The Function Room
The Function Room
Tiedot The Function Room
A podcast about the big numbers, the hard sums, the mathematics that defines, runs, shapes, changes, begins, ends, every things our lives and the world around us. Hosted by Colm O'Regan. An award-winning radio broadcaster, comedian, novelist and it turns out lapsed engineer who is trying to feel useful again. Each episode sheds light on a tiny corner of a giant subject with entertaining guests and accessible talk.
Normally I try and come up with an apt pun but I couldn’t possibly come up with anything better than the title of my guest Sarah Hart’s book. She has written Once Upon A Prime, a very enjoyable read and listen about the many links between maths and literature and myth and poetry. We talk about why giants as we know them can’t exist, the 19th century obsession with statistics, the maths of Ulysses and Moby Dick and taking an idea for a walk.
The mathematics of art or the art of mathematics whichever. My guest is teacher, artist, mathematician,m tiktok star, Ayliean MacDonald the only one with that name in the world we think. We talk about the usual things people talk about: aperiodic tiles, Japanese Hitomezashi stitching, L-chair triominals, toilet paper, cozy-gaming and the meditative power of drawing lots of straight lines in a bullet journal. She’s fascinating. Give it a play.
This week Robert Boyle, born in Ireland in the 17th century was one of the world's great scientists. I'm talking about him with Eoin Gill, Eoin Gill is a director of Calmast STEM Engagement Centre at South East Technological University, who likes Robert Boyle so much he made an entire summer school about him. Boyle was a massive deal in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and his work laid the groundwork for modern chemistry, a founder of the Royal Society, part of a list of big scientific cheeses like Newton and Kepler who discovered the universe was a mathematical and not just a miraculous place. But for all his science, dabbled in alchemy and sometimes he still just wanted a miracle.
My guest is Alan O’Reilly, about his hobby weather forecasting. I first met him when he was on my RTE Radio Show Colm O’Regan Wants A Word. But time constraints meant I don’t think we got to talk for the recommended daily weather talk intake of two hours. Alan lives in County Carlow, in the southern midlands of Ireland from where he observes all the weather that the weather can throw at him. We talk about the hot topic at the moment which is of course snow-drizzle called graupel, we talk about not-hearing-the-weather-forecast-anxiety, being lost in the snow, the unbearable lightness of solar panels, and some of the small numbers that make a big difference in the massive maths of weather, and why it all comes down to dew point.
Welcome back to the function room with me Colm O’Regan. This week, it's ChatGPT. The latest thing that makes people starting dropping the phrase AI into small talk. ChatGPT and all the Ais are of huge interest to my guest. Conrad Wolfram. He’s kind of a big deal. Strategic and international director of Wolfram Research which makes Mathematica the computational software and nearly 4 decades in the area of computational education, Conrad has written The maths fix, about how AI will, or should make the maths we study in school very different. We talk steam engines, democracy and poems about lightbulb filaments. You know, the standard stuff. Find him at conradwolfram.com, find chatGPT at chat.openai.com
My guest is Rob Eastaway. Author of many books which make maths more interesting and accessible. He also has a podcast called Puzzling Maths with Andrew Jeffrey which you should check out if by some miracle you’re not getting all your maths vitamins from here. His most recent book is Maths on the back of an Envelope and it’s about the surprising power of mental arithmetic. Along the way, finding out,how to tell the height of a tree using the remains of a savoury snack, estimating crowds, dividing restaurant bills, counting weddings, getting a rough idea of what’s going on using Rob’s favourite word: -ish And generally hopefully, giving us all a bit of confidence to get the answer wrong but close enough. At the very end Ruby takes his advice on board and just start adding stuff up out of the blue. Well not out of the blue, off the milk carton. Follow me on twitter @colmoregan, the podcast @functionroompod. Rob is at https://robeastaway.com/
This week on the function room, my guest is Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, discovered a NEW TYPE OF STAR. That’s like discovering A NEW TYPE OF STAR Jocelyn was a postgraduate student at the time and famously her supervisor was awarded the Nobel Prize for radio pulsars, and there was no mention of Jocelyn. Even though she helped build the Interplanetary Scintillation Array – the thing that found it- over two years and she was the one who first noticed the weird data the was the radio pulsar, sometimes reviewing nearly 100ft of paper. That is just one part of a long career and distinguished career. We talk about that and sexism in science, religion in science, and the perils of managing big data 1960s style and at the end inspired by Jocelyn, my daughters and I look up at the stars.
After a long hiatus, the function room is back and for the first episode, comedian and erstwhile mathsy type Dara O'Briain is the guest. We chat about all sorts, hard sums, looking at the stars, the fantasy of one day going back to learn 'just for the sake of it' and then agreeing that idea might need a bit more thought. And no he didn't do a masters but I make no apologies for embellishments for the sake of a pun.
In this episode after Ruby makes up her mind, we’re talking about the mathematics of free will. It's recorded at the Cat Laughs Comedy Summer Series in Kilkenny, Ireland. A special series of shows to reintroduce everyone to the vague concept of Going To Stuff Again.My guest is Dr Kevin Mitchell. He’s a neuroscientist a professor at Trinity College Dublin and author of a book called Innate which goes right into the heart of the brain…well not the heart, confusing terminology, but right into the cells. And as he got to the smallest bits of the brain, Kevin started to wonder about free will and whether we have any choice in any matter. The notion of free will has been debated by the finest minds for thousands of years. So naturally I felt qualified to join in.And what has it to do with maths. Well…buckle up because we’re in for a bit of a head melt as we tackle topics like quantum physics, a smidge of chaos theory, WHAT IS A NUMBER ANYWAY and where annoying phantom traffic jams come from on the motorway. (apart from over reliance on cars obvs)You can Kevin at https://www.kjmitchell.com/ and on twitter at https://twitter.com/WiringTheBrain and of course me at www.colmoregan.com and on twitter the podcast is at https://twitter.com/functionroompod
This time, it's about Growth and De-Growth. De-What? What-Growth? A term that's been around for a while but it's obviously being talked about more if an eejit like me is throwing it around at dinner-parties. (or I will when they come back)My guest is Dr Jason Hickel who has written about Degrowth in his book Less is More. We talk about what is degrowth what it isn't, the sneaky power of exponential growth, why imperialism is alive and (making people un)well, the curious history of GDP, a brief tangent on the history of the board game monopoly, social media fights, Ruby gets to the nub of global inequality when talking about dolls and why despite all of the depressing stuff he has to read, Jason is still optimistic.
Welcome back to the Function Room, And this time, it’s about QUEUES. This has been a summer of queues. A flurry of covid tests and two vaccinations have meant a brush with Big Queue. Which got me thinking - What makes a good queue or a bad one? And is there any maths behind it. There’s a hatch free so step forward, Professor Ken Duffy, director of the Hamilton Institute in Maynooth University to tell me about Queuing Theory.As usual on the Function room, the topic goes off in all sorts of directions. Along the way we find out about old telephone exchanges, how Victorian Britain’s worries about their Lordships going extinct led them to develop theory that was used a century later to look at viruses and what it takes to get your mathematics soldered onto a computer chip.
This time on the function room: My guide to helping people think you’re a great parent. While someone else does the job.The secret? It’s numberblocks. The BAFTA winning animated CBEEBIES TV show for 3 to 6 year old children to get them interested in mathematics in an accessible way. Our children love it. They request it. They watch the same programmes over and over. They are not geniuses – well obvious they are – but it’s not considered polite to say. We are not Tiger parents so far. It's just this TV show. It's funny and fun and like millions around the world our Two are hooked on it.They sing the songs, they get invested in the stories. What is it about it? Well the songs are catchy, the animation is great, the stories work. But the sums add up.I wanted to find out why. So I talked to Debbie is the Primary Director at the National centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics in the UK but also she's the maths consultant on Numberblocks!Debbie Morgan on Twitter https://twitter.com/thinkingmaths Numberblocks: https://www.learningblocks.tv/numberblocks/home
This time we’re folding. We’re creasing. We’re origami-ing. As Ruby and I make two birds and two planes, I find out a little bit about the world of folding. Even with those small things we made we still got the feeling we were playing with something much bigger. Just by taking a flat sheet of paper and transforming. Folding is seen as a negative word, a defeat. Not to the people like Paul Jackson an artist who teaches folding in 80 universities or Robert Lang who gave up engineering degrees to focus on origami solutions to problems of the small and the big.Or to my guest She’s Dr Rachel Quinlan, Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics. In her day-job according to the NUIG website, "hercurrent research interests are generally in the area of algebra, especially linear algebra and its interactions with group theory, combinatorics, and field theory" .."group theory, particularly the ordinary and projective representation theory of finite groups." But I know that stuff like the back of my hand. So it’s her beautiful origami tessellations that caught my eye.Along the way you’ll hear about MC Escher, listen to me struggle to describe Euclid, a brief mention of diffraction, topology, stents, airbags and naturally where it always ends: With the structure of the universe.And sorry about the delay. I know it’s a pain when podcasts are irregular. Work came in that pays the bills and I'm still trying to work out a way to fit this job into all the others. LINKSBetween the Folds – Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFrDN5eYPOQMore about Vanessa Gould https://www.vanessagould.com/More about Paul Jackson http://www.origami-artist.com/More about Robert Lang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYKcOFQCenoMore about Dr. Rachel Quinlan http://www.maths.nuigalway.ie/~rquinlan/ and see her art here https://twitter.com/rkquinlan
Okay enough messing around, this week we get into the Matrix. Okay not that matrix. The mathematical matrix. But this one is way more powerful than a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality. That’s piddly. Mathematical matrices are used in everywhere, from making computer games to quantum physics.That’s Jane Breen ,Assistant Professor in Applied Maths in Ontario University in Canada. She loves modelling the complexity of networks in the real world with some very powerful and sometimes simple tools. Speaking of simple tools, before long, I start throw around lingo like Eigenvalues and Markov Chains like I know what I'm talking about. We find out how Google got so successful, a brief digression into how drugmakers know their drugs will work and before finishing off on how to control the spread of disease. And Ruby and Lily find themselves playing with a real-life application of a Markov Chain, a Game of Snakes and Ladders. Jane Breen https://sites.google.com/view/breenjA really good youtube channel for visualising what's going on in Matrices and All Of That. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZHQObOWTQDPD3MizzM2xVFitgF8hE_ab
This time on the function room, advertising algorithms start to annoy Ruby so I decided to find out a bit more. And who better to talk to than someone the New York Times described as one of the most valuable observers of Big Data. She is American mathematician, data scientist, and author of Weapons of Math Destruction and budding movie star, Cathy O’Neill.
This time on the Function Room. It's the little things. The really little things. As Ruby(5) and Lily(3) theorise about the computers a fairy might use, I talk to UCD's John Sheekey about Quantum Computers. I got thinking about it before Christmas when Chinese scientists announced another quantum computing breakthrough.Those brand new heavies that may help humanity heal itself and even the planet but also could mean your money isn't as safe as it was online. Listen to me trying to fit enormous concepts inside my tiny brain, find out about Coding Theory and how a man in a Maths and Stats department in Dublin is trying to stay one step ahead of The Quantum Menace (my hyperbole) armed with pens, paper, markers, whiteboard in an office that doesn't have a window. (news clips from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5MBAJJU9Hk )
A special Christmas episode recorded in an actual theatre. With actual people. Just sound technicians as events are still banned due to me being TOO FUNNY. This was a fun episode with fellow comedian and fellow former engineer Eleanor Tiernan. It was recorded at the Catcast - a special podcast festival held in the Set Theatre Kilkenny (usually the Comedy Festival home) sponsored by a bit of government money to keep the industry - especially the sound and vision people ticking over. We chatted about the usual topics of sizing an incinerator, the physics of an adult's jokes, the maths of a toddler's joke, Newton's Law of cooling (whether it's better to put the milk in the tea early or late) and how we both navigated lockdown using the Dunning Kruger effect.
This week we meet a man who loves maps, elections and naturally Eurovision. We dip our toe in the recent presidential election and find out how you can use maths to see if someone is really trying to steal an election. Not through mysterious bundles of mailed in ballots, but by packing and cracking, drawing funny looking amphibious electoral maps. We hear why we need to Build That Wall in Ireland. (A beautiful colourful electoral wall. So that CNN's John King can feel at home when he visits his cousins.)But all of that is mere fluffing before the substantive issue: Why Albania loves the Eurovision. WIth Adrian Kavanagh Lecturer in Geography at National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
My guest is Dr Eloise Stevance an astrophysicist working in Auckland, New Zealand. We’re talking at the same time but on different days of the week. Which is pretty cool.We talk TikTok viral videos, bald headed football linesmen in Scotland being mistaken for a football and how a thing called machine learning is helping people like Eloise find out the answer to life the universe and everything.And bonus info – what gender are stars?Not bad for 40 minutes work.
You've probably heard it mentioned out of the corner of your ear. Mathematical Modelling. What does it look like, how does it work, where would you even start? And why is a Dublin mathematician modelling the results of electrical currents in human brains? (Donated, don't worry)With Aine Byrne @ainebyrnemaths, Assistant Professor at the Department of Maths and Statistics in UCD and (briefly at the start) 5 year old Ruby with her own model of how the brain works. And me, hoping to learn from both. Comments, suggestions, criticism -take it handy though- to @colmoregan @functionroompod on twitter.
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