Ayliean (who?)—and her Hitomezashi patterns (what?)

No, I don’t know how to pronounce Ayliean. My Scots Gaelic isn’t what it used to be. (It never was.) And I’m not so sure about Hitomezashi either, as my Japanese isn’t what it used to be. (But I did know a little in a previous century.)

For various good reasons Romanized Japanese is a lot easier for Anglos to pronounce than Scots Gaelic is (or other Celtic languages, such as Irish and Welsh). OK, it says here that Ayliean is pronounced exactly like the English “alien,” but I’m not sure I believe it.

In any case, what’s going on here? Well, Ayliean MacDonald is a wonderful Scottish mathematician who has produced some great videos, mathematical art, and educational materials.

And how about Hitomezashi? Who’s that? Or, in this case, what is that? Well, ponder this example for a minute before we define it:

So this is an annotated Hitomezashi pattern. Let’s look at the evidence before we define and generalize it. You’ll notice a few salient observations:

  1. It’s built on a square grid.
  2. Each row or column is labeled 1 or 0.
  3. The pattern consists of horizontal and vertical line segments.
  4. There’s never a pair of consecutive identical segments making a double-length one.
  5. There is some mysterious connection with the binary labels.
  6. It all looks random—sorta—but surely it isn’t really.

So now I’m not going to define and generalize it after all. You’re going to have to watch this short video to see exactly what is going on and how MacDonald produces these patterns:

Next take a look at MacDonald’s website and explore what’s there. One link will take you to Why Maths is the Best (in 140 seconds), which is definitely worth 140 seconds of your life.

Poke around in her site and the links there, and you’ll learn about Math and Art and the other things she cares about: Education, Equality, and The Environment. Or just skip to her YouTube page of beautiful videos. You’ll be glad you did.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning