Did you like playing with shape sorters as a toddler, but find them too simple as an adult? Well, I’ve got good news for you.
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At the MathsJam weekend gathering earlier this month, we found ourselves invited to join maths podcasting supremo Samuel Hansen for a recording session. Nothing unusual there: podcasts have been recorded at MathsJam before. But this time Samuel wanted to record more than one podcast at the same time – since many of the maths podcasting community were present, it seemed like a good plan to grab anyone who wasn’t already doing something else and record something quite unlike any podcast you’ve ever heard.
The dust is settling on the ninth Big MathsJam, and before I get too sad that it’s nearly a year until the next one, I put down some thoughts about what was so good about this one.
My 5-minute talk at the big MathsJam conference this weekend was about some stacking cups that my daughter is too young to appreciate. Here’s the really quick version, in just over a minute:
I gave the answer at MathsJam, but the title of this post contains a big hint that should get you there with a bit of googling.
The MathsJam conference has a baking competition. My friend the archaeologist Stephen O’Brien tweeted a while ago a link to a fun blog post ‘Edible Archaeology: Gingerbread Cuneiform Tablets‘. Babylonian tablets are among the earliest written evidence of mathematics that we have, and were produced by pressing a stylus into wet clay.
So it was that I realised I could enter some Babylonian-style tablets made from gingerbread.
I made a gingerbread reconstruction of a particular tablet, YBC 7289, which Bill Casselman calls “one of the very oldest mathematical diagrams extant“. Bill writes about the notation on the tablet and explains how it shows an approximation for the square root of two. I’m sure I didn’t copy the notation well, because I am just copying marks rather than understanding what I’m writing. I also tried to copy the lines and damage to the tablet. Anyway, here is my effort:
In addition, I used the rest of the dough to make some cuneiform biscuits. I tried to copy characters from Plimpton 322, a Babylonian tablet thought to contain a list of Pythagorean triples. Again, Bill Casselman has some interesting information on Plimpton 322.
Below, I try to give a description of my method.
Guest author Kevin Houston has written a round-up of maths-related events at next week’s British Science Festival.
The British Science Festival is taking place in Hull and the Humber 11-14th September. There are lots of talks so I’ve put together a handy guide to talks with a mathematics-related theme.
It was with trepidation that I booked tickets for the MathsJam Gathering in 2015. I loved the sound of the event, but what if everyone else was cleverer than me? What if people thought I was a fraud because I wasn’t an academic? What if nobody talked to me? I needn’t have worried. MathsJam is one of the friendliest, most welcoming events I’ve ever experienced. Lots of people talked to me, I learned new things, I laughed a lot. I’ve since been to two more gatherings, and have already booked for the next one in November.