A gift from Wales to the World

One of several blogs I keep an eye on is the aptly-named Math With Bad Drawings (though, actually, I think the drawings do have a certain charm and they are in any case done with pedagogical rather than aesthetic intent). ¬†This blog is by an American mathematician (hence the mis-spelling of maths ūüôā ) and consists of illustrated essays on a variety of mathematical topics.

I was recently flicking back through the archives of this blog and came across an interesting post that I didn’t notice when it first appeared, last December, even though I was following the blog by then (I guess it was pretty close to Christmas, which is generally a pretty busy time when it’s easy to skip over blog posts). It is a post that describes itself as a brief biography of the equals sign¬†(=).

You may be thinking that this isn’t the most enthralling of subjects and, although a mathematician myself (with a fairly keen interest in mathematical notation and history to boot), I’d be inclined to agree with you. ¬†However, here’s the exciting thing I learned from the post: the equals sign was invented in Wales (*).

The article doesn’t actually contain all that much information about the early history of the sign, though it has some fascinating stuff about its meaning and usage, as well as related symbols like > and <. ¬†There was just enough detail to enable me to hit Wikipedia and do a quick Google search for other sites to cross-check the facts (not very extensive research, I know, but probably sufficient to establish that Ben, the author of the MWBD blog, wasn’t just making it up).

Apparently the first recorded use of the equals sign was in a book called The Whetstone of Witte, by Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde, published in 1557. ¬†It is believed that Recorde invented this sign; before this, people used to just write “is equal to” (or words to that effect) when they wanted to indicate equality, so the sign was definitely a very convenient shorthand.

The same book is also credited with introducing the plus (+) and minus (-) signs to the English speaking world, though they (unlike =) were already known in other parts of the world so presumably Recorde became acquainted with them through perusing literature in other languages, or perhaps corresponding with other mathematicians, rather than re-inventing them independently.  In any case, the book definitely had a significant impact on the development of mathematical notation Рand the importance of having good notation for being able to develop mathematical ideas should not be underestimated.

(*) Actually, my¬†statement that “the equals sign was invented in Wales” is probably not quite accurate (the original article phrases it as “the equals sign was born in Wales”, which is little better). ¬†Robert Recorde was indeed Welsh (born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire) but he seems to have spent most of his adult life in Oxford, Cambridge and London (where he was a physician as well as a mathematician) so it’s more likely that the equals sign was born/invented in one of those places. ¬†Still, I think it’s fair to credit it as a Welsh invention.

 

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How far will they go?

If I had to list my favourite films, it’s almost certain that there would be several Coen Brothers offerings on the list. ¬†For sure,¬†both O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Fargo would appear very near the top of the list.

I discovered today that a spinoff TV series to Fargo has been made, sharing its name, Minnesota setting and more-or-less  black comedy crime drama style.

The first season was made, or at least broadcast last year, and was set about 8 years earlier (which puts it about 20 years after the film, which was released in 1996 but apparently set in 1987). ¬†I gather there’s a small amount of overlap, including a scene where some of the characters from the series find the money that was hidden at the end of the film, ¬†and probably quite a few references (also to the rest of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre), but no direct cross-over between cast or characters.

The second season is due to be released next month (in the States) and will be set back in 1979. ¬†Again, there’s due to be little direct cross-over with either the film or the first season but there will be some links.

Apparently several more seasons are planned and each one is due to be essentially¬†self-contained, with its own time period, storyline and cast but some links to the other seasons and the film. ¬†The Coen Brothers are, with several other people, executive producers for the show (at least for season 1) but don’t appear to have been directly involved in writing or directing it.

I haven’t yet seen the series, though I’m sure that’s only a matter of time. ¬†I have mixed feelings about the idea but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve actually seen it.

 

So much for a quiet summer

August is usually one of the quieter months for me, as most of my regular activities take a summer break.  I love this opportunity to live life at a slightly more relaxed pace for a few weeks, especially as September (along with December) tends to be one of the busiest months.

This year, however, my August seems to be quite busy,¬†especially in contrast to the last couple of months. ¬†In particular, I have quite a few gigs ‚Äď almost as many, in fact, as I’ve had so far this year.

On average, I probably have about two gigs a month, and that pretty much amounts to some months with no gigs at all and some with 3 or 4, but rarely more than 5.  This month I have a grand total of 9 gigs, with two (or three, depending how you count) different bands.

The August gigging calendar started last Saturday, playing bass (or tuba, as it’s known outside the brass band context) with the Menai Bridge Brass Band¬†at the National Eisteddfod (a Welsh cultural phenomenon that you can google for yourself if you don’t already know about it). ¬†This was a competition, with 5 bands competing in our section. ¬†We came 3rd but, more importantly, we felt that we put in a very good performance. ¬† The first two pieces (out of our programme of 5) were televised on S4C; we start about 39 minutes into the programme and the clip should be available to view until about the end of August. ¬†I found it particularly interesting to watch that clip, as the pieces sound completely different when heard from outside the band than when you’re hearing them from in the middle of the action.

My second gig was on Sunday evening with the Rice Hooligan Orchestra ‚Äď my “demented Western Swing” trio, with whom I play upright bass (we don’t currently have a website). ¬†We were playing for a hog roast at the Marram Grass caf√© in Newborough, one of our favourite venues and the site of most of our recent gigs. ¬†We’ll be back there on Sunday 30th August (probably from about 7pm) so if you happen to be in the area you may like to drop in and see us; I’m not sure how much it costs to participate in the hog roast (as performers, we get it for free) but it’s excellent food to go with, hopefully, pretty good music.

This coming Saturday will be my busiest day musically, as I have two separate gigs. ¬†In the morning I’ll be playing trombone with the Menai Bridge Intermediate Brass Band at an event in Pentraeth (I think it’s their village fair) and then in the afternoon I’ll be heading off to the Conwy valley to play for a wedding party with the Rice Hooligan Orchestra. ¬†On Sunday afternoon, I’ll be out with the¬†Menai Bridge Intermediate Band again, this time at a First World War memorial concert in Menai Bridge.

The rest of the month’s gigs are all with the Rice Hooligan Orchestra. ¬†One of them is, like this Saturday’s wedding, a private party (towards the end of the month). ¬†The others are both public gigs – one is at Y Fricsan in Cwm-y-Glo (near Llanberis) on Friday 14th and the other is at The George in Bethesda on Saturday 15th. ¬†I’m not yet sure of the exact details of either gig but if you’re up for coming along to one of them, give me a shout and I’ll try to find out for you.

I’m anticipating that September will be a fairly busy month, as usual. ¬†On the gig front, though, it’s likely to be considerably quieter than August; so far I don’t have any gigs lined up for September and I certainly don’t expect to get anywhere near 9 of them!