Last week PBS launched a new show on YouTube all about math called Infinite Series. The first three episodes are up and they’re a ton of fun. The show is hosted by Kelsey Houston-Edwards, who is a graduate student at Cornell studying probability theory and the 2016 AMS-AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

In the first installation of the series, Houston-Edwards contemplates the sphere-packing problem, something that we talked about over here a few months ago. Aided by really cool animation and sound effects, she helps us to visualize spheres in higher dimensions and get a sense of how they might be packed. I especially liked her explanation of what happens when you pack spheres in more than 9 dimensions in a box. My mind — much like the sides of that box — was blown!

The second episode takes a somewhat of a philosophical turn. In it Houston-Edwards, who got her bachelor’s degree is in the interdisciplinary study of mathematics and philosophy, asks “Are prime numbers made up?” She delves into some of those tricky questions about whether math was invented, discovered or just…is. A question that certainly vexes those among us who dabble in math and patent law. Houston-Edwards says we can expect a few more episodes of this flavor.

Today I got a chance to catch up with Houston-Edwards to ask her about what’s headed our way in the next few episodes. “There are a couple of episodes like that which just came from personal knowledge, stuff that I just happen to know quite a bit about,” she says, “but the cool part about it, now that it’s aired, people are coming up to me like ‘Oh! You should make an episode about this!’ And that part’s really cool.” And given that she’s the one dreaming up all the ideas of the show I asked her if she was excited for all this feedback. She said, “Totally! I am more than happy to hear any ideas!” So feel free to pitch her all of your most strange and pressing math questions.

The most recent episode gives a very approachable treatment of the pigeon hole principle by answering that question that I know we all are wondering, “How many humans have the same number of body hairs?” Spoiler: tons and tons.

We can expect a new episode of Infinite Series every Thursday. If you’re interested in becoming a blogger or hosting a YouTube show of your own, a great place to start is with the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. Evelyn and I are also both proud alumni of the program, and to learn more you can read about my experience at NPR or Evelyn’s experience at Scientific America. The fellowship program is accepting applications now until January 15th.

You can find Kelsey on Twitter @KelseyAHE. And while you’re there, you can find me too, @extremefriday, and let me know what else you’d like to see on this blog.

## The Pseudocontext 2016 Deserves

2016 has been the year of the lolsob. I have my reasons for feeling that way, and I’m guessing you might too. In that light, I’ve especially started looking forward to Dan Meyer’s “pseudocontext Saturday” posts. In each one, he finds a picture from a math book and challenges readers to figure out what math concept is being illustrated or tested with each one. Is a rock-climbing kid illustrating a question about types of quadrilaterals or counting by tens? Does a picture of a dartboard accompany a question about probability, circle sector areas, sequences of numbers, binomials, or the quadratic formula? With connections this tenuous, even if you get the question right, you lose.

Image: Sam Wolff, via Flickr.

What is pseudocontext? Meyer writes, “We create a pseudocontext when at least one of two conditions are met. First, given a context, the assigned question isn’t a question most human beings would ask about it. Second, given that question, the assigned method isn’t a method most human beings would use to find it.” (For my money, the all-time prize for pseudocontext will always be this question from the New York Regents Exam shared by Patrick Honner, though as he states, the story is so flimsy it’s not even pseudocontext.)

Pseudocontext Saturdays don’t just give us an opportunity to lolsob about the bizarre and irrelevant “real-world” questions math textbooks often ask. Commenters can also suggest better questions to ask that go with the picture or that explore the concept the picture was trying to ask about. Felicitously, as I was working on this post, I read Dana Ernst’s post about students generating examples on the MAA blog Teaching Tidbits. That post isn’t about students asking real-world questions necessarily, but it makes me wonder if it’s possible (or desirable) to get students in on the pseudocontext joke: 10 points to Gryffindor for the best math question that would actually relate to the picture in question!

If you’re not already reading Meyer’s blog, there’s a lot more there to enjoy beyond pseudocontext. Meyer is a former high school math teacher who now works for the online graphing calculator Desmos. Though I haven’t spent much time talking math with high schoolers, I appreciate the thought and energy he’s put into figuring out what will reach students the most effectively and how to spur them to ask the questions we want them to be asking about math. As a bonus, his blog is also one of the few places where you can really read the comments. He encourages people to participate and have real conversations in the comments section, often highlighting selected comments in his posts. How refreshing!