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Secondary Magazine - Issue 30: The interview

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 19 March 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 27 April 2009 by ncetm_administrator

Secondary Magazine Issue 30

The Interview

Name: Vic Ebdon

About you: I am Head of Strategic Planning in the Children and Young People’s Services Directorate of Devon County Council. Following 10 years in private sector procurement, 20 years in construction, and a failed attempt at early retirement, I joined the public sector to work on capital development schemes for schools. I am now head of the service responsible for school organisation, place planning and schools capital investment – looking forward, of course, to the county starting its Building Schools for the Future programme.

The most recent use of mathematics in your job was... in a number of ‘what if...’ scenarios to assess the likely impact on the requirements for school pupil places between 2011 and 2016 at primary and secondary age level in a new town planned for Devon. Some of the variables that were considered were: the implementation date (economic uncertainty); the rate of development (commercial lending confidence); the socio-economic profile of the likely housebuyers (number of children per household); falling birth rate (national trends), and parental choice (local trends).

Some mathematics that amazed you is... when I ‘got’ integration and why it might be useful. It was through the graphical ‘proof’ of the area of a circle (knowing the perimeter) by breaking the circle down into a large number of sectors until the sectors approximated to triangles and then adding all the triangular areas together. I am still amazed by it today – such simple pleasures!

Why mathematics?  Firstly, long boring train journeys at a very young age in India where starting at 1 and counting to see how long I could keep going seemed like a good idea – I never got to finish and that was pretty interesting. Secondly, for me there has always been a great satisfaction in arriving at the right answer – a conclusion – which one can do with mathematics and rarely in anything else. Odd really that of these two stimuli, one can be resolved and the other never can...

Your favourite/most significant mathematics-related anecdote is…about the repayment of a debt, long ago, by placing one grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, two on the second, four on the third and so on until all 64 squares on the board had been accounted for. Is this a fable about morality? Should one avoid getting into debt? Was it right for a skilled mathematician to exploit the ignorance of a peasant? Or is it just about the ‘power of 2’? 

A mathematics joke that makes you laugh is… not really a joke, but try it: not only does it work as a limerick but it is mathematically correct:
(12 + 144 + 20 + 3\sqrt{a} 4) ÷  7 + 5  X 11 = 3^4
If you really need the answer...

A dozen, a gross and a score,
Plus three times the square root of four,
Divided by seven,
Plus five times eleven,
Makes three to the power of four!

Something else that makes you laugh is… pithy one-liners.

Your favourite television programme is… Have I Got News for You. 
Your favourite ice-cream flavour is... rum and raisin.
Who inspired you? My late father, through his calmness and dignity (originally mistaken for timidity) in the midst of frantic family life. Mathematical inspiration came originally from Shakuntala Devi. Not only does she have a prodigious talent but she also conveys the real joy of numbers.
If you weren’t doing this job you would… be building a zero carbon house for my retirement.
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