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Pi, I Shake My Fist at You

A couple of days ago I watched a video that really depressed me. Here‘s a link to a local news story from Ankeny, Iowa – I’d encourage you to take a look at the news clip there (unfortunately, I can’t embed it here). The story concerns a 6th grade student who has memorized the decimal expansion of pi to 340 or so digits.

In and of itself, this might not seem like a particularly newsworthy achievement – as any Pi Day aficionado can tell you, there are people who have memorized more digits. Perhaps what makes it newsworthy is the fact that the student is only twelve years old, or, more perversely, the fact that his accomplishment came in response to the challenge of his math teacher, who asked his students to memorize as many digits of pi as possible. By far the most depressing part of the video is . . . → Read More: Pi, I Shake My Fist at You

Instant Runoff Voting in Oakland

Earlier this month, Oakland elected its first Asian American to the less than coveted role of city mayor. Jean Quan emerged victorious this election day, although at one point she was trailing her opponent by 11 percentage points. Understood in context, however, her victory is perhaps less surprising – rather than winning by Plurality, Quan won under Oakland’s Instant Runoff Voting system.

I don't know much about Oakland politics, but this picture sure makes her look ready for business.

What’s the difference? For most elections in the United States, voters are instructed to cast their vote for the individual who they would most like to see get elected. These votes are tallied, and the one with the most votes is declared the winner. In contrast, the Instant Runoff Voting system asks voters to rank several candidates at once – this extra information is used to automatically determine the outcome . . . → Read More: Instant Runoff Voting in Oakland

A Sufficient Mathematical Background

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an op-ed written by G. V. Ramanathan, emeritus Professor in mathematics, statistics, and computer science, entitled “How much math do we really need?” As the title suggests, Ramanathan uses his space in the paper to argue against the grain of conventional wisdom when it comes to mathematics education; his point is that American students are actually receiving too MUCH math, rather than not enough. It’s an appealing thesis, especially for those looking for an excuse to embrace their own math phobia, but ultimately I find it to be less than responsible.

Consider, for example, the following passage:

How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that — and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, . . . → Read More: A Sufficient Mathematical Background