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Newcastle MathsJam March 2012 Recap

It’s been two months since I last wrote one of these!  March was a haze of overwork and stress for me, so I didn’t write a recap for March’s MathsJam while it was still March. Peter Rowlett, who was visiting Newcastle as part of his mission to avoid having to think up new puzzles for MathsJams by always attending different ones (and also to give a talk at the university) has kindly sent me his notes, so here’s what I’ve reconstructed:

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A little applet to make maths for screengrabbing

Paul Taylor wanted an easy way to write some maths he could take a screengrab of, for use as an icon. Before I intervened he was doing something unnatural with wikipedia, so I wrote a little applet using MathJax: “make big maths“.

Quite a few tools like this exist, using mimetex or some other CGI tool to run LaTeX on a server and produce an image file. That’s far too slow and rubbish-looking for my liking, so I made my own with MathJax.

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Interesting Esoterica Summation, volume 3

Summing up some more interesting esoterica seems like the right thing to do at the moment, so here’s that.

A reminder: every now and then I encounter a paper or a book or an article that grabs my interest but isn’t directly useful for anything. It might be about some niche sub-sub-subtopic I’ve never heard of, or it might talk about something old from a new angle, or it might just have a funny title. I put these things in my Interesting Esoterica collection on Mendeley.

In this post the titles are links to the original sources, and I try to add some interpretation or explanation of why I think each thing is interesting below the abstract.

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Slides about the princess in a castle puzzle

I gave a talk to our internal postgrad forum last week about the princess in a castle puzzle. I made some slides for it using deck.js. They looked quite nice and I could just about get what I wanted in them, but I now know that using SVG in HTML is still an enormous faff if you want it to scale nicely, which is basically the only reason you would use SVG.

Click here to see the slides.

I’m not sure if you can follow along with the slides without me talking; maybe I’ll do a transcript with slide drive later.

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Visualising the wrong data on the Guardian data blog

This visualisation shows for each council or unitary authority how many hours a week you’d need to work, earning minimum wage, in order to pay the median rent for a one-bed flat. The minimum wage is a national constant.

No justification is given for using the median rent. In a fair world, the median rent should be paid by someone on the median income. Assuming that people earning the minimum wage are the lowest earners1 and make up X% of the population, then an upper bound for rent paid by people earning minimum wage should be the Xth percentile, if housing is provided fairly2.

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Using a zero-knowledge protocol to prove you can solve a sudoku

I’ve just uploaded to youtube a video I made with Katie Steckles to demonstrate why zero-knowledge protocols exist and how one works.

Katie is a habitual liar, so we followed the zero-knowledge protocol described in the paper, “Cryptographic and Physical Zero-Knowledge Proof Systems for Solutions of Sudoku Puzzles” which you can download from http://www.mit.edu/~rothblum/papers/sudoku.pdf

By following this protocol, Katie can prove that she isn’t lying to me about being able to solve the puzzle, without revealing anything about how she solved it.

The paper I mentioned, “How to explain zero-knowledge protocols to your children” is an excellent explanation of the ideas behind zero-knowledge proof.

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