In 1894, a retired university professor named Paul Bachman was living out his golden years in Weimar, Germany.
Recently divorced, Bachman filled his days writing books, including what would become a five volume series… about analytical number theory.
It wasn’t exactly a James Bond novel; number theorists study things like prime numbers, infinity, and the fundamental properties of arithmetic.
Here’s a simple number theory example to give you a basic idea: prove that the sum of the first n integers (i.e. 1+2+3+4 . . . + n) is equal to (n2 + n)/2.
Number theory is full of seemingly elementary concepts which can turn out to be incredibly vexing… and much more complex than they initially appear. And the field has been applied widely in modern technology.
Bachman’s 1894 book (which had a spectacularly long German name) introduced an important concept in analytical number theory, something that eventually became known as “Big O notation”.
In simple terms, Bachman’s “Big O” is used to describe certain functions whose output is limited, even when the inputs grow to infinity.
Big O is an important concept in computer science. Coders classify the efficiency of their algorithms using Big O notation.
Google, for example, pays very close attention to the Big O efficiency of their search algorithms; a more efficient algorithm means faster search results and less computing power.
And there are a range of other applications as well.
Anyone who has studied math and physics knows scientists’ predilection for using Greek letters. Pi in geometry, sigma as a summation operator, etc.
In 1976, a Stanford professor named Donald Knuth published a work giving Big O notation its own Greek letter.
And you can probably guess which one– omicron.
This is a bit ironic given that the World Health Organization recently dubbed the newest variant of Covid-1984 as omicron.
It’s like it’s March 2020 all over again; public health officials are already locking down their borders and restricting travel, and the media is swooning over every new omicron case around the world.