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Big MathsJam Highlights, 2018

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.

Zeckendorf cup arithmetic

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.

Baking Babylonian cuneiform tablets in gingerbread

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:

Babylonian tablet in gingerbread

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.

Babylonian cuneiform biscuits

Below, I try to give a description of my method.

Maths at the British Science Festival 2018

British Science Festival logoGuest 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.

MathsJam Gathering: A Review

General conference goings-on; Photo by Steve Kirkby (steve.kirk.by)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.

Exactly how bad is the 13 times table?

Let’s recite the $13$ times table. Pay attention to the first digit of each number:

\begin{array}{l} \color{blue}13, \\ \color{blue}26, \\ \color{blue}39, \\ \color{blue}52 \end{array}

What happened to $\color{blue}4$‽

A while ago I was working through the $13$ times table for some boring reason, and I was in the kind of mood to find it really quite vexing that the first digits don’t go $1,2,3,4$. Furthermore, $400 \div 13 \approx 31$, so it takes a long time before you see a 4 at all, and that seemed really unfair.

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