Humble Pi

When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World

[Amazon Link]

Picked up on impulse from Portsmouth Public Library. It's good!

The author, Matt Parker, is a British stand-up comedian who also happens to know his math (or, since he's British, "maths") pretty well. His book is (therefore) genuinely funny in spots. Fun feature: the pages are numbered backward, starting at 311, going down to zero.

And then rolling over to 4,294,967,295 (which computer geeks will recognize as 232 - 1) for the end matter. Ha!

So I had to jigger a different version of my Reading Schedule Generator to handle this; it normally sanity-checks its input for things like an end-pagenumber greater than a start-pagenumber. (But it worked once I ripped the checks out.)

The subtitle says the book describes what happens "when math goes wrong", but that's misleading. It's never the math going wrong, it's people trying (and failing) to use math.

An example Parker cites from 2013:

Yes, this is the same stupid mistake that was made a few weeks back by MSNBC anchor Brian Williams and New York Times Editorial Board member Mara Gay:

There's nothing new under the sun, as they say.

Parker doesn't stop at simple division. He wanders into probability, combinatorics, geometry, etc. Lots of computer programming topics, too: rounding errors, cryptography, random number generation, etc. As I said, it's funny in parts, but the upshots of "math going wrong" can be monetary losses, security breaches, structures swaying and falling, planes crashing, rockets blowing up. And, of course, people dying. So it's not all funny.


Last Modified 2020-03-15 6:35 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

Ides of March Update

Well, we might as well get in one last swipe at Bernie, from the great Michael Ramirez.

[Weekend at Bernie's II]

But Bernie dropped below our 2% probability threshold this week, that sad showing in the Michigan Primary seems to have done the trick. To add further insult, the bettors now think Hillary's more likely to be our next President, and have bumped up her probability above our threshold.

Also new this week is Mike Pence. I can imagine the dismal scenarios that the bettors are envisioning that might bring that about.

The odds are pretty even between Trump and Biden now, but Trump is beating the old man pants off Joe where it counts: phony hits.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
3/8
Phony
Results
Change
Since
3/8
Donald Trump 47.6% -4.8% 1,580,000 -50,000
Hillary Clinton 2.2% --- 645,000 ---
Joe Biden 44.0% +5.2% 463,000 +21,000
Mike Pence 2.2% --- 137,000 ---

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • At the Bulwark, Molly Jong-Fast diagnoses Trump in the Time of COVID-19.

    Wednesday night started with 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin dressed up as a furry neon bear rapping “Baby Got Back” on broadcast television. That was not the strangest thing to happen. Because a few minutes later President Trump gave what was probably the weirdest, most unsettling, Oval Office address, ever.

    Trump’s second Oval Office talk lasted 11 minutes—about 40 minutes under his normal speaking time—which was unusual. It also lacked any free-form rapping about Peter Strzok or witch hunts or his historic, landslide Electoral College victory. Also unusual.

    As he does on most serious occasions, Trump clung to the teleprompter and did not ad lib. He did not make jokes or call people names. He sounded almost normal—not actually normal, mind you. But normal-like, in the way you sometimes see when crazy people decide they have to lock it down for a few minutes so as to try and pass.

    Which is the worrisome part. Because this president only controls his behavior when he’s scared. When Donald Trump acts normal, it’s because he’s cornered and has no other choice.

    Ouch! Something I learned from Nick Gillespie's Reason podcast with Molly Jong-Fast: "her mother Erica Jong wrote Fear of Flying, her father is a well-respected author, and her grandfather Howard Fast was a massively popular novelist who wrote Spartacus and received the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize".


  • Matthew Continetti writes at the Free Beacon, warning us that even though Bernie's hopeless, The Fight Against Socialism Isn't Over.

    Don't write off the socialist revival just yet. Sanders might not win the Democratic nomination. But this outcome does not mean the forces that propelled him to second-place finishes in the two most recent Democratic primaries will vanish overnight. Abandoning the intellectual fight against socialism, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, would cede the field to an increasingly sophisticated and networked band of ideological activists whose influence in media and politics is greater than their numbers. Such ambivalence could have devastating consequences for American society.

    The resurgent left has pushed Biden far beyond where he stood as vice president. And a socialist infrastructure guarantees the philosophy's longevity. Aspiring Democratic politicians must at least deal with, if not pay obeisance to, groups such as the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America. Especially if they inhabit a deep-blue district ripe for picking by the "Squad."

    As long as humans have tendencies toward envy and plunder, we'll have socialists.


  • OK, can you stand one more Bernie-bashing link? Trust me, it's good. At the Federalist, Sumantra Maitra describes Why Bernie Sanders’s Dream Of Turning U.S. Into Scandinavia Is Stupid.

    This idea that socialism never turns authoritarian, or can be without eventual authoritarianism, is ridiculous. What exactly would a socialist do in power when the people and the majority of the states oppose his harebrained, unnatural utopian schemes? He or she will try to force it in through executive actions. That in itself is authoritarianism, even in a smiley-badgey version.

    The reason it is unlikely there will ever be communism in the United States is not due to the benevolence of our leftist leaders, who are as power-hungry as their brethren across the globe, but because the U.S. Constitution secures gun rights, which makes it impossible to ram through state-supported totalitarian actions. That is why socialists try to bring about their policies through a combination of judicial fiat (immigration, abortion) to outright hysteria (green economics, guns).

    But that is not the full story. As someone who resides in Europe, it always baffles me that American liberals and socialists consider Scandinavia the best-case scenario. The socialists claim it is the place where socialism is perfected, even though the Scandinavians themselves refuse to be called socialists. Remember the famous quip by the Danish prime minister in reply to Sanders: “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

    Reference: the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World. Denmark is at #13, US at #5.


  • And for masochists only, CNN and Univision will be holding a two-hour Biden/Bernie debate tonight at 8pm. No studio audience. The big question: will either candidate fall asleep before the end?

    Bernie, of course, hopes that he can trick Joe into saying something even Democrats will consider to be, um, revealing of a mental vacuum.

    At the Dispatch, Sarah Isgur wonders: Why Is the Democratic Party Even Having Another Debate?

    There's no downside for Bernie. Just like 2016, he can continue to point out Joe's lack of Socialist Purity and his long career as a total hack.

    But Biden’s biggest weaknesses within the party can still be weaponized against him as long as the primary continues. He’s not as progressive as the base would like, and he has a tendency to stumble over his words, leading to questions about his mental fitness for office. Debates offer Sanders an opportunity to highlight both and cast doubt about the presumptive nominee among the very people Democrats will need to win in November.

    I think Sarah's pretty bummed that her job more or less requires her to watch the debate and pay attention.