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Teaching myself math in jail?

  1. Sep 24, 2016 #1
    Hello all,

    I will be spending 1 year in jail for selling weed (please don't judge). I am very business savvy, and have always been very good with the math I needed to know (which was mostly just algebra). I have always been interested in learning advanced mathematics and chemistry/physics, but I never had time due to working a full time job, owning two businesses, my illegal dealings, and spending time with my wife. Since I will have nothing at all to do in jail, I figure I should use my time productively and learn the things I never had the time to learn on the outside. Since this is a county jail, there will not be classes, and I will have no internet access. So the only resource I can rely on is books. So what I need you guys to help me on if you would be so kind, is to 1) tell me the order of things I should learn in 2) Tell me which textbooks would be the best for self-teaching those subjects (they have to be paperback).

    What I was able to come up with as far as curriculum and self teaching books, by browsing some college curriculums, would be something like this:

    1) Subject: Geometry. Book: Art of problem solving (Geometry)

    2) Subject: Precalculus. Book: Precalculus: Mathematics for calculus (Stewart)

    3) Book: How to prove it (Velleman)

    4) Subject: Calc 1-2. Book: Calculus by Spivak

    5) Subject: Calc 3. Book: Calculus III (Marsden)

    6) Subject: Intro to chemistry. Book: Chemical Principles (Atkins)

    7) Subject: Intro to physics. Book: University Physics with modern physics (Sears and Zemansky)

    8) Subject: organic chemistry. Book: Organic chemistry as a second language

    9) Subject: Linear algeba. Book: Linear algebra and its applications (Strang)

    10) Subject: ODE Book: ODE (Dover book)

    11) Subject: PDE. Book: Introduction to PDE by E. C. Zachmanoglou

    12) Subject: Combinatorics. Book: Principles an techniques in combinatorics (KOH

    13) Dover book on probability theory

    14) Statistical inference by casella

    15) A book of set theory (dover)

    16) A book of abstract algebra (pinter)

    17) elementary number theory (dover)

    18) Real analysis (bass)

    19) Mathematical finance (alhabeeb)

    20) stochastic calculus (springer)

    21) stochastic calculus 2 (shreve)

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. I'm not a bad guy, and I want to try to make the most of a bad situation by at least improving my knowledge.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 24, 2016 #2


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    That looks like a good list. If you can get through all that in a year you'll be doing well. My only suggestions are:
    • Check whether the combinatorics requires knowledge of probability, as many combinatorics problems are couched in terms of probability.
    • Check whether the probability theory book covers the theoretical foundations or is just pragmatic. If it covers the theory, which is necessary to properly cover stochastic processes, it will use concepts like 'sigma algebras' (aka 'sigma fields') and 'measures', and they are easier to grasp if you have already studied real analysis. If it does cover those, you might like to put real analysis before probability theory.
  4. Sep 24, 2016 #3
    I don't see anything in the probability book about those things you mentioned. Do you have a suggestion for a good probability book?

    And would a better order after PDE be Real analysis ---> Probability theory -----> combinatorics?

    Keep in mind I don't even know what half these subjects are. I just know I am interested in math and will have a lot of time on my hands.

    I dont really think I will be able to get through anywhere near the full list I put down, but I figured better to have a long list and just finish the rest when I come out if I have to.

    Also, is that enough chem/physics on my list? I want to learn more on those too, but want to learn the math first. Just not sure if I need to learn more chem/physics in the meanwhile to be able to understand the basis for the math.
  5. Sep 25, 2016 #4


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    Your list is more than long. I wouldn't go as far as @andrewkirk and suggest the knowledge of σ-algebras and measure theory is actually needed, as long as you don't want to specialize yourself on the subject. I know that there might be different views around here. I have https://www.amazon.com/Abstract-Ana...d=1474778678&sr=1-1&keywords=hewitt+stromberg which covers measures (and σ-algebras) in the context of analysis (calculus). It also covers fundamentals on set theory. However, it has nearly 500 pages and I'd say it is hard to read within one year cover to cover without previous knowledge. (The Springer server they directed me to is currently under maintenance, but you might get a look into it later for Springer provides reading samples. I googled "hewitt+stromberg+real+abstract+analysis".)

    So in my opinion you should add priorities to the list. E.g. classic geometry and number theory are rather special subjects you might not want to spend a lot of time on. Whatever you decide to do, please be prepared that very likely you will only get a couple of books done on your list.

    In any case I wish you success (and patience).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  6. Sep 25, 2016 #5


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    If it doesn't get into that deeper stuff that's probably good, for getting started with probability. You don't need them to get the hang of probability. They become necessary to make sense of continuous stochastic processes, but they would only appear in the last three books in your list.

    Given that, I'd suggest doing the probability theory as early as you can. If employment prospects are part of your aim then proficiency with probability and statistics are arguably the most useful mathematical skills one can have in today's job market.

    If the finance texts are included with a view to later employability you might like to consider a more practical, less theoretical book as (1) you will be able to do it much earlier in the list - really as soon as you've covered Spivak's calculus (maybe even just the pre-calculus) and (2) it'll cover more practical aspects like the structure of markets and tradable instruments. The 'Bible' of the industry is John Hull's 'Options, Futures and other Derivatives'. Unfortunately, all the versions I've seen are hardback, but Amazom seems to imply that paperback versions may exist. Failing that, you could ask a friend to buy the hardback and replace the cover with a soft cover.
  7. Sep 25, 2016 #6
    Bad idea if this is your first encounter to calculus. I recommend Lang's first course together with Keisler. After that you might want to do Spivak.
  8. Sep 25, 2016 #7
    Here would be my book list. Maybe it'll give you some ideas.

    Geometry I and II - Kiselev
    Elements - Euclid
    Trigonometry - Gelfand
    Precalculus mathematics in a nutshell - Simmons
    Basic mathematics - Lang
    First course in calculus - Lang
    Elementary calculus - Keisler
    Differential Equations - Ross
    How to prove it - Velleman
    Understanding Analysis - Abbott
    Vector calculus, linear algebra and differential forms - Hubbard
    Linear Algebra - Friedberg
    Probability - Morin
    Abstract Algebra - Anderson, Feil
  9. Sep 25, 2016 #8


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    One can debate about which book is most suitable for a certain subject, but following up on post #4 I think your list is way too long. It may be good to focus more on fundamentals (see post #7). Also forget about physics and chemistry for the moment.

    Meanwhile, it may also be important to lift your spirit by reading about prospective applications that motivate you. For example, if you fancy to go in the direction of mathematical finance, take the advice in post #5 into account: there are quite accessible titles nowadays that do not require the heavy apparatus of continuous stochastic calculus and the underlying real analysis. Some introductory probability books treat finance examples as well.

    Finally, you wrote that you do not have an internet connection in jail. Is there someone outside that will visit you regularly? You could pass that person your questions in writing and (s)he could post them here for discussion and feedback. Then (s)he could print the thread and pass it back to you.
  10. Sep 25, 2016 #9
    That's a pretty neat suggestion! I would definitely be available to help the OP in this way!
  11. Sep 25, 2016 #10


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    So would I. I think you have a lot more experience helping students with self-studying, though. OP, I think you should take his offer.
  12. Sep 25, 2016 #11
    If it is possible, he could just create a thread where somebody posts questions regularly and we answer.
  13. Sep 25, 2016 #12
    That's really awesome of you guys to want to go so far out of your way to help me like that. Gives me a little faith in humanity. However, I think it would be really hard to understand what you guys are saying by my wife relaying messages for me. I think I have to just do what I can with the books and then when I get out ask questions

    Micromass, thanks for the book list, I'll replace mine with yours. After that book list, what subjects will I be missing? Where will I have to pick up when I'm out?

    Also, how many total self study hours do you guys estimate you need to become an expert? I know this is a seriously broad question, as you can spend your whole life learning and still not know it all
  14. Sep 25, 2016 #13
    I don't think that's a good idea really. You're going to hit a wall sooner or later, and waiting a full year to get answers is a bad idea. Worse, you might even tell yourself you understand it while you totally don't.

    I understand that relaying messages is going to be tough, but I would really take time to put in place such a system. While in jail, you should study the books carefully. You should solve ALL problems. Then when you don't understand something, you think about it for a few days. And when you still don't, you write a very good and well-formed question on a piece of paper. Then your wife posts this on this forum.

    Is it a good system? No, it's going to be really hard. But it's a lot lot lot LOT better than nothing. Believe me, you will soon be very glad you are following this system.

    To be honest, I'll be surprised if you can manage my book list further than calculus. What I put down is just going to be too much for a year. So work through the book list and when you get out, we can talk about what direction you'll be intending to go.

    I refuse to answer these questions, because I think it would do you a disservice. How many hours do you need to self-study a subject? As much as you need to understand it. That's the honest answer. If you need to spend 4 months on calculus (just a random figure I just made up), then you spend 4 months. Rushing it has never done anybody any good. If I tell you it takes 3 months, and you're only in the half of the book by 3 months, then you're going to feel bad for no reason. It will take you as long as is necessary.

    I hate schedules and plannings. They never work out anyway and they only give undue stress.

    So start studying the moment you get in. Read all the pages. Work ALL the problems. If it takes a week, then that's fine. If it takes you a year to complete one book, that's fine too. Don't put this kind of pressure on yourself. The important thing is that you'll be learning new and exciting stuff (and that you'll be keeping yourself busy).
  15. Sep 25, 2016 #14
    Great, thank you so much. Should I just have my wife post questions in this thread, or start a new thread for each question?

    Also, thanks for not responding with "dont break the law you piece of crap!" as some other people on other sites have. I was making 20k a week and supporting my entire family and giving to charity and stuff. Not a bad guy, just a rebel.
  16. Sep 25, 2016 #15
    Maybe it's best to use this thread since in a new thread, the responders won't have an idea of your rather unique situation. So that might be problematic.

    To be honest, using or dealing weed shouldn't really be against the law these days. It's such a dumb thing to go to jail for. If you want to outlaw it, you got to be honest and outlaw alcohol and tobacco too. But the government gets a huge amount of taxes from these substances, so I think their position is rather hypocrite.

    Not that the type of your offence matters to me really. Even if you committed an actual crime, I would still try to help you as much as I can.
  17. Sep 25, 2016 #16

    Charles Link

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    One thing you really will need is someone to do some of your mathematics with. If you can find another person there with even some interest in algebra, it will be very helpful. I know from experience even with projects at the workplace, when you are assigned to it by yourself, without anyone to work through it with you, it will seem pointless and likely to never get done. If you show another person even a little of what you are working on, you will find much more reason for your studies and it will be much enjoyable and productive.
  18. Sep 25, 2016 #17
    Do you have an alternative for the following books (because I cant find paperback, and I cant use hardcover. I cant have somebody remove the hardcover and send it to me, because it has to be shipped to me directly from the book store)

    Geometry 1 and 2, kiselev

    Vector calculus, linear algebra and differential forms by hubbard

    Abstract Algebra - Anderson, Feil

    Everything else was available in paperback.
  19. Sep 25, 2016 #18
    Tell me which of the followng are available:

    Euclidean Geometry - Solomonovich
    Geometry: Euclid and Beyond - Hartshorne
    Elementary Geometry from advanced - Moise
    Geometry - Brannan

    Apostol Calculus (both)

    Go with Pinter then.

    Please tell me which books you'll be getting so I can provide you with a chronology of when to tackle each.[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]
  20. Sep 25, 2016 #19
    All of the geometry books are available (moise is quite expensive)

    The other ones are good too.

    Which geometry book should I use?
  21. Sep 25, 2016 #20


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    I always had the fantasy of going to jail and have enough time to read all the books that I want to but I don't have the time. So make it happen for me!:biggrin:
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