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Down with Plurality!

Hi friends,

As some of you may know, in general I don’t hold our country’s voting methods in very high regard. Think about the way we vote for president, for instance. Aside from not asking voters to state any preferences at all, it’s difficult to do worse than our current system: we can only show our support for a single candidate, when in fact our preferences may be more nuanced. Moreover, since we can only vote for a single candidate, there’s little incentive to vote for our favorite one, unless our favorite happens to be a front-runner. This is known all across the universe, as evidenced by the Presidential runs of Kang and Kodos:

Even worse, a third party candidate who garners a decent amount of support may end up hurting his own party and parties more closely aligned to it by acting . . . → Read More: Down with Plurality!

Mathalicious Post: Most Expensive. Collectibles. Ever.

Hey y’all. My most recent post on the Mathalicious blog has been live for a while, but in case you missed it, I’d encourage you to go check it out! Consider it a Simpsons themed cautionary tale for collectors on a budget. Here’s a sample:

One of the more recent trends in the world of Simpsons memorabilia is the advent of the Mini-Figure collections, produced by Kidrobot. Each series (there have been two so far) consists of around 25 small Simpsons figures, each with his or her own accessories. The figures cost around $10 each ($9.95, to be precise), so an avid collector would need to spend something like $250 to complete each of the two collections, right?

Well, not quite. When you buy one of these figures, you have no idea which one you’ll get, because the box containing the figure doesn’t indicate what’s inside. All you know are . . . → Read More: Mathalicious Post: Most Expensive. Collectibles. Ever.

Hot Dog Mathematics (a.k.a. Hot Dog! Mathematics!) Part 2

Last week we talked about hot dogs. Though I spent most of my time discussing how the dog’s surface area changes if it is cut lengthwise (also known as a butterfly cut), my original inspiration came from much more sophisticated wiener slicing. Around the fourth of July, the following video went viral. Take a look; it’s hard not to see the merits of this suggested technique for cooking hot dogs.

As the curly fry is to the regular fry, so too is the spiral cut dog to the regular dog. Indeed, it’s hard to find a reason why one should not choose a spiral cut dog over a regular dog, if given the choice. But from a mathematical standpoint, as with the butterfly cut discussed last time, arguably the most interesting feature of the spiral cut hot dog is the increased surface area. Unlike the butterfly cut . . . → Read More: Hot Dog Mathematics (a.k.a. Hot Dog! Mathematics!) Part 2

Putting the “e” in “The Simpsons”

I think we can safely agree that The Simpsons isn’t the show that it used to be, but there are moments when its former charm shines through. As it pertains to the material of this blog, I was particularly pleased with a joke that ran on their Christmas episode. I have been meaning to tip my hat to this joke for some time, but it has been hard to find a spare moment to do so.

The joke ran at the end of a muppet-themed segment of the show. In an homage to Sesame Street, after the segment finished (but before the somewhat racy joke involving a very physical muppet Moe) an announcer stopped to give thanks to the sponsors of the show. Unlike Sesame Street, however, which is sponsored every day by two letters and a number, this episode of The Simpsons was sponsored by . . . → Read More: Putting the “e” in “The Simpsons”

Addendum to Math Gets Around: The Humanities

Last week we discussed an example of when a mathematical background might prove useful even in the least quantitative of liberal arts courses. More specifically, we asked the question: if a teacher gives you a list of N questions, tells you that M will be on an exam, and you must answer K of the questions given on the exam, what’s the minimum number of questions you should prepare to guarantee that you will be able to answer K of the questions on the exam? (Answer: N + K – M.) We also looked at the question probabilistically – namely, we saw that of the questions appearing on the exam, the number that you’ve prepared for follows a hypergeometric distribution.

As a concrete example I considered the case N = 6, M = 5, K = 3 – in this case, the minimum number of questions you should prepare to . . . → Read More: Addendum to Math Gets Around: The Humanities

Judge v. Justices

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, it is not always easy to determine a person’s mathematical background based on his or her occupation. Sure, a burger flipper at McDonald’s may not look like the next Einstein, but how can you be sure she’s not just working a summer job to afford university? Conversely, just because someone is highly educated doesn’t mean he knows the difference between a prime and a composite number (although I’d argue that it should). Case in point: Supreme Court justices may or may not know the meaning of the word orthogonal. Here’s a snippet from the oral arguments in the case of Briscoe v. Virginia (courtesy of blog The Volokh Conspiracy):

MR. FRIEDMAN: I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here because the Commonwealth is acknowledging – CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I’m sorry. Entirely what? MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal. Right angle. . . . → Read More: Judge v. Justices

Optimization at the Checkout

On more than one occasion, while waiting in line to buy my lunch on campus, the cashiers at the front have asked those of us in the line to split into smaller lines – one line for each cashier. This seems to be met with hesitation on the part of those of us who are in line, and rightly so. Perhaps I am simply projecting, but it seems like they all know the same thing I do: that having only one line feed into all the cashiers is the most efficient way to manage a queue. One would think the cashiers should know this as well, but apparently not. So, if you have ever asked people to form separate lines when waiting to be helped, pay attention, because you need to learn why people in line rarely pay attention to you. For a person waiting in a single line, there . . . → Read More: Optimization at the Checkout