Surface pro scare

When I detached the cover from my surface pro today at the start of my class I was faced with a blank screen, and multiple (and increasingly desperate) long presses of the power button had no effect. I thought I was going to have to do the best I could with the resident desktop PC instead. But first I thought I’d try attaching the cover again and then opening it. Amazingly the machine sprang back to life!

The mysteries of computers …. (phew!)


Base k vs Modulo k

Below is a message I just sent to our first year students about a connection between modular arithmetic and working in other bases. I don’t know if this helps, but somehow arithmetic modulo 10 always seems so easy to explain!


In our introduction to modular arithmetic, I suggested a connection between “modulo k” and “base k”. For positive integers, when  working modulo 10, using decimal notation, we only care about the last decimal digit. (That is the same as the remainder when you divide by 10.)

If you work in other bases, the connection is similar: base 8 (octal) is not the same thing as modulo 8, but for positive integers, the remainder when you divide by 8 is the same as the last octal digit. For example 25 in base 10 is congruent to 1 modulo 8, and 25 base 10 is written as 31 in octal. Any power of 31 (octal) still ends in 1 (octal). Returning to decimal notation, 25^n is congruent to 1 (mod 8) for all positive integers n, and so 25^n-1 is always divisible by 8.

Exercise: for which positive integer values of n is 6^n+1 divisible by 7?


Drawboard PDF and Pen Attention

Long-time readers will know that I use Pen Attention by Kenrick Mock to highlight the cursor position when I want a digital pointer in my classes.

I found out today that when Drawboard PDF is in its (most) fullscreen mode, the Pen Attention highlighter is invisible. So I will have to avoid that if I want to do any digital pointing! I can still have plenty of writing space, just not everything.

Drawboard PDF

As I haven’t managed to resolve some of the inking issues when using Bluebeam PDF Revu on my Surface Pro 4, I am going to give Drawboard PDF a try when annotating my lecture/workshop slides. The inking is very good! However it takes quite a few clicks to insert a blank page if needed, so it will be best if I have the right number of blank pages in my document before I start. Actually, one of the most common requests from students last year was that I should include enough blank space in their notes for them to write down my annotations, so that gives me two reasons to do so. I’ll base the number of blank pages on the number of extra pages I needed last year.

G11FPM Foundations of Pure Mathematics Video Archives – Update 2017

[Note added August 2018: The link below will stop working at some point, as we are switching over to a new Echo360 system. I’ll see if I can make some videos available on the new system. The YouTube and iTunes videos should be safe!]

The Echo360 recordings from the 2016-17 edition of G11FPM Foundations of Pure Mathematics are now available at

See also for links to the G11FPM Echo360 video archives from the autumns of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Smith review of post-16 mathematics: report and letter

The Smith review of post-16 mathematics has now been published, along with a response letter from the Government.


Clearly the issue is being taken seriously, and steps will be taken to encourage more uptake and better provision. Universities will probably have an increased role in supporting post-16 maths through outreach and enrichment. Here are two extracts from the Government’s response letter (written by Nick Gibb).


First, I agree that good quality teaching is vital, and to boost the capacity of schools and colleges to deliver Core Maths and A level mathematics and further mathematics I am pleased to announce a new £16 million Level 3 Maths Support Programme. It will build on the momentum created by the Further Mathematics and Core Maths Support Programmes, and will work with schools and colleges to improve mathematics education by sharing best practice, and delivering knowledge-rich curriculum materials, as well as working to increase participation and attainment in 16-18 mathematics. The programme will work to deliver focused intervention targeted to those who need it most.


Fifthly, I also welcome your recommendations on encouraging universities to widen access by supporting 16-18 mathematics education. Universities are an important influence on students’ post-16 choices. In response to your recommendations, we are working with institutions such as the Royal Society and British Academy to encourage universities and employers to signal the value of level 3 mathematics qualifications for entry to undergraduate courses with a significant quantitative element and for a wide range of job roles.







Open Days, Othello and Wzebra

We are now into Open Day season! Open Days at the University of Nottingham run today and tomorrow, and there are two more in September. (See

I’m using my Surface Pro for my talks again. Mostly it is behaving well, so far though I did have to restart shortly before one of my talks when BlueBeam temporarily refused to run. After a restart everything was fine again. (It is good that the machine restarts quickly, that is, as long as it doesn’t have to install lots of updates!)

As last year, I have made use of Gunnar Andersson’s excellent software WZebra (see to help with my fun morning talk on strategy for the board game Othello at our Open Days.

I do explain some mathematical aspects to Othello endgame strategy, but mostly this is just a fun session for visitors who don’t go to the first of our main talks! #

I usually have an audience of about 10 for Othello, while the main talks often have over 150 (and on particularly busy days it can be 300+).