Wednesday, March 31, 2010
In the northern British Isles, the Celtic tribes known as the Picts coexisted for centuries alongside literate cultures such as the Romans, the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons.
"They were the odd society out, in that they didn't leave any written record," says Rob Lee of the University of Exeter in England, save for some mysterious-looking sets of symbols on stones and jewels. In a paper published March 31 online in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Lee and his coworkers now claim that the symbols are written language. Perhaps the Picts were not illiterate after all.
Lee's team attacked the problem with math. Written languages are distinguishable from random sequences of symbols because they contain some statistical predictability. The typical example is that, in the English language, a "q" is nearly certain to be followed by a "u"; and a "w" is much more likely to be followed by an "h" than, say, by an "s" or a "t".
Saturday, March 20, 2010
SINCE “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll...
But Alice’s adventures with the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and so on have often been assumed to be based purely on wild imagination. Just fantastical tales for children — and, as such, ideal material for the fanciful movie director Tim Burton, whose “Alice in Wonderland” opened on Friday.
Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice’s search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson’s field.
In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In “Alice,” he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
ScienceDaily (Mar. 10, 2010) — With pitchers and catchers having recently reported to spring training, once again Bruce Bukiet, an associate professor at NJIT, has applied mathematical analysis to compute the number of games that Major League Baseball teams should win in 2010. The Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers should all repeat as winners in their divisions, while the Atlanta Braves will take the wild card slot in the National League (NL), says Bukiet.
Bukiet, an associate professor of mathematical sciences and associate dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at NJIT, bases his predictions on a mathematical model he developed in 2000. For this season, he incorporated a more realistic runner advancement model into the algorithm.
(Image credit: topendsports.com)
Monday, March 8, 2010
ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2010) — A straight line may be the shortest path from A to B, but it's not always the most reliable or efficient way to go. In fact, depending on what's traveling where, the best route may run in circles, according to a new model that bucks decades of theorizing on the subject. A team of biophysicists at Rockefeller University developed a mathematical model showing that complex sets of interconnecting loops -- like the netted veins that transport water in a leaf -- provide the best distribution network for supplying fluctuating loads to varying parts of the system. It also shows that such a network can best handle damage.
The findings could change the way engineers think about designing networks to handle a variety of challenges like the distribution of water or electricity in a city.
Operations researchers have long believed that the best distribution networks for many scenarios look like trees, with a succession of branches stemming from a central stalk and then branches from those branches and so on, to the desired destinations. But this kind of network is vulnerable: If it is severed at any place, the network is cut in two and cargo will fail to reach any point "downstream" of the break.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
ScienceDaily (Mar. 1, 2010) — Kerry Whisnant, Iowa State University physicist, studies the mysteries of the neutrino, the elementary particle that usually passes right through ordinary matter such as baseballs and home-run sluggers.
Kerry Whisnant, St. Louis Cardinals fan, studies the mathematical mysteries of baseball, including a long look at how the distribution of a team's runs can affect the team's winning percentage.
Whisnant, a professor of physics and astronomy who scribbles the Cardinals' roster on a corner of his office chalkboard, is part of baseball's sabermetrics movement. He, like other followers of the Society for American Baseball Research, analyzes baseball statistics and tries to discover how all the numbers relate to success on the field.
The results are ideas, analyses, formulas and papers that dig deep into the objective data.