recaps of the top 'ask me anything' interviews from reddit and more...
It's me, Matt Parker, maths author, youtuber and creator of semi-adequate magic squares. A+M+A

Hello. Many of you will know me from the Numberphile and Stand-up Maths youtube channels. Numberphile started in 2011 and it has since gained over pi million subscribers and spawned the Parker Square. Which are equally lofty achievements.

Feel free to AMA me anything about youtube, my past life as a high school maths teacher, working as a maths stand-up comedian on the UK comedy circuit, founding Maths Jam, working for universities, making/selling maths toys and giving engaging maths presentations for teenagers. Basically: anything related to communicating mathematics.

Oh, and the US edition of my best-selling book Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World is out now! And I happen to be doing a AMA at exactly the same time! (Correlation does not imply causality.) https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/610964/humble-pi-by-matt-parker/

Proof tweet: https://twitter.com/standupmaths/status/1227967791107584000 Just the image: https://imgur.com/a/lGcHuLM

And of course: shout out to /r/mattparker

UPDATE: Ok, after 3 hours the questions are slowing down. I've managed one answer every 7 minutes and 12 seconds. I admit a few were very short (I think the record was two characters) but most are sufficiently substantial for that to still be impressive. I'll swing by later and answer any which have 5 or more upvotes.

So long, oblong!


26
questions
3,497
score
February 13th 2020
interview date
tfofurn

How do you manage the timing of the talking-to-yourself split-screen segments? The DVD unboxing and Two Hemispheres, One Sink seem impossible to me. Are you watching the first side's video as you record the second?


standupmaths

Thanks! I love doing overly complicated synchronisation videos.

No, I don't ever watch the previous video playing because I it breaks my interaction with the camera; I need to make sure I'm free to look right down the lens because that is where the viewer is. I think of making a youtube video like being on a video call with someone and so I don't want to get distracted.

The DVD unboxing was sheer rehearsal. I wrote the script using a spreadsheet so that lines of dialogue would automatically repeat at the right points. Then we sat there and filmed it over and over until I was happy with a take. The visuals are all done live, there is no editing of the footage, which means I could follow along with what was happening on the screen.

Two Sinks was half planning and half in-ear audio. I wrote out a rough outline and then recorded a mock-up of the Sydney bit. This audio was then played into my ear while filming the real London bit. I then had the London audio in my ear while filming in Sydney (along with audio cues for what I said in the mock-up). This meant both Matts could react to each other. It is also why Matt in Sydney hears and reacts to Big Ben sounding in London.

The palindromic video was done in a rush and I had the audio from the left half playing in the background when I filmed the right half. I wish I had more time to have honed it much more. But sadly I only had time for one take of each half!

I also do a similar bit in my Humble Pi live show with two Matts but I do not want to spoiler that. You'll need to wait for the DVD/download release later this year.

FuturamaMemes

Are there any common misconceptions that the general public typically has about a concept in math that you must get them to "unlearn?"


standupmaths

For the general public: that being bad at math is an immutable personal trait. I want people to realise that everyone finds math difficult to some extent and the people who are 'good to math' are just those who enjoy the fact it is difficult (or put in the effort for some other reason).

For people who are slightly interested in math: misconceptions about what is 'allowed' and what happen when you break those rules.

For example (and I'm going to paraphrase a lot here with non-rigorous language): taking the square root of a negative number is 'not allowed' but if you pretend you can you get i and this leads the magical world of complex numbers. Which is all great because assuming i leads to loads of rich and consistent results.

But then I get loads of people emailing me because they have found the secret of dividing by zero, which is 'not allowed', and it is always some variation on assuming it is and giving the result a name. Which is fine. But it then does not lead to anything interesting or consistent.

Math is a game where you can make up any rules you want. But if they don't give interesting results then we discard that idea.

For professional mathematicians: that sometimes it is ok to paraphrase a lot with non-rigorous language.

NoLightLeftHere
  1. Have you tried to actually complete that Magic Square or has the charm of the "Parker Square" made it so you'd just prefer to leave it?

  2. Any chance we'll see a new domino computer in the future? That thing was insane.


standupmaths

Those two small questions could swamp a lot of my free time.

  1. I actually have not done more work on square-number magic squares because the Parker Square is already perfect in every way. That, and I had hit the limit of my approach to finding them. There are some interesting elliptic curve techniques for finding such squares which don't have repeated values but still only have one correct diagonal, so that is my my list of new videos to make.
  2. I still have 104 dominoes! Or rather, I own them but schools borrow them. I don't think I'll do a domino computer again for a long while; there would need to be something new to bring to it. But I'm always looking for ridiculous analogue computing techniques to try out, so if anyone has any suggestions they should let me know!
notwithagoat

Whats your favorite south park episode?


standupmaths

Serious answer is that it's hard to choose. I'm a fan of the show and don't know if I have one favourite. But when I read your question the first ones to pop into my mind were the Prius "Smug Alert!" episode, "Fun with Veal" and "White People Renovating Houses".

But I suspect the meta-question is around the fact that "Matt Parker" takes half of each of the South Park creator's names: Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I never get mistaken for them, but loads of journalists will be writing about South Parker, get their names wrong and suddenly appear in my google news alert.

Which I'm ok with. I think the Trey Parker and Matt Stone approach to writing stories is fantastic and we can all learn from them. Plus, recently I met a "Trey Stone" online, which made that a magic day.

anynomousperson123

Do you plan on doing another calculator unboxing video?


standupmaths

I love doing the calculator unboxing videos! It was an idea that Brady had and I really ran with it. They get a super mixed reception though. A lot of people are huge fans, a lot of people get irrationally angry at them. So we have always released them sparingly as they are a bit self indulgent.

(For the uninitiated: I make videos where I unbox calculators. It is really that simple.)

I didn't want to jokes to get repetitive so we have had a bit of a break. We will do some more though. Not least because people send me calculators to unbox and they are piling up in my office.

mmm_toasty

Thanks for doing this AMA! What would you say is the most challenging concept you had to translate from paper to video for your Youtube channel?


standupmaths

That is a tough question. There are many concepts which I decide that I cannot do justice with the style of youtube videos I make (because they would be too long form). So I save them for something like a book or show. Which means the papers which I turn into a video is a selective sample for things which make good videos.

That said, there are the videos where I didn't quite get what I wanted. Like the one on capture and release where there were loads of other nuances and techniques that I didn't get across.

To actually answer your questions: the most recent video where I had to sit down and really think about how I could make what I thought was an interesting maths concept into an interesting video was Shamir's Secret Sharing. I thought it was such a great concept, I had to make it into a video. As you can see, I leaned heavily on animations.

Emilmacko

What's your stance on the whole "Parker Square" thing? Is it something you can look at and say "Huh, I made that into a thing!" or is it more like it's haunting you wherever you go?

Love your stuff! You and Mr. Prime Grime are definitely my favorite two mathematicians on Numberphile! The first videos I watched where with you guys, when I first discovered the channel years ago!


standupmaths

I'm proud of the whole #parkersquare thing, even though it started as some kind of niche cyber bullying.

I like it because I think it represents giving things a go and not being worried when you make mistakes. Maths is all about the journey and giving it a go; people get too hung up on getting the final correct answer.

I like the sound of this Mr. Prime Grime! at the moment I have to make do with a regular James Grime.

GrilledStuffedDragon

Hi Matt!

Big fan of Numberphile; it makes math concepts easily understood and applies real world aspects to them, which I love.

What about math attracted you to it as a career path? Were you just always good at it, or was it something else?


standupmaths

Glad you enjoy the videos! They are fun to make.

Good question. I was drawn to math when I was younger as it was just pleasing when solving problems produced such neat answers. The 'sudoku side' of math. This later developed into enjoying the discovery aspects of math and ended up with me getting my mathematic degree.

At no point would I say I was exceptionally good at it. Enjoying math meant that I had the outward appearance of being good, but that was the result of a lot of time doing it. It's probably telling that I ended up in maths communication and not actually doing it myself!

fredster2004

I remember going to your talks as a school student. You were always a favourite! I’m so happy for you with your YouTube success!

What has your journey been like over the last ten years or so?


standupmaths

Glad you enjoyed the talks! I still do loads of Maths Inspiration and Maths Fest talks for schools. I meet a lot of people now who are studying or working in maths/tech/etc and remember seeing me speak when they were at school. It's always fantastic to hear!

Here are the last ten years inclusive:

  • 2010, started Festival of the Spoken Nerd
  • 2011, started Numberphile
  • 2012, used an overhead projector at the Hammersmith Apollo
  • 2013, first full Edinburgh Festival Fringe show
  • 2014, published Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension
  • 2015, started regular Stand-up Maths youtube videos
  • 2016, I think I've repressed 2016
  • 2017, tried to not think about 2016
  • 2018, writing Humble Pi
  • 2019, Humble Pi published in the UK
  • 2020, I answered this question
juniegrrl

Was there anything that you had to cut from Humble Pi that you wish could have made it into the book? Also, congrats to Dr. Lucie on the successful launch of the solar orbiter!


standupmaths

There is a bunch of small stuff which didn't make it into the book.

  • I wanted to have a section of hash values and hash collisions. I went so far as to use random reference codes on my post-it notes to see if I would have a collision while writing the book: and I did! But that section didn't even make it to the first draft.

  • I had a bit about the first trailer for Cloverfield used an accurately scaled head of the statue of liberty but had to change it to be inaccurate because that is what people expected.

  • I wanted to make fun of this Pepsi design document but it just came off as being mean and petty. And I tried to keep a friendly and upbeat tone.

PS Thanks! I'm still wearing the mission patch as I answer these questions. I'm very proud of Dr Lucie; she is the smart half of the relationship!

JonnyHillwalker

What caused you, Steve and Helen to start "An evening of unnecessary detail?"


standupmaths

Helen, Steve and I had started doing Festival of the Spoken Nerd back in 2010. We were all working on the UK comedy circuit and so we started a nerdy comedy night to try out new material. However over the years Spoken Nerd transformed from a mixed-bill scrappy night into a more polished stage show with just the three of us.

Which left a gap. Around 2015 I was asked to do a variety show for a science festival came up with the name An Evening of Unnecessary Detail. It was great fun and so we decided to do it once a month in London as a new comedy variety night where people can try new material.

If anyone is ever in London on the last Tuesday of a month, there is a ¾ chance you can come and see us. For everyone else: a few people put their sets online.

dragonheat

what was the experience doing citation needed with the tech diff and how many times did gary libel somebody ?


standupmaths

I loved being a replace-matt. I know Tom and the crew and it was great to be able to help out.

The experience was great. I think Tom gave me all of a day warning. The filming itself is an odd combination of some aspects from a normal TV panel show with the studio and format, and other aspects of a podcast-style chat with all the informality and running jokes. Also: mystery biscuits.

PS Gary libelled a libellous number of times.

MayonnaceFaise

Any progress on the three-sided coin you and Dr. Hugh Hunt were working on?


standupmaths

Sort of! I've done some experimental work but I'm yet to turn it into a video.

The short answer is that I flipped a normal coin 10,000 times to see how many times it would land on its edge. I had a chance to do this a while back and so I spent three days on it; it also meant I could mention it in Humble Pi. I've just not had the time to sort through the results and get a video out. Blame my lack of time.

mittwochmensch

How did you come to be one of the OG Numberphile hosts? How did you and Bradley first get to meet each other?

Reading your book was tons of fun! Are you planning on writing anothe one some day? If yes what would it be about? If no, why not?


standupmaths

Brady just emailed me. I was already doing some maths stuff on youtube (and TV, radio newspapers etc in the UK) and I knew James Grime. So we met up, he filmed me talking about maths for a while, and then turned that into a bunch of youtube videos. A winning format we use to this very day.

/u/TheLateAvenger is correct: I have written two books so far. And yes: I have at least two more book ideas I'm working on that the moment. Hopefully at least one will be announced early this year.

Datenegassie

If r/thatsadodecahedron only allows pentagonal dodecahedra and r/thatsnododecahedron disallows any dodecahedron, where would be a good place to view rhombic dodecahedra?


standupmaths

That makes me irrationally angry. I've recently filmed a video about making a rhombic dodecahedron (the greatest of all the dodecahedra) so when that comes out: post it to both subs and we'll see what happens.

semielliptical

Hi Matt, I’m a longtime fan of your work, and I’ve loved reading both of your books since starting to study math in college (university).

I wanted to ask, how do you and your wife balance support for and pride in each other’s professional achievements with trying not to overshadow or claim responsibility for them?


standupmaths

The simple answer is that my wife is smarter and more famous than me.

The longer answer is that we consciously think about how to support each other. There is a repeated line in the adequate Tom Cruise film Oblivion where the couple are repeatedly asked if they are an effective team and that has somehow become our mantra. We always think if we are being an effective team.

Which sometimes means you can help each other out with support or opportunities and sometimes means you need to make sacrifices and forgo your own opportunities for the other person. In short: that's what being in a relationship is all about.

zg5002

Hi Matt! I dare say that I am a mathematician (5th year at uni, algebraic topologist, thanks for asking), so I want to say thanks for keeping the flame alive for me for the two years I had to wait before going to university, and also for showing me that this was a real option :)

My question is thus: What was your preferred branch at university and what did you write about for your final project? I don't know if you did a Ph.D. or not, but if so, what was the topic? (I'm calling algebraic number theory or representation theory)


standupmaths

I think you can say that you are a mathematician!

I did a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Physics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Australia. I did not have to do a final maths but my physics project was an exploration of putting a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon (funding was not forthcoming). My maths focus was now-hugely-out-of-date cryptography.

I do not have a PhD. I thought about doing post-graduate work but decided to take a break and get a teaching qualification. Which lead to teaching, which lead to whatever I do now. So I never went back for a PhD. I would love to do so but I don't have the time at the moment, and my wife is a physics professor so I can live vicariously through her academic career.

Now I'm all about the recreational mathematics.

PS All the best with the algebraic topology! You can do it!

DasGanon

What's your drink of choice when at a Mathsjam or otherwise?


standupmaths

My normal drink of choice during the day is a black filter coffee (normally some hipster light-roast beans).

But MathsJams take place at night in a pub. In which case I will be drinking beer (normally some hipster pale ale).

Drinking at home tends to be red wine. Which is where I sat right now. But as it is only 17:10 where I am: I'm still on the coffee.

JeffDujon

When are you and Brady recording for Numberphile again? He is free for the next few weeks and is waiting for your text or email. :)


standupmaths

New username, who dis?

DSB1981

How many characters of Pi to you have memorized? What is your favorite number, and equation? What aspect of Maths did you have the hardest time understanding?


standupmaths

13, 13, 13 = 13, why the answer to everything is 13.

teh_killer

Do you like the band The Killers?


standupmaths

I'm not a massive fan or anything, but I like their music. "Somebody Told Me" is a great song and I like to think the tale of someone realising that they no longer enjoy going to night clubs. A tale as old as time.

Plus, whenever I hear "The Killers" I think "The Krillers" and imagine a whale-themed band.

zircon56

Hi Matt, I once passed you at Cardiff Central station getting very excited about Platform 0. Do countries other than the UK have Platform 0s, and do you plan to visit them all one day?


standupmaths

That sounds like me! Say hello next time.

And yes, way ahead of you.

DelLosSpaniel

What is James Grime like in real life?


standupmaths

100% James Grime.

patr2016

Hi Matt, longtime fan etc. etc., how did you first get involved in Numberphile?


standupmaths

Brady asked very nicely. Glad you enjoy the videos!

What has kept me in the youtube maths game is that we can make videos about whatever we find interesting. You don't get that in any other medium. I still do a trivial bit of TV but youtube is way more fun.

TheLateAvenger

Love your channel and your appearances on Numberphile are always my favourite! Can you tell us if there are any plans for future Festival of the Spoken Nerd tours? If so, are there any/What are they?


standupmaths

Maybe! We write and tour a new show every two years. There were Spoken Nerd tours in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. I then did a solo Humble Pi tour in 2019 (with some more dates in 2020 and a DVD recording). We need to sit down and decide what we are going to do next. But for now we are still doing An Evening of Unnecessary Detail and there will also be a podcast at some point.

kotkaiser

How often are people disappointed that you aren't the Matt Parker from South Park?


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