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How to calculate π

A new post is available over at Second-Rate Minds by Peter Rowlett.

How would you calculate ? I remember being sent as a boy of ten into the schoolyard to find circular objects to measure. Our attempts to wrap a tape around a dustbin lid clearly did not represent the optimal method. Perhaps you know a few digits of . Starting from scratch, how would you find …

Read the full post: “How to calculate π

Jonathan Millican wins UK Cyber Security Challenge

This BBC press release/story informs us that a Cambridge computer science student called Jonathan Millican has won the UK Cyber Security Challenge.

The BBC story described the competition as “GCHQ-backed”, which made me think it was about canyoucrackit.co.uk, but that seems not to be the case. This thing was apparently a series of competitions sponsored by private companies, leading up to a final at HP Labs in Bristol.

Apart from the GCHQ link, there doesn’t seem to be much mathematical meat in the story – the final challenge seemed to be assessing contestants’ abilities to devise security plans while “appreciating the business situation in which the events happen” which I think is a euphemism for “not spending too much money”.

Math/Maths 88: Entertaining, or illegal?

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

A conversation about mathematics between the UK and USA from Pulse-Project.org. This week Samuel and Peter spoke about: Haptic Math App; model of how buds grow into leaves; Mathematical Model Explains How Hosts Survive Parasite Attacks; Sperm Can Do Calculus; Hit game shows like Deal or No Deal and Play Your Cards Right could be forced off air after gambling watchdog claims that they break the law; Mathematical Horoscopes; National Numeracy; Afraid of Your Child’s Math Textbook? You Should Be.; Awards for statistical excellence in journalism; and much more.

Get this episode: Math/Maths 88: Entertaining, or illegal?

Are these game shows so lacking in skill they’re gambling?

The Mail on Sunday is reporting that “some of Britain’s most popular TV game shows could be forced off the air after regulators launched a probe into whether they constitute gambling”. The paper claims that game shows Deal Or No Deal, Red Or Black? and a proposal to revive Play Your Cards Right “could be breaking the law because they do not involve any element of skill” and “it is against the law to run non-skill games for money without a gambling licence”. If found in breach, the article suggests possible solutions:

Last night, one legal expert said that in order to comply with a licence, Deal Or No Deal could be forced to move to a time slot after the 9pm watershed, it could also face tight restrictions on the type of advertising allowed to be sold in the commercial breaks and the amount of pre-broadcast publicity it could receive.
Channel 4 may then decide it would be simpler to cancel the show, than be constrained by so many restrictions.

One distinction, pointed out in the comments, is that contestants don’t risk leaving the game show with less money than when they began. The article quotes “a Government source” saying that, at least for Deal Or No Deal, the issue is:

Even though at the beginning of the show, contestants do not have to stake any of their own money, the argument is that once they’ve picked a box, which could contain a lot of cash, in subsequent rounds they are in effect gambling with their own money

The full articles goes into the detail of the games involved and provides some comments from “game show bosses”, arguing that “rules created to control casinos and illegal betting should not be applied to entertainment programmes”.

Source: Hit game shows like Deal or No Deal and Play Your Cards Right could be forced off air after gambling watchdog claims that they break the law.

New model may explain leaf growth

Leaves don’t just grow equally in all directions, or they would have a regular shape. To understand how a few cells give rise to such complex structures as leaves is described in the abstract of a new paper in Science as “a major challenge in biology”.

The paper presents a new model that shows how leaf shape can arise through feedback between early patterns of oriented growth and tissue deformation, and some experimental evidence to support this model. Researchers filmed individual cells and tracked them as the plant grew. One of the researchers, Professor Enrico Coen, is quoted saying:

The model is not just based on drawings of leaf shape at different stages. To accurately recreate dynamic growth from bud to leaf, we had to establish the mathematical rules governing how leaf shapes are formed.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), who funded the research, is quoted saying:

This exciting research highlights the potential of using computer and mathematical models for biological research to help us tackle complex questions and make predictions for the future.

Source: First model of how buds grow into leaves.

Awards for statistical excellence in journalism

Nominations are open for the Royal Statistical Society’s awards for statistical excellence in journalism. Eligible work must have been published or broadcast between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2011.

Awards are to be made in three categories:

  • print publication
  • online publication
  • broadcast media

When nominating, you are asked to indicate in which area or areas you feel an entry has made a contribution from the following:

  • raised awareness and understanding of what statistics are and what they can be used for, and what statistical methods can achieve
  • enabled greater public understanding through an accessible analysis of the statistics put forward to support or challenge the claims of policy makers
  • sourced and used statistics to investigate a societal issue and have an impact on public opinion
  • used statistics well to challenge and/or change the decisions and policies of public or private bodies

Final judging takes place in June 2012 with announcements of winners made in early June 2012. Winners will be invited to be formally presented with their awards at the Royal Statistical Society’s Awards Reception on Tuesday, 4 September 2012.

Judging criteria and an entry form are available via the RSS website.