Some mathematics, pictured here being hard to illustrate in news coverage
As the heady excitement of the dawn of a forty-eight-Mersenne-prime world dims to a subdued, albeit slightly less factorable, normality, I have taken the opportunity to see what we can learn about the British press’s attitude and ability when it comes to the reporting of big numbers ending in a 1.
Overseas readers may not be aware that the UK’s public service broadcaster, the BBC, is funded by a mandatory annual £145.50 tax on all television-owning households. Therefore, it would be disappointing if some of these funds were not channeled into reporting the discovery in at least five or six separately-produced broadcasts across the organisation’s various radio and television outlets.
Christian Perfect: 2012 was an alright year. At the very least, all of it happened, which is better than some had predicted. And since 2012 did happen, we are obliged by the Laws of Something to give out some awards.
Katie Steckles: Of course, the most noteworthy thing which happened in 2012 was the creation of an amazing mathematical blogging website, but I don’t mean to go on too much about that. Anyway, we’ve gathered together some candidates for some categories we made up, and will decide on our favourites via the process of arguing.
Exactly six months ago, we launched The Aperiodical. Since then, we’ve published 523 posts to 115,000 visitors; been slashdotted, Hacker Newsed, and reddited; mentioned on Radio 4; got to the bottom of a mystery; been inordinately proud of a new set of fonts; published pieces by 11 guest authors; and laughed all the way to the bank. Except the last one.
We thought we’d take this opportunity to gather together some of the best bits of the first six months of this venture, and reflect on what’s gone wrong and what’s gone right.
Anyone who caught any of this summer’s BBC Proms may have noticed that in the midst of the World’s Greatest Classical Music Festival, someone managed to sneak in a bit of mathematics. Emily Howard, whose degree was in Mathematics and Computing at Oxford, has become a composer whose works are performed alongside Glinka and Shostakovich. I spoke to Emily about her latest composition, Calculus of the Nervous System, which was part of this year’s Prom 51, on 21st August.
It’s an unpresupposing little letter, $x$. In fact, that’s the reason we use it to represent something we don’t know. But how do you write it down? When Vijay Krishnan tweeted a link to an American college professor’s page on mathematical handwriting, I was shocked to learn that he thought adding a hook to a simple cross was sufficient to differentiate letter-$x$ from times-$\times$.
So I asked our Twitter followers how they write $x$. The Cambrian explosion of diversity in answers I received was eye-opening – I’m glad I asked!
Since it’s $\tau$ Day, we thought we’d give Festival of the Spoken Nerd constant-fans Matt Parker and Steve Mould a chance to air their respective viewpoints in the $\tau$ vs $\pi$ debate. It’s a maths showdown!