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Math Gets Around in the Big City

Math has gotten a bit of a visibility boost recently, in the form of posts by professor Steven Strogatz at the New York Times blog. For three weeks, starting at the end of May, Professor Strogatz filled in for usual blogger Olivia Judson, and during that time he used the platform to write some highly readable musings that show the presence of mathematics in unlikely places, and touch on some of the directions math is headed in the 21st century.

Let me highlight the first post, titled “Math and the City.” Professor Strogatz begins this article by describing Zipf’s law, an observation attributed to linguist George Zipf regarding the distribution of words in a language (for a linguistic motivation, you can check the Wikipedia article on Zipf’s law).

One of these things is not like the other.

In the context of cities, the law states the following: in a given . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around in the Big City

Math Gets Around, and So Does Disease (Both Real and Virtual)

Most of us are familiar with the story of Chicken Little, the young chicken turn Disney sellout who one day has a major panic attack because she (or he, depending on the version you’re told) believes that the sky is falling.

No doubt this fable has conditioned many of us to be wary of chickens that try to warn us of impending crises. But given the recent media frenzy surrounding swine flu, perhaps we should turn our attention away from the chicken, concerns over avian flu notwithstanding, and focus a bit more on the humble pig.

There is some debate on this issue: while everyone seems to be in agreement that the swine flu outbreak is, so far, milder than many had anticipated, health officials have cautioned that we may not yet be out of the proverbial woods (or pigpen, as the case may be). At the same time, however, . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around, and So Does Disease (Both Real and Virtual)

Math Gets Around: The Entomology of Civil Engineering

In the continuing saga of animals that are better than you at math, it now appears that ants are much better than most of us at optimization. Granted, they may not be able to think abstractly, but in concrete terms, they far surpass us with a particular type of optimization: the efficiency of traffic flow.

As anyone who has gone to a picnic will tell you, ants do a very good job of creating traffic streams – their foot traffic moves steadily, and without the major pileups to which my fellow residents of Los Angeles have become so accustomed. One could argue that the wide expanse of park area is proportionately much larger for the humble ant than what most motorists have to live with, but even so, the march of the ant colony often appears quite regimented, even with space enough to make a wider path. How is it . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: The Entomology of Civil Engineering

Math Gets Around: Holiday Treats

At this time of year, many people push their studies to the side in favor of roasted animals and pie. However, the activities of enlarging your waistline and mastering some mathematics need not be mutually exclusive. For evidence of this claim, I need only turn your attention to the culmination of thousands of years of human evolution: the Pecan Pie-cosahedron.

Pecans + math = crazy delicious.

This masterful work of craftsmanship was created by an individual known by the pseudonym of turkey tek over at The pie is so named because it has the shape of an icosahedron, arguably the most beautiful of the five1 Platonic Solids (so named because of the Greek philosopher, not because the solids are just good friends). Even better, this isn’t turkey tek’s first foray into mathematically inspired baked goods: also on display is the formiddable Giant Fractal Pecan Pie.

Yes, even pie . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Holiday Treats

Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 3

As promised, in this thrilling final installment to the relationship between math and voting (the first two parts can be found here and here), we will look at what many people see as the holy grail of voting systems: Range voting.

The concept of range voting is simple. Given a set of candidates, in a range voting system you simply put a score next to each name that reflects how strongly you support that candidate. Of course, this is quite different from our current voting system, where we only get to vote for one candidate, but more importantly, it differs significantly from other voting systems where you are just asked to rank candidates in order of preference, because a ranking gives no information about the degree to which your support varies from candidate to candidate.

For example, if Anna, Bob, and Charlie are all running for President, you and I . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 3

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, 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

Math on TV/Math Gets Around: Brooke Knows Best

Recently, I found myself thinking of mathematics in an unlikely set of circumstances: while watching VH1′s latest “Celebreality” show, Brooke Knows Best. I realize that an admission like this may be embarrassing, and so it is for the sake of your edification, dear reader, that I am willing to go on the record with this deliciously shameful information.

For those of you who may not know, the titular character is the daughter of Santa with Muscles star and All-American hero, Hulk Hogan. In the show, Brooke lives in an expensive looking condo in Miami, goes to the beach, and sings her own theme song. This is about as much as I know. I swear. For those of you who are curious, the following video gives a good sense of what this show is all about.

VH1 TV Shows Music Videos Celebrity Photos News & Gossip

Did you . . . → Read More: Math on TV/Math Gets Around: Brooke Knows Best

Math Gets Around: Dating

Do you wonder whether you will ever find true love? Are you tired of looking for Mr. or Ms. Right? (I mean this in a metaphorical sense – if you are actually looking for an individual by the name of Right, this article will probably be of no use to you.) Have you grown weary of idle party chit-chat, and awkward mornings after nights spent in venues with deceptive lighting? Well, my friend, whether you are willing to accept it or not, mathematics can help you find the one to share your life with. Unfortunately, the primary disadvantage to the method described below is that if you don’t know about it before you jump into the dating scene, it may be too late for you to utilize. But with an open mind, and a willingness to let mathematics do its work, you can maximize the likelihood that you will find . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Dating