Category: Science/Math

Final Four Math — 2011

This year’s March Madness has brought us a Final Four with no #1 or #2 seeds, unique in NCAA tournament history. But the absence of high-seed teams has not dulled enthusiasm for the last three games. In fact, some sports pundits are trumpeting the “Cinderella” factor: can a #11 seed, Virginia Commonwealth University, pull off the all-time, unexpected upset?

But no matter who matter who wins the game, the bookies win their money. The bookie’s odds always include a built-in percentage for the house. In 2009 I calculated the Las Vegas Final Four edge at 9.8%; in 2010, the edge was larger (14.3%). This year the edge, if you can actually get these published odds, is unbelievably small…only 2.2%!

Continue reading “Final Four Math — 2011”

Thinking About Artificial Intelligence

What is life? Or consciousness? Or intelligence? Or self-awareness? Are we spiritual beings or meat machines?

As a result of advances in computer technology, these eternal questions will soon (long before this century is over, IMO) be explored in ways that go further and deeper than religion, philosophy, and literature have done before.

I am reading Hans Moravec‘s 1999 book, Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind. In a field like computer science, where an 11-year-old book should be completely irrelevant, Moravec’s prescience and predictions are still remarkable. I was struck by two paragraphs that Continue reading “Thinking About Artificial Intelligence”

Anthropocene: What’s in a Name?

Geological epochs are defined by the major events that separate them, as when green algae in primeval seas put oxygen into the atmosphere and made animal life on earth possible. Has human technology become one of these epoch-defining events?

Elizabeth Kolbert, a New Yorker staff writer who is aware and knowledgeable about the discussions and unwarranted controversy about whether man has contributed to changes in and to the earth, has written an article for Yale’s Environment 360 website that addresses the naming of the geological epoch we are current in. She asks:

Is human activity altering the planet on a scale comparable to major geological events of the past? Scientists are now considering whether to officially designate a new geological epoch to reflect the changes that homo sapiens have wrought: the Anthropocene.

An-THROP-o-cene. What’s in a name is not a trivial concern. Continue reading “Anthropocene: What’s in a Name?”

Chilean Earthquake Energy

This morning’s devastating earthquake in Chile (8.8 on the Richter scale) had an energy equivalent of approximately 15.8 gigatons of TNT (31,600,000,000,000 lbs). To put that in perspective, it is about as much energy as would be released by 300 of the largest thermonuclear bombs ever built (the USSR’s Tsar Bomba, detonated in Novaya Zemlya in 1961).

The largest earthquake ever recorded was the 9.5 magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake, also in Chile.

Just to put the Great Chilean Earthquake (an alternate name for the Valdivia quake) in its perspective, scientists estimate that the Yucatán Peninsula bolide (meteor) impact that created the Chicxulub crater 65 million years ago and led to mass extinction of the dinosaurs and other species had the energy of almost 600 Valdivia earthquakes.

Blue Moon Bloops

According to almost every online source that commented on it, the round disk in the sky on the last day of 2009 was a “blue moon,” a term commonly used for the second full moon in any calendar month.

Commonly—and erroneously.

The internet offers near-instant access to information. It is ironic that in some cases this easy of access decreases accuracy.

Wikipedia explains the term clearly and correctly:

A blue moon is Continue reading “Blue Moon Bloops”