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Math/Maths 87: Faulty Cables, Ridiculous Buses & Intergalactic Steroids

A new episode of the Math/Maths Podcast has been released.

A conversation about mathematics between the UK and USA from This week Samuel and Peter spoke about: Samuel’s ridiculous bus trip; Computer programmes with IQ 150; IBM’s Watson and data analytics; Extracting Dynamical Equations from Experimental Data is NP-Hard; OPERA faster-than-light neutrinos experiment UPDATE 23 February 2012; ‘Invisibility’ cloak could protect buildings from earthquakes; How Bots Seized Control of Carlos Bueno’s Pricing Strategy; Calculus: The Musical!; Who says ‘maths curriculum failing to meet the needs of the 21st century’?; Turing Stamp; & more, and Peter spoke to some of the team behind Maths in the City on the occasion of their inaugural London walking tour. Oh, and Samuel forgot to mention Science Sparring Society’s second fight, but the link is in the show notes anyway.

Get this episode: Math/Maths 87: Faulty Cables, Ridiculous Buses & Intergalactic Steroids

The Slocum Mechanical Puzzle Collection is now online

The Jerry Slocum Collection of mechanical puzzles embodies a lifetime pursuit of the intriguing and the perplexing. The result is the largest assemblage of its kind in the world, with over 34,000 puzzles. Unlike word or jigsaw puzzles, mechanical puzzles are hand-held objects that must be manipulated to achieve a specific goal. Popular examples include the Rubik’s cube and tangrams. The puzzles in the collection represent centuries of mathematical, social, and recreational history from across five continents. When complete, this database will allow researchers and puzzle enthusiasts to search and browse the entire puzzle collection.

Archivists at Indiana University are publishing photos and descriptions of the 30,000+ puzzles in the collection donated to them by Jerry Slocum. So far just over 24,000 puzzles have been put online. You can filter the database by date, designer, maker, and type of puzzle. updated

After almost three months, Ed Pegg has finally added some new material to He says he’s been working his way through the top 1000 films. It’s a fairly thin update, but maybe he’ll get back in the swing of things.

Two possible errors in FTL neutrino result

The OPERA project has identified two possible sources of error in the experiment that appeared to observe neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light. The CERN press release reads:

The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino’s time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.

Source: OPERA experiment reports anomaly in flight time of neutrinos from CERN to Gran Sasso: UPDATE 23 February 2012.

IBM piloting Watson as cloud analytics service

Watson is the computer that famously won the US game show Jeopardy last year, part of a traditional of IBM ‘grand challenges’ that includes the computer Deep Blue which in 1997 won a chess match against world champion Garry Kasparov. At the time it was reported that IBM intended Watson to be applicable in business cases where large quantities of data need sorting, for example in healthcare.

Now, in an article titled “IBM’s Watson is changing careers”, Fortune reports Watson “will soon be available as a commercialized analytics tool for data-heavy industries like healthcare, telecom and financial services”, with insurance company WellPoint acting as a pilot tester. With Watson as a cloud service, the article suggests some example applications:

A financial services firm could use it to sift through news reports and market research to find likely acquisition targets. Or a healthcare company could utilize Watson to process medical articles, prior cases and even a patient’s own medical history and identify the most likely diagnosis and best course of treatment.

Fortune acknowledges that data analytics is nothing new, but describes Watson as like “Siri… on intergalactic steroids”.

IBM has further plans for making Watson available on smartphones and tablets, and for translation to other languages “including Japanese and French”. The article also mentions competitors to IBM such as Oracle and SAP are also investing in analytics.

Source: IBM’s Watson is changing careers.

Edexcel chief says the maths curriculum is failing students

The UK’s national ambition to lead in new high-tech industries is threatened by an alarmingly widespread cultural apathy to maths in this country.
Maths is seen by too many students as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

It is a cultural and an educational problem.
Our experts in education note that young people don’t see maths as relevant to their lives or ambitions.
For the majority of young people, maths is a meaningless subject, with 85 per cent of students quitting it as soon as they are allowed. For too many, maths is just a series of disconnected techniques and formulae. It seems dry and academic.

We urgently need a new approach that makes innumeracy as unacceptable as illiteracy.

These are not new or surprising sentiments, except that they come from Rod Bristow who, as head of Pearson UK, describes himself in an opinion piece in the Telegraph numeracy campaign as “responsible for one of the biggest exam boards in Britain”. Edexcel, he says, “sets and marks one million mathematics GCSEs, International GCSEs and A-levels every year”.

Many people see the problems Rod describes as being driven by the assessment system, so what does he propose to do about it? “With other exam boards,” he says, “we are already in discussion with the exams regulator Ofqual about how we can further strengthen maths GCSEs”. He gives the following recommendations:

Where young people don’t gain a C grade first time at GCSE, the education system must offer new courses which encourage them to continue with maths.
We can do this by associating maths more closely with other academic disciplines such as the pure and social sciences.
Universities should make mathematical literacy a clearer requirement for entry to those majority of courses which will use it.
We must show how maths is applied in careers from construction to web design.

He also recommends learning through serious games.

Engaging computer games encourage the ‘learning by doing’ essential to building numeracy skills, and we should make clear the role of maths in producing those games in the first place.

If we want our young people to excel and lead the way internationally in maths, we must repurpose our maths teaching, learning and our exams, and use the tools of the future to change the ugly sister culture around mathematics.

Source: Numeracy Campaign: ‘maths curriculum failing to meet the needs of the 21st century’.

Invisibility from elastic waves

A technique, which a University of Manchester press release describes quite incorrectly as a “Harry Potter style ‘cloaking’ device”, could protect buildings from earthquakes. Dr William Parnell and his team have shown that by cloaking components of structures with pressurised rubber, powerful waves such as those produced by an earthquake would not ‘see’ the building – they would simply pass around the structure and thus prevent serious damage or destruction.  The building, or important components within it, could theoretically be ‘cloaked’.

The abstract for the paper in the February 2012 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society A, “Nonlinear pre-stress for cloaking from antiplane elastic waves“, says:

A theory is presented showing that cloaking of objects from antiplane elastic waves can be achieved by employing nonlinear elastic pre-stress in a neo-Hookean elastomeric material. This approach would appear to eliminate the requirement of metamaterials with inhomogeneous anisotropic shear moduli and density. Waves in the pre-stressed medium are bent around the cloaked (cavity) region by inducing inhomogeneous stress fields via pre-stress. The equation governing antiplane waves in the pre-stressed medium is equivalent to the antiplane equation in an unstressed medium with inhomogeneous and anisotropic shear modulus and isotropic scalar mass density. Note however that these properties are induced naturally by the pre-stress. As the magnitude of pre-stress can be altered at will, this enables objects of varying size and shape to be cloaked by placing them inside the fluid-filled deformed cavity region.

This comes as one of a series of announcements in recent years on various aspects of invisibility but the production of this sort of invisibility without the requirement for metamaterials is significant. Dr Parnell said:

Five or six years ago scientists started with light waves, and in the last few years we have started to consider other wave-types, most importantly perhaps sound and elastic waves. The real problem with the latter is that it is normally impossible to use naturally available materials as cloaks.
We showed theoretically that pre-stressing a naturally available material – rubber – leads to a cloaking effect from a specific type of elastic wave. Our team is now working hard on more general theories and to understand how this theory can be realised in practice.
This research has shown that we really do have the potential to control the direction and speed of elastic waves. This is important because we want to guide such waves in many contexts, especially in nano-applications such as in electronics for example.
If the theory can be scaled up to larger objects then it could be used to create cloaks to protect buildings and structures, or perhaps more realistically to protect very important specific parts of those structures.

Source: ‘Invisibility’ cloak could protect buildings from earthquakes.