The ultimate nerdy crime scene
In the modern workplace, you’ve got to be prepared for disappointment. Make no mistake: Whether you’re a journalist or an entrepreneur or a scientist, your pet projects will sometimes be killed. But what if you were working on an awesome project that got canceled, and you had the time, money, and daring to sneak into the office to finish it anyway?
That’s the story of Ron Avitzur, an Apple programmer who was working on a graphing calculator that was to be loaded on a new generation of computers. Mental Floss has an engaging short feature explaining what happened when the project was canceled:
The young programmer knew the project had merit. Everyone he mentioned it to exclaimed, “I wish I’d had that in school!” If he could just get the program preinstalled on the new computer, teachers across the country could use the tool as an animated blackboard, providing visuals for abstract concepts. The program could simultaneously showcase the speed of the new machine and revolutionize math class. All he needed was access to Apple’s machines and some time.
When you pour yourself a nice pint of Guinness, there’s only one thing running through your mind, right? As the brew settles, why do the bubbles sink down instead of rising up?!
Okay, so the “Guinness cascade” may not have been your primary concern, but the gravity-defying bubbles did intrigue a few mathematicians at the University of Limerick, who explored how the shape of the Guinness glass affected the flow of bubbles in an article they posted at the pre-print arXiv.
Credit: Alexander & Zare
The Guinness cascade is not a new phenomenon, and a basic explanation already exists. All things being equal, the bubbles of gas in a liquid like soda or beer rise because gravity exerts more force on the denser liquid around them. But it turns out that where the bubbles are in the glass makes a big difference in their behavior. The bubbles near the walls of a container stick to the glass, which drags on them and slows their upward motion. The bubbles in the center of the cup, in contrast, can rise unimpeded. As they move, they exert a slight drag force on the surrounding liquid. This motion forms a column that circulates the beer in the center of the glass upward, while forcing the beer—and the bubbles—along the wall to sink down.
In fact, this effect happens in other liquids as well, but in a glass of Guinness, the cream-colored bubbles stand out particularly clearly against the dark drink.
Having a bee brain might not be so bad after all, since new research shows that bees are faster than supercomputers when it came to solving one of those dreadful “word problems” from (probably very advanced) high school math class.
“There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers.”
The problem is called the traveling salesman problem, and the bees’ lives actually depend on solving it every day. The traveling salesman needs to visit a number of cities in the shortest amount of time, without repeating a visit. The traveling bumblebee needs to visit a number of flowers everyday, while expending as little energy as possible. Queen Mary University of London researcher Lars Chittka explained in the press release why studying bees’ habits is important:
If you were to calculate how much a hurricane weighs, what units would you pick?
To understand how much water is in a cloud, it seems many researchers pick the good ole elephant unit, or sometimes a blue whale. Choosing some of the largest animals on the planet gives everyone a better sense of just how much water is up there in the clouds.
Calculating the number of elephants in a small white puffy cloud will start to give you a sense of just how many elephants to expect from your average hurricane. Andy Heymsfield of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told NPR’s science correspondent Robert Krulwich that a single, small, white, cotton-ball cloud weighs about the same as 100 (4-ton) elephants:
“I think the dimensions are somewhat deceiving,” clouds, he says, look small when you are down on the ground, but very often they are much bigger than you think.
If you’ve ever caught yourself fantasizing about infinite series of irrational numbers while out in the woods, this video is for you. Or if you just like cool graphics.
Cristobal Vila’s Nature by Numbers:
As you may’ve noticed, an important motif in the video is the Fibonacci Sequence. The series starts with 0 and 1. After those first two, you can calculate each subsequent number in the series by adding the previous two: 0 + 1 = 1, 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3, 2 + 3 = 5 . . . Thus 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 . . .
Among other things, the series is good for making a Fibonacci Spiral (from squares with side lengths defined by each number in the sequence) which sort of matches a Golden Spiral, which sort of matches a Nautilus shell. The complete explanation of the numbers behind the nature is available on the Vila’s website, here.
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Discoblog: The OK Go Video: Playing With the Speed of Time
Discoblog: The Mother of all Rube Goldberg Machines!
Video: Cristobal Vila Nature by Numbers
A mathematician, a philosopher, a physicist, and an artificial intelligence expert get together to define the limits of human knowledge. Chaos ensues.
That’s the short version of Friday evening’s World Science Festival discussion, The Limits of Understanding, where panelists Gregory Chaitin, Rebecca Goldstein, Mario Livio, and Marvin Minsky bravely tackled the scientific and philosophical implications of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem for a packed house.
Gödel’s work has perplexed thinkers for decades, but the on-stage team dispensed with the basics pretty quickly. As philosopher Goldstein put it, Gödel’s infamous proof from 1931 revealed that “there are true propositions [in mathematics] that can’t be proved.” Livio took a stab at incompleteness via analogy to physics: “We physicists look for a theory of everything in physics; Gödel showed that there is no theory of everything in math.”
You would think that kids these days would have something better to do with their time than balancing 15 books on their heads while manipulating Rubik’s cubes and reciting the mathematical constant pi to a hundred digits.
But no. In the latest geek-tastic viral video, a young lady who calls herself “Bookonmyhead” carries out just this stunt. The video was posted in November but just went viral in the last few days; by now it has racked up more than 131,000 hits. Mashable says the girl is 18-year-old Lauren.
The 42-second video is pretty cool but comments left on YouTube allege that Lauren had solved the Rubik cube prior to the taping and that the books were superglued together—which is why they didn’t slither right off her head. Whatever! When was the last time you balanced 15 books on your head, messed with a Rubik cube, and got so many pi digits right? We thought so. Now watch.
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DISCOVER: The Rubik’s Cube Solution That Could Improve Your Life
Gotta love mathematicians: Even when they attack a practical problem familiar to just about everybody, the results can be wonderfully impractical.
New Scientist today documents the exhaustive, decades-spanning search of two mathematicians trying to solve the pizza problem: How to cut a pizza so that everyone gets a fair slice. Seems pretty simple with the standard method, cutting through the center four times to create eight equitable slices. But if you miss the center, or want to create a different number of slices, it opens up a world of possibilities for mathematicians to try to work out.
•Villagers in England chased away a Google car, saying that Google Street View is, yes, an invasion of privacy—and will also facilitate crime in their area.
•Good news for chocolate lovers: Eating it can help your math skills [ed. note: We refute this claim based on personal experience—we couldn’t eat more chocolate, and couldn’t be worse at math].
•Gals, take pride: sisters bring more happiness (and balance) to a family than do brothers.
•But any mothers out there, you might want to get your baby formula examined: It could contain rocket fuel.
Does simple arithmetic give you sweaty palms? Do you always show up late for appointments? Is it a nightmare to figure out the bill at restaurants? If so, you may have dyscalculia, sort of the mathematical version of dyslexia. People with dyscalculia often excel at languages or visual arts, but can barely pass middle school math. They have trouble with numerical concepts—specifically, with associating numerical quantities with their abstract representations.
Although it’s estimated that about five percent of people have dyscalculia, researchers disagree as to the cause of the disorder. The debate boils down to whether number sense is an innate or learned trait in humans. Some argue that we are born with the ability to understand exact numbers. Even babies, for example, will stare longer when they are shown two dolls moving behind a screen and then three dolls coming out, indicating they were expecting a different numerical outcome.