A while ago, Colin Wright came to Warwick to give a talk on the mathematics of juggling. Colin has a PhD in combinatorics, and is one of the inventors of the siteswap or Cambridge notation for describing juggling patterns. This was a highly entertaining and interesting talk, and if you get an opportunity to hear it, I encourage you to do so.
Last month, I went to see Festival of the Spoken Nerd at the Warwick Arts Centre. This was an evening of amusing and entertaining science-based comedy from Helen Arney (who writes and performs science-related songs), Steve Mould (who does spectacular experiments on stage) and Matt Parker (a stand-up mathematician). Also excellent, and if you like Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage (which starts a new series today) they’re definitely worth looking out for.
A couple of years back, Matt started up a movement called MathsJam, where people interested in recreational mathematics gather together in pubs around the UK once a month to chat about maths and related things in a friendly and enthusiastic environment. Colin and Matt, together with a small group of other people also organise an annual conference, partly inspired by the biennial Gathering 4 Gardner conference. I’d been vaguely tempted to go – Colin had mentioned it after his juggling talk, and then I got chatting to Matt after the FotSN show and he also waxed enthusiastic about it, so I decided to go.
And it was absolutely splendid. Roughly a hundred professional and amateur mathematicians (researchers, schoolteachers, engineers, lecturers, and a whole host of other people including at least one archaeologist and a professional magician) gathered together in a hotel near Crewe, and spent the weekend discussing a range of fun aspects of maths. Participants were encouraged to give a short talk (strictly limited to five minutes) on something interesting and vaguely mathematical, and this comprised the bulk of the programme on the Saturday and Sunday. (I gave a very quick talk about Poincaré dodecahedral space.)
Matt had devised a clever method of ensuring everyone stuck to their allotted five minutes: a countdown timer that chimed quietly when there was a minute left, buzzed increasingly urgently after the five minute mark, and then displayed this at the six-minute point.
Tweeting was very much in evidence, and a live feed of the #MathsJam tag was projected up onto the main screen throughout the conference (I’ve collected them all here).
I got to meet lots of splendid people and catch up with a few people I already knew, I learned lots of interesting stuff I didn’t know before, and had my enthusiasm for mathematics reinvigorated. I plan to go again next year.