Will there be a white Christmas? Will the snow delay your holiday flight? And what if you slip on the ice and break a leg? Life is full of uncertainties, so behind door #15 we've hidden our favourite expert on risk. David Spiegelhalter is famous for his TV appearances and newspaper articles, he runs the Understanding Uncertainty website, and he also regularly writes for Plus. Below is a selection from his Plus column, or you can see all his Plus articles here.
Still short of a few presents? Here are some favourite books to fill those stockings:
The number mysteries
The sense of going on a journey with a brilliant and entertaining companion, of feeling like you are never sure why the conversation is veering in this new direction, yet being confident that there is a good reason for it, is the sense you'll get from this lovely new book by Marcus du Sautoy.
Maths for mums and dads
Maths for mums and dads by Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew This book is an absolute triumph. Given the authors' reputations, I would expect nothing less, so it is something of a relief to be able to write that first sentence.
The Sun Kings
Imagine a biologist trying to deduce the life cycle of an unknown creature by observing it just long enough to witness four beats of its heart. Nowadays, we know the Sun follows an eleven-year cycle, so even lifelong professional astronomers are likely to witness no more than four of its pulsations. Solar astronomy is truly a multigenerational science and its beginnings are brilliantly summarised in Stuart Clark's story, built around the greatest magnetic storm ever recorded.
Sync: the emerging science of spontaneous order
It's not very often that something I read makes me want to jack in my lovely job at Plus and return to study and research. But that is just what happened when reading Sync by Steven Strogatz.
Deciphering the cosmic number
If the quest for a physical theory of everything, and some of the strange concepts that have sprung from it, strikes you as somewhat mystical, then this is just the book you need to explore the idea further.
It's not often I get misty-eyed reading a book about mathematics, but that was just what happened when I read this, and several other poems, in the poetry collection Strange Attractors: Poems of love and mathematics.
Is god a mathematician?
"Oh god, I hope not," was the reaction of a student when Livio asked the title question at a lecture, and it's a reaction that's likely to be replicated by many unsuspecting bookshop browsers. But despite its frightening title, the book's appeal could not be broader.
MathsJam is a monthly opportunity for like-minded self-confessed maths enthusiasts to get together in a pub and share stuff they like. Puzzles, games, problems, or just anything they think is cool or interesting.
Regular events take place in London and Manchester and now also in Nottingham. Events provisionally take place on the second to last Tuesday of every month.
Nottingham organiser and Plus friend Peter Rowlett hopes that those involved with teaching mathematics will find ideas and inspiration to enrich teaching and encourage mathematical thinking, that students will find they develop techniques to approach problem solving in their studies, and that everyone will find it a fun, stimulating event to connect with maths as fun!
If you want to find out when and where MathsJam events are taking place in Nottingham City Centre please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday mornings can be messy and horrible, so to purify your mind we give you some pure mathematical favourites:
The prime number lottery
Marcus du Sautoy begins a two part exploration of the greatest unsolved problem of mathematics: the Riemann Hypothesis. In the first part, we find out how the German mathematician Gauss, aged only 15, discovered the dice that Nature used to chose the primes.
The trouble with five
Squares do it, triangles do it, even hexagons do it — but pentagons don't. They just won't fit together to tile a flat surface. So are there any tilings based on fiveness? This article takes us through the five-fold tiling problem and uncovers some interesting designs in the process.
Gödel and the limits of logic
When Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorem in 1931, the mathematical community was stunned: using maths he had proved that there are limits to what maths can prove. This put an end to the hope that all of maths could one day be unified in one elegant theory and had very real implications for computer science. This article describes Gödel's brilliant work and troubled
Omega and why maths has no TOEs
Gregory Chaitin explains why he thinks that Gödel's incompleteness theorem is only the tip of the iceberg, and why mathematics is far too complex ever to be
described by a single theory.
Cantor and Cohen: Infinite investigators Part I and Part II
What's the nature of infinity? Are all infinities the same? And what happens if you've got infinitely many infinities? These two articles explore how these questions brought triumph to one man and ruin to another, venture to the limits of mathematics and find that, with infinity, you're spoilt for choice.
Got your popcorn? Picked a good seat? Are you sitting comfortably? Then let the credits roll...
Maths goes to the movies
We have all marvelled at the incredibly life-like computer generated images in the movies. What most of us don't realise is that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and the wonders of Lord of the Rings — particularly the star turn of Gollum — would not have been possible without mathematics.
It's all in the detail
The computer animation used in movies and games is now so lifelike, it is very hard to believe that you are actually watching a surface built from simple shapes of triangles. Phil Dench tells us how he uses mathematics to help bring these models to life.
Career interview: Visual effects director
Alexis Wajsbrot is a visual effects specialist who has worked on a number of high-profile films including Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, and also on some of those visually stunning commercials you see while waiting for your film to start. His speciality is anything that behaves like a fluid: water, smoke, fire, even fur or cloth. He told us how he uses maths to simulate nature on a computer.
Maths, madness and movies
Mathematicians have often been considered a little eccentric; Charles Darwin once defined a mathematician as "a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there." Now, in the age of film, movie makers seem to go one step further: mathematicians appear to be disturbed at best, displaying a kind of neuroses through numbers. Since here at Plus we firmly believe in our sanity, we're puzzled as to why.
Plus podcast: Maths in the movies
Maths has long been a theme in the movies. In this podcast we talk to Madeleine Shepherd, organiser of a maths film festival at the Edinburgh science festival, about how maths has been presented in the movies over the years, with particular reference to three more recent films, Cube, Pi and Flatland.
Bells can do a lot more than just jingle! In fact, being a decent bell ringer requires razor-sharp mathematical precision and a vast memory. And just 16 bells are enough to provide your neighbours with over a million years of non-repeating bellish amusement. Find out how with Ringing the changes.