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Licence to practice mathematics

I intermittently read a webcomic xkcd, which is mostly teccy and sometimes mathsy jokes. One from a couple of weeks ago stikes me as funny: “Math Paper“. Also, the last frame reminds me of a sign I saw attached to the side of the Department of Mathematics at Bristol. I took a picture of this, (I didn’t take much time over this as it was raining pretty badly so the quality is not great, but I think you get the idea):

Sign reads: Maths Permit Holders Only

(for those grounded in reality, the sign was of course in the car park attached to the Department).

A purple door and more in Portsmouth

Portsmouth Department of Mathematics
Last week I visited the Department of Mathematics at Portsmouth University (pictured above). I was invited to do so by Nira Chamberlain, who is studying part time for a PhD there. I met with staff in the Department and visited the Purple Door (pictured below), where the careers service is based. The Mathematics Department has just moved into a new building and is rare in my experience in that in recent years it has been successful enough to split away to form its own Department where many mathematics departments are finding they are being swallowed into larger departments.

Portmouth's Purple Door
I travelled to Portsmouth and back in a day from Nottingham. This was a bit of an experiment. The travelling was 4 hours each way and I had about 4 hours in Portsmouth. I think this went well, my trip was sufficiently well organised so I could make effective use of that time. This meant I didn’t have the trouble of staying a night away from home and the IMA didn’t have to pay for the hotel, which is a bonus. I don’t think a trip over such distance would be possible in all circumstances but in this case I feel it worked well.

Dinner with the East Midlands Branch

On Saturday night I attended the IMA East Midlands Branch dinner. This was in Ruddington in Nottinghamshire, just a couple of miles from where I live. By contrast, others had travelled from around the region to attend: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, one chap had travelled from Alford in Lincolnshire, which must be a good couple of hours or more drive.

I have been on the Branch committee for the East Midlands Branch for about a year now. The meal was nice and it was good to see this active Branch working well.

Sunny, spring day in Oxford

Oxford Mathematical Institute
Last week I visited the Mathematical Institute at Oxford (pictured above). Last year, before my employment, the IMA gave a grant to the student mathematical society, the Invariants. Recently the committee for this changed and the new committee will take the Invariants through for the next year so it was useful to visit and meet them. I had, I think, a very useful chat with the committee. I also met some interesting IMA members and other members of staff and visited the careers service (pictured below, with the obligatory picture of bikes in Oxford!).

Oxford Careers Service bikes

Cricketing at Trent Bridge

On Wednesday evening I attended a talk by Frank Duckworth on the Duckworth-Lewis method for helping decide the outcome of one day cricket matches where play is interrupted, which has now been used for over 10 years. This took place in the Long Room at Trent Bridge cricket ground. I am not particularly a follower of cricket but the talk was interesting nonetheless. I found Frank to be an engaging story teller and he found a suitable balance between cricket, mathematics and anecdote. He demonstrated using simple mathematical examples the absurdity of the methods in use in the 80s and early 90s and used audience participation to demonstrate the relative ease with which the D-L method could be applied. Still, he was candid about situations where D-L is less than satisfactory and some more recent work to correct for this.

For the cricket fans there was some cricket trivia and the room was steeped in history; the walls were decorated with portraits, photographs and lists of exemplary performances at Trent Bridge. For the mathematicians in the audience, he even flashed up a partial derivative! Frank called the material mathematical though the meeting Chair, Neville Davies, was keen to point out the statistics behind the parameters for D-L and the data analysis in determining how well it is working. A well rounded applied mathematics and statistics problem, I think.

The talk was organised by the local branch of the Royal Statistical Society. More information on the Duckworth-Lewis method is available on the BBC website which has a brief history of Duckworth-Lewis and a simple explanation of the method.

An historic meeting

Woke with a rather large hangover in a hall of residence room, rushed late to a lecture theatre and listened to a chap give a talk I didn’t fully understand… this is certainly bringing back memories!

I’m on the train now going home from Manchester having spent the last two days at the 50th British Applied Mathematics Colloquium (BAMC). The conference will continue for another two days but I have to be back in Nottingham.

I have enjoyed being at the BAMC and have met a lot of people. I tried to go to a variety of talks and didn’t fully understand any of them (I wasn’t the target audience for any of them and in a 20 minute talk there’s an awful lot of need for the word “obviously”). But it is good to get a sense of how vibrant applied mathematics is as a subject (8 talks in parallel every 25 minutes 6 times a half day plus plenaries is an awful lot of content!) and always good to meet practitioners of the art.

Also attached to the BAMC was a schools outreach event called “Meet the Mathematicians” and I was lucky enough to sit in on talks by Chris Budd and David Broomhead. Around 50 local sixth form students attended and seemed to respond well to the talks I attended. There was a photo taken with the students just starting out on their careers and participants from the original BAMC 50 years ago. I don’t know if the outreach day is going to be a new BAMC tradition but it seems a good idea.

Incidentally, yesterday when I was on the train and posted my report to Mathematics Today April there was a chap sat opposite me. He seemed perfectly nice and we exchanged pleasantries a little but I really thought little of it. Later, he introduced himself to me at the BAMC! He is John Watson and he attended the first few BTMC (as BAMC was then called) meetings in the late 50s and early 60s. He was one of several people who were involved at the start invited to the 50th anniversary conference. So there was a missed opportunity for me!