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Given any Delta, there exists Epsilon

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At the end of an overnight flight from San Francisco to New York is hardly the ideal time to play “I Spy Mathematics” on a packed airplane. We were all grumpy and groggy from four scant hours of sleep. It seemed that nobody had watched any films en route and, like most of the other passengers, I didn’t have headphones or earplugs to hand.

Clearly there was no point in scanning the entertainment offerings with just 15 minutes to landing. But then I remembered spotting an ad on screen for The Great Courses as I’d settled into my seat in San Francisco. Was it possible that I’d blown a chance to watch Art Benjamin, David Bressoud, Judith Grabiner, David Kung, James Sellers or Mike Starbird in action? I decided to try to find out.

MacTutor History of Mathematics website creators honoured by LMS

Edmund Robertson & John O’Connor of the University of St. Andrews have been honoured by the London Mathematical Society for their pioneering MacTutor History of Mathematics website hosted at St. Andrews.

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On 3rd July it was announced that both men have received the Hirst Prize, and Edmund Robertson has been been invited to give the associated Hirst Lectureship, all part of LMS 150th Anniversary celebrations.

Eight Easy Pieces (you can touch but don’t look)

Here’s a bar bet you can’t lose. Actually, it’s more of a kitchen bet, being a quiche cutting conundrum.

You’ve just bought a lovely fresh haggis quiche at your local Minus 4 shop and are planning to eat it in one sitting, in your kitchen with a friend. You’ve agreed to share it in the fairest possible way: one of you cuts and the other choses. The quiche is in the usual circular shape.

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A coin is tossed—rather unnecessarily, it must be said—and it is determined that your friend gets to cut. You step out of the kitchen for a moment and upon your return discover to your horror that your friend has already done the cutting, but not as you had expected. Instead of making one simple straight cut as close to a diameter as possible, the big oaf has made four straight cuts.

Who wants to host a Celebration of Mind? There’s still time

This Sunday, 21st October 2012, marks what would have been the 98th birthday of Martin Gardner, American man of letters and numbers, as well as logic, puzzles, magic and scepticism. I had the good fortune to know Martin in the last decade of his life, and a more gentle and modest man you could not find, completely disproportionate to the forceful and wide influence he wielded for over 50 years as a science and mathematics journalist of the highest calibre.

The first time I met Martin he fooled me by showing me a tall thin glass and getting me to agree that its height exceeded its circumference, when in fact it didn’t.

The mathematics examinations faced by school leavers in the Republic of Ireland

This Friday, close to 13,000 students in the Republic of Ireland are set to take higher level maths in the Leaving Certificate, the state exams for 17-18 year old school leavers. That’s the highest number for two decades, and a 25% increase on last year’s all-time low of 10,400 who registered to sit the higher level exams. Typically, only about 80% of those show up for the higher level paper on the day–last year just 8,200 did–the rest playing safe and switching at the last minute to the ordinary level exams.

In 2011, a little over 55,000 Irish students overall, in a country with a population of 4.6 million, sat the Leaving Certificate in their final days of secondary education. This year, just under 54,000 school leavers are taking the Leaving, as it’s known. I hope they’ve studied hard, and wish them every success!

Like everybody else, you too can be unique. Just keep shuffling

The first take-home lesson of this note is that you too can be unique. You’ll have to keep shuffling to get there, but it is an attainable goal.

Several years ago it dawned on me that the number of possible ways to order or permute the cards in a standard deck of size $52$ was inconceivably large. Of course it was — and still is — $52!$. That’s easy enough to scribble down (or even surpass spectacularly) without understanding just how far we are from familiar territory.