The concept of "nothing" is easy to grasp for most humans, but the concept of zero as a number is much harder. Recent research shows that bees can be taught that zero is a number which is less than one. This nifty explainer gives an overview. Read the rest
Everyone knows about the trolls and nazis, but The New Yorker's David Zweig wrestles with the other strange pallor that descends on Twitter: the feeling that every moment is a self-conscious baring of oneself in pursuit of the metrics and measurements it applies, "a shameful interest in all those prominently displayed numbers." He installed Ben Grosser's Twitter Demetricator, which hides all that from Twitter (from yourself, if not from others.)
Twitter, perhaps even more than Facebook, runs on its users’ obsession—witting or not—with metrics. ... After three weeks of using the Demetricator, the nature of Twitter, for me, changed completely. In some ways, it became lonelier. Part of the fun had been feeling like part of a crowd, seeing a joke or an idea or an observation become something that fifty people, or fifty thousand, could share. But I’m willing to accept the loss of this superficial sense of community for all the gains. Not seeing any numbers at all made content itself the king. I came to appreciate, disconcertingly, that knowing what was popular before had not only often distorted but also sometimes completely overtaken my experience.
This was part of why I made txt.fyi, to make it easy to post things without the "ersatz quantifiers" of social capital, and is presumably why I wake up every day to requests to add user accounts and other features to it. Read the rest
The average person probably assumes that mathematics is a complete system in which all mathematical statements can be proved or disproved. The fine folks at Numberphile are ready to disabuse folks of this notion with a nice overview of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. Read the rest
The politics escape me, but I'm fascinated by the US Debt Clock, a website covered in real-time tickers and counters purporting to show all of the unpleasant statistics piling up in America.
They also have a World Debt Clock for all your international inchoate anxiety needs. Read the rest
Anton Purisma has launched a civil rights suit against an airport Au Bon Pain restaurant; he's asking for $2,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That would be two undecillion dollars. Read the rest
"Four in the morning" appears with strange frequency in movies, TV, art, and culture. The Museum of Four In The Morning collects such references. Submit yours! Read the rest
Dictionary of Numbers is a Chrome extension that watches your browsing activity for mentions of large numerical measurements and automatically inserts equivalences in real-world terms that are meant to clarify things. For example, a story about a 300,000 acre forest fire would be annotated to note that this is about the area of LA or Hong Kong; or that 315 million people is about the population of the USA.
I noticed that my friends who were good at math generally rely on "landmark quantities", quantities they know by heart because they relate to them in human terms. They know, for example, that there are about 315 million people in the United States and that the most damaging Atlantic hurricanes cost anywhere from $20 billion to $100 billion. When they explain things to me, they use these numbers to give me a better sense of context about the subject, turning abstract numbers into something more concrete.
When I realized they were doing this, I thought this process could be automated, that perhaps through contextual descriptions people could become more familiar with quantities and begin evaluating and reasoning about them. There are many ways of approaching this problem, but given that most of the words we read are probably inside web browsers,** It might be interesting to to develop a similar system for use in spoken lectures. I decided to build a Chrome extension that inserts human explanations of numbers into web pages.
Dictionary of Numbers
(via XKCD blog) Read the rest
There are 17 million digits in the largest prime number we know of, so far. Its discovery is part of an ongoing distributed computing project aimed at exposing the existence of ever larger prime numbers, largely because prime numbers are there — flagrantly going around, only being divisible by themselves and the number 1. We'll show them, won't we? The Electronic Frontier Foundation foundation, for instance, is currently offering a $150,000 bounty for the first folks to bring in a 100-million-digit prime. Read the rest
One of the things I loved about the two years I lived in Birmingham, AL: Being in a place where people openly and un-ironically fired guns into the air in order to celebrate things. This was something new to me, despite being raised a good country family with high levels of gun ownership. But that was in Kansas. Viva la difference, southern US! For instance, on the 4th of July, 2012, the Birmingham police recorded 1,098 incidents of gunfire (they have a detection system that's able to distinguish between gunshots and fireworks). In 2011, there were only 75 gunshots recorded. In 2010, 495. Which leads me to wonder: Is this random, or is there some factor leading to an increase in celebratory gunfire over the last three years? What social and economic factors affect the number of bullets people are willing to pump into the air?(Via Stan Diel) Read the rest