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Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors

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This book is a collection of anecdotes that you can read anywhere: most of them I had read before, and you can find them on the internet, too.

A parked car was a bit melted and someone claimed it burned their lemon (that’s not cockney rhyming slang; it was an actual lemon). I love this view of accident management because it acknowledges that people will inevitably make mistakes a certain percentage of the time. But other mistakes are much more consequential – you know, the sort of mistakes that make planes fall out of the sky.If I was to wear a ‘I’m too intelligent to play football’ t-shirt, I would, rightly enough, I guess, be considered grossly insulting. Rather than save the best to last, Parker resorts to revisiting rather familiar feeling computer problems, which are interesting (but perhaps more to me, with a background in computing, than many readers), but by now not quite as original and fresh feeling. It has the feeling of a series of articles, and just never quite manages to tie them all together or raise a greater point. I learned to differentiate "math" from "arithmetic" and stubbornly took math classes up through calculus, which was fascinating, but which I've sadly never had any occasion to put to use.

Pero me encantaron los capítulos de ingeniería, geometría, probabilidad, aleatoriedad, estadística, sesgos etcétera. The first story is about the Pepsi points contest where you could win a Harrier (military) jet if you were able to get 7 million Pepsi points. With his delightful conversational style, honed in his stand-up maths shows, it feels as if Parker is a friend down the pub, relating the story of some technical disaster driven by maths and computing, or regaling us with a numerical cock-up. Exploring and explaining a litany of glitches, near misses, and mathematical mishaps involving the internet, big data, elections, street signs, lotteries, the Roman Empire, and an Olympic team, Matt Parker uncovers the bizarre ways math trips us up, and what this reveals about its essential place in our world. The main characters altered the computer code at a company so that, whenever interest was being calculated, instead of being rounded to the nearest penny the value would be truncated and the remaining fractions of a penny deposited into their account.Printed on the cake was a picture of his face, with the following words written in icing: ‘I’m Brian Test and I’m real. The Swiss Cheese model looks at how ‘defenses, barriers, and safeguards may be penetrated by an accident trajectory’. When the exercise class on the twelfth floor had ‘The Power’, the thirty-eighth floor started shaking around ten times more than it normally did. We want to find a villain in every disaster, but often they were well meaning people who were working at the edge of our knowledge or it was a committee failure. About half of the chapters I did find genuinely interesting (eg how clocks in computer operating systems can be designed to count down from some very high number on the assumption that time zero will be well beyond the expected operating life of the system - guess what?

Matt Parker is some sort of unholy fusion of a prankster, wizard and brilliant nerd--maths is rarely this clever, funny and ever so slightly naughty. The effort required to be good at any skill is almost always actually the point – but too many people seem to think that a skill needs to be 100% innate or it isn’t a real skill. Every time his details were entered, the system seemed to eat him whole; he would disappear without a trace.

The managers and high-up people in NASA were saying that each shuttle launch had only a one in 100,000 chance of disaster. En más de una ocasión me ha ocurrido estar bromeando con amigos no muy diferentes al escritor (léase freakis de las matemáticas).

After the official investigation had ruled out an earthquake, they found the culprit was an exercise class on the twelfth floor. So seriously, even if your knee-jerk reaction is to recoil in horror from the thought of reading a math book, try it anyway. I’ve found that in the modern era many science bloggers online can provide up to date light or serious reviews of technical problems in a digestible and easy to understand form. The other connection to sport is that you can be the best at your sport that has ever been, and you will still fail over and over again.Mathematics doesn't have good 'people skills', but we would all be better off, he argues, if we saw it as a practical ally. I believe that ‘regardless of flight phase’ is official FAA speak for ‘This could go down mid-flight. You can almost hear that in that slick documentary voice-over style, where everything spells doom: "Will the team find a way out, .

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