Maths and Magic on Radio 4...

Should have posted this the other day: Last Friday Radio 4 transmitted a programme on maths and magic entitled, Maths and Magic! It features Jolyon Jenkins investigating the connection between the subjects in the title. You can hear it here for at least a few days. There are links on the web page but I thought I should add some. One of the magicians, Alex Stone, wrote one of my favourite books of the year, Fooling Houdini, which is about how he realized he was a terrible magician and devoted himself to changing that by immersing himself in the study of magic. He also does the same trick as Jenkins and there is a deeper explanation of it in the book. The Radio 4 website also lacks links to MathsJam and to James Grime, a contributor to Numberphile. Furthermore, the website cites Persi Diaconis as the sole author of Magical Mathematics when in fact it was co-authored by Ron Graham. And on the subject of Radio 4, today’s Infinite Monkey Cage isn’t about maths but is well worth a listen because of the excellent contributions from James...

Singh, Simpsons and Skeptics...

This is a rather belated review of Simon Singh’s talk on The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets given for the Leeds Skeptics in the Pub in the Victoria Hotel pub. (There’s a chance to win the book, details below.) The Victoria is not a large pub so I did wonder where the audience was going to fit. In the end I counted nearly 100 people and this did not include those standing in the corridor or in the street outside. The Sardine Conjecture for @SLSingh at @leedsskeptics pic.twitter.com/XqE0p3lOs5 — Martin Iddon (@WalrusofComms) October 20, 2013 The talk is in two halves, the first covers the book and in the second Singh bravely invites questions on any topic connected to his work. The book part of the talk, accompanied by slides, delves into the mathematical backgrounds of the writers of The Simpsons and Futurama and how they inserted mathematical jokes into the programmes. Some of this was familiar as I’m a fan of both shows (though The Simpsons seems to have jumped the shark a while ago — Ned secretly married Mrs Krabappel!?) but Singh has done his homework and gained access to the writers so there is plenty here that was new to me. One of my favourite bits from the book wasn’t mentioned in the talk — there was a theorem invented purely for an episode of Futurama. So, the first part of the talk was about the book and during the interval Singh signed copies. Afterwards he did a question and answer session which amongst other things covered libel laws, Fermat’s last theorem, the Big Bang and quack medicine. The tour continues for another month, details can be found here. A great talk – you won’t be disappointed if you go. —-...

Interview with Richard Elwes...

In this post I interview Richard Elwes, author of a number of maths books in recent years. He has kindly agreed to give away signed copies his two most recent, Mathematics in 100 Key Breakthroughs and Chaotic Fishponds and Mirror Universes. For a chance to win all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter, see the right sidebar or the bottom of this post. I’ll get my daughter to randomly pick two winners from the list of subscribers in a couple of weeks. On with the interview… Hello Richard! I think we first met when you were a PhD student here at Leeds. Can you give a quick account of your background to help people get a feel for where you are coming from? I initially followed a conventional academic path: I studied maths as an undergraduate at Oxford, and then moved north to Leeds to start a PhD in 2001, where I met you among other excellent people. My research at that stage was in the general field of mathematical logic. Afterwards I held a postdoctoral position in Freiburg in Germany, and at some point after that I somehow found my way into writing about maths for the general public. Apart from books, I’ve written for the New Scientist, and for the excellent Plus magazine online. In fact I got my first break there, when I won their New Writers’ competition in 2006, with an article about the classification of finite simple groups (http://plus.maths.org/content/os/issue41/features/elwes/index). Your book Maths in 100 Key Breakthroughs came out last month. What’s it about? Who is it aimed at? It’s aimed at anyone who finds the idea of maths interesting and appealing, but who doesn’t want to drown in equations and jargon. So it’s written with...

Simon Singh and the Simpsons...

The week has been so busy that posting this has been delayed – I’ve been to London, Birmingham and Sheffield in the last three days. I did manage to install for a newsletter sign-up form for the blog. You can see it in the sidebar unless my hacks to the code have destroyed it for your browser. Please sign up if you want to know about maths articles, events, etc. Back to business. Simon Singh‘s new book, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, is as the title suggests about the mathematics occurring in the long running cartoon The Simpsons. Now, I knew there were plenty of maths gags in the Simpsons but I’m surprised he has filled a whole book. Maybe he also includes stuff from Futurama which was packed with maths gags and even led to a lecture by Sarah Greenwald. This became a DVD extra on Bender’s Big Score (The audience features Simpsons and Futurama’s creator Matt Groening.) Singh’s book is not out yet but you can read an article about it in last Sunday’s Observer. He’ll be doing a (rather small) tour to promote the book, details are on his website. I’m planning to be at the Leeds event so maybe I’ll see you...

Maths predicts – this time movie success

In a previous post I talked about predictions using maths and Nates Silver‘s book on essentially that topic was one of my favourites books of last year. This next one is a bit of fun – predicting movie success. Film buffs will know William Goldman’s quote about making films “Nobody knows anything” which is taken to mean that no one can predict how a film will do at the box office. However, researchers have some good news. Mestyán, Yasseri and Kertész have published Early Prediction of Movie Box Office Success Based on Wikipedia Activity Big Data. As you can tell from the title the key is to use online data and activity. Their algorithm gives good predictive power up to a month before the film is released and hence will be of little use to Hollywood producers receiving pitches for new films. Of course, these are early days and even the Oxford Internet Institute news article uses the word predicts in quotes. Nonetheless the authors compare their results to those obtained using Twitter by other researchers and find it better. The paper is freely available and since the maths behind it is accessible to undergraduates it would be great for a student mini-project. (Talking of projects, over the summer I had an undergraduate studying symmetry matching and it has turned out very well so I’ll definitely be writing about that soon.) Photo attribution: Alex Eylar,...

Glassified – Reinventing the ruler?...

The ruler has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Now it has been updated! You can read more (but not much) at Anirudh Sharma’s website, Creative Applications, Gizmag, and...