director F W Murnau was born. He died very young, in a car accident while he was at the peak of his career. He will always be remembered, however, for his filmed version of Dracula, Nosferatu. Of course, he made the film without getting the rights and by a court ruling, all the prints of the film were supposed to be destroyed. All but one was. Here is a little taste of it:

Other birthdays: composer Johann Krieger (1651); astronomer Thomas Henderson (1798); chemist Carl Remigius Fresenius (1818); science writer Arthur Eddington (1882); the most over-rated man in comic book history Stan Lee (91); actor Martin Milner (82); actor Maggie Smith (79); musician Edgar Winter (67); humorist Charlie Pierce (60); and actor Denzel Washington (59).

The day, however, belongs to the great mathematician John von Neumann who was born on this day in 1903. It is hard to classify him because he did such varied work: pure math, applied math, and even physics. I know him especially because of his work with fluid dynamics. But his work has also had applications in economics and computer science. You really need to read a biography of him to get a good idea of the breadth of his importance. You may remember how Neil deGrasse Tyson went on about all the different things that Newton did. Well, Neumann makes Newton seem like a slacker. And Neumann only lived to be 53. He died of some kind of cancer. But what Godel was in his very narrow field of interest, Neumann was in his broad fields of interest.

Happy birthday John von Neumann!

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