Monday, February 16, 2015

Piggy bank maths

It feels strange watching Alex learn the basics of mathematics. So many solutions that come so naturally to me are a struggle for him, not through lack of intelligence on his part, but from their unfamiliarity as he tries to understand the basic concepts.

This morning it was money. When you think about it there's a lot of basic arithmetic stored in a piggy bank.

Alex wanted a milky pop from the canteen. That's 10 cents. Now he wants 5. For most of us that's easy, 5 x 10c = 50c. But he's barely touched on multiplication yet, so it's back to addition.

Fortunately, they've done counting on tens (a prelude to multiplication), otherwise the addition is very painful.

Okay, so we've got the first answer, now the problem is how to make it with coins. If you don't have a 50c coin then you need to make 50 from smaller denominations, say 2 x 20c and 1 x 10c. Again, we've got multiplications going on, or counting on twenties.

Then he wants to buy one for his friend. So now we have 5 + 1 = 6 milky pops. And we need to add 10c to the total cash required.

My spelling all that out was torturous, wasn't it? But that's the least level of detail required when you are starting out. For me now, I don't even have to consciously think about such sums. This level of mathematics is more of an emotional response than intellectual. Relationships between numbers have become intuitive feelings. Coins have shapes, you don't even have to think about the numbers on them, you just know how they fit together to make new numbers.

But I can see that developing in Alex. Sometimes he'll immediately pick the right answer to a mathematical question and it's only when he starts thinking about it too hard that he might struggle and get it wrong. It's fascinating to watch.

Communicating science

I recently read an article somewhere how versions of Pythagoras' Theorem were independently "discovered" in Egypt, India and China prior to its namesake. Why then do we associate it with a single Greek?

It is not uncommon for scientific and mathematical discoveries to occur multiple times. So who chooses the credit?

Communication plays no small part in this. The more widely a discovery is communicated, the more awareness there is of a result, the less chance that it will be repeated as if new. That means researchers can put their efforts into something new rather than wasting time on reinvention of the old.

Science communication shouldn't just be about promoting ideas for money and prestige, it should also be for ensuring that knowledge is accessible, not hidden away in some dark corner.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I chose to believe that humans have three purposes. One is the purpose of life itself: To survive.

The other purposes are those that raise us above all other known species: To understand and to create.

The better our understanding the Universe the better we serve our first purpose as well and the better we can create.

It disappoints me that so many believe that our purpose is to believe or to gain personal wealth and power to the subversion of all other goals.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular 2015

Each fan has their own Doctor. Maybe their Doctor wasn't the greatest actor. Maybe he didn't have the best scripts. But he's the one they grew up with, who held their hand as they ventured into time and space.

For me it's Peter Davison. For B, David Tennant. Alex has Matt Smith. I wonder if Colin Baker has anyone?

That's the level and target of humour on display at the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular 2015, as hosted again by my Doctor. B and Alex complained it flew right over their heads, but there were enough true Whovians in the audience to laugh loudly.

Another year, another Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and another Symphonic Spectacular, my fourth. I attended this one in my current city of abode, Sydney. Last time it was here, The Metropolitan Orchestra performed at the Opera House, today it was Qantas Credit Union Arena, formerly the Sydney Entertainment Centre.

I think it sounded better, although a bit too much sound appeared to come from the speakers above us rather than the orchestra proper. We were at the side of the stage, near the bottom of the ring, a lot closer to the action than the previous three times. That meant seeing Mr Davison up closer too, though sadly none of the aliens actually came up the stairs close to us, as they would have done in previous concerts had we been so close.

The Metropolitan Orchestra was joined by the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and soloist singer Antoinette Halloran. All sounded virtually perfect and I was very impressed. Conductor Ben Foster was amazing to watch up close, conveying and sharing in the emotion of the music through his baton skills, and adding the odd bit of interaction with Peter Davison and "acting" (courtesy of mentor Colin Baker). As an aside, his own compositions are well worth a listen as well.

I was very pleased with the selection of music this time. The soundtrack to Series 8 hasn't been released yet, so that music was still quite fresh and new. But there were also some of the best themes from back to the beginning of the series' reboot. A good balance was struck in my opinion.

The programme is listed below with some brief notes.

A Good Man?

The Thirteenth Doctor's theme might sound simple at first listen, but its driven energy has made it a real highlight of the last season. I had shivers down my spine as the orchestra started playing it.

Wherever, Whenever (Anywhere in Time and Space)

A suite of highlights from Series 8, the music mostly soared, but had some quieter moments. Despite my previously brief acquaintance with many of the themes I really enjoyed it.

The Doctor's Theme/Song of Freedom

A combination of the wonderful Doctor's Theme Series 4 and the Song of Freedom, also from that series, this was magnificent, the reminder on the big screen of the Doctor and his companions, including Sarah Jane Smith (the late Elizabeth Sladen) saving the Universe from the Daleks just made it more poignant.

The Companions

The Doctor's companions returned with this medley of beautiful themes for Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy. It's funny how Alex reacted best to Donna's section, even though it's one of my least favourite parts.

To Darkness

The ominous and powerful chorus of the Daleks, mostly from Series 4, followed by new music for the Series 8 episode "Into the Dalek". Of course there were Daleks in the theatre doing their schtick.

Last Christmas Suite

Music from the latest Christmas special. Like many of the Christmas specials, it was a bit light on depth, but still enjoyable.

We then had an interval for 20 minutes.

All the Strange, Strange Creatures

A favourite from Series 3, this music is dedicated to the large number of aliens that the Doctor battles or befriends. Many of them appeared around the venue. I was glad that this was the introduction to the second session because it is one of Alex's best loved themes.

The Impossible Girl

Clara's gentle and whimsical theme, a highlight from the last couple of series.

66 Seconds

The scary mummy on the space borne Orient Express made an appearance, scaring Alex a little. New music and not so familiar, I'll reserve judgement for now.

The Pandorica Suite

Music from the final episodes of Series 5, it also featured in the first two concerts. But it's exciting and the look on Alex's face when it closed with the wonderful "I am the Doctor" theme, otherwise missing from this concert, was priceless. 

Abigail's Song

The beautiful song from "A Christmas Carol" is one of the concert staples, and deservedly so.

Fifty - This is Gallifrey

First heard in Series 3, this is another favourite, evoking the Doctor's memories of his childhood home. Unlike the first couple of times it was played at the concerts there were no visuals of regenerations, so no disruptive cheers from the audience. Instead it was set to scenes of the 50th anniversary special. I loved it.

Death in Heaven Suite

The Master (well, Missy now) and the Cybermen return in the Series 8 finale. Exciting and uplifting (literally), the suite includes the theme for the latest Doctor, making for a fantastic finale for the printed program.

Naturally, there were encores.

Vale Decem

The dramatically sad song for the demise of David Tennant's much loved Doctor featured visuals for each of his regenerations, bringing out cheers from the audience (though strangely lacking for Colin Baker).

Doctor Who Theme

You knew it would end like this. And of course it should, with such and energetic and exciting rendition of the classic theme.

All in all an excellent performance. I hope the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular has many more regenerations left in it!

Previous concerts

Apologies for the photos, only pocket cameras were allowed in, so I only had my mobile phone.

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