Tuesday, 31 July 2012


When I was first looking at Universities, I didn't know where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do. At the time I was enjoying ICT and thinking that I maybe wanted to do something creative to do with ICT. I couldn't find anything that grabbed my attention, so started to look at business courses. I was worried then about having a subject that would involve too much writing and essays, so I started to look for business courses that let me do other modules in maths.

In all this time I never thought of studying just maths. I always thought it would be too hard or too boring. But after looking at other courses, and not being particularly inspired by any of them, I settled on maths, simply because it's what I'm best at, and I didn't want to do anything else. But the more I thought about it, the more excited about the idea I got.

Maths has always been my favourite subject. It is logical, it doesn't involve many words, and it has a right answer. I hate it when you have to write an essay or something, and the teacher says "there is no right or wrong answer". How do you score points then? How do you know if what you have written is going to get you a good mark? I just don't, so that is why I like maths. I can usually tell if I've done well on a paper, just because there are methods to answering the questions.

My teachers were happy with the choice I'd made as well. They believed I was smart enough for it, and they knew that I enjoyed the lessons so they thought that I would be very interested in the subject at a degree level. With their support, I started to  believe that I could do it as well.

Last summer, a close friend of our family kindly bought me a couple non-academic maths books (one of which is the book I talked about in a previous post). I read The Number Mysteries by Marcus du Sautoy first. I found it surprisingly interesting and easy to read. I never realised how much more there is to maths than what you learn in the classroom. Reading this book made me think more about what I could learn at University, and how maths applies to the world, and I started to think more and more that it was something I wanted to do. Since then I have listened to a podcast and watched a TV series about the history of mathematics (both by Marcus du Sautoy as well). I have been given and bought a few more books that I have read various chapters from, and started this blog!

The next challenge, after getting exciting maths, was to choose which Universities to apply for. I had no idea where I wanted to go. I knew that I didn't want to go to Cambridge or Oxford, they just didn't seem right for me. Other than that, I didn't really know. My Step-dad suggested that I look at the Universities in the Russell group because they are below Oxford and Cambridge, but they are still high standing Universities. I ordered prospectuses from all the ones that weren't too far away, and looked at the courses they offered. The maths courses were all pretty much the same, as I decided I just wanted to do the basic mix of pure and applied mathematics, so I could find out what I like and specialise later on.

After a long time of still not really knowing what to do, my mum suggested a road trip to fit in with teaching my sister how to drive on motorways and to let me have a quick look at a University for myself. I'm not sure how we ended up choosing Warwick, whether it was purely because it was one of the closer ones, because the prospectus was on top of the pile, or because we used to go to Warwick castle a lot, but that is where we went. Although we only got an outside look at the Uni (it wasn't actually an open day), we had a drive around the town, and found a little shopping centre to get some lunch and we bought a couple of books. Mum kept saying things like "this could be where you do your shopping for food to survive!" which was a little bit scary, but kind of cool. We also decided that the maths course there would be ideal, because there was a lot of room for flexibility if I wanted to take a module of something else to break up the maths.

After that, everything got a bit easier. I applied to Warwick, Bath, Nottingham, Liverpool and Leeds, mostly based on the grades, and the flexibility of the courses. I went to open days to all of them (except Bath, because no one could take me and I wasn't ready to go on my own after having just gone to Liverpool by myself). I got offers from all five, which was very exciting, and I decided that I wanted Warwick as my first choice, and Nottingham as my back up.

I found out, at some point, that I would have to take an additional paper alongside my A-levels to get into Warwick. The STEP papers use A-level syllabuses, but the questions are designed to be more like the kind of questions you would see at University, so it tests you on how you would cope with degree level work. I surprised myself by not being put off by this. Even when I tried some questions and they were really hard, and I didn't really get them, I kept going with it. The day I got an answer (or close to part of an answer maybe...) I was so ridiculously excited. It was a really good feeling. I think it helped that my teacher thought that I could do it, and my mum said, even if I don't do very well in the exam, just the process of doing it will help me so much, and she is so impressed that I even had a go. The exams were hard. One of them more so than the other. But I gave it my best shot, and I was really quite pleased with what I did for one of them, so fingers crossed!

Even if I don't get into Warwick (the grades are really rather high!) I will still be happy to go to Nottingham. So from starting out with no idea what I want to do, I've managed to get to a position where, no matter what happens, I will be sorted for the next 3 or 4 years. After that, I have no idea what I'm doing!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Monday Maths Madness 2

It is Monday again, and I have three more pictures for you!

I actually quite want this t-shirt. The square root of -1 is an imaginary number, also known as i, 2 cubed equals 8, the Greek letter capital sigma means 'the sum of' or 'sum', and obviously the last Greek letter is pi. This spells out 'i 8 sum pi' ...and it was delicious!

I love this because this Robert person is clearly very intelligent, and basically puts down Raquel (who seems less intelligent somehow...) with a completely literal answer to her sarcastic, and kind of stupid question.

More maths love! Gotta love maths love.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Alex's Adventures in Numberland - Chapter 0

In the introduction to Alex's Adventures in Numberland, Alex Bellos explains that he has a degree in mathematics and philosophy. He entered into journalism to continue with philosophy and abandon his mathematics. While working as a journalist though, he was surprised by how innumerate most journalists are. After a few years, Alex was trying to find what he wanted to do, when he delved back into the world of mathematics. As an adult, he wasn't looking at exam maths, but anything that he found interesting and curious. This is where he got the inspiration to write this book.

The book starts at chapter 0, to emphasise that the content covered in the chapter is pre-mathematics, how numbers emerged. In the contents page, the chapter is described as follows:

A Head For Numbers - In which the author tries to find out where numbers come from, since they haven't been around that long. He meets a man who had lived in the jungle and a chimpanzee who has always lived in the city.

Basically, the chapter is talking about number instinct. Do people everywhere have the same instincts when it comes to numbers? What about babies? Animals? Reading the chapter, I have learned some interesting things.


There is an interesting case about a horse called Clever Hans, who was thought to be able to perform simple arithmetic by stamping out the correct answer with his hoof. A committee of scientists investigated the horse to see if the act was just a trick, but decided that the horse was in fact doing the maths. However, a psychologist also investigated the horse, and noticed that he reacted to slight changes in his trainer's face as he reached the correct answer. The trainer wasn't even aware that this was happening, but the horse was very sensitive to facial changes. So the horse wasn't doing arithmetic, but I still think it was incredibly clever for the horse to be able read these changes.

In Japan, they wanted to test the mathematical abilities of animals without the chances of human cues, intentional or not. This is where Ai came in. Ai is a chimpanzee from West Africa, brought over to Japan in the late 1970s. The aim was to teach Ai to count without human interaction, but using touch screens and apple cube treats. Ai became the first non-human to count with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) In order to count, you need to understand two concepts about numbers, which are quantity (cardinality) and order (ordinality). Ai grasped these concepts fairly quickly, and so they tested her (and her son) with flash memory tests. The numbers 1-5 were arranged randomly on screen for just over half a second, and then covered so that Ai had to tap the numbers in order from memory. Compared to a sample group of Japanese children, the chimpanzees continued to perform well when the time the numbers were visible dropped, whereas the children dropped below 50% success rate. This showed that the chimpanzees have an incredible photographic memory, which could be down to having to make snap decisions in the wild about things like the number of foe there are.


Other tests have been conducted to find out what instinctual maths abilities babies might have. To start with a puppet is placed on a stage. Then a screen is placed in front of the puppet. Another puppet is shown to be placed behind the screen. When the screen is removed, either 1, 2 or 3 puppets will be revealed. It was found that babies stared longer at the puppets when the maths didn't add up, suggesting they were expecting only 2, which in turn suggests they have some basic understanding of numbers. This is backed up by the fact that they didn't stare for longer if the puppets had changed completely, only if there were the wrong numbers. Obviously it is difficult to tell for sure if this is because of a basic grasp for numbers, because you can't just ask a baby, but the research has shown some interesting results.

There are loads more examples of comparisons between maths you learn and maths you are born knowing in the chapter. For example, it talks about tribes that only have numbers for 1, 2, 3 and many. It is really interesting to see how maths is thought about and used by other cultures and creatures and I recommend reading it. Being written by a journalist for people other than mathematicians, it is very easy to read and understand. It isn't so much about how maths works, but how people use it.

Here is the Amazon link for it.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Monday Maths Madness 1

As part of my writer's club challenge for the summer, I am going to start writing a blog post every Monday about random Maths pictures or videos that I find that are funny or clever. Maths humour is always fun for me, so I will share :)

I'm not sure if its the cleverness of mirroring 3.14 (pi) to make pie, or the face that I like more in this picture.

This is probably only funny for someone who does maths, and knows that the dance moves are what the graphs of the functions beneath the pictures look like. My particular favourite is the last one :P

This one isn't so much funny, but it is quite clever. And I think it's sweet. Even if you can't be bothered to look through the working (I did, but that's just me) you get the idea with just the answer. I'm not gonna lie, I would quite like if someone declared their love for me through a maths equation (hint hint boyfriend :P)

That's it for this Monday. Hopefully as the weeks go by, and I've been to more writer's club meetings, I will be able to write about the pictures a little better. I'm aware that I don't have a very good way with words, but hey, that's what the writer's club is for!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Astrid Task and the Summer Blog Challenge

This summer is my last summer before I head off to study maths at University. I really want to make the most of it before I have to leave everything I'm comfortable with and head into the big wide world. To help me make the most of things, I use to-do lists. It is very satisfying to each day cross off all of the things that I wanted to achieve. To make the to-do lists, I downloaded an app.

I recently got a new phone for my birthday. I've never had a smart phone before, so I'm still getting used to it. My favourite thing about smart phones is that there is an app for almost anything you can imagine, including to-do lists. The one I downloaded is called Astrid Task. I'm not going to lie, I only picked it because it was free, it was at the top of the page, and it had a red octopus thing as its logo. However, I'm glad I did, and here's why.

1. This little dude is so cute. He pops up with little motivational messages such as "I like it when you are productive!" when you tick off tasks. He sends you reminders when you have a time set on a task, and sends one at 6pm (although you can choose the time) for each task without a due time that hasn't yet been completed. For me, having a cute mascot just makes it that bit more fun, so it is less of a chore.

2. You can access the app on Android, iPhone or online (astrid.com). I have an Android phone, my sister has an iPhone, and my mum has a brick phone that isn't a smart phone, so we can all get to the app one way or other. My sister actually downloaded the app after I showed it to her. She wanted the motivational octopus too! My mum was a bit upset that her phone can't download apps because she wants it too, so I imagine she'll be very happy when she finds out you can get it online too!

3. You can share tasks with other people. I admit I haven't yet tried this, I'm still playing round with the app to find out what it can do, but I imagine it will come in handy when organising events, such as the writing club I've recently joined with my sisters. We will be able to make sure we all know when it is on and what we need to have done before we go to the next meeting.

4. The layout is simple. I like things that aren't overly complicated. A clear layout is important for ease of use. Astrid task has a clear layout, with tasks set out in a list, different colours for different levels of priority of tasks, a check box to tick off tasks that you have completed, and different styles of check boxes depending on the type of task (e.g. a recurring task). The recurring task feature is useful for something you want to do every day, or every other day for example, because you don't have to set up the task every single time, it is done automatically.

5. There is a widget available that you can put on your phone homepage. It allows easy access to the tasks you have set up for the day as well as allowing you to create new tasks quickly.

There is a lot more to this app. For example you can organise tasks into lists, add notes or comments onto tasks, sync lists to Astrid.com, Google Tasks or Producteev, and not to mention the added features when you buy the premium version of the app. Like I said before, I'm still exploring the app, but I am very much liking what I've found so far. Who wouldn't want a motivational red octopus to congratulate them on completing things really?

Part of my to-do list for the writing club is to complete a summer blog challenge. I want to write (at least) one blog post a week. I can tick that off for this week now.