DAY 141: Math is cool!

August 15th, 2015 § 0 comments

I’ve been waiting for fifty years, if not more, to read a headline – it was in the Indy today, but I’ve no doubt the other serious papers carried the same story. Maths has finally displaced English, media Studies, Old High German and so on as the most popular choice for university applicants in England.

I can’t get over the weirdness of this news at this particular time. It can’t have anything to do with the job market,  which any 21-year-old will tell you is crap independently of what you’ve studied – and getting worse. Twenty years ago my students used to dream of walking into careers internin accountancy with the likes of Arthur Andersen; they’d be lucky to get an internship now, and they’d have to pay to get it. So have they been hypnotized into seeing mathematicians as some sort of inarticulate role models, by watching films about the likes of Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking (see previous posts)? It’s not as if maths was practical – if you wanted someone to fix your car or design an app for your phone, wuuld you ask a mathematician? (Years ago, a Portuguese woman explained to me that back home only women studied math, since the men all did engineering.) And it’s not – as mathematicians are always pointing out – as if their pursuit will lead to jobs or money or being helpful around the house. They can’t even explain what they do to their friends and loved ones. It must be that finally all these kids (since they have no job prospects anyway) have finally caught on to the sheer beauty, nay sexiness, of the subject in itself. You can see them in the playgrounds, in the classrooms,

images 18-57-19

or even at intervals in the discos, passionately discussing motivic cohomology, measurable laminations, the zeros of the Riemann zeta function and the earthquake flow. Why live within the limited world of some programmer’s imagination and spend your time gawping at ‘the ‘unplayable’ FF15Final Fantasy 15 when you could move within the infinite field of the Ultimate Game Designer, God (responsible for such jokes as Gödel’s Theorem and Hilbert’s Hotel).

[Talking of God, you may have noticed an item in the news the other day about how squids have many more genes than humans, and therefore should (if you were reading the Metro) probably be viewed as aliens - and, one supposes, deported. And where would we get our calamary? These aliens are, as I never cease to point out, good for something. What no one mentioned is that the common wheat wheator Triticum aestivum, with 17 gigabases - as analysed by Rachel Brenchley, Manuel Spannag, Matthias Pfeifer, Gary L.A. Barker, Rosalinda D'Amore, Alexandra M. Allen, Neil McKenzie, Melissa Kramer, Arnaud Kerhornou, Dan Bolser, Suzanne Kay, Darren Waite, Martin Trick, Ian Bancroft, Yong Gu, Naxin Huo, Ming-Cheng Luo, Sunish Sehgal, Sharyar Kianian, Bikram Gill, Olin Anderson, Paul Kersey, Jan Dvorak, W. Richard McCombie, Anthony Hall, Klaus F.X. Mayer, Keith J. Edwards, Michael W. Bevan and Neil Hall -

d'amoreRosalinda d'Amore (Liverpool)

has five times as much DNA as humans and no one calls it an alien or tries to get it to play stupid tricks on Youtube. And yet, it must have done something amazingly smart to get to being a hexaploid when way back in the second millennium BCE (if I remember) in the Levant it was only a diploid called emmer and lived in Palestine.]

Sport (via +972 magazine):

Predictably, al-Ahly Khalil won the Palestine FA Cup last night 2-1, defeating Shejaia to earn a place in Asian club competition.
Palestine Cup final match, Hebron, West Bank, 14.8.2015

Al Ahly, the top team in the West Bank, and Gaza Strip champions Shejaia met in the first clash between teams from the two territories since 2000 Ahmad Maher scored the winner in the first minute of injury time to secure the Hebron side’s place in the next Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup. The first leg in Gaza earlier this month ended in a goalless draw. (It’s pretty sporting of Shejaia to have got that far, given that  their entire city – including, one supposes, the football piches, was reduced to rubble last summer.) While Al Ahly’s small stadium was overflowing with fans, hundreds of thousands watched on television and bustling Gaza fell quiet as Shejaia supporters willed their team on from afar in cafes and restaurants.

 That election

I was disappointed to hear by email today that the Labour Party considered me fit to be a member – Groucho Marx’s comment comes to mind. It’s true that I support many of the party’s former core values, such as the overthrow of capitalism, the NHS, the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange; but I thought they’d been thrown out in favour of racism, foreign wars and coming down hard on benefit cheats. It’s like conning the Catholic priest into giving you communion when you don’t believe in the Real Presence – should you own up? There’s obviously a case – when isn’t there? – for a Facebook page which will be home to troubled lefties who have managed  to be admitted, and need absolution.


In these straitened times when things like saltimbocca or quenelles de brochet are only a distant memory, we find ourselves more and more turning to the old standbys like baked beans. And here is the authentic Boston recipe (I believe) which will possibly cost you even less than Heinz.

  1. Rinse 2 lb dry kidney beans in cold water. Place in a large bowl, and cover with 2″ of cold water. Let soak overnight in refrigerator. Drain, and rinse beans.
  2. Put beans in a large crock pot with: 1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup molasses, 4 teaspoons mustard; 2 tsp salt, pepper, 1 large onion diced, 1/4 lb salt pork cut into 1 in chunks; and 4 1/2 cups boiling water.
  3. Cook on high 12-14 hours or on low for 24 hrs., or until beans are soft, and juice is thick. Stir occasionally.
  4. Check water occasionally to make sure there is enough water in the beans, so they don’t boil dry.
  5. Note: If you use a smaller size crock pot cut the recipe in 1/2, and cook until beans are done. I always use my large crock pot, so I’m not sure how long it takes.

While most of this recipe seems completely convincing, I haven’t tried it; and it gets vague at crucial points.Can I interpret ‘crock pot’ as (say) Le Creuset; and is the ‘cooking on high’ to be done in an oven? Should the crock pot have a lid? The key point, I’m sure, is the molasses. Get that in, and you’re away.


Perhaps we could here include ‘Poppies on the Wheat’, by Helen Hunt Jackson, activist in favour of the rights of Native Americans – but that’s another story.

Along Ancona’s hills the shimmering heat,
A tropic tide of air with ebb and flow
Bathes all the fields of wheat until they glow
Like flashing seas of green, which toss and beat
Around the vines. The poppies lithe and fleet
Seem running, fiery torchmen, to and fro
To mark the shore.
                              The farmer does not know
That they are there. He walks with heavy feet,
Counting the bread and wine by autumn’s gain,
But I,—I smile to think that days remain
Perhaps to me in which, though bread be sweet
No more, and red wine warm my blood in vain,
I shall be glad remembering how the fleet,
Lithe poppies ran like torchmen with the wheat.
I haven’t posted anything by that great, but short-lived guitarist Charlie Christian. Here is a 1940 track (not Minton’s), ‘Tea for Two‘ -with even some transcriptions added.

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