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Here’s How Little I See Your Point

You may have seen an article linked to last week, written by Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic. The article was titled ‘Here’s How Little Math Americans Actually Use At Work‘, although mysteriously this journalist makes use of some mathematical analysis of survey data, and not only that, the data appears to show that 94% of Americans claim to use mathematics as part of their daily job.

The article discusses people’s misconceptions about the future utility of what they were learning, as well as the divide between using ‘any math’ and ‘advanced math’, which includes calculus, algebra and statistics. The number of Americans who admitted to using this type of maths appears to drop off once you get to anything more complicated than fractions, and also presented is an analysis of this divide by job type.

A very well-written and thoughtful response to this has already been posted at mathematics professor Bret Benesh’s blog, which gives four reasons why the article annoyed him (and probably several other people too).

Seeking election-themed graph blunders

Since we’d like to write a funny post about it, if you’ve been sent any literature for the upcoming local elections in the UK (or indeed, from the past or from other elections around the world) which contains a graph or chart of questionable rigor, we want to know about it.

As an example, Colin Beveridge sent us this classic from his doormat:



We’ll be awarding bonus points for inaccurate pie charts, exaggerated/meaningless bar sizes, the complete absence of axis label or scale, the use of ‘Can’t win here!’ and any other sneaky/incompetent features. Email your submissions to, and watch out for a roundup post if we collect a sizeable pile.

Happy Birthday Euler!

google doodle screengrab

Today is Euler’s $-306 \times e^{i \pi}$th birthday, and Google have chosen to celebrate (despite ignoring several other prominent mathematical birthdays, including Erdős’s centenary – see the @MathsHistory twitter feed for a full list) by creating a Google doodle on their homepage.

For anyone who isn’t aware, this is when Google changes the image above the search box on the homepage at, so it still says ‘Google’ but using an appropriate image, which sometimes has built-in interactive elements. I thought it was worth pointing out some of the fantastic maths they’ve included in today’s doodle.

Follow Friday, 29/03/13

It’s Friday again! And with a seamless unbroken chain of Follow Friday posts stretching backward through time with no discernible gap, here’s another post with some recommendations of people to follow on Twitter if you’re into maths.

f(Erdős) = 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Paul Erdős, or as most people would call it, Erdős’ 100th birthday. So, Happy Birthday Paul. And if you’ve never heard of him, let’s see what people at his birthday party are saying about the Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Please note: all birthday parties are strictly fictional.

Probably the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century, Paul Erdős … was so eccentric that he made Einstein look normal. He was 11 before he ever tied his shoes, 21 before he ever buttered toast, and died without ever boiling an egg. Erdős lived on the road, traveling from conference to conference, owning nothing but math notebooks and a suitcase or two. His life consisted of math, nothing else.

– Clifford Goldstein, in The Mules That Angels Ride (2005), p. 125

Open Season – The Perfect Cuboid

In this short series of articles, I’m writing about mathematical questions we don’t know the answer to – which haven’t yet been proven or disproven. This is the second article in the series, and considers a less well-known variant on an extremely well-known problem.

Ask anyone to name a theorem, and they’ll probably come up with one of the really famous ones, like Pythagoras’ theorem. This super-handy hypotenuse fact states that for a triangle with sides A, B and C, where the angle between A and B is a right angle, we have $C^2 = A^2 + B^2$. This leads us on to a nice bit of stamp-collecting – there are infinitely many triples of integers, A, B and C, which fit this equation, called Pythagorean Triples.

One well-known generalisation of this is to change the value $2$ to larger values, and go looking for triples satisfying $C^n = A^n + B^n$. But don’t – Andrew Wiles spent a good chunk of his life on proving that you can’t, for any value of $n>2$, find any such triples. The statement was originally made by Pierre De Fermat, and while Fermat famously didn’t write down a proof, it was the last of his mathematical statements to be gifted one – hence the name ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ – and proving it took over 350 years.

Foldable Dodecahedron Calendar made in LaTeX

If anyone still hasn’t sorted themselves out with a calendar for 2013 – come on people, it’s February! – there’s a nice example of one here. It’s a dodecahedron which, once assembled, you can presumably orient to display the correct month (or the incorrect month, if you’re an impish sort).

The best thing about it for fans of LaTeX (the majestic mathematical markup language of kings) is that this thing is written entirely in LaTeX, using the TikZ package to create the graphics.

Download: PDF and TeX files, as well as all necessary packages, are available from

(If you can’t compile the calendar yourself and want an up-to-date version, click on the Open in writeLaTeX link).