Matt Parker Number Ninja...

This is mainly one for those local to Leeds (although see the bottom of the post). As part of the Leeds Festival of Science, Matt Parker will be giving a talk at the University. From the advertising: Direct from BBC Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox and Robin Ince, with research featured on QI, Leeds will be welcoming stand-up Maths comedian Matt Parker. Expect everything from debunking number nonsense and flagrant sudoku abuse to the mysterious patterns in the locations of ancient monuments and defunct Woolworths stores. Suitable for ages 16 plus. Entry to the show is strictly by ticket only. Book early as places are limited. Tickets can be booked via the University of Leeds website I’ll be doing my own little bit for Leeds Science Week with a visit to at least one school. See the Schools Programme. Teachers and pupils: Although it’s too late to book me for science week, if you want me to visit your school, then get please get in touch. I’ll travel further afield than just...

Mathematics of Lego

Obviously the first post of the year should be a serious one about the year ahead, New Year’s resolutions and such. Not this time. This time I urge you to have a look at the mathematics of Lego via Wired. Read the article here. To be honest I’m not sure if this really is a good example of a log-log plot (could I use it in class) or if it even tells us something deep about Lego but I think it’s worth a...

Lancelot Hogben

No post last week – I seem to have spent the last two weeks on trains or motorways going from one part of the country to the next on various academic related missions so have not had the time to write a post. So back to business. Dara O’Briain’s Science Club is a new TV series that takes a Top Gearish approach to scientific topics (I often wondered why no one had attempted such an approach before). Last night one of the guests was Lucy Cooke who I’d never come across before but was very entertained by. As her unsung scientific hero she selected Lancelot Hogben as he pioneered the use of the African clawed frog in scientific investigation, including an early method of testing for pregnancy in humans. I had not known this side of him, I know him as the author of Mathematics for the Million. I bought a copy of this book from the thirties from a second-hand book shop in Ilford when I was an undergraduate. In its time it was a popular maths best-seller, though I doubt such an equation-packed book would do so well now. To give some idea of the content it starts with mathematics in ancient antiquity and gets up to calculus, modern algebra and probability. I have to confess that I have not read it cover to cover but have read chapters, dipped in here and there and used some material for my own courses. I would love to be able to teach the chapter on Mathematics for the Mariner as it covers a lot of interesting spherical geometry. Maybe some...

XKCD on the maths of elections...

Too much going on this week to post anything sensible so I’ll point in the direction of the latest xkcd:

Tails you win: The Science of Chance

Last night David Spiegelhalter presented a TV programme on the science of chance. As usual it’s available on the BBC’s iPlayer for seven days. Spiegelhalter is an entertaining speaker, I’ve seen him give talks a number of times, but I felt this programme was a bit pedestrian. There’s lots in it but that just makes it too “bitty”. For example, there is a brief bit about Apple making iPods less random and an overlong bit about a cricketer who was “unlucky” to break an ankle and so on. Nothing was dealt with in depth. Upon reflection I think that the problem (leaving aside that I am not the target audience, but hey, I can have an opinion) is that there is a lack of drama and tension in the programme. It’s just one thing after another. So although the programme did progress through the history of chance there was no sense in these historical pieces of dramatic fights to uncover the truth. In fact, I felt that the only attempt at tension was rather misguided. To create drama Spiegelhalter jumps out of an aeroplane after explaining how at his age the risk of dying is in some sense less than that of a younger person as he is more likely to die in the next few years. As he heads toward the ground the screen freezes, a caption asks “what happened next?” and the programme moves on to another topic, returning much later. Are we supposed to think that perhaps the parachute didn’t open and he tumbled to his death? Well the tabloids would have told us: “Risk Prof dies in ‘unlikely accident'” or the announcer would have dedicated the programme to his memory. So of course there was no tension or drama in this piece. Particularly since the programme titles showed the parachute opening. Anyhow, there were many bits I did like such as the explanation of average age until death and the graphics used. Mercifully, he didn’t do the Monty Hall problem which has rather been done to death. And of course, as I said, Spiegelhalter is an entertaining speaker so at least he wasn’t putting me to...

In Liverpool

I’m back in Liverpool. Rob Sturman and I were reprising the British Science Festival talk for the Liverpool Mathematics Society and today I’m giving a research talk at the University. I had hoped to write about all this last night when I was in my hotel, the famous Adelphi Hotel, but they don’t have internet access in the rooms, only in the lounge. I can’t remember when the last time I stayed in a hotel without free wifi access was. Anyhow, I’m currently in an office in the Mathematical Sciences Building. It may even have been the office I had here back in the 90s but I’m not sure maybe it was the one next door. A lot has been happening since I last wrote. Did you see that the University of Leeds held a talk by, Iain Lobbam, the director of GCHQ on Alan Turing? If not then see the Guardian article or the Telegraph...