Weekendish: Mathematical adventures and aging

  • 9 May 2014

A round-up of some of the best long and short reads, as well as video, from the BBC News website this week, with your comments.

This week author Alex Bellos got to write about his two favourite subjects - Brazil and mathematics. This is the story about the South American's nation's favourite maths guy Malba Tahan, author of The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures published in the 1930s. The Arabian Nights-style tales recount everyday problems that are solved by a 13th Century Persian mathematician. The narrator and the mathamagician travel Persia and wander along the banks of the Tigris. Each story reveals Tahan's love of maths and fascination with Islamic science. But it turns out that the book was a literary hoax. Malba Tahan never existed. He was the pen-name of Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza, a maths teacher from Rio de Janeiro who never set foot in the Middle East. Brazilians didn't care about this literary sleight of hand - the author and his maths tales are held in as high a regard as the nation's footballers. The article was tweeted by none other than Brazil's publishing phenomenon Paulo Coelho @paulocoelho.

Brazil's other passion: Malba Tahan and The man who counted

Women wait to audition for the Baltimore Ravens' cheerleading squad

Two-four-six-eight, who do we appreciate? Cheerleaders.

Cheerleaders have special significance in the US, where they stand for wholesome beauty and all-American charm. Only thing is many of them feel under-appreciated by their teams. Women from the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills have all filed lawsuits claiming the teams don't pay them a fair wage. Kate Dailey outlined the perks and the challenges associated with the discipline. Here are some of the negatives - heckling and groping and unpaid gigs. Oh, and a few rules like this one: "Always avoid: Politics, religion, sexual references… Inappropriate jokes, strong opinions, gossip, saying "I" or "me" too often."

Uh-huh, GO TEAM.

David Andress ‏@ProfDaveAndress tweets: "Read this. Get to the point where you gag in disbelief. Welcome to America...", while Stacey Slager ‏@yarnsalad adds: "The strange demands of life as a cheerleader // as much as I oppose professional sports, these gals deserve fair pay".

The strange demands of life as a cheerleader

Moving on to a different sport. Ian Shoesmith used the occasion of the forthcoming World Cup to take a trip down memory lane and into his Panini sticker album. For the uninitiated, these glossy stickers bearing the mug shots of footballers were first produced in 1970. They are the black hole into which the pocket money of many a school child has disappeared. Those children are now adults. And they still collect. For their offspring, of course. Mike Rylands left this message on Facebook: I went to buy some stickers from the local newsagent the other day and the lady behind the counter asked if 'he' needed an album. I told her rather quietly that, erm 'he' already had an album!!"

The adults who get misty-eyed over Panini World Cup stickers

Christchurch in Dorset has one of the largest populations of older people in the UK. Sean Coughlan and Paul Kerley visited and discovered that "old" is too vague a term to fully describe the 31% of the local population that are over 65. In this seaside enclave of the elderly, there are many different types of old - Peter Pan pensioners in jeans, bohemians, the super-fit in immaculate cycling gear, lean and polished uber-pensioner couples, slow-movers with walking aids, lone elderly figures staring out to sea. "Long life is seen as a mixed blessing. Old age is seen as an enemy rather than as an experienced guide." IZA World of Labor ‏@IZAWorldofLabor tweets: "Older people continue to play an active part in town businesses - interesting article on an aging population". SPARK Qual Research adds: "The town thronged with old people, why do we have difficulty embracing an older population?"

The town thronged with old people

Another view of the ageing process came from cartoonist Tony Husband, whose illustrated tale of his own father's decline into dementia is being published as a book and was also in the Daily Mail this week. Husband narrates the scenes as if his father, who has now died, was observing the scene even when it's about his own loss of memory. "My memories were confused, jumbled... nothing made sense, the world I knew was disappearing, it didn't make sense and I presume I didn't either," he says, in a way which will resonate with many families.

Daily Mail: The Saddest Goodbye

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