How To Vote Mathematically!

[This is a back issue of one of this site’s newsletters]

About half of you reading this are from the United States. At least, that’s my guess, based on my website‘s traffic statistics.

About a quarter – half of that half – will be voting in the coming Presidential Election, or have already done so. At least, that’s my guess, based on turnout stats I skim-read on Wikipedia.

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A Probability Puzzle From Dilbert’s Author

I’ve been reading this book, by Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert. Inside, I found a probability puzzle!

Scott Adams talks about Volleyball games, and how he noticed that the team that reaches 17 first usually wins. (A win in volleyball is 25 points.)

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Winning The Bedtime Game

John Nash, who recently passed away, won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on game theory. Here’s why.

Imagine you’re a parent, trying to make your three-year-old go to bed. There’s lots of ways you might try to do this, but let’s boil it down to two options: gentle, or firm. Your tiny tot also has two choices: obedient or, shall we say, obstreperous.

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R.I.P. John Nash

John Nash has died, aged 86.

John Nash is most famous for his work on game theory. Game theory tries to understand, mathematically, how people behave in situations where they have to compete or cooperate with another person, like “Rock Scissors Paper”, getting kids to go to bed, house auctions or nuclear disarmament negotiations.

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Solar Powered Saffron

My solar panels have generated 1500 kWh of energy since they were installed 6 months ago.

Now, Einstein tells us that energy has mass. How heavy is 1500 kWh? We can use E = mc2 to find out.

Here, E is 1500 kWh, the speed of light c is 186000 miles/second. Unfortunately, we can’t just divide 1500 by the square of 186000. Sure, that would give the mass, but not in any unit I’m familiar with – when you tell me how much something weighs, I want to hear it in pounds, or kilograms, or ounces… even centiweight would do, if I have Google handy.
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Djokovic vs Federer vs Rob Minto

Via twitter : Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic often seem to face each other in the semifinals. Too often. This article by Rob Minto tries to explain that the chance of them meeting in any one competition should be 50/50. However, they’ve met 16 times out of 21 instead. Rob asks : is this too many?

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The Math of Conspiracies and Doomsdays

Yesterday was my grandfather’s 105th birthday party. He actually turns 105 tomorrow, on the 23rd of May. Yesterday was also supposed to be the end of the world, according to a very small splinter group of Christians. Clearly, the guy who made that prediction was thoroughly convinced, and thoroughly wrong.

Why do people make predictions like that? Let’s see what the math says! But first, more about my grandfather’s birthday party…

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