Archive for the ‘Math’ Category

International Year of Astronomy Video on

I have a new video essay on about Galileo and the International Year of Astronomy. It features exoplanet hunter extraordinaire Geoff Marcy and Ben Burress of the Chabot Space and Science Center.

Check it out. Let me know what you think. And get your own Galileoscope!…

Hi-Tech Magic Teaser

At the end of the Siftables session, I met Seth Raphael (also here), who was sitting two seats over from me.  We also happen to be sharing a stage together tonight at the LateTech event – I’ll be doing science comedy and Seth presents “a new technological magic show.”

In the three or four minutes we spoke, Seth gave me an absolutely amazing demonstration of his abilities.

He told me that when top hats and handkerchiefs were in style magicians developed presentations making use of them.  But they are no longer in style.  So, as a modern magician, he draws from more modern materials.

His demonstration involved a Google search that I defined.

He asked me to type two random words into the search field but not to hit Enter yet.  I typed “turtle opinion.”  He suggested I add a third word because my two words were going to generate too many hits.  I added “candy.”

He jotted something down on a piece of scratch paper that I provided.

Then he asked me to hit Enter on my Google search and, as I did, he quickly put his paper facedown.   He estimated that it took him about a third of a second to do so.  The Google search took slightly less time.

Now here’s the amazing part:

Seth had written down on the piece of paper the number 2,510,001.

Google returned 2,510,000 results.

Then, apparently off the top of his head, he typed in a url at that he claimed is the one result/page that Google missed.

And, as a bonus, there was another number that he’d first written and then scratched out…  it was 3,540,000.  And, when we removed “candy” from the search, so that it was simply on “turtle opinion,” that was exactly how many results the search returned.

How did he do it?

I can’t wait to see what else he has up his virtual sleeve.


Gregory Benford Quotation on Passion

“Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.”

Gregory Benford‘s law of controversy (an adage from his 1980 novel Timescape).

Stand up straight!

My mother used to tell me to “stand up straight.”

It was one of her favorite things to say: “Stand up straight!”

Many other people, I have discovered, also grew up hearing that phrase. It’s nearly universal. As if mothers were programmed to say it. In fact, I believe mothers have been telling their children to “stand up straight” longer than we realize. Perhaps even to pre-human days.

What if that were the driving force behind the evolutionary trend to walk erect?

Mothers nagging their children up the evolutionary ladder:

“Stand up straight!
“Don’t drag your knuckles when you walk!
“What’re ya born in a tree?
“You want the other families to think we’re not evolving?”

“No, mom…”

Then: “How many times do I have to tell you?”

And, therein lies the origin of mathematics:

“How many times?…well, if I put the three here and carry the one….”

Conservation of Mass

I noticed a long time ago, whenever my mother would lose weight, my father would gain weight. And when my father lost weight, my mother gained weight.

It was like the Conservation of Mass, within our family.

Being the young scientist that I was, I developed a theory to explain the facts: You see, you never actually lose weight….you just give it to somebody else.

Fat can be neither created nor destroyed. It’s one of the basic laws of the universe. You need to know the laws if you’re gonna live here.

The Batting Average Paradox

In the normal course of my web browsing, I stumbled upon the home page of Stephen E. Schwartz, an atmospheric scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and chief scientist of the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Science Program.

The page gets pretty technical for those of us who are not atmospheric scientists, but near the bottom of the page he mentions “the batting average paradox” – which contains a surprising bit of math that any of us can appreciate…

The batting average paradox. Able has a higher batting average than Baker in the first half of the season and also in the second half. You might think that that means that Able has a higher average for the season. But you would be wrong. Click here to see why averaging ratios can be misleading.”