Here are a few of the stories that we didn’t get round to covering in depth this month.
Turing’s Sunflowers Project – results
Manchester Science Festival’s mass-participation maths/gardening project, Turing’s Sunflowers, ran in 2012 and invited members of the public to grow their own sunflowers, and then photograph or bring in the seed heads so a group of mathematicians could study them. The aim was to determine whether Fibonacci numbers occur in the seed spirals – this has previously been observed, but no large-scale study like this has ever been undertaken. This carries on the work Alan Turing did before he died.
It quite quickly went viral, or as relatively viral as a maths game can get, with people tweeting their high scores and posting the link to reddit and Hacker News. I realised fairly soon that I should put in some stats tracking, to see if there were any interesting patterns in the data (and also to inflate my ego as the “games played” counter went up). I missed the first big spike in traffic, but on the 9th of March I wrote a script which saved a record of each game to a database.
The mad rush settled down quite quickly but there were still occasional spikes as different sites or people with lots of twitter followers found the game. Now, after two months, I’ve got data for just under 350,000 games. That’s a decent amount of information!
From Mark C. Wilson of the University of Auckland, a little public service announcement for anyone who’s ever been involved with a mathematical journal.
There is much dissatisfaction with the current state of research
publication, but little information on community attitudes and priorities.
I have started a survey which I hope you will fill in (I estimate 10-15
minutes, and it is completely anonymous). The results will be made publicly
available later this year. I hope that it will help to focus our efforts as
a community by allowing us to work toward broadly agreed goals. I want to
get as representative and as large a sample of the world mathematical
community as possible. Please forward to your local colleagues.
Please answer this survey if and only if you have been involved with a
mathematical journal as editor, reviewer/referee, author or reader in the
last 3 years. By “mathematical” we also mean to include theoretical
computer science and mathematical statistics journals, and disciplinary
journals used by applied mathematicians. Essentially, any journal covered
by Mathematical Reviews qualifies.
Warning: you could make a very strong argument I’ve thought far too much about something inconsequential. If that makes your stomach turn, look away now.
This morning in the shower, I had an idle thought about my towel. It was, as always, folded neatly on the toilet seat. A problem that’s been bugging me for a few days is how to pick up the towel by a section of the long edge, so when it unfolds it’s the right way round.
* quiet in the back
The problem is that the short edge and the long edge look the same, and once I’ve folded the towel over a couple of times and had a shower only a madman* would remember which is which. But my towel isn’t square, so it occurred to me that either the longer or the shorter edge, after folding, could be the edge I want. Since I never make a diagonal fold, the long edge is only ever folded on top of the long edge, and likewise for the short edge. I fold the towel until it fits comfortably on top of the toilet seat, and by the time I’ve finished my shower I can’t be relied upon to remember which sequence of folds I did.
Which got me thinking about the ratio between the width and height of my towel: if I know this ratio then, by looking at the towel and counting the number of folds, I can work out which folds I’ve done, and hence which of the sides will unfold to be the long edge.