Wednesday, February 27, 2019

February Is Almost a Wrap

To wrap up February, another end-of-month sundry compendium of some reads I thought interesting over the prior 4+ weeks:

1)  The month started off with Eric Weinstein overviewing the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW):

2)  new book out from physicist (and founder of quasi-crystals) Paul Steinhardt:

3)  In the “What Could Go Wrong Dept.” there was the story of the Canadian crypto coin failure:
(there is likely much newer info by now; this story is from early in the month)

4)  Another test of linguistic relativity (h/t Lera Boraditsky):

5)  A somewhat interesting thread of math-related book recommendations in this tweet:

6)  Just another rich post from Brian Hayes, this time on factorials:
…in turn, a comment to Brian’s essay leads to this interesting Reddit thread:

7)  Frank Harrell’s updated “journey from frequentist to Bayesian statistics” page:

8)  I’m not involved in MTBoS nor Twitter Math Camp (TMC), but have always admired the efforts of this fantastic group of dedicated teachers. Watching them work through their current growing pains (typical of expanding, successful organizations) is almost painful to watch, but for those interested, here are 3 perspectives/posts of what’s been happening (there are many more):

9)  Timely (though too late for some!) Mark Chu-Carroll addressed vaccinations and herd immunity:

10)  Profile of mathematician Zhiwei Yun:

11)  Anonymity and sperm donors in the day of widespread genetic testing:

12)  Two of the best math bits from the month come (as usual) via Evelyn Lamb:

13)  Jo Boaler on math learning and neuroscience:

14)  Long, but pretty interesting, detailed description of the personal infrastructure that Stephen Wolfram has built around his own life for efficiency/productivity (perhaps something in here everyone will find useful):

15)  An old fantastic BBC Horizon show on Fermat’s Last Theorem and Andrew Wiles now freely available here (outside of UK):

16)  50+ mins. of pure, unadulterated Matt Parker on a Numberphile podcast:

17)  Wason’s THOG problem at Futility Closet:

...that should keep you busy for awhile.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dr. Robert John.... Fuzzy Logic Researcher

Math-Frolic Interview #46

As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning and meaningful statements lose precision”.   Lotfi A. Zadeh, 'father' of fuzzy logic

A short while back I posted about “fuzzy logic” and hoped to do a little followup on the topic. A researcher in the area has sent along some short answers to a few questions I had. Dr. Robert John has been a computer science professor at the University of Nottingham since 2013. According to his biographical sketch he received “a first degree (first class) in Mathematics, an MSc in Statistics and a PhD in Fuzzy Logic,” and prior to his University role he worked in industry first for British Gas in London Research Station as an Operational Research mathematician, where he became interested in Artificial Intelligence, and later working in the financial services industry. His main research interest is “in the modeling of human expertise in decision support using fuzzy logic.” His responses:

1)  How widely available in college curriculums are courses in fuzzy logic these days?

In the UK and Europe pretty widespread on computer science undergraduate and postgraduate taught courses. 

2)  I realize you’re in the UK, but can you say anything comparatively about the use of fuzzy logic in various countries (China, Japan, Russia, Europe…) versus the U.S.? (Is the U.S. behind some other nations in the application of fuzzy logic?)

If you look at the research landscape on fuzzy logic there is a huge community in China with researchers there dominating many journals. There are very strong research groups in fuzzy logic in Spain with other groups in Europe. The US has some of the leading researchers in fuzzy logic but I suspect the activity level for such a large country is low.

3)  In what areas is fuzzy logic being best or most widely applied these days (computer science, AI, engineering, manufacturing, medicine, driverless cars, speech recognition, economics….?) 

Across the computer science and Engineering community across a wide variety of application areas. Fuzzy logic has always had many control applications but now being applied widely in decision support systems.

4)  What are some good introductory books on the subject you’d recommend to laypersons? And how about textbooks for the more academically-inclined?
Also, any websites you’d especially recommend for readers wanting a good introduction to fuzzy logic?

There is not a good current text book in my opinion.

[...disappointed to hear this. The two old, popular books I’ve previously mentioned for laypeople (“Fuzzy Logic” by McNeill & Freiberger, and Bart Kosko’s “Fuzzy Thinking”) are just rough overviews of the subject, that don’t get into the nuts & bolts. If anyone cares to mention better, more recent texts, or good websites, feel free to in the comments.]

5)  What can be said about the current popularity (and any similarities) of Bayesian techniques and probability versus fuzzy logic? (I’ve seen some differing accounts, that they compete or overlap, or even that fuzzy logic subsumes Bayesianism?)

They are different. The Bayesian approach is extremely popular and that community look down on fuzzy logic. 

[...Here are a couple of online forums where the approaches are discussed/debated:

6)  What does your own work in fuzzy logic involve?

I work in type-2 fuzzy logic - fuzzy fuzzy logic. Mostly in applications such as wind farm layout, supply chain management etc. All with PhD students. My papers are here:

[Dr. John has also edited his own volume on the topic: ]

Thanks Dr. John; I'm surprised I don't read more about fuzzy logic here in the US; it seems (to me) to have more intuitive appeal than other forms of probability/logic. Interesting, though perhaps not surprising, to hear that China is a leader in the field, and will be interesting to see what the future holds.
[And if anyone out there IS significantly involved in fuzzy logic in the U.S. I'd still be interested to hear more about where things stand in this country.]

Friday, February 22, 2019

Chi-i-i-i-i-i-ll Friday *

[ *  "Chill Friday" is Math-Frolic's meditative musical diversion, heading into each weekend]

(Sunday, come back here for a new Math-Frolic interview)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Clever Fisherman

Just another fun, previously-used puzzler today. I got it originally from a Marilyn vos Savant Parade Magazine column, and it's simple and clever, with the ring of a 'lateral-thinking' type puzzle (and probably a good one to show young arithmetricians!):

A fellow is in town to buy a 5-ft. fishing pole. Following the purchase he begins to board a bus home, but the driver informs him that objects longer than 4 ft. are NOT permitted on the bus. Disappointed, the fellow walks back to the store, only to emerge briefly later, still with the same fishing pole, and boards a bus with no problem. 
What has he done (...and no, the pole has not been collapsed, telescoped, or in any other way adjusted or changed)?
.answer below


he placed the pole diagonally in a 3 x 4 cardboard box and walked on-board with the box.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Categories of Math Twitter Accounts

ICYMI, or aren’t on Twitter, I saw this tweet this morning from @mathonwy:

The 7 Types of Philosophy Twitter Accounts (A Philosophy Twitter Girlfriend's Perspective):

1. Wholesome profs
2. Toxic profs
3. Grad students RPing as dead white men
4. Extremely Online™ grad student memelords
5. "New book" pic posters
6. Crypto-fascist Catholics
7. Stingrays

…it seemed to me this needed to be done for Math Twitter accounts, so I responded with these 7 types: ;)

1. Educators
2. Martin Gardner groupies
3. Prodigies and provocateurs
4. Stand-up comedian wannabes
5. Anal-compulsive Platonists
6. Statisticians obsessed with p-values     
7. Those who spell “color” wrongly as “colour”

...admittedly though, it's hard to stop at just 7.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Mellifluous-sounding Words…

Just some tangential play again today….
At one point in his old volume “Mazes For the Mind,” Clifford Pickover mentions this list of “20 favorite English words” that Bertrand Russell put forth in 1958 (I've put in alphabetical order):


...sure, try using some of those at your next cocktail party!

Dr. Pickover follows this up by giving his own oddball list of favorite words (more than half of which don’t even pass my spellchecker test!), as follows:

Xanthian marbles

Anyway, come on people, normally when I see a list of "favorite" words it’s tied up with some idea of pleasant or beautifully-sounding words (there are a lot of such lists on the internet). What are Bertrand and Cliff thinking! So I came up with my own favorite list, although it is admittedly influenced by the meanings/imagery of the words as well as the sound:  


Now THAT's a good list! ;) 
Doesn’t have much to do with math, though I think it could be interesting to analyze any such-list from an individual (might need a bigger sample than 20 though) and try to find a  (perhaps phonemic) formula that would predict what other words that person might like (including foreign words), or even invent nonsense words they would favor the sound of based upon the formula; perhaps just a wistful idea or passing whimsy on my part; or, do you find it scintillating? ;) …and what are some of your own favorite words?
[If you get stuck for ideas this long Quora thread gives LOTS of individual 10-word lists from posters -- interesting, both which words get repeated, and how many different choices there are!]
[There are also, by the way, interesting internet lists of people's least favorite sounding words.]

Friday, February 15, 2019

Chi-i-i-i-i-i-ll Friday *

[ *  "Chill Friday" is Math-Frolic's meditative musical diversion, heading into each weekend]

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Country Seeking Males (puzzle)

Today re-running another favorite puzzle, from 6 years ago.  I took it from Richard Wiseman who stated it this way:

"Imagine there is a country with a lot of people. These people do not die, the people consists of monogamous families only, and there is no limit to the maximum amount of children each family can have. With every birth there is a 50% chance it's a boy and a 50% chance it is a girl.  Every family wants to have one son: they get children until they give birth to a son, then they stop having children. This means that every family eventually has one father, one mother, one son and a variable number of daughters.  What percent of the children in that country are male?"

What I like about this puzzle is that (in my experience) it tends to split people into two groups: those who see the solution fairly quickly and think it quite obvious, and those who can barely believe the solution initially when they hear it, and require convincing!

Wiseman’s original post (with its 279 comments) is here:

SPOILER (answer) coming!!!!:
The answer is 50%.  One of the simplest explanations from Wiseman’s comments (for anyone having trouble seeing it) is just to imagine the statistics for a sample that begins with 128 families (assuming strict 50% chance of a boy or girl at each point):

128 starting families produce 64 boys and 64 girls
next round, the 64 families with girls now produce 32 boys and 32 girls
next round, the 32 families with girls produce 16 boys and 16 girls
16 families with girls produce 8 boys and 8 girls
8 families with girls produce 4 boys and 4 girls
4 families with girls produce 2 boys and 2 girls
2 families with girls produce 1 boy and 1 girl

Total at conclusion: 50% boys, 50% girls (allowing for minor variation when you have an odd no. of families).
Another way to look at it is that in the initial step (above) you end up with families having an overbalance of 64 boys; all the remaining steps simply yield enough girls to counter that initial imbalance.
 The wording is what makes it tricky for some, who falsely imagine it implying that while no family ever has more than one son, potentially a family could have, say, 1 million daughters before having a son (not so, unless you started with mathematically enough families to allow  for such; in which case you'd still end up with 50/50).

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Criminal Mind Versus the Hive Mind...

Noticed a talk by Steven Strogatz at the World Government Summit gathering getting a lot of buzz today:

(haven’t seen the full talk though hope to find it on YouTube at some point)

Anyway, it made me think of something I’ve wondered about for awhile: the Web seems like a great place for the ‘hive mind’ of interested individuals to solve crimes long unsolved by limited, isolated police departments — about a year ago a short-lived (fictional) TV show even operated on the premise that the internet could be used to involve 1000s of people as crime-solvers. 
But I’ve looked at various Web forums, discussion sites, YouTube channels, and sites like WebSleuths and haven’t seen much success at crime-solving — one could expect lots of chaff, repetition, misinformation, wild-goose chasing, etc. at such sites, but one might still expect enough insightful observations and bits of new info to bubble to the surface for a given crime to be solved — I’m speaking here of long-unsolved crimes, not recent, in-the-news events where the internet can prove useful. (…also, NOT talking about recent technological forensic advances like genetic genealogy)

So, I’m just wondering if anyone can point to unsolved crimes that actually reached a solution largely by virtue of independent sleuthers on the Web brainstorming and aiding law enforcement, when police were stymied? And if NOT, well, why not?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Lost In Math

Once again putting off a post I had scheduled (now have ~2+ months of posts scheduled!), this time to interject a quick blurb for Sabine Hossenfelder’s 2018 book, “Lost In Math.” Having just finished it, am very happy I included it on my year-end “best books” list for 2018, based on nothing more than the “buzz” around it at the time — too often I find popular physics books rather indecipherable (over-my-head), as well as too speculative and detached from scientific method (in my view) to enjoy, but Dr. Hossenfelder’s volume is very readable, and another refreshing contrarian or skeptical viewpoint. Very much liked the discussions/interviews with a wide range of well-known individuals in the physics community, and also especially enjoyed her final wrap-up chapter — in fact, I’d almost recommend reading the LAST chapter first since it really lays out what all the rest of the book is centrally about (the question of whether particle physics/cosmology is going astray).

Further, given all the talk these days (especially on blogs!) about the “beauty” of mathematics, her basic thesis that “beauty” in physics may not be all it is cracked up to be (may even be counter-productive) is a thought-provoking notion.

Quite awhile back I made a mental commitment not to buy many more popular physics books — they so often disappoint me. I got Sabine’s book from my local public library, but now having read it plan to purchase a copy to keep on hand!
The book includes several passages suitable for quotation. I'll end with a couple I passed along on Twitter:

"I can't believe what this once-venerable profession has become. Theoretical physicists used to explain what was observed. Now they try to explain why they can't explain what was not observed. And they're not even good at that." 

“Then there is the mother of all biases, the bias blind spot — the insistence that we certainly are not biased. It’s the reason my colleagues only laugh when I tell them biases are a problem, and why they dismiss my ‘social arguments’ believing they are not relevant to scientific discourse. But the existence of these biases has been confirmed in countless studies.”  

Here, by the way, is Peter Woit's longer review of the volume:

...On a separate book side-note, I see John Brockman is out with a new essay compendium on artificial intelligence, "Possible Minds":

(...and on Wednesday I'll be back here with another re-play of a past favorite puzzle)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Chi-i-i-i-i-i-ll Friday *

[*  "Chill Friday" is Math-Frolic's meditative musical diversion, heading into each weekend]

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tripping Down Blog Memory Lane (with E.O. Wilson, Keith Devlin, & John Baez)

Now that you're all taking up pickleball back to a little math....
Awhile back I was looking over the history of this blog checking on which posts had the most traffic over its 8+ year run. Most of the popular posts were understandable to me, but one simple, innocuous post from over 5 years ago cracked the top five and I don't really know why:

It was a basic post referencing a controversial stance E.O. Wilson publicly took on math education that was getting a lot of buzz at the time (and maybe that post simply got caught up in the buzz?). At the end I added a link to a far more interesting post taking issue with Wilson, but otherwise really don’t know why the post stood so high on the list…

I also scanned the 45 interviews I've done thus far and noticed the most popular by far, perhaps not surprisingly given his name recognition, was my first interview with Keith Devlin over 6 years ago:
And anyone following Dr. Devlin on Twitter knows he has a lot to say on things other than just mathematics.

Further looking over some historical blog data I stumbled on a link passed along over two years ago to a John Baez post on proofs that I think is particularly fun/interesting and also worth revisiting:

At well over 2000 posts now, I like looking back at some of those that were the most fun or interesting to me. Currently, for awhile, I'll be using Wednesdays to re-run some of those, especially for newer readers who never saw them the first time around.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Promoting Pickleball...!

Heck, this is MY blog so I can write about whatever I want (i.e., no math today; I’ve postponed the scheduled post for another time)….

Almost 4 years ago I began hearing a thump-thump-thump besides some courts where I played tennis. The more I heard it, and began watching, the more intrigued I became. It was pickleball, America’s (and perhaps the world’s) fastest growing sport (proverbially called a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, though that may not make much sense until you've played it); likely bound for the Olympics in the not-too-distant future (maybe 2028?).
But like many, I was hesitant to join in; initially one sees mostly older and retired folks playing the game, giving the impression of an activity for ‘older people’ — and even though I’m IN that category I often think of myself otherwise! ;) 
Secondly, the sport involves widely varying colorful paddles, a wiffle ball, and a funny name, yielding an alternative impression that it is just for youngsters. Pickleball though is for ALL AGES; really, ALL ages, and moreover, for all heights, weights, body types, strengths, genders. There are people with knee or hip replacements, cardiac surgeries, bad backs, and the heartbreak of psoriasis, etc. playing the game… and playing it well! I’ve never known a sport where one can so easily meet a new opponent, scan them up-and-down, sizing them up… and be completely WRONG about their talent! Looks are deceiving.
There is one asset you do need for the sport and that is good hand-eye coordination; as with any paddle or racket sport THAT is required, but that's all (well, also a degree of patience and courtesy are required, as civility and camaraderie are major elements of PB).
Anyone who has ever played and enjoyed a racket sport will quickly become addicted to pickleball, and even those with no racket sports in their past stand a good chance of becoming obsessed!

Additionally, pickleball is far-and-away the most “social” sport I’ve ever witnessed, something I can’t explain adequately here, because you really need to experience it. Recreationally, it is most often played as a doubles-game with built-in rules insuring available partners. There are, as with any sports, very fierce competitors, but I think it fair to say that most individuals play PB, and play it a LOT, for the sheer fun and exercise… it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how much fun you have, and how good you feel afterwards (a typical game takes ~15 minutes, before you're anxiously awaiting for another)!

Most cities of any size by now have indoor and/or outdoor facilities available (some major retirement communities have close to 200 courts!) and initial lessons are usually free — it’s also one of the quickest sports to learn from scratch; heck, for those of us with aging neurons the hardest part to learn and keep track of is the scoring, not the basic rules of the game itself. Equipment is not terribly expensive compared to other sports, though be forewarned, an addiction to buying different pickleball paddles may require some sort of family intervention.

Here’s an example of one especially good rally (from the Hawaii Open) that’s been making the rounds lately:

…and here’s a brief introduction to the game by one of its leading players:

…or, a fun, even briefer, well-known clip from CBS news back in 2010 promoting the sport:

There’s LOTS more of course on Google and YouTube.

If you’re looking for a healthful new activity, no matter your age or previous experience, I don’t believe you can do any better than pickleball.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Chi-i-i-i-i-i-ll Friday *

[ *  "Chill Friday" is Math-Frolic's meditative musical diversion, heading into each weekend]