A weekend in winter (3)

Back at the M500 Winter Weekend…

An evening session featured a range of materials themed around numerical multiplication, including – for example – the likes of log tables and slide rules. Each table had a topic, and we were free to browse. This well-prepared event gave me a couple of completely new insights that I’d like to cover in future posts.

We were lucky enough to have Professor Robin Wilson as guest speaker. He has written widely, is Emeritus Gresham Professor of Geometry, and has extended involvement in the Open University – where he has written courses, appeared on those treasured early television programmes, and been the voice behind cassette tapes that we used to get as course materials. This 2008 Guardian interview provides a better background to his diverse interests.

Robin gave two historical talks. He covered the Mayans, referred to their calendar, and their ability to conceive of long periods of time. In particular, there is a 5,125-year cycle that ends on 21 December 2012 – which means – if some predictions are to be believed – no Winter Weekend in January 2013 !

I learned that Florence Nightingale invented the pie chart, and – of more practical use – that 2012 is Alan Turing Year, being the centenary of his birth. It seems a truly vast range of events is planned, but the one that Robin picked out is this one in Oxford, on 23-24 June.

Robin would have told a joke about the number 288, but decided it was two gross. Instead we got a talk about the prolific output of Euler, across a wide range of mathematical disciplines.

The opportunity to stay in hall on the campus of the University of Nottingham also provided a rare glimpse into the challenges of contemporary student life:

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