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Big Data has big problems


Writing in the Financial Times, Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, Adapt, etc) offers a nuanced, but ultimately damning critique of Big Data and its promises. Harford's point is that Big Data's premise is that sampling bias can be overcome by simply sampling everything, but the actual data-sets that make up Big Data are anything but comprehensive, and are even more prone to the statistical errors that haunt regular analytic science.

What's more, much of Big Data is "theory free" -- the correlation is observable and repeatable, so it is assumed to be real, even if you don't know why it exists -- but theory-free conclusions are brittle: "If you have no idea what is behind a correlation, you have no idea what might cause that correlation to break down." Harford builds on recent critiques of Google Flu (the poster child for Big Data) and goes further. This is your must-read for today.

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In which I make Wil Wheaton read out Pi for four minutes

Chapter nine of Homeland opens with about 400 digits of Pi. When Wil Wheaton read the chapter, he soldiered through it, reading out Pi for a whopping four minutes! Here's the raw studio audio (MP3) of Wil and director Gabrielle De Cuir playing numbers station.

There's less than a week left during which you can get the independently produced Homeland audiobook through the Humble Ebook Bundle!

Vi Hart's updated poop-on-Pi video

Math-doodling manic talking charming vlogger Vi Hart has updated her classic anti-Pi rant with a new poop-on-Pi video called "Happy Pi Day? NOPE," in which she explains why we should be wowed by numbers like 4 and 5 and completely blase about Pi and its cohort.

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Eggbot design: Pi Egg for Pi Day


Tomorrow, 3/14, is Pi Day in the USA (it will not be Pi Day in the rest of the world until the Martian Emperor subjugates us all to his sinister 14-month calendar). In celebration, Thingiverse user Thor4231 posted this great Eggbot design, ready to be automatically sharpied onto your favorite ovum by means of the wonderful Eggbot printer.

Pi Egg for Pi Day

Thoughts on teaching calculus to five-year-olds

Maria Droujkova writes, "Last week, The Atlantic published my interview called 5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus. I have been following the discussions on blogs, forums, and news sites. The themes that emerge from discussions make me cautiously optimistic. Many grown-ups believe that young math will finally give them a second chance at making sense of algebra and calculus. Others look for the balance between conceptual understanding and the fluency at manipulating numbers. Even if 5-year-olds understand calculus, what would they use it for?

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Randall "XKCD" Munroe is doing a What If? book!

XKCD creator Randall Munroe has announced that Houghton Mifflin will collect his amazing What If? science columns into a book called What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, to be published in September 2014. It will include in-depth answers to questions that he hasn't yet answered online, as well as expanded and updated versions of his previous columns.

What If? is one of my Internet must-reads, and I look forward to each new installment, and always read it with delight.

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Cookie geometry with Vi Hart

Vi Hart, the Internet's favorite manic vlogging mathematician, has released a new video in which she teams up with math artists Andrea Hawksley and Gwen Fisher, and Gwen's sister Ruth of Sweets by Ruth. The four of them bake satisfyingly precise and geometric gingerbread polygons, then build up a variety of astounding three dimensional forms by piecing them together with icing. The video is both hunger-inspiring and brain-inspiring, and is likely to be the best thing you watch this week.

Cookie Shapes

Data-compression with playing cards


Tim sends us, "A way of encoding binary numbers into playing cards that I thought up. It usually allows many more bits than there are cards. The method can also store binary encoded letters of the English alphabet at less than 2 cards per letter on average, and has a theoretical ability to do less than 1 card per letter."

Tim isn't sure if his method of data-compression is novel or not, and neither am I. If you know of related work, please add it in the comments.

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Pies Are Round: why a big pizza is a better deal


The "squared" in Pi(R)^2 means that the area of a pizza grows exponentially polynomially in relation to its diameter. As an interactive graph on Planet Money demonstrates, pizza places generally underprice their bigger pies relative to the amount of food contained in each. This is probably because energy and labor inputs account for the largest slice of the pizza-baking ahem pie, and ingredients are way down on the balance-sheet. Whatever the reason, if you're interested in getting more food for less money, larger pies are almost always a substantially better deal.

74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza [Quoctrung Bui/Planet Money]

(via IO9)

More Escher tessellated cookies


Fdecomite has revisited his tessellated Escher cookie-cutters, with a new set of cutters and some new baking that he's posted to the Boing Boing Flickr pool.

Yet another set of Escher cookie cutters

Math and science cutting boards


Elysium Woodworks's Etsy store is full of gorgeous, laser-etched, math- and science-themed cutting boards. They're about $35, made from bamboo, and take 5-6 weeks to fabricate.

Elysium Woodworks (via Wil Wheaton)

XKCD's brilliant explanation of Fermi Estimation


The latest installment in Randall Munroe's XKCD "What If?" series is called Paint the Earth and it is amazing. One of Munroe's readers wanted to know "Has humanity produced enough paint to cover the entire land area of the Earth?" and Munroe uses this as a springboard for explaining Fermi estimation, a powerful, counter-intuitive tool that has applications in many fields.

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Tessellated Escher cookies


In the Boing Boing Flickr Pool the fractal-obsessed Fdecomite posts the latest iteration in a series of experiments with tessellated, Escher cookie-cutters. Bake-time expansion creates irregularities that lead to a chewy (literally) series of interlock-imperfections, which give old MC's classic a bio-organic air that rather invigorates it.

You can 3D print interlocking lizard cutters with a free model from Thingiverse. Fdecomite, if you're reading this, please post in the comments with a link to the cookie cutters you used here!

Update: From the comments, Fdecomite writes, "Hi, those are cookie cutters I made from aluminium foil.I also made some 3D printed Escher cookie cutters you can find in my Shapeways shop.

Escher Cookie Cutters - The Sequel

XKCD's "Frequency" - using blinking GIFs to visualize the relative frequency of the momentous and trivial

In Frequency, the latest XKCD cartoon, Randall Munroe has assembled a grid of animated GIFs representing various events in the universe, each keyed to blink in the frequency in which they occur in reality. As with the best of Munroe's work, it's a mix of the trenchant and the silly, and the juxtapositions are smart and provocative. There's real genius in putting "50,000 plastic bottles are produced" and "50,000 plastic bottles are recycled" next to each other, the former blinking much more often than the latter -- but the best part is "A Sagittarius named Amelia drinks a soda," just above them, mixing up the alarming and the humorous.

The other juxtapositions are just as delicious -- one birth/one death; China builds a car/Japan builds a car/Germany builds a car/US builds a car/someone else builds a car; someone buys "To Kill a Mockingbird"/someone's cat kills a mockingbird -- and so on. This being XKCD, you can be sure that Munroe has an absurdly well-thought-through process for establishing and documenting his numbers, too.

The tool-tip notes that he wanted to include pitch-drops in the chart, but "it turns out the gif format has some issues with decade-long loops." Frequency (via IO9)

Why the sum of all positive integers is -1/12

Here's a brain-meltingly cool proof of the bizarre mathematical truth that the sum of all positive integers (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5....) is -1/12. This is not only provably true, it's also foundational to certain testable elements of physics. In other words: not just a logical curiosity, but also the bedrock of real-world, useful stuff.

ASTOUNDING: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + ... = -1/12 (via Kottke)