Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Thoughts on science videos

I was recently a guest on a panel discussing "Making Science Public".

Among my numerous rambles, I explained why science communication could learn something from football..  maybe?

Here is what I said:

Extended footage from the panel here.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Nombre Amour

The latest Numberphile additions deal with numbers in French.

They feature Dr Paul Smith, from the University of Nottingham, who may be familiar to viewers of my Words of the World series.

Here are the films (included an unlisted "extra bits" video):

Friday, 15 March 2013

Two new professors

Some great news.

Two veteran contributors to The Periodic Table of Videos - Peter Licence and Stephen Liddle - have both been promoted to the position of PROFESSOR at the University of Nottingham, where they work in the School of Chemistry.

Here are a couple of archive videos with each of them discussing their research.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The recipe for Alan's Pi Soundtrack

Musician (and school teacher) Alan Stewart created the score for our video about "Pi with Pies".

Here he explains the music's hidden depths:

When Brady invited me to prepare a soundtrack for this year’s Pi Day special I was very keen to throw as many mathematical ingredients into the musical mix as I could.

Thoughts of irrational time signatures, Pythagorean scales and the Circle of Fifths all sprang to mind.

But, just as too many flavours can spoil a dish, too many musical ideas can render a piece unlistenable!

The final composition includes only 4 musical references to Pi.

In order of how convincing you might find them, finishing with the most tenuous, they are: 

1. The Melody
Picked out on pizzicato strings, the tune follows Phil Moriarty’s method of mapping the digits of Pi onto a musical scale. In this case we have the first nine, 3.14159265, translated onto the notes of the C minor scale.

2. The Rhythm 
Like Dave Brown and Phil Moriarty’s Phi Song, the rhythm drummed out by the timpani towards the end of the piece turns the digits of Pi directly into quavers.

3. The Tempo
Alan Stewart
This may be the only original mathematical idea I brought to the piece. Unfortunately, it’s also the only idea that no-one would notice unless it was pointed out and explained!

I’d be most impressed if someone was able to say “Ah, the tempo of this music is 104.72 beats per minute. That’s approximately one third of Pi, times 100!”

I did play around with 314.16bpm but found performing at this speed somewhat challenging.

4. The Style 
The music has a military feel to it, so might be described as a march. And Pi Day is in March... and yes, that is indeed the sound of me scraping the very bottom of this barrel.

Visit Alan's YouTube channel - AlanKey86

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

To continue or not to continue

The latest Numberphile video tells an infamous story about Pi and proposed legislation in the 19th century (hereafter known as The Indiana Story).

The video ends with the promise of more discussion about squaring circles (hereafter knows as The Circle/Square Discussion).

In anticipation of people complaining about the "to be continued" nature of this video, I've decided to write this blog post.

I hope (but doubt) it will save me some time in the comments section.

Here are some thoughts:

1. I think The Indiana Story is self-contained and focused film - that's how I think my videos should be.

2. The subsequent Circle/Square Discussion - which I've not yet edited - will also be nicely self-contained.

3. The soon-to-come Circle/Square Discussion took some time to explain - longer than The Indiana Story itself... Seems like an odd thing to tack on the end?

4. The Circle/Square Discussion itself ALSO went off on yet another tangent about paradoxes... If I included all three topics, I'd have an epic video which started on one theme and ended on something totally unrelated.

Now some people might argue that an 20-minute epic video on three topics is a good thing. But I disagree.

Here are some more thoughts:

1. Making an epic video takes ME a long time... Why not upload the shorter segments as I make them? People may complain I am teasing and making them wait with a "to be continued".

But wouldn't I also be making them wait (longer) if I spent weeks on extended videos too?  Is it not better for the audience to keep the content flowing as a I cut it!?

And videos would be uploaded less frequently if I kept collating everything into epic films.

2. Yes, some people like longer videos - but others prefer short ones they can quickly watch in lunch breaks at work or as "lesson starters" at school.

Shorter videos seems to suit everyone because the hardcore viewers can just watch them back-to-back anyway.

(side note: it is rare for me to describe my videos as short - many fellow creators say mine are too long!)

3. The Circle/Square Discussion (it is not really a sequel) does not exist now - but it will soon... When people watch The Indiana Story in future, they'll be able to just click on through to the next part seamlessly... The current situation is only frustrating for people who watch the video soon after upload (admittedly, this is a large number of people).

And another thought - for some people Numberphile videos are a resource. They may search our archives for Circle/Square Discussion, for example.

It seems silly to have them sit through 4-5 minutes beforehand for a discussion about an obscure unpassed bill in the Indiana State Legislature!?

I know some people will not be placated. They will think this is a cynical ploy to get more "YouTube views" - all I can say is this isn't the case.

I am more motivated by my eagerness to get videos out regularly and share the stuff I'm learning from clever people like James.

Anyway, that's probably enough.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Calculating Pi with Pies

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14 - get it?)

It's a day of much interest for my Numberphile project.

Last year we posted four videos - see them here!

This year I decided on something more ambitious.

It turns out a friend of mine works for local pie company, Pukka Pies, so I pitched him an idea.

Calculate Pi using real pies.

In true "corporate style", I even made a small Powerpoint presentation to make the case, which included this stunning representation!

Sure enough the people at Pukka came through with about 400 pies.

The original plan was to make the video on a football pitch, utilising a centre cirle.

The people at Notts County FC (nickname, the Magpies or Pies!) agreed to let us use their pitch if we were careful (and thanks to the guys at the Copa90 football channel for making some introductions).

So we made the film at the stadium, but decided placing pies on the pitch might not be a good idea for several reasons.

1. The pitch is muddy and we would be on our knees a lot!

2. The centre circle was a bit too big - our pie circle would be smaller.

3. Being in the middle of a huge pitch might diminish or otherwise impressive circle - make it look smaller than it really was.

4. Being on a football pitch - a srange environment - might distract viewers from the purpose of  the video.


So after filming some explanatory segments on the pitch, we retreated to a nearby car park.

In front of the camera was "standup mathematician" Matt Parker - who traveled some distance for the shoot.

He's a man passionate about Pi and has had a few "pideas" himself over the years - when he heard I had hundreds of pies, he jumped at the opportunity.

(Matt was unwell on the day and was a trooper for seeing it through)

With me filming - assisted by a second cameraman James Hennessy for extra shots - Matt had sole responsibility for laying out the pies.

First he marked a circumference and diameter (using chalk and string) then laid out the circumference.

It measured 264 and 2/3 pies.

Then the diameter, which was 84 and 1/3 pies across.

Divide the former by the latter and our calculation for Pi was in the order of 3.13834

Real Pi starts with the figures 3.14159

So if you were rounding, both figures are 3.14

Pretty accurate - and we did not cheat or massage the figures in any way.  It was a totally honest experiment.


A short video (3:14 in duration, of course) has been uploaded today.

A longer version including the football pitch section will be uploaded on Pi Day itself.

PS: I believe it was a "noble death" for these pies to be used in such an educational way. However Numberphile has also donated £314 to a local charity which helps feed people at times of crisis.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Back to Work

I'm back from a week in Palm Springs for the TED Active conference.

I did a bit of work there, including this video interview with Michael Stevens from Vsauce.

But mainly it was relaxing, taking in the sights and California weather (and countless TED talks).

I'm back at work now though, and three videos have gone live today across three projects. Here they are: