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Asking the right questions

If you read about math and enjoy the internet, chances are you saw this op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend. The piece, titled “Is Algebra Necessary?,” argues that math requirements, algebra in particular, are prohibitively difficult for many people, and may be contributing to high school and college dropout rates. Instead of imposing an algebra restriction, author Andrew Hacker suggests restructuring the curriculum around “citizen statistics” and “quantitative reasoning.” Despite the jargon-y names, he insists courses like this could be developed without sacrificing rigor or dumbing down the curriculum.

As might be expected, the piece has furrowed quite a few brows. A few friends have asked me for my opinion, but I’m a little late to the game, and there are a number of people who have expressed my views in their own words quite well. I’ll briefly add my own to cents, peppered with links throughout.

. . . → Read More: Asking the right questions

CNN Light Years guest post: Data: It’s how stores know you’re pregnant

In honor of this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month, titled “Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge,” I’ve contributed an article to CNN’s Light Years blog on how corporations might use big data to infer personal details about its customers. Mostly this was inspired by the recent New York Times investigation on how Target collects and uses customer data. Here’s an excerpt:

Whether you are trying to make the best decisions for your fantasy baseball league, looking to capitalize on an opportunity in a fluctuating stock market or simply filtering through the results of a Google search, it is hard to deny that we are surrounded by more data now than ever before. As such, the task of organizing and drawing conclusions from data can be a challenge, but thankfully mathematics can, in many cases, rise to the occasion.

Want to read more? Click here to go to the story!

. . . → Read More: CNN Light Years guest post: Data: It’s how stores know you’re pregnant

Lego Math Maniac

Though I have lived in Southern California for several years, I have never been to Legoland, a theme park based around the classic (and awesome) children’s toys. The park perennially sits in the shadow of more popular parks in the region (e.g. Disneyland, Universal Studios, and the Banana Club Museum), and its prices make it hard to justify a visit for an adult male with no children, no matter how many fond Lego memories he may have from his childhood. However, given the recent attention Lego has received in the context of mathematics, it may be time to finally plan a trip.

A recent article on Wired’s website discusses the mathematics of Lego – more specifically, it highlights an article on the complexity of Lego systems. As any child will tell you, Lego sets can vary from very simple, small sets, to much larger and more complicated ones. As a . . . → Read More: Lego Math Maniac

Batman Interlude

Hi everyone. Apologies for flying under the radar lately. I am getting married soon, and along with life’s usual habit of getting in the way, preparations are surprisingly time consuming.

Having said that, I have a couple of articles in the pipeline specifically addressing the intersection of mathematics and weddings (the intersection is non-empty, I assure you). In the meantime, if you’re looking for a mathematical fix, you need look no further than this link, which gives an explicit function whose graph bears a striking resemblance to the Batman logo. Mathematicians who need to contact crime fighters need no longer live in fear.

Na-na-na-na Na-na-na-na MATH GRAPHS!!!!

Want to see your favorite superhero’s logo memorialized in the Cartesian coordinate plane? Give it a shot!

I’ll be back soon with some more substantial content. Hat tip to Nate for the link to this crime-reducing function.

. . . → Read More: Batman Interlude

Math Jams

Sorry I’m so late to the party on this one, but I wanted to draw your attention to this NPR article from a couple of months back. It profiles the “Songwriter in Residence” program at the University of Tennessee’s National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (or NIMBioS if you feel like spitting a bunch of letters out of your mouth). The experimental program hires songwriters for one month stints at the Institute, during which time they work with researchers to develop two songs on current scientific/mathematical research. Here’s one of the resident’s performing a song on sexual selection:

While combining the arts with the sciences is nothing new, it’s cool to see a program embrace the intersection of these disciplines with such gusto. Of course, it can be difficult to squeeze educational content out of a song with a science focus, but . . . → Read More: Math Jams

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Hi all. As a small gift for you going into this weekend, here‘s a link to an article from The Numbers Guy at the Wall Street Journal. I was one of several people interviewed for my thoughts on the preponderance of math holidays that have been in the news recently. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you will already know my general feelings towards these holidays. More details, though, can be found here or here. If you’re curious, you can probably find other articles in which I jump on the soapbox.

I’ll be back next week with something more substantive. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend, and if you’re in Los Angeles, Happy Carmageddon!

Scoreboard Stats

A couple of weeks ago I noticed this article on the Yahoo Sports page, which highlighted a statistically rare event that occurred in the American League on Sunday, May 8th. On that day, 7 baseball games were played on the AL schedule, and in all of those games one team scored exactly 5 runs. The post then links to this article from the AP, which gives this rare event the following context:

It was the first time in 18 years that such a quirky thing happened with a full schedule. On Aug. 10, 1993, all seven NL games featured one team scoring precisely two runs, STATS LLC said.

The last time it occurred with five or more runs was July 20, 1955, when all four AL games had at least one team score exactly six, STATS LLC said.

When I read this article, some questions immediately came to mind: exactly . . . → Read More: Scoreboard Stats

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?