Jim Downey's picture

Playin' the odds.

Well, you gotta die from something, so you might as well make it interesting. Here are the latest stats on what your odds are of dying from various non-natural causes:

The odds of dying from...

The table below was prepared in response to frequent inquiries asking questions such as, "What are the odds of being killed by lightning?" or "What are the chances of dying in a plane crash?"

The odds given below are statistical averages over the whole U.S. population and do not necessarily reflect the chances of death for a particular person from a particular external cause. Any individual’s odds of dying from various external causes are affected by the activities in which they participate, where they live and drive, what kind of work they do, and other factors.

I think "Ignition or melting of nightwear" is probably my favorite. That's some hot sex, folks.

Jim Downey's picture

Paging Through History's Beautiful Science.

If you would like a small insight into why I love doing what I do for a living, be sure to check out this delightful feature which was on NPR's Weekend Edition this morning:

Paging Through History's Beautiful Science

Jim Downey's picture

Dance a dance of four-space.

Got two hours to spare? It could open up a whole new dimension in your life.

No, this is not some Amway scam, new-age Woo, or political revival. It's a series of brilliant videos (along with explanatory text) put together by a French mathematician which explore the existence of a fourth spatial dimension. And it is *very* cool. From ScienceNews:

So can any of these techniques help us visualize Schläfli’s 600-sided, four-dimensional shape? Using a computer, Ghys first passes Schläfli’s regular, four-dimensional shapes through three-dimensional space and looks at the three-dimensional “slices” created. This helps a bit, but just as in two dimensions, it’s not easy to assemble an image of the higher-dimensional shape this way.

Jim Downey's picture


OK, I spent *way* too much time playing this game last night: Orbitrunner. And because I'm the kind of guy that I am, I wanted to inflict it on you.

It's actually a very interesting bit of gaming, for as simple as seems at first glance. Here's the description from the site:

Control the Sun with your mouse. Use it to manipulate the planets' paths. The Sun's pull gets stronger as planets get closer. If the gravity is at a right angle to the direction of travel, an orbit can form. Make sure planets don't leave the screen or collide!

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Varghese And The Traitorous Bees

Roy Abraham Varghese, theistic apologist and god-bothering author from the "Institute of Metascientific Research", was recently interviewed by the Dallas Observer. Varghese is widely credited as "the man who won over Anthony Flew", and is now currently working on a book called "There Is A God" with Flew.

Varghese is an interesting character because his contention is that without a meta-intelligence, all science devolves into incoherence if you drill-down deep enough, or pull back far enough.

It's a lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense of course, a philosophically slick update to the theistic evolutionist's mantra.

More below the fold...

Jim Downey's picture

Science v. Religion: The perfect metaphor

The next time someone tells you that science and religion don't have to be at odds, remember this little news item. It is perhaps the perfect metaphor for the relationship of the two.

From the 12/26/06 LA Times comes the story of how modern science is reclaiming a lost work of Archimedes, which had been erased to accomodate use as a religious text:

The sheepskin parchment originally contained a 10th century Greek text, which was erased by a 13th century scribe who replaced it with prayers. Seven hundred years later, a forger painted gilded pictures of the Evangelists on top of the faded words.

Underneath it all, however, is an exceptional treasure — the oldest surviving copy of works by the ancient Greek mathematician and engineer Archimedes of Syracuse, who lived in the 3rd century BC.

Jim Downey's picture

Putting your money where your mouth is.

Fascinating. Would you bet $50,000 that you were smarter than a fundamentalist Christian? David Sklansky does.

His proposal?

This is an open challenge to any American citizen who passes a lie detector test that I will specify in a moment.

We will both take the math SAT or GRE (aptidude test). Your choice. We will both have only half the normally allotted time to lessen the chances of a perfect score. Lower score pays higher score $50,000.

To qualify you must take a reputable polygraph that proclaims you are truthful when you state that:

1. You are at least 95% sure that Jesus Christ came back from the dead.


2. You are at least 95% sure that adults who die with the specific belief that Jesus probably wasn't resurrected will not go to heaven.

Interesting discussion ensues, particularly if you're into betting strategies. Via this dKos diary.

Jim Downey

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Master Criminal And... Math Nerd?

Very cool - from Everything2. Everything you ever wanted to know about hacking a car's keyless entry system. Got twenty uninterrupted minutes with a nice car? Now you too can be a car thief - all thanks to a Dutch mathemetician named Nicolaas Govert de Bruijn.

Silly car companies. Heheh...

[link] So, you know those cars with that keyless entry pad? The one under the driver's side handle? Well, if you look closely you will see that there are really only 5 buttons, labeled "1/2", "3/4", "5/6", "7/8", "9/0". In an effort to avoid a little confusion, I'm going to call those buttons 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, respectively.

A little experimentation will reveal that, if the code is 11357, and you type 5113579, the door will still open! This means that with 7 characters we managed to try out 3 sequences - 51135, 11357, and 13579. After the inital 4 numbers (which sort of primed the pump) every digit tries one new sequence. Since there are 55 length 5 sequences of characters from an alphabet of size 5, we know that we'll need to try 3125 sequences total. With our intuition from above, we would hope that we could find a sequence of size 4 + 3125 (priming the pump, followed by one new sequence every keypress). It turns out that a mathematician named de Bruijn has already done all of the hard work for us on this one, and all of the relevant math can found under the names de Bruijn sequence and de Bruijn graph. But I'm not going to talk about math any further here. Right now, I am going to give you a sequence of minimal length that, when you enter it into a car's numeric keypad, is guaranteed to unlock the doors of said car. It is exactly 3129 keypresses long, which should take you around 20 minutes to go through.

More below the fold...

A Rational Being's picture

Anti-superstition Begins at Home

It's ubiquitous. Superstition has worked its way into every day living. Here are some examples:

"Cross you fingers."
"Knock on wood."
"God bless you." (For sneezing)

The list goes on. What's an anti-superstitious person to do?

If you really are not superstitious why use these phrases at all. Instead, start using phrases that suggest your direct involvement or an expression that conveys randomness. So you must catch yourself before you you say these things then decide to not say them.

Here is an example:

Recently I was discussing the start-up of a new business and the sale of my old business. The start up of the new business depends on the sale of the old business (need the money). The sale is not quite complete so I said, "cross your fingers." Oops. Instead I should have said, "Should the buyer follow through on his commitments..." or "If I'm dealt the right cards," "with the luck of the draw" You get the idea.

Instead of crediting some unseen power, tie success either to the parties involved (when they can be identified) or pure chance.

Pure chance is one of those subjects that theists have a hard time with. But I think of pure chance as our inability to know all the variables (and their values) in a system. Not knowing these variables prevents us from making accurate predictions. "Pure chance" is really an "excuse" for not knowing everything. Theists, on the other hand, put their gods in the role of pure chance.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Relatively Speaking

Chris Campbell of Thinking Christian takes a step in the right direction with his post today. He ponders relativism as it relates to, and maps to, reality. But he assumes that this god-thing of his exists without any evidence at all. It's an interesting blind spot that he has.

[link] It seems to me that when discussing the question of whether there is a God or not it usually comes down to relativism. Those that discuss God or religions even will eventually begin to say "everyone has their own view of God, and that's ok." There is a real interesting quote at the beginning of each episode of the Discovery Channel show The Mythbusters: "I reject your reality and substitute my own," exclaims one of the shows hosts. He may or may not know it but this is the mantra of the Post-Modern world that we live in today. If I don't like the world as you describe it I can just ignore it and live in my own little world. If that world doesn't work out for me then I will just reshape it to a different view and try again.

I agree that Campbell's commentary about substituting our own "realities" for others "realities" has a valid point. Left to our own prejudices, emotions, perceptions, etc., each and every human being on this planet would not agree on the facts or the truth of anything at all.

Fortunately we have the scientific method that that we can use - any one of us! - to ferret out the facts, the truth of things, in an objective fashion that all can agree upon if they simply follow the method.

More below the fold...

Alon Levy's picture

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Douglas Adams was right all the time. According to an article in Seed, the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is indeed 42. More precisely, since the 1920s, there has been a sequence of immense importance in number theory, and lately in quantum mechanics; however, the sequence itself had only two known terms - the first was 1, and the second was 2. Now a rigorous proof from mathematical physics has shown that the elusive third term is 42. Clearly, Deep Thought's 10 million years of calculations were unnecessary (or were the physicsts who proved that the third term is 42 part of Earth, the computer built to figure out the ultimate question?).

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