## Posts Tagged ‘**Numbers**’

## “It’s exact and indefinite. It’s like pi– you can keep figuring it out and always be right and never be done”*…

It’s Pi Day! What better way to “prove” 3.14 than with that most perfect of pies– pizza!

Via the ever-illiminating *Boing Boing*.

See also: “Pi Day: How One Irrational Number Made Us Modern.”

* Peter Schjeldahl, quoting the painter John Currin

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**As we celebrate the irrational,** we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that “Tequila” hit the top of the pop charts (sales and radio plays, both pop and R&B).

## “When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings.”*…

Errors of judgment about large numbers can have a big impact on the way you view policies and government decisions. The rationale goes like this: The National Science Foundation received $7.463 billion for fiscal year 2016 through the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The total United States budget outlay for 2016 was $3.54 trillion. If you’re someone who perceives the difference between a billion and a trillion as relatively small, you’d think the US is spending a lot of money on the National Science Foundation—in fact, depending on your politics, you might applaud the federal government’s investment or even think it wasteful. But, if you understand that a billion is a thousand times less than a trillion, you can calculate that the Foundation got a paltry 0.2 percent of the budget outlay last year. (It may be more straightforward to think of the budget as roughly one-half to one-third of reported costs for the proposed US-Mexico border wall, and let your values guide you from there.)…

On the significance of scale: “How to Understand Extreme Numbers.”

[The image above is, of course, from the ever-wonderful *xkcd*.]

* W.E.B. Du Bois

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**As we nudge ourselves toward numeracy,** we might spare a thought for Sewall Wright; he died on this date in 1988. A geneticist, he was known for his influential work on evolutionary theory and also for his work on path analysis. He was a founder (with Ronald Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane) of population genetics– a major step in the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis combining genetics with evolution. He is perhaps best remembered for his concept of genetic drift (called the Sewall Wright effect): when small populations of a species are isolated, the few individuals who carry certain relatively rare genes may fail, out of pure chance, to transmit them. The genes may therefore disappear and their loss may lead to the emergence of new species– although natural selection has played no part in the process.

## “God made the integers; all the rest is the work of Man”*…

From Alex Bellos: the results of his global online poll to find the world’s favorite number…

The winner? Seven— and it wasn’t even close…

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**As we settle for anything but snake eyes,** we might send symbolic birthday greetings to John Pell; he was born on this date in 1611. An English mathematician of accomplishment, he is perhaps best remembered for having introduced the “division sign”– the “obelus”: a short line with dots above and below– into use in English. It was first used in German by Johann Rahn in 1659 in *Teutsche Algebra*; Pell’s translation brought the symbol to English-speaking mathematicians. But Pell was an important influence on Rahn, and edited his book– so may well have been, many scholars believe, the originator of the symbol for this use. (In any case the symbol wasn’t new to them: the obelus [derived from the word for “roasting spit” in Greek] had already been used to mark passages in writings that were considered dubious, corrupt or spurious…. a use that surely seems only too appropriate to legions of second and third grade math students.)

## “Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away”*…

1, followed by 13 zeros, then 666, and then another 13 zeros, and a final 1: a palindromic prime number named for Belphegor (or Beelphegor), one of the seven princes of Hell. Reputed to help people make discoveries, Belphegor is the demon of inventiveness. He figures in Milton’s *Paradise Lost* as the namesake of one of the “Principalities of the Prime”… So it is only fitting that these devilish digits bear his name.

More prime provocation at Cliff Pickover‘s “Belphegor’s Prime: 1000000000000066600000000000001.”

* Mark Haddon, *The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time*

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**As we try to divine divisors,** we might recall that it was on this date in 1968 that the first-ever 9-1-1 call was placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, from Haleyville City Hall, to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, at the city’s police station.

Emergency numbers date back to 1937, when the British began to use 999. But experience showed that three repeated digits led to many mistaken/false alarms. The Southern California Telephone Co. experimented in 1946 in Los Angeles with 116 for emergencies.

But 911– using just the first and last digits available– yielded the best results, and went into widespread use in the 1980s when 911 was adopted as the standard emergency number across most of the country under the North American Numbering Plan.

And yes, “911” is a prime…

## Let’s Go To The Numbers…

Dictionary of Numbers is an award-winning Google Chrome extension that tries to make sense of numbers encountered on the web by providing descriptions of those numbers in human terms. Just as a dictionary describes words one doesn’t know in terms one does, so Dictionary of Numbers puts unfamiliar quantities in understandable, recognizable terms… “Because ‘8 million people’ means nothing, but ‘population of New York City’ means everything.”

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**As we graduate from our fingers and toes,** we might spare a thought for Jules Henri Poincaré; he died on this date in 1912. A mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science, Poincaré is considered the “last Universalist” in math– the last mathematician to excel in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.

Poincaré was a co-discoverer (with Einstein and Lorentz) of the special theory of relativity; he laid the foundations for the fields of topology and chaos theory; and he had a huge impact on cosmogony. His famous “Conjecture” held that if any loop in a given three-dimensional space can be shrunk to a point, the space is equivalent to a sphere; it remained unsolved until Grigori Perelman completed a proof in 2003.