(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘New Scientist

The most unkindest cut…

Your correspondent has long been haunted by a question of practical fairness:  Suppose I order a pizza to share with a friend, and then a distracted waiter cuts the pie off-center, but with all the edge-to-edge cuts crossing at a single point, and with the same angle between adjacent cuts. The off-center cuts mean the slices will not all be the same size, so if my friend and I take turns to take adjacent slices, will we get equal shares by the time we’ve finished the pizza– and if not, who will get more?

Happily, this question also bothered mathematicians Rick Mabry and Paul Deiermann, who set out to answer it.  And, as the New Scientist reports, answer it they did.   Readers can henceforth consult this handy diagram…

The full story is here.

(And for info on how to cut a bagel so that it forms [in effect] a Möbius strip, see “Mathematically Correct Breakfast.”)

As we reach for the crushed red pepper, we might recall that today’s a relative-ly good day for a pizza party, as it was on this date in 1900 that German physicist Max Planck presented and published his study of the effect of radiation on a “black-body” substance (introducing what we’ve come to know as the Planck Postulate), and the quantum theory of modern physics– and for that matter, Twentieth Century modernity– were born.

Max Planck

What a thing is man…

Ah, the mystery that is mankind…  From New Scientist, “Ten Things We Don’t Understand About Humans“…  For example,


For blushing, altruism, kissing, and others of our foibles, see here.

As we marvel at mortality, we might amuse ourselves by composing birthday bon mot for Dorothy Parker, the writer, poet, and Algonquin Round table member; she was born on this date in 1893…  The estimable Ms. Parker once wondered, on hearing that President Calvin Coolidge had died, “How could they tell?”…  Of a book she reviewed, she suggested, “this is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown aside with great force”…  And perhaps most famously, she opined that “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

Dorothy Parker

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 22, 2009 at 12:01 am

It’s true of desk tops and bedrooms too…

Chaos drives the brain…

Have you ever experienced that eerie feeling of a thought popping into your head as if from nowhere, with no clue as to why you had that particular idea at that particular time? You may think that such fleeting thoughts, however random they seem, must be the product of predictable and rational processes. After all, the brain cannot be random, can it? Surely it processes information using ordered, logical operations, like a powerful computer?

Actually, no. In reality, your brain operates on the edge of chaos. Though much of the time it runs in an orderly and stable way, every now and again it suddenly and unpredictably lurches into a blizzard of noise.

<snip…  read the rest of the New Scientist article here>

As we feel an odd but satisfying rush of reassurance, we might recall that it was exactly 40 years ago– at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969– that Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he planted his foot on the surface of the moon for the first time.

The statement prepared for Armstrong was “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”…  but the astronaut accidentally dropped the “a,” from his remark, rendering the phrase a contradiction (as “man” in such use is of course synonymous with “mankind”). Armstrong later said that he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said – although it might actually have been.” (And to his latter point, disputed audio analyses of the tapes of the radio message suggest that Armstrong did include the “a,” but that the limitations of the broadcast masked it…)

Armstrong, about to step onto the moon

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 21, 2009 at 12:01 am

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