Sunday, September 30, 2007

Beyond Amazing

Earlier this year, I had the vague idea that after I'd done this History of Maths course I might possibly do an MSc in the History of Science in a few years time.

However the course was really interesting. Not always easy, but even then it was a case of getting my thinking into the right lines. Also, I was getting (very) good marks. I started to make a more specific plan.

At our last tutorial yesterday, I to plucked up courage to ask the tutor whether this plan was feasible. I expected her to give a bit of general advance ("do this, rather then that"). But she didn't: her response was beyond what I'd hoped for.

She said I ought to consider a research degree (the MSc's I'd looked at were all taught), and that she would get in touch with several different research groups on my behalf.

I simply can't describe how I feel.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Corwall: the Eden Project

We went to the Eden Project and looked round the domes. Anyone following me would have heard squeals of amazement and delight when I saw the star fruit tree. It went something like: "A star fruit tree! Look, its a star fruit tree. Oh wow, its a tree with star fruit on it! They grow on trees!" I don't know why it appealed to me quite so much, but it was the plant that most I was most interested in.

star fruit tree

The domes are quite amazing from an architectual prospective:
inside the domeinside the domeinside the dome

View of the vents from the inside...

vents like hexagon patchwork

...and the outside:

vents like flowers

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cotehele Hall, textiles and maths

I have lots of photos of Cornwall, which I haven't sorted through.

One place I went to, for which we have no photos, was Cotehele Hall. It belongs to the National Trust and photography was banned inside the house: there are numerous extremely large tapestries covering many of the walls. It would have taken many man-years to produce all of them: it took a year for one person (usually a man) to produce one square yard of tapestry. A single tapestry might take several men three-four years to complete.

They had several "Liberal Arts" series tapestries - "Grammar", "Arithmetic" and "Geometry" in different parts of the house.

"Geometry" is of particular interest: it depicts Euclid sitting next to a globe of the Earth, with a lady measuring distance. Of course, the word "geometry" comes from the words for Earth-measurement, so from the prospective of a speaker of Ancient Greek - which included many educated men of the Renaissance - the imagery is apt. However, it is entirely inappropriate for a historian of mathematics.

At the time of the creation of the tapestry, the mathematical subject of geometry was that described in the first books of Euclid's Elements. This is the part of geometry we know call "Euclidean Geometry". It's the geometry we get taught in schools, where the angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees. However, the geometry of the sphere is different! On a sphere the angles of a triangle don't add up to 180 degrees, and the other axioms of Euclidean geometry don't work either.

In the nineteenth century, mathematicians gained a much wider understanding of geometry. Euclidean geometry is a special case of more general geometries, and depends on the "space" in which it is measured having a constant curvature of zero. The curvature of a sphere is also constant, but it is not zero: it is related to the radius of the sphere. Globes do not conform to Euclidean geometry!

I find this rather amusing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ancient Languages and Essay Conclusions

My essay has been finished and posted. (I used 1347 words to conclude it was "partial". It's against OU policy for their students to post essays to the 'net, so you'll just have to fill in the other 1346 words for yourself.)

I got this from Frogs and Ravens. I think at least some of you will enjoy it.

Your Score: Older Futhark

You scored

Language of the Norse, Older Futhark! Thirty symbols, all told. And no hardier, more warrior-like tongue has ever graced the longships of the Viki or left the Celts and Saxons in such quivering fear. There's only one drawback, that being you died 800 years ago.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by imipak on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Post and Run

We got back from two weeks in Cornwall yesterday. I've got lots of things to blog about, such as go-karting (weeee!!!), the Eden Project and tapestries of Euclid at Cotehele House. I expected to be able to use the Wonders of Modern Technology to post a few times while I was away, unfortunately Modern Technology couldn't cope with the combination of poor quality mobile phone reception and blogger's post editor.

However, it will all have to wait at least a week. My next assignment for the History of Maths course has to be posted by next Saturday (I thought it was the Monday after), and I haven't read the course work yet. That means in the next six days, I have to read five weeks worth of material and write over 1000 words. Oh, and buy about six pairs of school shoes/trainers/football-boots which I'm actually dreading more.

(OTOH, I got top marks for my last assignment.)