You're reading: Columns

Stupid-looking maths question does the rounds, isn’t stupid

You may by now have seen the image below knocking around on Twitter and other social medias, in which a maths question appears to be almost a parody of itself:

Text: An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven's 9th Symphony. How long would it take for 60 players to play the Symphony? Let P be the number of players and T the time playing.

The text reads:

An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. How long would it take for 60 players to play the Symphony? Let P be the number of players and T the time playing.

Well, once you’re done laughing, we’ve done some investigative journalism and found the origin of this question. And it turns out it’s quite nice!

The question is from a worksheet developed by maths teacher Claire Longmoor (who is, based on current evidence, brilliant) ten years ago. Claire put together a selection of example questions with relationships in direct and inverse proportion, and deliberately included the orchestra question as an example of something where it doesn’t work that way. It’s a nice activity to help reinforce the difference, and in context the question works nicely.

Other examples on the sheet include a bricklaying example with creditably diverse gender representation, a car with terrifyingly low fuel efficiency, good cow names and a delightful insight into the bygone world of fruit picking.

Blogs from this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Heidelberg Castle selfie

Paul and I have spent this week blogging from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, an international event for PhD/postdoc students and top-level maths and computer science researchers.

It was a long week of extravagant dinners, incredible talks and press conferences, (maths) celeb spotting, branded conference freebies, hilarious quotes and exceptional hospitality. Oh, and blogging. Here’s a round-up of what we wrote, in case you’ve missed it this week, as well as some of the other posts the rest of the HLF blog team wrote.

HLF Blogs – Mathematical Theories of Communication

This week, Katie and Paul are blogging from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum – a week-long maths conference where current young researchers in maths and computer science can meet and hear talks by top-level prize-winning researchers. For more information about the HLF, visit the Heidelberg Laureate Forum website.

Madhu Sudan

© Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation / Kreutzer – 2017

 

A wonderful potted history of the theory of communication was capably presented by 2002 Nevanlinna Prize winner Madhu Sudan, who talked us through from the earliest mathematical thinking on the subject through to the present day, and his team’s work. It was also almost a love letter to one of his mathematical heroes, the father of information theory, Claude Shannon.

HLF Blogs – Michael Atiyah’s Favourite Manifold

This week, Katie and Paul are blogging from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum – a week-long maths conference where current young researchers in maths and computer science can meet and hear talks by top-level prize-winning researchers. For more information about the HLF, visit the Heidelberg Laureate Forum website.

As part of the HLF, the Laureates are participating in press conferences throughout the week, and being bombarded with questions by well-meaning journalists and bloggers. Unlike most press conferences, where participants often have a specific topical thing they’re there to speak to the press about, the Laureates can be asked about any of their past projects, on any area of maths they’ve worked on, and many of them have a very long and illustrious career to speak of.

It can be difficult then, to be put on the spot by a taxing question, especially if you’re not expecting it. I’ve been surprising the topologists whose press conferences I’ve attended with a deceptively deep but simple question: What’s your favourite manifold?

HLF Blogs – The numbers behind the young researchers

This week, Katie and Paul are blogging from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum – a week-long maths conference where current young researchers in maths and computer science can meet and hear talks by top-level prize-winning researchers. For more information about the HLF, visit the Heidelberg Laureate Forum website.

The view on the boat deck - plenty of young researchers to corner!

The view on the boat deck – plenty of young researchers to corner!

Having extensively covered the talks and press conferences of the Laureates so far, we thought it was time to talk to some of the Young Researchers at this year’s HLF about the work they’re doing.

HLF Blogs – Fractals for dinner

This week, Katie and Paul are blogging from the Heidelberg Laureate Forum – a week-long maths conference where current young researchers in maths and computer science can meet and hear talks by top-level prize-winning researchers. For more information about the HLF, visit the Heidelberg Laureate Forum website.

The HLF, like all good conference events, has involved a large number of extravagant dinners, serving a variety of delicious food and drink to sustain the high levels of serious mathematical and research conversation. At last night’s Bavarian evening, I noticed a particularly mathematically interesting foodstuff was on the menu, and it’s inspired me enough to write about it.