Spring 2017 Cake Club

Is there a better way to start a new year, than with a brand new cake club rota? See the sidebar for details.

Hope to see you there!


The Quixotic Search for a “Fair” Math Test

Math with Bad Drawings

It’s happened again: a math question made students cry.

This time it was in Scotland—very discouraging, as I’ve always assumed the Scottish raise a tougher, more stoic, northerly breed of mathematician. Alas; it seems they’re as skittish and frightened as the rest of us.

Here’s the offending question:


(My two cents? This question is more than just fair; it’s really good!)

But students panicked. Then they tweeted their panic. The BBC quoted a former examiner denouncing this question as “unfit for purpose.” And commentators leered at the spectacle—by this point routine—of students freaking out about a hard math question.

This sort of ordeal threatens to confirm our darkest and most cynical suspicions about students. They’re incurious. They’re mercenaries. They’re on a witch hunt for anything that pushes them out of their comfort zone. They worship at the Church of the Right Answer.

So who do we blame? The students?…

View original post 780 more words

Where the Laws No Longer Hold

Somehow, I suspect I wouldn’t survive long on the frontier.

Drop me in the American West, circa 1850, and I fear my math-blogging and bad-drawing skills might not carry me far. I need indoor plumbing. I need the rule of law. I need chain coffee shops. I’m not cut out for the frontier.

And yet the frontier is exactly where I found myself the other day, when I came across this formula in the wonderful Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Numbers, by David Wells:


I decided to play around with this product a bit. After all, what are products for, if not playing around?

Read more here:


Donuts, math, and superdense teleportation of quantum information

Quantum teleportation has been achieved by a number of research teams around the globe since it was first theorized in 1993, but current experimental methods require extensive resources and/or only work successfully a fraction of the time. Now, by taking advantage of the mathematical properties intrinsic to the shape of a donut — or torus, in mathematical terminology — a physicists have made great strides by realizing ‘superdense teleportation.’

Read more here:


Cakes, Custard and Category Theory: Easy Recipes for Understanding Complex Maths, by Eugenia Cheng

Noel-Ann Bradshaw is inspired by a book with all the right ingredients for explaining a tricky subject.

Apart from alliteration, what on earth do cakes, custard and category theory have in common? As a recent winner of the Best Mathematical Cake prize at MathsJam, the recreational mathematics conference, I feel I am fairly qualified to understand the connections that mathematician Eugenia Cheng illustrates here.

Cheng – the only female category theorist in South Yorkshire, she quips – has written this deliciously lively text with the aim of showing that “mathematics is there to make difficult things easy”. It is a book of two halves: the first explains the mathematical concepts needed to understand category theory, and the second describes the rudiments of category theory itself, a branch of abstract mathematics often described as the “mathematics of mathematics”. She combines these definitions to deduce that “category theory is there to make difficult mathematics easy” – in a neat contrast to the warning in the title of Carl E. Linderholm’s memorably mischievous look at the subject, Mathematics Made Difficult (1972).

Read more here:


Questions aren’t the enemy. They’re the ammo.

In grad school, my wife took a class that assigned no homework. The topic was an advanced, hyper-specific area of research—the only plausible problems to give for homework had literally never been solved. Any answer to such a question would have constituted novel research, advancing the field and meriting a publication in a professional journal. The professor assigned no homework for the simple reason that there was no practical homework to assign.

This tickled me. I’d never thought of good questions like a fossil fuel. A nonrenewable resource. Built up over eons and consumed in minutes.


Read more here: http://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2015/05/06/america-will-run-out-of-good-questions-by-2050/#more-3368