Royal Institution Lectures

Tuesday 19 December 2006 at 2:34 pm | In Articles | 3 Comments

For only the third time in its history the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures will be on mathematics. Marcus du Sautoy, who was inspired by the first mathematics lectures given by Christopher Zeeman in 1978, will be presenting The Number Mysteries. They will be broadcast on Channel Five.

The previous Christmas lectures on Mathematics were given by Ian Stewart in 1997.

There’s an interview with Marcus du Sautoy in today’s Guardian called A prime example.

Laugh or cry?

Monday 11 December 2006 at 2:35 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

I feel bound to add to the viral blogging* publicising a highly amusing phone call made by a chap querying the bill from an internet provider. The company insists that it charges 0.002 cents per KB and that using 35 893 KB costs $71.79. The phone call is an attempt to persuade the company that they are out by a factor of 100. It is a conversation with employees, who are remarkably patient, but think 0.002 cents = 0.002 dollars.

I have to say I laughed a lot but maybe I should cry at the lack of mathematical ability.

You can find the recording at Tragicomic Mathematics and click on recording. It lasts just under half-an-hour. The comments on that page are also amusing particularly the one where the manager asks for “Not a percent of anything, just a plain percent“.

* Ketcheson.net says:

    On Thursday, someone named “georgevaccaro” create a blog called VerizonMath. In it, he details a bizarre serious of conversations he has had with Verizon revolving around the per KB charges he incurred while accessing data on his phone during a trip to Canada. He was quoted a rate of “.002 cents per KB”, when in fact the customer service representatives had actually meant “.002 dollars per KB.” On his blog, he documents his interactions with the company, posts up a (very funny) audio file of his phone conversation, and he also uploaded a copy of the same phone call to Youtube.

    This has spread with the typical speed of a hot blogstorm. His blog has pulled in more than 20K hits, the Youtube video has upwards of 45K views, and the blog has been linked to by more than 300 other blogs. This is going to get much worse before it gets better, and the image it has created of Verizon customer service couldn’t be much more negative.

There’s a very funny Wikipedia entry on this topic here.

Thanks to Mathematics Under the Microsocope

Mathematics in the real world

Thursday 7 December 2006 at 3:46 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

Mathematics is often thought of as being esoteric and nothing to do with the real world which, to be honest, is why it appealed to me when I decided to study maths at University. However, I am delighted to see that the subject of toilet seats (up or down?) has been tackled by Hammad Siddiqi in a paper called The social norm of leaving the toilet seat down: A game theoretic analysis. Some extracts give the flavour:

    In this paper, we internalize the cost of yelling and model the conflict as a non-cooperative game between two species, males and females. We find that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, to our dismay, we also find that the social norm of always leaving the toilet seat down after use is not only a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies but is also trembling-hand perfect.
    [...]
    Changing the seat position during an operation is beyond the scope of this paper and is definitely not recommended.
    [...]
    In this paper, we show conclusively that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down after use decreases welfare and by doing that we hope to convince the reader that social norms are not always welfare enhancing. Hence, there is a case for scientifically examining social norms and educating the masses about the fallacy of following social norms blindly.

Ars Mathematica first alerted me to this paper, but it has spread virally from blog to blog. I have alerted the Annals of Improbable Research so hopefully it will receive a wider audience. The editor contributes a weekly column in the Guardian; this week’s column is subtitled “The dangers of whisky and candlelight”.

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