Spicy Pi Bacon Squared

3.141592…om nom nom nom! Behold! Mrs. Pontiff’s entry into the Scienceblogs pi day pie contest, variously known as “Spicy Brittle Bacon Chocolate Pie”, “Spicy Pi Bacon Squared”, or “Bacon brittle…om nom nom nom nom!”(On the March 14, a poll will open on scienceblogs for the pi contest. Then all two of the readers of the Quantum Pontiff (hi mom!) can then vote for Bacon Bacon Bacon Pi Pi Pie Pie!)
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I wonder how many people this week realized that “ten percent down” followed by “ten percent up” does not equal “no change.” Probably a few. And how many realized that “ten percent down” followed by “ten percent up” is the same as “ten percent up” followed by “ten percent down”? Or that up 5 percent, down 3 percent, up 2 percent, down 8 percent, and down 8 percent in that order is the same as down 8 percent, up 2 percent, down 3 percent, up 5 percent, down 8 percent in that order? Commutativity is cool. Yes, I am easily amused.

DonorChoose Challenge: Pseudo Physicists Unite!

DonorChoose, an organization which matches teachers requests for funds with donors, is running their annual blogger challenge. Already Cosmic Variance is trying to harness their vast resources of physicists, The Optimizer is appealing to the base nerd in everyone, He of Uncertain Principles is offering up his dog’s services for donations (does the dog know?), and the moral Mathematician is offering solutions to math homework problems (err I mean blog posts on a chosen topic.) But I think you shouldn’t fall in this trap and support those blogs….
Because, of course instead you should support my “Pseudo Physicists Unite!” DonorsChoose challenge!

Okay so why should you choose my projects to donate to over all the others out there in the great vacuum of the blogosphere? Reasons: my favorite things to give!
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DARPA Math Challenge

DARPA math challenges. My favorite is “Mathematical Challenge Nineteen: Settle the Riemann Hypothesis.” I’m guess that’s one where you can’t follow the age old strategy of writing a grant proposal for work you’ve already figured out 😉

Two New Mersenne Primes

Two new Mersenne primes: 243,112,609-1 and 237,156,667-1. The former is now the largest prime number known. Interestingly the larger was discovered before the former, thus winning $100,000 from the EFF for Edson Smith who installed the software which identified this Mersenne prime on a UCLA computer. The $100K prize was for the first 10 million digit prime. The next prize is $150K for a 100 million digit prime number. Pretty amazing that two 10 million digit Mersenne’s were discovered within weeks of each other.
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Wisely Using Your Advantage

When I was a little kid I used to take a pair of dice and throw these dice repeatedly. At each throw I’d fill in a box for the corresponding number on some graph paper and I would essentially “race” the numbers against each other. I suppose for that reason I’ve always been fascinated not just by probabilities, but in the convergence of repeated trials to the limiting “probabilities.” Which explains not just why I’m an uber geekazoid, but also why I was quite shocked today when I Googled “gambler’s ruin” and found that the intertubes only returned about 16000 hits (“card counting,” by the way, returns about 845,000 hits.) Gambler’s ruin is one of my favorite basic probability exercises (and a reason why many a poor soul, even if they have an advantage, ends up losing their money.)
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Closed Timelike Mathematicians

John Baez points to a remarkable mathematician (having being lead there by Alissa Crans):

You may have heard of the Mathematics Genealogy Project. This is a wonderful database that lets you look up the Ph.D. advisor and students of almost any mathematician. This is how I traced back my genealogy to Gauss back in week166.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself, too — until I found someone who had two Ph.D. students before he was even born!
Yes indeed: our friend and café regular Tom Leinster is listed as having two Ph.D. students: Jose Cruz in 1959, and Steven Sample in 1965. At the time he was teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Later he took an extended sabbatical, got born in England, and transferred to kindergarten. After a lively second career as a youth, he returned to academia and got his Ph.D. at Cambridge under Martin Hyland in 2000. He now has a permanent position at the University of Glasgow. But who can say what he’ll do next?
Check it out soon, since it may go away.

And yes I posted this just so I could used the words “closed timelike mathematicians.”

Occupational Arrows of Time

One of the subjects of great debate in physics goes under the moniker of “the arrow of time.” The basic debate here is (very) roughly to try to understand why time goes it’s merry way seemingly in one direction, especially given that the many of the laws of physics appear to behave the same going backwards as forwards in time. But aren’t we forgetting our most basic science when we debate at great philosophical lengths about the arrow of time? Aren’t we forgetting about…experiment? Here, for your pleasure, then, are some of my personal observations about the direction of time which I’ve observed over my short life. Real observation about the direction of time should lead us to the real direction of time, no?
(With apologies to Alan Lightman)
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Tiger Versus the Theoreticians

David Brooks, has an op-ed in the New York Times about Tiger Woods and his astonishing string of triumphs in the golfing world (including last weekends U.S. Open which I watched the end of on both Saturday and Sunday: my wife was right he did make that last put.) Brooks piece waxes on and on about the Tiger’s ability to concentrate

And for that, in this day and age, he stands out. As I’ve been trying to write this column, I’ve toggled over to check my e-mail a few times. I’ve looked out the window. I’ve jotted down random thoughts for the paragraphs ahead. But Woods seems able to mute the chatter that normal people have in their heads and build a tunnel of focused attention.

Now Tiger’s concentration level is definitely astounding (and his combination of hard work, athletic talent, and mental toughness is certainly unmatched in golf), but I wonder if David Brooks every seen a theoretician or mathematician working?
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