Did you read Cédric Villani’s Birth of a Theorem? Did you have the same reaction as me, that all of the mentions of the technical details were incredibly impressive, doubtless meaningful to those in the know, but ultimately unenlightening?
Writing about maths, especially deep technical maths, so that a reader can follow along with it is hard – the Venn diagram of the set of people who can write clearly and the set of people who understand the maths, two relatively small sets, has a yet smaller intersection.
Exams have a nasty habit of sucking the joy out of a subject. My interest in proper literature was dulled by A-Level English, and I celebrated my way out of several GCSE papers – in subjects I’d picked because I enjoyed them – saying “I’ll never have to do that again.”
Geometry is a topic that generally suffers badly from this – but fortunately, Ed Southall and Vincent Pantaloni’s Geometry Snacks is here to set that right.
I’m an old fashioned manager, I write the team down on the back of a fag packet and I play a simple 4-4-2.
Mike Bassett, England Manager
I’m very much like Mike Bassett: I like standing on the terraces, I like full-backs whose main skill is kicking wingers into the ad hoardings, and – most of all – I like geometrically correct footballs.
Removing four lines at once with an I-piece in Tetris is the most efficient way to score, which creates a tension: on one hand, you want to build high enough to score quickly, but on the other, building too high puts you at risk of ending the game. The balance between the two is exquisite.
I mention that, because I was about to grumble that the corresponding balance in MEI Maths’s new game app thingummy Factris isn’t quite as good – of course it isn’t. Nothing ever will be.
I’d have written it as $r = 1 – \theta$, myself, but even then it’s not much of a heart. However, that’s pretty much my biggest gripe about this episode, the penultimate in series 2 of Samuel Hansen’s one-of-a-kind mathematics podcast, Relatively Prime.
Episode 7 is subtitled “Dating in the mathematical domain”, and looks at the maths involved in dating and relationships, and begins with some of the comments Sam’s dating profile received from non-mathematicians. Now, denizens of the dating world: Samuel has many flaws and failings; picking on the fact that he’s a mathematician seems a little arbitrary and unfair, like deciding not to vote for Donald Trump because you don’t like his tie. I have this unfamiliar sensation. Could it be… surely not? It appears that I feel a little sorry for Samuel. Don’t tell him, ok?
I’ve been looking forward to this one: cities in the mathematical domain. This is the kind of applied maths I can really get behind.
Samuel starts with Mike Batty of University College, London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis discussing how cities grow and organise themselves. The structure is frequently fractal; how does one calculate the dimension of a city?
From a top-level view of cities, he moves on to a low-level description of one of the biggest problem in cities: traffic (another thing that fascinates me). We get a glimpse of traffic waves, and the unfairness that the person responsible for the average jam doesn’t suffer from the effects. And we learn that Gábor Orosz (University of Michigan) tests his hypotheses using robots as well as simulations.