Testing your skills

“When Salar Abdul-Baki won one of the 20 weekly prizes in Microsoft’s Xbox Live Plug-in & Win contest last week, he wasn’t home free. Like all winners who live in Canada, the 17-year-old resident of Mississauga, Ontario, had to answer a math question to claim his prize. The question — ostensibly a test of the winner’s mathematical skills — was typical of today’s Canadian product sweepstakes: Multiply 90 by 2, divide by 6 and multiply by 12… In reality, the test is a hack of Canada’s legal code by the promotions business. Canadian anti-gambling law makes it illegal to sell chances to win a prize, so promoters always offer a free method of entering each contest, and task every winner with a skill-testing question. By doing the latter, they argue, the game is no longer one merely of chance but a contest requiring some skill.” Robert Lemos, Wired News

German engineering

“By 1941-42, the allies knew that US and even British tanks had been technically superior to German Panzer tanks in combat, but they were worried about the capabilities of the new marks IV and V. More troubling, they had really very little idea of how many tanks the enemy was capable of producing in a year… Both the British and the Americans… asked statistical intelligence to see whether the accuracy of the estimates could be improved. The statisticians had one key piece of information, which was the serial numbers on captured mark V tanks. The statisticians believed that the Germans, being Germans, had logically numbered their tanks in the order in which they were produced. And this deduction turned out to be right. It was enough to enable them to make an estimate of the total number of tanks that had been produced up to any given moment.” The Guardian

Perfection

“Plato suggested that everything in our world is just an approximation of perfection. He also realized that we understand the concept of perfection even though we never encountered it. He came to conclusion that perfect mathematical forms must live in another world and that we somehow know about them by having a connection to that “alternative” universe.” Functional Programming For The Rest of Us

Game theory in Business

“Undaunted, we assembled a panel of 30 respected game theorists around the world, and we sent them a survey asking, ‘Can you think of any examples of real, live companies that have consciously applied game-theoretical concepts to a real business problem?’ The response was … a deafening chorus of head scratching.” Martin Kihn, Fast Company

Life without numbers

“1+1=2. Mathematics doesn’t get any more basic than this, but even 1+1 would stump the brightest minds among the Piraha tribe of the Amazon… The hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting. Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can’t learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time.” Stephen Strauss, Globe and Mail

Benford’s Law

“The truth is, most people don’t know the real odds of such an exercise, so they can’t fake data convincingly.’” Mathematician Dr. Theodore P. Hill, on identifying students who faked the results of 200 coin tosses

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