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how was maths discovered? Who made up the numbers and rules?

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If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au.

We are all born with a brain that understands maths. So are animals, to some extent, but perhaps algebra would be a bit difficult for a giraffe – that is a long stretch.

Throughout history, different cultures have discovered the maths needed for tasks like understanding groups and relationships, sharing food, looking at astronomical and seasonal patterns, and more. There are probably forms of mathematics that were understood by people we don’t even know existed.

Many indigenous cultures worked with different time, measurement, and number ideas suited to their needs and had amazing ways of expressing these ideas. But there are some things that are very common, like counting.

There was an explosion of discovery of mathematics in different cultures at different points in time.

The Greeks didn’t really use algebra the way we do now, but they were amazing with geometry. I am sure you have heard of Pythagoras, but do you know of the woman mathematician Hypatia? She was an amazing teacher and writer skilled at making difficult concepts easy to understand.

Unfortunately, she was killed for her ideas.

Not everyone had the number zero

The Romans were great engineers but they had a terrible number system. It didn’t even have zero.

The number system used in ancient India had zero, but it was known by other very old cultures like the Mayans in Central America and the Babylonians (from ancient Iraq). And ancient Arab mathematicians not only knew about zero but also really spread the idea of algebra after the 9th century (the word comes from a text by a famous mathematician called al-Khwarizmi).

People in the Middle Ages in Europe thought fractions were the hardest maths EVER! One 11th century monk reportedly said:

And in the 16th century, people thought negative numbers were pretty evil. They had other names for these numbers, like “absurd” or “defective”.

Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we count to 10?

Numbers and patterns have always been there, waiting to be discovered

There are so many number systems! The ones you know were developed over centuries and we are still making up more now. But much of our maths is based on one system called “base 10”, which works on patterns of one to ten (that probably has its roots in the fact that humans have 10 fingers to count on). It’s also called the decimal system.

But there are lots of other systems, like base 2 (also called the binary system), or base 16 (also called the hexadecimal system).

It sounds complicated but they’re just different ways of organising numbers. Numbers have always been there, waiting to be discovered and so were different ways of organising them.

And over time humans in various cultures have noticed patterns that emerge in numbers, and developed mathematical systems around them.

Breaking the rules

There are plenty of other rules in mathematics, but they are based on recognising patterns and wondering if something works that way all the time. Let’s look at these two equations:

You’ve probably learned that it doesn’t matter if you multiply three by two or two by three – you always get six, right? That’s a mathematical “rule” called the “commutative law for multiplication” (“commute” means to move around).

But what if there were some maths worlds where that didn’t happen? Well, there is a certain type of maths, called “matrices”, that was discovered in the 19th century, where you get a different answer, depending on which way you multiply.

Why would anyone want to do that? It turns out that this type of maths is really useful in many different areas, including airline travel and engineering.

You may even end up being a famous mathematician that discovers more maths, creates more rules, or makes up some more names.

About 100 years ago, a mathematician called Edward Kasner was trying to think up a name for a huge number: 1 with one hundred zeros after it. He asked his nine-year-old nephew, Milton Sirotta, who suggested “googol“.

So, Bianca, why not think of a name for a new number? Or look around at some shapes and ask yourself what you might name it?

Read more: Curious Kids: who came up with the first letters?

Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

Author: Linda Galligan – Associate professor, University of Southern Queensland The Conversation

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Haiti: Protest against fuel shortage turns violent in Port-au-Prince

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Hack:

  • Fuel crisis has led to the suspension of classes, public institutions and businesses which has amplified the economic woes
  • The suppliers are struggling to procure state-subsidized fuel for the domestic market as the government is highly indebted

Violence erupted in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on Friday after protestors demanded an end to the fuel crisis and started pelting stones and glass bottles at the police. The police, in retaliation, fired live rounds and tear gas at the protestors. Haiti is going through a severe economic crisis and heightened unemployment rate which currently stands at 70%. The fuel crisis has led to the suspension of classes, public institutions and businesses which has amplified the economic woes.

ReadIran Seizes Vessel In Persian Gulf For ‘smuggling Diesel Fuel’ To UAE

The Carribean country has been plagued by the fuel crisis since mid-August which led to several anti-government rallies. The suspension of Venezuela’s PetroCaribe scheme is one of the reasons for the fuel crisis. The corruption-plagued scheme allowed Haiti to procure petroleum products at cheaper rates and defer the payment for up to 25 years. The situation aggravated after the suppliers refused to deliver petroleum products leading to long queues at petrol pumps.

ReadFuel Demand Rises 2.8% YoY In August; Dips To Its Lowest In 9 Months

Government marred with corruption 

Amidst all this, President Jovenel Moïse, who himself has faced allegations of corruption, has been trying to install acting Prime Minister Fritz-William Michel as the official Prime Minister but his ratification has been delayed indefinitely. Protestors have been demanding the resignation of Moïse holding him responsible for the crisis. Moïse, during his election campaign in 2017, had promised “food on every plate and money in every pocket,” but the current GDP per capita and unemployment rate tell a different story altogether.

ReadWATCH: In Dramatic Action, Iran Seizes Ship With 1 Million Liters Of ‘smuggled’ Fuel

Unstable government and economic slowdown

The suppliers are struggling to procure state-subsidized fuel for the domestic market as the government is highly in debt. The Carribean nation with a GDP per capita income of $870 in 2018 could be hit by the price rise due to fuel shortage. The country is reeling with instability after the Chamber of Deputies passed a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant, six months after he assumed office. It is also vulnerable to natural disasters like hurricanes and floods which affect its economy severely.

ReadHong Kong Protesters Take Over Mall, Fold Origami Cranes

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10 Years After Haiti’s Earthquake, ‘This Music School Will Never Stop’

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The other day, I went down to the National Mall here in Washington, D.C., and heard the sound of hope in sweet, strong, young voices.

A youth choir and chamber ensemble from Haiti are on a U.S. tour that’s taken them from Maine to Manhattan to Kentucky over the past month. This stop was in a lush garden of the Smithsonian museums. The tour is meant to showcase Haiti’s rich musical heritage — and to raise awareness of the country’s rebuilding efforts.

We’re coming up to the 10th anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. It’s estimated that tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

The earthquake destroyed Holy Trinity Cathedral in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the renowned music school where the youth choir and orchestra study. Many of the students are from poor backgrounds, and some of them are too young now to even remember the earthquake a decade ago.

I spoke with several of the youngest choir members in French. Jeff Donalson Philistin, a 10-year-old soprano in the choir, was just an infant when the earthquake hit. His mother has told him the story of what happened: “The house nearly collapsed on me,” he told me. “But my mother was brave, and came to save me.”

This choir has become a kind of salvation for the young singers, like 12-year-old Marie Danielle Tondreau, whose legs can’t keep still when she’s singing. “When I sing, I feel like I’m up in the sky,” she said.

Dawins Rolph Jean-Pierre, 12, chimed in: “The choir is like a family for me. When we sing together, it’s really great. We have fun, we dance, we sing with all our friends.”

For Reverend David Cesar, the director of Holy Trinity Music School, the spirit of these young singers captures the Haiti that he believes in.

“Imagine,” he said. “When we talk about Haiti, about bad things — about the political issues, economical issues — and see those kids bringing [pride] and hope to their country, sometime I got some tears.”

Two people from the music school — a staff member and a saxophone student — were killed in the earthquake. Along with their destroyed building, the school lost hundreds of instruments. The staff salvaged what they could from the rubble.

Just one week after the quake, Cesar gathered some students and said: Let’s go. Let’s go perform for the survivors, living in tent camps.

“To bring some joy, because it was a period of sadness and mourning,” Cesar explained. “And also to say to our brothers and sisters, ‘Stand up. Stand up!’ And we performed for them. So they were so happy to stand up and dance.”

I mentioned to Cesar that among all the things people in that dire circumstance would need — food, water, shelter — music would not automatically be on my list.

“Definitely, definitely,” he insisted. “And this is why I said, music and this music school and this orchestra will never stop. Whatever the situation.

“Haitian people, we’re born with music,” he continued. “So everything we are doing, we’re doing with music. We are sad, we sing. We are happy, we sing. We have music in our blood.”

For a while after the earthquake, Holy Trinity Music School had to hold classes and rehearse outside. Now, they have a temporary structure, but they hope to build a permanent home and concert hall. This tour is, in part, about raising funds to do that.

Ten years after the earthquake, the world’s attention to Haiti’s devastation has faded. I asked Cesar if he thinks we’ve forgotten about his country.

“I think we lost the momentum, but we keep fighting,” he said, and chuckled as he added, “As Bob Marley used to say, ‘Don’t give up the fight, don’t give up the fight!’ “

The tour of the youth choir and chamber ensemble from Haiti’s Holy Trinity Music School wraps up this week with concerts in Kentucky and Ohio.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The other day, I went down to the National Mall here in Washington, D.C., and heard the sound of hope in sweet, strong, young voices.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

BLOCK: A youth choir and chamber ensemble from Haiti are on a U.S. tour that’s taken them from Maine to Manhattan to Kentucky over the past month. This stop was in a lush garden of the Smithsonian museums. The tour is meant to showcase Haiti’s rich musical heritage and also to raise awareness of rebuilding efforts in Haiti. We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that struck there in January 2010. It’s estimated that tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of people were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

BLOCK: The earthquake destroyed Holy Trinity Cathedral in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the renowned music school there. That’s the school where these young people study, many of them from poor backgrounds, some of them too young now to even remember that earthquake a decade ago, like Jeff Donalson Philistin, a 10-year-old soprano. He was just an infant when the earthquake hit. His mother has told him the story of what happened.

JEFF DONALSON PHILISTIN: (Speaking French).

BLOCK: “The house nearly collapsed on me,” he says, “but my mother was brave and came to save me.”

This choir has become a kind of salvation for the young singers, like 12-year-old Marie Danielle Tondreau, whose legs can’t keep still when she’s singing.

MARIE DANIELLE TONDREAU: (Speaking French).

BLOCK: “When I sing,” she says, “I feel like I’m up in the sky.”

For Reverend David Cesar, the director of Holy Trinity Music School, the spirit of these young musicians captures the Haiti that he believes in.

DAVID CESAR: Imagine when we talk about Haiti, about bad things, about political issues, economical issues and see those kids bringing hope for their country. Sometime I got some tears.

BLOCK: Two people from the music school, a staff member and a saxophone student, were killed in the earthquake. Along with their destroyed building, the school lost hundreds of instruments. The staff salvaged what they could from the rubble. And one week after the quake, David Cesar gathered some students and said, let’s go. Let’s go perform for the survivors living in tent camps.

CESAR: To bring some joy. But it was a bit of sadness and mourning and also to say to our brothers and sisters, stand up. Stand up. And we performed for them. So they were so happy to stand up and dance.

BLOCK: I can think of so many things that people in that dire circumstance would need – food, water, shelter.

CESAR: Yes (laughter).

BLOCK: Music would not automatically be on my list.

CESAR: (Laughter) Definitely, definitely. And this is why I said music and this music school and this orchestra will never stop, whatever the situation.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

BLOCK: For a while after the earthquake, the music school had to hold classes and rehearse outside. Now they have a temporary structure, but they hope to build a permanent home and concert hall. This tour is, in part, about raising funds to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

BLOCK: There was so much attention on Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Do you think we’ve forgotten about your country?

CESAR: I think we lost the momentum, but we keep fighting (laughter). As Bob Marley used to say, don’t give up the fight. Don’t give up the fight (laughter).

BLOCK: You should add some Bob Marley to the program.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: The tour of the youth choir and chamber ensemble from Haiti’s Holy Trinity Music School wraps up this week with concerts in Kentucky and Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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The New Humanitarian | In Nepal, a rushed earthquake rebuild leads to a mountain of debt

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Parang Tamang’s new home is slowly rising among the patchwork of half-finished buildings and piles of rubble in Gatlang, a mountain village in Nepal’s north. But so is his financial debt.

 

Parang’s home was flattened during the powerful earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May 2015, killing 9,000 people across the country. More than three years later, government reconstruction subsidies haven’t been enough to cover the cost of rebuilding, so Parang turned instead to local lenders.

 

“The money I borrowed to rebuild my home is expensive,” Parang told IRIN. “The interest is 36 percent per year. The bank won’t pay me, so people in the village lent me the money.”

Parang isn’t alone. In July 2017, the government set a series of shifting deadlines to encourage people to access reconstruction subsidies. Over the last year, a rush to to meet these deadlines has triggered unintended side effects: people are taking on risky high-interest loans; some are building tiny, uninhabited homes they can’t afford to finish.

 

Advocates for earthquake-hit communities fear this large-scale borrowing could lead to a “debt crisis” that would cripple Nepal’s economic recovery.

 

A survey by aid organisations tracking reconstruction progress found a “drastic increase” in people resorting to loans to supplement government rebuilding funds since the start of 2017. Two thirds of respondents polled in December 2017 reported taking out loans to rebuild; 12 months earlier, it was only 1 percent.

“People weren’t rebuilding, so we had to do something,” said Manohar Ghimire, deputy spokesman for Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority, which was set up shortly after the earthquake to manage the rebuild on a five-year timeline.

 

The latest deadline came and went in mid-July, though Ghimire says this is likely to be extended again.

Ghimire calls the deadline pressure a success, as construction rates have risen over the last year. Today, more than 800,000 households qualify for government subsidies, which are distributed in three separate payments totalling $3,000, depending on the stage of construction. More than 440,000 have received the second of these payments – a year ago, only 55,000 people had.

 

The problem with a quick build

 

Villages like Gatlang and surrounding Rasuwa District were among the hardest hit by the 2015 earthquakes – more than 70 percent of buildings here completely collapsed; more than 95 percent needed major repair or outright reconstruction, according to government statistics. But money alone hasn’t been enough to counter rising construction costs that exceed the government subsidy, confusion about the deadlines, or a lack of building skills.

 

Rijan Garjurel is the district coordinator in Rasuwa for the Housing Recovery and Reconstruction Platform – a coordination body that supports all government departments, NGOs, and donors working on reconstruction. He says the deadlines saw many people rush to collect the grant, even if they lacked the resources or skills to build safer, earthquake-resistant homes as the government intended.

Instead, they’re erecting fragile one-room structures beside their still-damaged homes – the reconstruction grants can only be used for new construction, rather than retrofitting old homes.

 

“They are just building for formality to receive the grant,” Garjurel said. “I often hear, ‘this is my government house, and this is our house.’”

 

He says the deadline has pushed people to forego using local building materials like stone, which is inexpensive but time-consuming to prepare. Instead, many here use imported brick and concrete blocks, which are quicker to build with but more expensive.

Recent surveys estimate that the typical cost of rebuilding is at least $6,500 – more than double the government subsidies.

 

“Transportation is expensive and so the money is not enough to get materials here,” said Dawa Gumbu Tamang, the elected head of Gatlang. “Many people start and then can’t carry on as they run out of money so houses are half built.”

 

Patience is a virtue

 

Reconstruction experts warn it is unrealistic to speed up such a large-scale reconstruction process in Nepal, where building costs are high and many lack the skills to rebuild entirely on their own.

 

“Deadlines are not going to speed these people up,” said Maggie Stephenson, a consultant who has advised NGOs and donors on recovery efforts. She added, “Who is in a bigger hurry than households themselves to rebuild their homes?”

 

Stephenson, who has also worked on earthquake reconstruction in Pakistan and Haiti, says recovery in other disasters has shown that a successful rebuild takes time.

 

After the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, she says, it took at least five years to rebuild rural homes; urban homes there are still being constructed, 13 years later.

Stephenson says Nepal’s commitment to extending reconstruction grants to more than 800,000 homes is “remarkable”. But it also requires more support beyond funding, as well as a degree of patience – a situation that isn’t helped by frequent international media stories suggesting the rebuild pace has been “slow”.

 

“The point of an owner-driven housing programme with a grant as a subsidy means that you’re reliant on people mobilising their own resources as well,” Stephenson said, “and that’s going to take a much longer time.”

 

She says international donors and NGOs must do more to help rebuilding households overcome other roadblocks that have stalled construction, including boosting skills training so that more people know how to build and access the right materials. They also need to provide clearer information on the complex grant approval process, and do more to help typically marginalised groups like rural women and the elderly. Stephenson says this kind of essential technical support has only reached a quarter of the earthquake-affected communities who need it.

 

Chewang Gyalmo Ghale received training under such a programme. Practical Action, the UK-based development organisation, helped fund and train her to cut stones, which she sells to people rebuilding their homes in her village in Rasuwa District.

The money she earns is helping to finance her own rebuild. But she’s still living under a tarp – she says she hasn’t been approved for a government grant to finish her house, though she’s not sure why.

 

The grant money wouldn’t be enough to cover her rebuild anyway. It’s not enough for most of her neighbours, either.

 

“Many people here have had to take out loans to pay me to cut stones,” she said.

 

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