About Jonathan Shock

I'm a lecturer at the University of Cape Town in the department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. I teach mathematics both at undergraduate and at honours levels and my research interests lie in the intersection of applied mathematics and many other areas of science, from biology and neuroscience to fundamental particle physics and psychology.

How to Fall Slower Than Gravity And Other Everyday (and Not So Everyday) Uses of Mathematics and Physical Reasoning – by Paul J. Nahin, a review

NB. I was sent this book as a review copy.

This book is without a doubt the most enjoyable, stimulating book of mathematical physics (and occasionally more pure branches of maths) puzzles that I have ever read. It’s essentially a series of cleverly, and occasionally fiendishly put-together mathematics and physics challenge questions, each of which gets you thinking in a new and fascinating way.

The level of mathematics needed is generally only up to relatively basic calculus, though there is the occasional diversion into a slightly more complex area, though anyone with basic first year university mathematics, or even a keen high school student who has done a little reading ahead, would be able to get a lot from the questions.

I found that there were a number of ways of going through the questions. Some of them are enjoyable to read, and simply ponder. For me, occasionally figuring out what should be done, without writing anything down, was enough to be pretty confident that I saw the ingenuity in the puzzle and the solution and I was happy to leave it at that.…

By | January 10th, 2019|Book reviews, Reviews, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Millions, Billions, Zillions – Defending Yourself in a World of Too Many Numbers – by Brian W. Kernighan, a review

NB. I was sent this book as a review copy.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about this book when I first saw it, and even on browsing through it became more so (read on for the but…). I count myself as a highly numerate person who has a reasonable awareness of the world of numbers around me and I thought that the book probably wouldn’t help me to navigate through the world that I already feel comfortable in.

The book is essentially a series of short chapters which discuss some of the ways that numbers are used, misused and mistakenly used in the media, from errors in units, to orders of magnitude, to the ways that graphs can misrepresent data either intentionally or unintentionally to the improbable precision so often used online and in print. Each chapter uses news headlines and quotes to highlight how such mistakes come about and the examples are extremely clear.…

By | December 13th, 2018|Book reviews, Reviews|2 Comments

The Mathematics of Secrets – by Joshua Holden, a review

NB. I was sent this book as a review copy.

This is an extremely clearly, well-written book covering a lot of ground in the mathematics of cyphers. It starts from the very basics with simple transposition cyphers and goes all the way through to elliptic cyphers, public key cryptography and quantum cryptography. Each section gives detailed examples where you can follow precisely the mathematics of what underlies the encryption. Indeed the mathematics is non-trivial in a fair number of places, but it is always explained well, and I think that anyone with a first year university level of mathematics should be able to understand the bulk of it. I think that if you were to come at this book with a high-school level of mathematics, there would be some aspects which would be pretty hard work, but with some persistence, even those would be understandable, and perhaps the breakthroughs in understanding would feel like a great (though doable) achievement for the maths enthusiast.…

By | November 20th, 2018|Book reviews, Reviews|0 Comments

Taking a pipe round a corner corridor optimisation question

You have a corridor which has an L-shape in it. The corridor looks like this:

cor

where a and b are the widths of the sections of the corridor. The question is to find the longest pipe that can be carried down this corridor. The word pipe here just means something long and with essentially 0 thickness. There is a huge simplification which is being assumed here, which is that the corridor is only 2 dimensional. Of course in a 3 dimensional corridor we have a lot more room to manoeuvre.

Let’s think about a pipe going round the corner. The longest pipe that can go through is the length of the shortest gap that it has to go through. So let’s think of a pipe at a particular angle with respect to the corner:

cor2

The pipe here is the blue line and \theta is the angle that it makes with respect to the corner.…

By | October 24th, 2018|Courses, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|1 Comment

Prove that for every positive integer n, 9^n – 8n -1 is divisible by 64.

Prove that for every positive integer n, 9^n-8n-1 is divisible by 64.

This question screams proof by induction, so we start with the base case, which in this case is n=1:

9^1-8-1 which is indeed divisible by 64.

Now, let’s assume that it holds true for some positive integer n=k. ie:

9^k-8k-1=64p for p\in\mathbb{Z}.

Now let’s see how we can use this to prove that the statement holds true for n=k+1. For n=k+1 we have:

9^(k+1)-8(k+1)-1=9(9^k)-8k-8-1=9(9^k-8k-1)+64k

where we have manipulated the expression to contain the left hand side of the inductive hypothesis. Thereby, plugging in the inductive hypothesis, we get:

9^(k+1)-8(k+1)-1=9(9^k)-8k-8-1=9(64p)+64k=64(9p+k)

but clearly 9p+k is an integer, so this is divisible by 64 and thus the statement holds true for n=k+1, thus it holds true for all positive integers k

How clear is this post?
By | October 24th, 2018|Courses, First year, MAM1000, Uncategorized, Undergraduate|0 Comments

A tricky complex numbers problem

The question is as follows:

If \frac{\pi}{6}\in arg(z+a) and \frac{2\pi}{3}\in arg(z-a) and a\in \mathbb{R}, find z.

So, let’s think about the information given and what we are trying to find. We want to find the complex number z which satisfies this slightly strange set of constraints, and the constraints are given in terms of z and a. So, by the looks of things, the answer will depend on a and so the final expression should be a function of a.

Now let’s explore the constraints. In fact, let’s simply take z+a and z-a as two complex numbers, but importantly two numbers which differ only by a real number 2a, so wherever they lie in the complex plane, they have the same imaginary part and differ only by an real part.

Now, the constraints are about the arguments of the two complex numbers. It doesn’t tell us anything about the magnitude of the numbers, so all the information tells us is the direction are in relation to the origin.…

By | October 24th, 2018|Courses, First year, MAM1000, Uncategorized, Undergraduate|1 Comment

Using polynomials to solve differential equations

One of the aims of MAM1000W isn’t just to teach you individual mathematical topics, but over time to allow you to see the links between these subjects. Sometimes we do this explicitly, and sometimes you should notice the connections yourself simply by seeing one topic pop up in the middle of another. As I’ve written before, so much of it is about noticing patterns.

Today in class I gave a differential equation which wouldn’t be solvable by any of the methods we have looked at.

y''(x)+\cos(x)y'(x)+e^xy(x)=x^2

This is second order linear but its coefficients are not constant. We don’t have any way in to solve this. We actually wanted to solve this with the initial conditions y(0)=1 and y'(0)=-1.

Actually, that’s a lie. We didn’t want to solve it, but we wanted to get an approximation for the solution close to x=0. This is like saying: OK, so we have a differential equation for population dynamics, or climate change, or the heating of an object, and we don’t worry too much about the very far future, but we want to know what it’s going to do in the short term.…

By | October 15th, 2018|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Shuttleworth Postgraduate Scholarship Programme

ShuttleworthPostGradScholarship_UCT

How clear is this post?
By | August 23rd, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions, by Damon Centola, a review

NB. This book was sent to me as a review copy.

 

The idea of this book is relatively simple, but the consequences are huge, and in fact some of the ideas are far more subtle and complex than they may first appear.

Essentially this book is based on a series of experiments which Damon Centola has run, which are all related to changes in behaviour which can be tracked, and made to occur, through a social network (in the broadest sense of the word). This is the study diffusion in a network.

The fundamentals of the research lie on two distinctions: One in the complexity of a contagion/behaviour, meaning how many connections with others who have the contagion/behaviour do you need until you adopt it, and the other in the topology of the social network, meaning loosely, how much like a street where each person only talks to their neighbours, versus a small world-network where there are a lot of disparate connections does the network look like.…

By | August 21st, 2018|Book reviews, Reviews|2 Comments

Why did we choose that range for theta when doing trig substitutions?

Remember when we are doing a trig substitution, for instance for an integral with:

 

\sqrt{a^2-x^2}

 

We said that we should choose x=a\sin\theta, which seemed reasonable, but we also said that -\frac{\pi}{2}\le\theta\le\frac{\pi}{2}. Where did this last bit come from?

Well, we want a couple of things to hold true. The first is that any substitution that we make, we have to be able to undo. That is, we will substitute x for a function of \theta but in the end we need to convert back to x and so to do that we have to be able to write the inverse function of, in this case x=a\sin\theta. The \sin function is itself not invertible because it’s not one to one, so we have to choose a range over which it is one to one. We could choose -\frac{\pi}{2}\le\theta\le\frac{\pi}{2} or we could choose \frac{\pi}{2}\le\theta\le\frac{3\pi}{2} (amongst an infinite set of possibilities). That would also be invertible. However, remember that we are going to end up with a term of the form:

 

\sqrt{1-\sin^2\theta}=\sqrt{\cos^2\theta}

 

So if we want this to simplify, we had better choose our range of \theta such that \cos\theta is positive, so that we can write \sqrt{\cos^2\theta}=\cos\theta.…

By | August 2nd, 2018|Courses, English, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|2 Comments