British Science Festival in Bradford...

It’s a month to go until the British Science Festival which will be held in Bradford this year. Of interest to mathematicians are: Maths and Stats Busking 10-11 September in city centre – not sure where. See also my previous post about maths busking. Vital Statistics: Sport’s Key to Decision-Making, 1pm-3pm, Sat 10 September. The Maths and Computing Magic Show, 3.30pm-5pm, Sat 10 Sept X and Y Factor – A Mathematics Multi-media Competition, possibly 11am-1pm, Tue 13 Sept , see p10 of the pdf in the link. Maths Makes Waves, 1pm-3pm, Tue 13 Sept . The Sight and Sound of the Primes, 1pm-2pm, Wed 14 Sept. New Patterns – New Perspectives, Caroline Series, 4.30pm-5.30pm, Thu 15 September. Look out for me in the audience at the Maths and Computing Magic Show and Maths Makes Waves. I would like to attend Caroline Series’ talk but I may be on...

The Code part 3

This week’s review of The Code has been delayed a day as I was at the cinema on Wednesday night. Saw Super 8, the new film from JJ Abrams. Like others films he has directed it’s a good film. I always hope that one day he might do a great film – this isn’t it. Back to the TV review. In this week’s programme we saw Marcus du Sautoy risk his life to show his belief in “The Code” when he calculated where a 30kg ball would land and sat just beyond the landing spot. Given that the series has used special graphics effects (this week was full of “tilt shift” effects where the focus has been monkeyed around with to achieve a miniaturization look) one may doubt the event. Particularly as later in the programme effects were used on the ball to make it fall short and go into orbit. However, it did look like he really did the stunt! Quite brave for a man who says he can’t do arithmetic. Anyhow, leaving aside the distractions, what was the show about? Prediction mainly. When can we use mathematics to predict what will happen? Quite often is of course the answer. Du Sautoy brought in Christopher Columbus, starling flocks, ants, rock-paper-scissors, serial killers, chaos, lemmings, weather prediction, the butterfly effect, the wisdom of crowds, forecasting flu with Google (the number of web searches for flu symptoms and remedies follows the incidence of flu in the population – fancy that!) and looking for patterns in cities. The latter featured an interview with Geoffrey West who recently gave a TED talk. (I think the talk will feature in my new course on making presentations as an example of what not to do!) Most of the uses...

The Carol Vorderman review of mathematics...

Today Carol Vorderman’s review of maths for the Conservative Party is unveiled and I was invited to talk about it on BBC Radio Leeds (I’ll give a link when one appears, UPDATE: For one week from today see here from 1:18:15). The report is hard to find on the web so I was only going on the rumoured recommendations. [Update: it’s here. The report was actually mainly written by Roger Porkess rather than Carol Vorderman.] The main points are 1. Maths should be compulsory until the age of 18. 2. There should be a two types of GCSE. The first of these is not going to help the standing of maths with the general public, is it? Maths is not the most popular of subjects and forcing people to do this until 18 is not going to help. However, that is a rather small point. The real killer of this proposal can be summed up in the question “Where are we going to find the teachers?”. The country has an acute shortage of maths teachers already; enacting this proposal will only make it worse. It will force teachers to be spread more thinly leading to poorer learning. So I can’t see it going ahead, at least for a number of years. The secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, has said he would like the majority of students to be doing maths up to the age of 18. This may turn out to be like Tony Blair’s 50% of young people going to university, i.e., end up being “more of an aspiration”. [UPDATE: See section 9.3 of the report. This problem is not really dealt with in my opinion.] The second proposal, two types of GCSE, is something we have got already with the...

Review of The Code and comparison with the GOAT...

This week’s episodes was called Shapes (or as we used to call it before the national curriculum – geometry) The programme once again featured ghostly voiceovers, moody shots and bags of computer generated graphics. Again, like last week, my disclaimer is that the programme is not aimed at me. Having said that I liked this more than the last one though I didn’t see anything I could steal for my teaching. Marcus kicked off the programme at the Devil’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, the natural rock formation that made of hexagonal stones. From this it was off to see some bees use hexagons in their hives and the only number fact was that the angle involved was 120 degrees. Was this the only number mentioned this week? After that we had bubbles, Platonic solids in Neolithic Scotland, soap films and the Munich Olympic Stadium, a stunning cave in Germany made of cubic crystals, non-symmetric snowflakes (they’re not all six sided!), Mandelbrot and fractals, and in particular the guy at Pixar who used fractals to generate mountain scenery. There was also a bit about Jackson Pollock and fractals. I’ve always found the claims of fractal dimension in his paintings to be a bit dubious but I have never had time to investigate them. Comparison with GOAT (GOAT is a sports abbreviation for Greatest Of All Time.) The Code’s blog has a large number of disparaging comments. “Marcus du Sautoy’s first programme in the series “The Code” has tarnished his reputation.”, “Nothing new here except the labelling of this knowledge as The Code.” I can’t find some worse ones that I spotted last week (maybe they were deleted!). Of course comments sections are always full of bile and don’t reflect the majority position — those with...

Scott Kim and Puzzles...

When Scott Kim cropped up in the Martin Gardner video it occurred to me I should post a link to his TED talk. Like the Martin Gardner programme it is not strictly maths but is a close enough relation for mathematicians to...