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Mathematics

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Waldo, A Creature of Habit.

“I knew that Handford had placed Waldo in each of these illustrations, and in my experience, all people—even people who make a living hiding cartoon men in cartoon landscapes — have tendencies, be they conscious and unconscious. True randomness is very difficult to achieve, even if you want to, and according to Handford he does not necessarily aim for unpredictability…Knowing this, is it possible, I wondered, to master Where’s Waldo by mapping Handford’s patterns?”

In Slate, Ben Blatt uses pattern mapping to pre-determine Waldo’s whereabouts. But don’t think all the conundrums are solved just yet. “[This] leaves a more intriguing question left unanswered: Why is Waldo there? Why, Waldo? Why are you so likely to hide in these two narrow bands? Why are you rarely at the edges of the page? Why are you rarely in the middle of the page? Why, Waldo?”

The Art of the Scratch.

Srivastava realized that the same logic could be applied to the lottery. The apparent randomness of the scratch ticket was just a facade, a mathematical lie. And this meant that the lottery system might actually be solvable, just like those mining samples. ‘At the time, I had no intention of cracking the tickets,’ he says. He was just curious about the algorithm that produced the numbers.

In Wired, Jonah Lehrer tells the story of how a Canadian statistician broke the code behind lottery scratch-off tickets. “‘It wasn’t that hard,’ Srivastava says. ‘I do the same kind of math all day long.’” (The trick, in brief: Look for numbers that only appear once on a card, in a winning combination.)

The (No) Big-Bang Theory.


In his proposal, time and space can be converted into one another, with a varying speed of light as the conversion factor. Mass and length are also interchangeable, with the conversion factor depending on both a varying gravitational “constant” and a varying speed of light (G/c2). Basically, as the universe expands, time is converted into space, and mass is converted into length. As the universe contracts, the opposite occurs.

By way of cdogzilla, PhysOrg’s Lisa Zyga describes a new cosmological theory by Wun-Yi Shu of Taiwan that, among other things,does away with the Big Bang. “Essentially, this work is a novel theory about how the magnitudes of the three basic physical dimensions, mass, time, and length, are converted into each other…The theory resolves problems in cosmology, such as those of the big bang, dark energy, and flatness, in one fell stroke.

A Republic of Knowledge.

“I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our gross domestic product to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science.

It’s poetry in motion: In a clear break with his predecessor, President Obama pledges $420 billion for basic science and applied research. “And he set forth a wish list including solar cells as cheap as paint; green buildings that produce all the energy they consume; learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again and ‘an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us.’” Huzzah! (And fwiw, I would also like more manned spaced exploration…and a jetpack.)

Putting up the numbers.

Sent by way of my friend Tim, here’s an attempt to apply Moneyball‘s marginal product to the NBA. The results seem…confused. According to this data set, Hedo Turkoglu is the best player in the league, followed by Vince Carter (doubtful), KG (ok, this makes sense), Brad Miller (no, not really), and Manu Ginobli (maybe someday, but not quite yet.) Hmmm…sounds like the formula hasn’t been perfected yet. Shouldn’t Big Shot Rob Horry be somewhere at the top of this list, given that he or the since-retired Steve Kerr has won the championship every year over the past decade?

Riddles in the Dark.

In celebration of a quarter-century of Science Times, the paper ruminates on the 25 questions currently driving science, while Alan Lightman ponders the motivations that fuel scientists. I’m not sure if the likes of Stephen Hawking are really contemplating Atlantis, but there’s some intriguing stuff here.

He Blinded Me With Science.

Mathematics professor Jordan Ellenberg explains why the media is so taken with Stephen Wolfram’s recent tome.

Dig the Mobius Strip.

Mathematical Lego Sculptures, via Girlhacker.

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