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Right answer for the wrong reason: cellular automaton on the new Cambridge North station

Cambridge North is a brand new train station, and the building’s got a fab bit of cladding with a design ‘derived from John Horton Conway’s “Game of Life” theories which he established while at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1970.’

One problem: that’s Wolfram’s Rule 135, not the Game of Life. You can tell because of the pixels.

Rule 135 is a 1-dimensional automaton: you start with a row of black or white pixels, and the rule tells you how the colour of each pixel changes based on the colours of the neighbouring pixels. The Cambridge North design shows the evolution of a rule 135 pattern as a distinct row of pixels for each time step. Conway’s Game of Life follows the same idea but in two dimensions – a pixel’s colour changes depending on the nearby pixels  in every compass direction.

Either way, it’s a lovely pattern. I suspect the designers went with Rule 135 instead of the Game of Life so that they’d get a roughly even mix of white and black pixels, which is hard to achieve under Conway’s rules.

Just in case gawping at train stations is your cup of tea, here’s a promotional video with lots of lovely panning shots of the design:

More information

Delayed £50m Cambridge North railway station opens on BBC News.

Cambridge North Station information from Atkins Group, the design consultancy responsible for the station building.

Press release from Greater Anglia trains.

The Game of Life: a beginner’s guide by Alex Bellos in the Guardian.

Brought to our attention by @Quendus on Twitter.

Alexandre Grothendieck’s notes archive to be released online

News from France, where the family of the late Alexandre Grothendieck, legend of basically all maths, have finally reached an agreement with the academic community about his huge archive of written notes. Discussions have been ongoing for a while but it’s finally been agreed that the notes can be released online for the community at large to take advantage of.

The notes comprise over 100,000 pages of mathematics, diagrams and letters to collaborators, and an initial chunk of over 18,000 pages will be online from 10th May on the University of Montpellier’s website. It’s expected that many undiscovered mathematical treasures might be found within, although the challenge of reading through and deciphering it all may take a Polymath-style mass effort.

More information

The notes of the mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck arrive on the net, at Libération (in French)

via Jordan Ellenberg on Twitter

Cutting an oval pizza – video

As if there wasn’t enough maths/pizza news lately, the story has hit the red-tops recently that UK supermarkets are scamming consumers by offering them oval-shaped pizzas – marketed in the high-end/’Extra Special’ ranges, with more expensive (sounding) ingredients like mozzarella di bufala, roquito peppers and merguez sausage, and a distinctive pair of artisanally different radii. These pizzas apparently cost more per gram, because their elliptical shape means they’re actually smaller than a circle with the same diameter. Cue plenty of ‘costing you dough’ and ‘cheesed off’ puns.

While we’re not massively bothered by the pricing, the articles do raise, and then completely fail to address, an interesting point: an oval pizza is harder to cut into equally sized pieces! Luckily, maths is here to save the day. I found a nice method and made a video explaining how it works:

Take a look and improve your future pizza cutting technique!

The 12th Polymath project has started: resolve Rota’s basis conjecture

Timothy Chow of MIT has proposed a new Polymath project: resolve Rota’s basis conjecture.

What’s that? It’s this:

… if $B_1$, $B_2$, $\ldots$, $B_n$ are $n$ bases of an $n$-dimensional vector space $V$ (not necessarily distinct or disjoint), then there exists an $n \times n$ grid of vectors ($v_{ij}$) such that

1. the $n$ vectors in row $i$ are the members of the $i$th basis $B_i$ (in some order), and

2. in each column of the matrix, the $n$ vectors in that column form a basis of $V$.

Easy to state, but apparently hard to prove!

George Boole statue to be erected in Lincoln

It was George Boole’s bicentenary in 2015, so the Heslam Trust is a bit slow to reveal its plans to erect a statue of the great man in his home town of Lincoln.

The sculptors, Martin Jennings and Antony Dufort, have come up with a few designs for the statue, and they’d like the public to vote for their favourite.

There’s already a bust of Boole in University College, Cork, installed in plenty of time for the bicentenary. Here’s a picture of me and HRH Poppy Dog standing next to it, last Summer.

More information

Lincoln maths genius to get statue in city – and here are the designs at LincolnshireLive

Proposals for George Boole monument on the City of Lincoln council website

View the proposals and vote

Hans Rosling and Raymond Smullyan have died

Why should I worry about dying? It’s not going to happen in my lifetime!

Raymond Smullyan, This Book Needs No Title (1986)

This week, the mathematical community has lost not one but two of its most beloved practitioners. Earlier this week, Swedish statistician Hans Rosling passed away aged 68, and today it’s been announced that author and logician Raymond Smullyan has also died, aged 97.

Graph Isomorphism panto: oh no it isn’t; oh yes it is!

As we reported back in November 2015, László Babai came up with an algorithm to decide if two graphs are isomorphic in quasipolynomial time. At the time, this proof still needed peer review, and in the last week or so, two big developments have occurred on that front.

On Wednesday 4th January, an error was discovered in the proof. Harald Helfgott (of the University of Göttingen in Germany and France’s National Center for Scientific Research), who studied the paper for several months, discovered that the algorithm was not quasipolynomial ($\displaystyle{ 2^{\mathrm{O}((\log n)^{c})} }$ for some fixed $c>0$) as claimed, but merely subexponenential: growing faster than a polynomial but still significantly slower than exponential growth).

Adorably, Babai posted this message on his website:

I apologize to those who were drawn to my lectures on this subject solely because of the quasipolynomial claim, prematurely magnified on the internet in spite of my disclaimers. I believe those looking for an interesting combination of group theory, combinatorics, and algorithms need not feel disappointed.

But maths is all about the drama, so on Monday 9th January Babai announced a fix for the error, and it’s now back on the quasipolynomial table. This has now been confirmed (as of 14th Jan) by Harald Helfgott himself at the Bourbaki seminar in Paris. Amusingly, Helfgott had only been studying the paper in such detail in order to give the seminar, and it was this close scrutiny which allowed him to discover the mistake.

More information

Announcement on Babai’s website

Fixing the UPCC Case of Split-or-Johnson – Babai’s paper detailing the fix (PDF)

Graph Isomorphism Vanquished — Again, at Quanta Magazine

Bourbaki Seminar – Harald Helfgott, on YouTube