A coffee with... David-Shaw-mug

Published on December 11th, 2013 | by Stephanie


David Shaw

Position: Writer – Maths and Stats by Email (CSIRO)

How do you introduce yourself at parties?
It really depends on the people – sometimes I’m an editor, sometimes I’m a writer, sometimes I’m a mathematician. The most genuine answer I give is probably ‘ummm, I’m kind of a maths-journalist…’

Why mathematics?
I’ve enjoyed maths for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing quite like that ‘Aha!’ moment when you work out a really good question. Plus you don’t have to write essays…

Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?
I’m not sure what geek means any more – the word is used in very different ways by different people. If you’re talking about the Steve Urkel / Big Bang Theory kind of ‘geek’ then very few mathematicians I’ve met fit that mould.

What area of mathematics and why?
One of the nice things about my job is that I play with a wide range of areas of maths. I cover a lot of statistics, big data, optimisation and historical maths. Once or twice a year, someone attempts a proof of a big theory – the Goldbach conjecture, P versus NP, and I get to read up on what it means, and how they are attacking the problem.

What has maths done for you lately?
I just spent three months writing an interactive performance in the UK. The show is made up of lots of tiny games, that take less than a minute to explain, and about the same to play. Having a good grounding in maths meant I could guess how hard a game was likely to be before we tested it – which meant the initial tests went much better than expected.

One particular example was a Yahtzee style dice rolling game. The group was sure that 1,2,3,4,5 and 6,6,6,6,6 were equally likely outcomes on 5 dice, but I was able to explain that the run was far more likely.

Do you have a favourite application or theory of maths?
I’ve spent the last few hours folding Dragon curves out of strips of paper. I love how a simple set of rules can create complex, and sometimes beautiful, patterns.[subscribe2]

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