Maths and stats on Radio 1!


(For once I can use an exclamation mark next to a number without wise alecks making the canonical joke)

Maths and stats! On BBC Radio 1! Who’d’ve though it!

DJ Clara Amfo and the ubiquitous Hannah Fry have got a new series on the UK’s top pop station, looking at music from a mathematical perspective.

Music by Numbers (excuse me, Music by Num83r5), is currently being broadcast at 9pm each Tuesday, and there are a couple of episodes already on iPlayer Radio to catch up on. The first is about Coldplay (records sold: millions; distinct tunes composed: 1) and the second looks at a few numbers to do with Iggy Azalea’s career.

It’s mostly a very easy listen, more a biography hung off a list of numbers than any real maths, but that might be your cup of tea. And Dr Fry’s segments do go into a little bit of depth about subjects like how the top 40 chart is calculated.

I’ll warn you now that each episode is an hour long, with a lot of music breaks. If you’re like me, your tolerance for some of the featured artists might not be sufficient to get through a whole episode in one go.

Listen: Music by Numbers on BBC Radio 1.

A new home for Interesting Esoterica


Since 2010, I’ve been maintaining a list of “interesting esoterica” – papers, books, essays and poems that I find interesting entirely on their own merits. It’s mainly bits of esoteric maths – hence the name – but I’ve also included quite a few things just because they have amusing titles. The main idea is that when I’m talking to someone and want to show them a cool thing that I’ve half-remembered, I can look up the exact reference: I’ve shared the paper “Orange peels and Fresnel integrals” more times than I can count (probably the same as the number of times I’ve eaten an orange).

Not mentioned on The Aperiodical this month, May 2016

Here are a few of the stories that we didn’t get round to covering in depth this month.

Turing’s Sunflowers Project – results

Manchester Science Festival’s mass-participation maths/gardening project, Turing’s Sunflowers, ran in 2012 and invited members of the public to grow their own sunflowers, and then photograph or bring in the seed heads so a group of mathematicians could study them. The aim was to determine whether Fibonacci numbers occur in the seed spirals – this has previously been observed, but no large-scale study like this has ever been undertaken. This carries on the work Alan Turing did before he died.

The results of the research are now published – a paper has been published in the Royal Society’s Open Science journal, and the findings indicate that while Fibonacci numbers do often occur, other types of numbers also crop up, including Lucas numbers and other similarly defined number sequences.

Solomon Golomb (1932-2016)

“I’m proud that I’ve lived to see… so many of the things that I’ve worked on being so widely adopted that no one even thinks about where they came from.” Solomon Golomb (1932-2016)

Solomon Golomb, who died on Sunday May 1st, was a man who revelled in the key objects in a recreational mathematician’s toolbox: number sequences, shapes and words (in many languages). He also carved out a distinguished career by, broadly speaking, transferring his detailed knowledge of the mathematics behind integer sequences to engineering problems in the nascent field of digital communications, and his discoveries are very much still in use today.

The new Eurovision scoring system: the maths

jedward maths
It’s Eurovision time again! A chance for everyone to enjoy musical performances that are either good or so bad they’re good, ridiculous staging, and hilarious costumes, all sprinkled with a gently sarcastic Irish voiceover (if you’re lucky enough to be watching in the UK).

BUT WHAT’S THIS? They’ve changed the voting system? Don’t worry – some mathematicians are here to straighten it out for you.

Maths Object: Nobbly Wobbly

My maths object this time is one of my dog’s favourite toys: the Nobbly Wobbly.

In the video, I said it was invented by a mathematician, but Dick Esterle’s bio normally goes “artist, architect, inventor”. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if Everyone’s a Mathematician.

It’s a particularly pleasing rubbery ball thing made of six interwoven loops in different colours, invented by Dick Esterle.

On Google+, various people told me the unexpected fact that the outer automorphism group of $S_6$ is hiding inside this dog toy.

I’ve also found this Celebration of Mind livestream starring Dick Esterle from 2013 talking about all sorts of mathematically-shaped toys, including the Nobbly Wobbly.