Math Goes Trick or Treating

Update (Octoboer 2010): 2010 costume ideas can be found here!

Update (October 2009): I’ve written a follow-up article with more math themed costume ideas.

With Halloween but a few short days away, many of you with a love for both dress-up and mathematics are probably thinking hard about what you should be this year. I thought it would be fun to find some good math inspired Halloween costumes using the transformative power of the internet, but unfortunately there really wasn’t much to get excited about. After spending some time scouring, the only costume ideas that were even tangentially related to math that I could find were the following:

1) Nerd Costume Kit

By far the most offensive of these costume choices. Of course, this offers a broader stereotype than that of the mathematician, but the mathematician and the nerd trade at about the same cultural currency value.

What’s most disappointing . . . → Read More: Math Goes Trick or Treating

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Math in the News: Is U.S. Culture Crushing Potential Mathletes?

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran an article about the dearth of U.S. students with strong skills in mathematics. While this is not quite a revelation, it is made more timely by the recent release of a study that looked at data from Putnam exams, International Mathematical Olympiads, and data from other programs meant to nurture younger students in mathematics.

This type of data is more powerful than looking at SAT scores, for instance, because exams administered in a mathematics competition are notoriously difficult. There are thousands of students who will score an 800 on the math section of the SAT, and so this test offers no way to distinguish between them. Looking at this other data, however, allows us to gain a much deeper insight into the abilities of students in the U.S. with an aptitude for mathematics.

The data suggests a couple of things. First, contrary . . . → Read More: Math in the News: Is U.S. Culture Crushing Potential Mathletes?

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Math as Your Wingman: Mail Goggles

As many of you with Gmail accounts may already know, Google launched a feature last week that aims to put arithmetic squarely in the shoes of your most trusted wingman. The feature, dubbed Mail Goggles, is explained in the Official Gmail Blog.

In summary, the Mail Goggles feature allows you to make Gmail aware of certain hours during the week when you should not be sending e-mail (due to exhaustion, inebriation, or the side effects of whatever other illicit things you do in your personal life). Once these hours are set, should you decide to send an e-mail during one of these highlighted times, you will first be prompted to answer a series of math questions, in an attempt to prove to Gmail that you have sufficient mental faculties to be sending e-mail.

A noble pursuit, to be sure. A trustworthy internet wingman may be just the thing for those . . . → Read More: Math as Your Wingman: Mail Goggles

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Math in the News: My, What a Big Prime You Have!

Math made headlines again last week, with the announcement that the Program in Computing, a subset of UCLA’s Math department, had discovered a prime number with approximately 13 million digits. Among other places, this announcement could be seen on the front page of Yahoo! News – if you missed it, here’s the link. This discovery gives rise to some natural questions, which I will try to address here: 1) How big is a 13 million digit number?

2) Who cares about big primes?

3) Is this what mathematicians do all day?

The first question is the easiest to answer. In short, a 13 million digit number is very, very large. This link displays the beginning and ending string of digits that compose the newly discovered prime, and for those of you with some time on your hands it also has a link to the full text of the prime midway . . . → Read More: Math in the News: My, What a Big Prime You Have!

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Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 2

As you may recall, I have already discussed certain perils associated with different voting systems. However, given all the commotion this election is causing, I thought it may be worthwhile to discuss voting in a bit more detail.

There is plenty of information online regarding the relationship between math and voting, for those with interest enough to seek it out. But perhaps the best centralized internet location on this topic comes from this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month website.

In April of every year, mathaware.org hosts a Mathematics Awareness month, complete with articles and contests related to the year’s theme of forging a bridge between mathematics and what is often times a seemingly disparate discipline. It was no doubt with tremendous foresight that they selected “Mathematics and Voting” for this year’s theme.

A good way to kill a few minutes is with their voting methods simulation. On this page, you can . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 2

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