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Secure Your Phone with Pretty Pictures

A good friend of mine is moving on up in the world, and to prove it, he recently upgraded his cell phone. His new phone is one of several that has a clever password feature – instead of entering a traditional password, one creates a shape within a 9 point grid, like a miniature connect the dots. Here’s one video explaining the feature:

The rules for the patterns are fairly simple, but to make things crystal clear, let me label the dots in the grid as follows:

Here are the rules constraining the types of patterns you can make:

The pattern must connect at least 4 dots. No dot may be used more than once. The order in which the dots are connected matters. Two dots which are on opposite sides of the grid (e.g. 1 and 9, 2 and 8, 1 and 3) cannot be connected . . . → Read More: Secure Your Phone with Pretty Pictures

Do Not Trust the Meat Mathematics Institute

Friends, as many of you may have noticed, Burger King has begun a promotion for its BK Stacker line of cheeseburgers. The ad focuses on Burger King’s Meat Mathematics Institute, where mathematicians from around the world gather to find ways to bring consumers a maximum amount of meat flavor for a minimum cost. Sadly, as of this writing, the ad is not available online, although this related video has made an appearance on YouTube.

While the institute seems like a delightful place to work, I regret to inform you that the research coming out of the institute is as bogus as the existence of the institute itself. The claimed solution to the problem of maximizing meat (or meat flavor, depending on your source) while minimizing cost is contained in the 3 BK Stackers pictured here (image courtesy of foodbeast):

As you can see, the Stacker family of . . . → Read More: Do Not Trust the Meat Mathematics Institute

Pi Day Post Mortem

Dessert aside, long-time readers are probably already aware of my decidedly mixed feelings towards Pi Day (see, for example, here). Nevertheless, the holiday seems only to be growing in popularity, and so I feel compelled to take it to task once again.

In my earlier post, I complained about mathematical mistakes that frequently appeared in Pi Day articles aimed at a general audience; these errors still exist, but rather than nitpick, let me instead focus on the most bothersome activity of the day. I’m speaking, of course, about pi recitation competitions.

Reciting the digits of pi is, unfortunately, becoming a popular activity – dare I say even a tradition – on Pi Day. Competitors recite as many digits of pi as they can, and the person who can recite the most digits is declared the winner. As I’ve said before, I fail to see the point of this exercise. From . . . → Read More: Pi Day Post Mortem

Female Math Role Models?

I’ve occasionally touched upon the gender gap in mathematics, mostly in response to some recent study that has attempted to explain why mathematics (and the sciences in general) are so predominately male. An article that appeared in Slate last week makes me think it is time, once again, to discuss this topic.

After giving a brief overview of the observed gender gap in science and math careers, writer Shankar Vedantam then discusses the results of some recent experiments out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst which revealed new features of this gender gap.

In both experiments, researchers (roughly speaking) found correlations between the unconscious attitudes that females in a variety of scientific majors had towards mathematics and the gender of proctors and professors in mathematics. Among the findings (more details can be had by viewing the article):

Given a question posed to the classroom by the professor, the percentage . . . → Read More: Female Math Role Models?

Look, but don’t Scratch

Ladies and gentlemen, please excuse my prolonged absence. Life occasionally has a habit of getting in the way of the schedule that I’d like to keep; in this case, it means I haven’t been able to update over the past month. Fear not though, for now I have returned, and I am ready to dish on math and pop culture.

In that spirit, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to mention this article from Wired last month on the man who cracked the code for several scratch lottery ticket games. Mohan Srivastiva, geological statistician by day and mathematical rogue by night, discovered a pattern in certain scratch lottery tickets back in 2003, but I’m sure (as this article suggests) he’s received a bit more publicity since the Wired article hit.

I highly recommend reading the whole article, but I’ll outline the gist of his discovery . . . → Read More: Look, but don’t Scratch