Whole Street For Sale

Following on from yesterdays little attack on BBC’s reporting, here is another. The BBC reports that an entire street is for sale in Cirencester. (The Daily Mail also covers this.)

Barton Court is sort of behind Gloucester Street, which the photo shows. The right hand side of the photo really are the buildings that are on sale, but they only form a small amount of one side of Gloucester Street. So the headline is really not right! The body of the article is fine though.

The easiest way to see exactly what is going on is to have a look on Google Streetview at the area and then compare it the site map provided by the sellers.

The boxed properties are for sale, but they only form a very small part of one side of the street.

So a better headline would probably be “Set of houses go on sale in Cirencester”.


“Million dollar maths puzzle sparks row” – Because it wouldn’t be interesting with a row?

The BBC reports “Million dollar maths puzzle sparks row“. This is about, if you have not heard, the possible proof by Deolalikar of P ≠ NP. (For a discussion of this see Math Less Travelled or Lipton.)

The interesting thing about it is the complete lack of ‘row’. This is simply a case of a proof which has not yet been verified. It doesn’t really make sense to me why the BBC would feel the need to inject this pointless (and amongst serious people, non-existence) ‘row’ angle to it.

Aaronson is quoted in the article saying that if the proof also proves things which have already been proven false, then that is a problem. This is of course obvious and hardly worth saying, so I suppose he decided to say it because it was quite newspaper friendly and something anybody can understand. It brings back unhappy memories for me because it was also one Marilyn vos Savant’s objections to Wile’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, in her absolutely stupid book.

I just think it is a shame that something so exciting can only be reported in the context of “controversy in science”. After having just finished Bad Science, I’m not particularly surprised, as this was one of the threads which span throughout the book. At least the BBC expert really is an expert! And I suppose, at least it was covered at all.

How about other news agencies? Google lists the articles here.

The Telegraph’s article is fairly good, doesn’t mention any row, and even links directly to the paper which I think is a good touch. It also involves a nice example.

That seems to be all in terms of British or American newspapers to have picked it up at this point. New Scientist has it, and it’s article as comparable to the Telegraph’s. It notes “Complexity theorists have given a favourable reception to Deolalikar’s draft paper, but when the final version is released in a week’s time the process of checking it will intensify”, where the link to Lipton is in the original.

So, the BBC is uniquely bad so far. Let’s wait for The Daily Mail to get hold of it though!

Tinted Swimming Pool

Last week I was reading The Metro (a free newspaper) on the bus to work, and I read this story:

It seemed a little bit odd, and it didn’t sound particularly true. Sure enough, it turned up on Tabloid Watch the next day and it turns out it wasn’t very accurate at all (although the Metro was a lot closer to the truth than, say, The Daily Mail.)

However, now the comedian John Finnemore tackled it on the Now Show on Friday 9th. I’ve cut the relevant section and uploaded it here – it is definitely worth listening to!

Questions Children Ask (with some answers)

The Daily Mail, an appallingly bad British newspaper, published a list of questions that parents struggle to answer from their children. The survey it was from is unnamed, but it claimed to have asked 2,500 parents. This image from the article summarises them:

Daily Mail List of Questions

I’ve had a go at giving some answers, but they aren’t detailed answers. Unanswerable questions and ‘Where do babies come from?’ are ignored. The latter merely because it isn’t hard to answer, just awkward.

How is electricity made?

A common way is as follows: Get some sort of wheel to move. This could be a water wheel, or it could be from evaporated water from burning coal or from a nuclear reaction. The wheel then rotates a wire around the magnet (or rotates the magnet instead). When an electrical conductor cuts a magnet (when it is moving perpendicular to it) an electrical current is generated.

What are black holes?

Black holes are things in space that has such a strong gravitational pull that not even light can escape from its gravitational field.

What is infinity?

Maths is free, infinity is whatever you want it to be 🙂

Why is the sky blue?

Some light is absorbed by particles in the sky before it reaches our eyes. Light of all wave lengths is emitted from the Sun, but those with a smaller wavelength are absorbed more. Blue has the least wavelength of all, and so it gets absorbed the most. It then gets re-emitted in any direction. As you can see blue light from any angle, the sky looks blue.

So the sun itself looks like the colours that are left: Red and Green. Red and green light together looks yellow.

Why do we have a leap year?

A day is 24 hours and there are 365 days in a calendar year. The problem is that in a solar year there are actually about 365.25 days. Thus every four years an extra day is added in order to sync the calendar and the solar position together, so that seasons fall at the same time every year.

In fact, it is a bit less than 365.25 days for a solar year, and so some leap years are ‘missed out’.

How do birds/planes fly?

By the upward force caused by air moving under their wings, and the forward force eventually caused by the air flowing over its wings.

Why do onions make you cry?

When you cut up an onion, you let various chemicals in it mix together. They react to form a particular chemical that can react with the water in your eyes to create sulphuric acid, which burns your eyes! So when the chemical gets in the air and gets to your eyes, it stings, and so your body releases more tears in order to protect your eyes.

Where does the wind come from?

Air on the earth keeps getting heated up, or cools down, for various reasons. When air cold air and hot air are next to each other one moves above the other and winds are formed.

Why is the sea salty?

It comes from eroded rocks in the sea and in rivers that feed the sea.

How big is the world?

One way of finding this out is assuming it is a sphere and measuring the curvature. You find out the diameter is about 8,000 miles. You can work out from that it is about 25,000 miles to go around. You can also work out that it is about 200 million square miles.

Britain is about 95,000 square miles, and so the earth is 2,000 times the area of Britain.

What is a prime number?

It is a positive whole number such that only itself and 1 are divisors. 1 is not counted as a prime number.

They are important as every number is the product of prime numbers in a unique way.

What makes thunder?

The lightening heats up the air around it very quickly. As it moves away, it makes the thunder noise.

Why do we blink?

To keep them from becoming dry and also to try and prevent bits of grit getting in them.

Where does water come from?

Water is not really used up (in general), and so we just keep reusing the water that has always been on earth.

Book: The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change

Book Cover

The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to The Debate‘ (C.U.P) by Dessler, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University, and Parson, a professor of Natural Resources & Environment at University of Michigan.

This is a simply written book explaining Climate Change in a scientific manor, which is beyond the quality you will find in books on the ‘Popular Science’ shelf, and of course it is written by scientists and not journalists. I found the second half of the last chapter, on the politics of it, slow and boring reading, but apart from that it was all very interesting, particularly the earlier chapters.

The second edition is out in March which will have a longer introduction to the science. No science knowledge at all is needed really. All technical language is explained.

There is no doubt at all that the earth is warming up, and it certainly seems as though it is caused by humans. Once this is established by reference to various data sources and other explanations (with strengths and weaknesses explained) it moves on to what should be done about it.

It won’t help some people though. To quote from a recent Telegraph blog written by an idiot:

[F]raudulent scientists have gained millions of pounds by taking selective samples of natural climate change, whipping up a Grande Peur and using it to advance the cause of world government, state control and fiscal despoliation of citizens.

2010 should be the year when all that ends. It is time for Zero Tolerance of [Anthropogenic Global Warming] fraudsters and their political masters.

Probably for people reading such conspiracy theories this book is more relevant.

Voodoo Histories

Ramsey Theory on QI

QI, the popular BBC television programme hosted by Stephen Fry, featured a bit on Ramsey Theory. I’ve recorded the section and put it on to YouTube, although I am afraid the quality is pretty poor:

The question is:

Consider an n-dimensional hypercube and connect each pair of vertices to create a complete graph of 2-to-the-power-n vertices. Colour each of the edges of this graph using only the colours red and black. My question is: What is the smallest value of n for which every colouring necessarily contains a single coloured complete subgraph of four vertices which lie in a plane.

Now this is a question of Ramsey theory, with an additional constraint (that is lies in a plane). For a very basic introduction, see my previous post on the subject.

The problem is famous because an upper bound for the solution is called Graham’s Number, and is usually remarked as the largest number ever seriously used in a mathematics. (This may not in fact be the case anymore however it is not always easy how to compare massive numbers!)

The number is contained from iterating a special case of the Ackermann Function, a function famous in logic and computing for growing very quickly. (It is an example of a computable function which cannot be defined just using (primitive) recursion).

Actually, things like this appear quite often in Ramsey Theory, as the existence proofs often come down to a double-induction. Graham’s Number at least showed it that the problem had a solution, and better bounds were actually found shortly afterwards.

By the way, the Irish bloke on there is Dara O Briain, the comedian and Arsenal fan who was mentioned in a recent post. Actually, he also has a degree in Physics and Mathematics, so he probably understands more than he makes out in this clip!

The Premier League Wins Graph

I thought that with the new year in football, in would be interesting to draw a graph of all the football teams and all the results. Draws aren’t really directed in either way so I had to leave them off the graph, but this is what it looks like:

Premier league results for first half of 2009/10 season

Premier league results for first half of 2009/10 season. Drawn games are not shown. Click on the picture to see a PDF which you can zoom into.

Now of course it is impossible to see anything on this graph! However, I programmed it in Mathematica, and so it was really easy to limit it into showing only a certain range of match days. For instance, the last four match-days of 2009 (17, 18, 19 and 20) are shown here:

Match-days 17 to 20

Match-days 17 to 20 are shown. Again, draws are hidden.

Perhaps it would be interesting to come up of a graph of ‘upsets’, where perhaps that is a team from the bottom half of the table beating a team in the top half, or a draw in more extreme cases. Perhaps it could be decided by me ranking each team in the Premier League. Actually, that might be interesting. (Edit: I have now done this here)

Getting this together I used Excel’s ‘Import from web-page’ feature on the Footbo page. It was the first team I used it and it worked well, saving me from having to write an XML parser in C#. In Excel I formatted it to work with Mathematica and wrote some code to display it there. Most of the work is done by the GraphPlot function. You can download the workbook (with the data) here.

Arsenal fan and comedian Dara O Briain asked in the comments of his latest Guardian column how early in the season the first cycle of teams where each beats the last occurs. His column pointed out a couple of interesting cycles.

It obviously cannot happen on the first day. It is possible for it to happen on the second day, and in fact it nearly does: West Ham beat Wolves, who beat Wigan, who beat Villa. But then Villa ruined it all by losing against West Ham. The third day has a lot more possibilities.

The Premier League 2009/10 after the first three rounds.

The Premier League 2009/10 after the first three rounds. Draws are not shown.

By the third day it has indeed happened. Villa beat Liverpool 3-1, Liverpool beat Stoke 4-0, Stoke beat Burnley 2-0, Burnley beat United 1-0, United killed Wigan 5-0 and then Wigan beat Villa 2-0. In fact, this is the only such cycle by this time.

I wonder if that fact that a cycle happened so early was a sign that the Premier League is getting more unpredictable, or if such a cycle does tend to appear quite early in the usual case. It would be easy enough to check another couple of seasons but as the fixtures change every year it might not really tell us much.

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