Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Category Archives: Science/Math

High School Math in Middle School

In September, my granddaughter Rhiannon (then 13) made an aggressive and courageous mathematical decision. Coming off acing ninth-grade Algebra 1 the previous year, she convinced her middle school to let her double up in math: her eighth grade schedule would include both Algebra 2 and Geometry. Her mother (my daughter Emily) was concerned about the workload; […]

Betting on the World Series

You pays your money and you takes your chances, but the House always has an edge. Did you ever wonder how big that edge is? Among the simplest edges to compute is Las Vegas roulette.  If your chips are on one of the numbers from 1 to 36, and you win, you get paid 35-1. […]

Innumeracy and Chicanery

I am no fan of standardized testing, but New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof appears to be. And his 4/25 column (“Are You Smarter Than an 8th Grader?”), which uses such measuring tools to make a point, is distressingly misleading. In order to demonstrate our country’s incompetence in mathematics, he presents three questions from a 2011 Trends […]

Nigerian Scam Mathematics

Over the last 15 years or so I have received perhaps as many as a dozen emails frantically explaining that I have millions of dollars waiting for me in Nigeria if only I would help some poor, benighted soul get his money out of a locked bank account. Usually the scam requires I provide my  […]


I very much admire and agree with the comment made by my daughter, Emily Cotler, about a photo taken by her friend, Lisa Boscia Bouillerce. Wow. I imagine myself in ancient Athens, or ancient Wales, or some other place thick with polytheistic mythology… Looking at this, of course that’s a Sun God, or some ominous […]

Curiosity’s Mars Landing

What a world we live in! I just finished watching a live online feed from Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the lander entered the Martian atmosphere and made its miraculous way down from an eight-month journey. It touched down at 10:39 pm PDT. We now have a multi-ton, mobile scientific laboratory on the surface of Mars. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Betting the Final Four–2010

If you bet on the Final Four (or on almost anything), the bookie’s odds always include a built-in percentage for the house. Last year I calculated the Las Vegas Final Four edge at 9.8%. This year the edge is so big (20.8%) that something must be wrong!