This is the Future

Because good geeky content matters


Where I most general geeky things such as movies and books.

Ways to Celebrate Pi Day

Pi Day is the one day where mathematicians and non-mathematicians can join together in an awesome holiday to eat pie, appreciate Pi, and throw a party or two.  Here are some ways to make the most out of your Pi Day.

From my 1st pi day party with friends and family, 3 years ago.

From my 1st pi day party with friends and family, 3 years ago.

1.  Throw a Pi Day party!

This is the most obvious choice, as most people enjoy pie, whether it be pizza pie or dessert pie or even a meat pie.  If you’re a math geek, this is the best way to lure in your non-math friends & family for some fun and math puns.  Play some games, eat pie, and enjoy people’s company.

2. Have a math movie/tv marathon

-I.Q. is a lighthearted, fun math movie in which a mechanic fakes being a math genius to order to win the heart of Einstein’s niece.

-Proof is about a daughter of a math genius who is trying to finish her father’s work as he’s become mentally ill.

-Story of One is a fantastic math documentary narrated by ex-Monty Python member Terry Jones.

-Beautiful Mind is dramatic biography about a man named John Nash who created Game Theory.

Other suggestions: Stand & Deliver, Good Will Hunting, Pi, Donald in Mathmagic Land, Numb3rs, Cyberchase

3. Play math games

-Sumoko: Bananagrams but with math operations

-Math Dash: Scrabble with math operations

-Stone Age: not a math game per se, but every turn requires math calculations

Other suggestions: Blokus, Rubik’s cubes, Geek Battle Trivia

Even if you aren’t a math person, Pi Day can still be a way to learn some facts about math, play games, watch a movie, or have fun with friends.


Correlation vs Causation: How statistics can be skewed to fool us

The internet, in so many ways have benefited us as human beings.  We can chat with someone across the world instantaneously, we can quickly search the meaning of a word, or translate a website with a click of a button.

While the internet in many ways have made us so much more knowledgable about subjects, it has also made us lazy about true research and the scientific method.  There are so many blogs, articles about any and every subject.  The problem is, many of these blogs are written from an uneducated view of the subject.  The problem is, much of what we read on the internet in regards of scientific subjects is wrong.

Most peer reviewed (meaning making sure the data isn’t falsified) scientific journals are only available with a paid subscription to the scholarly journal.  This means that we are reading mostly non peer reviewed data, in other words, a potential for what us mathematicians like to call proofiness: “the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true, even when it’s not.”-Charles Seife, Proofiness

Proofiness appears everywhere in our society, in elections, blogs, commercials, basically anywhere that someone can give information (however false) to have their way.  Humans are naturally selfish, so of course this happens more often than you might suspect.

So let’s talk correlation vs causation.  This is one of the most ways proofiness is prevalent in our society.  First, definitions.  Correlation is any data that shows a dependance in a statistical relationship.  And there we have the first issue, we see the word dependance and we automatically assume this means “a causes b”.  However, mathematical dependence does not imply casuality: relationship between two occurrences in which the second is understood as a consequence of the first.

Let’s look at some concrete examples: the chart below shows a positive correlation between the amount of Internet use a society uses and life expectancy.  Now most people can logically deduce that more Internet use does not cause a higher life expectancy.  There are much more factors that go into life expectancy, such as medical advances, healthier eating, not living in a war torn country, for example.

From Proofiness, Page 43 by Charles Siefe From Proofiness, Page 43 by Charles Siefe

The problem is, many companies, politicians, and people in general assume that because of a correlation, there is enough information to state that a causes b. In the mid-1990s, a correlation graph came out implying that the artificial sweetener Nutrasweet was causing an alarming rise in brain tumors. Here’s the problem, brain tumors were going up at the time, but so was cable TV and Walkman players.  You could have very well said that Walkman players was causing brain tumors by plotting a similar graph.  An even tighter relationship showed that deficit spending and brain tumors also going up!  But we realize the issue here.  How could deficit spending cause brain tumors and it has an even tighter relationship than the NutraSweet?

So what caused the rise in brain tumors during this time then?  The real answer is much more unclear.  But, looking behind the scenes, we find that MRIs became much more prevalent during this time, as well as medicare approving patients for MRI.  A good guess then, for the rise of brain tumors is simply that we became better at diagnosing them, as well as people had better access to MRI scans.

These are the reasons we must be much more careful when we see a headline that says “such and such causes brain cancer!  or allergies or autism” etc etc. You see sometimes, data changes because of a change in diagnostic criteria, just like what happened with the brain tumors.  Much like in autism, where it does seem like there has been an increase in the early 2000s sending quite a few positive correlations we can graph and lots of scares for many parents.  What it is most likely, is the fact that doctors changed the diagnoses of a few different mental conditions to one single name: autism.  This happened over the same period that California saw a three fold rise in autism.

This all goes to show that finding out “a causes b” is much harder than simply saying “there is a mathematical relationship between a and b.”  As people with so much access to information, we have an even greater responsibility to seek out and expose these bogus statistical analysis and to protect ourselves and others from believing everything we see on the Internet.

Simply put, when you see a friend post a blog or an article, be aware of any graphs or charts.  Note if they only have a correlation graph and see if they try to say “a causes b” just from that graph.  Look for peer reviewed articles, or anything with .gov or .edu.  As anyone can make a website, .com types may be less reliable as anyone can make one.

For more information on bogus math, read Proofiness by Charles Siefe (M.S. in Mathematics), which is what I based my blog post on.  I highly suggest this book as it goes into more detail on how people can use bad math to get their way in elections, medical studies, and advertising.


Arg! How to celebrate talk like a pirate day

Talk like a Pirate Day is swiftly approaching and one would best be prepared to celebrate.  Whether or not you have children, talk like a pirate day can be fun for everyone, especially if you make a party or a whole day of it.  Here are some ways to celebrate!

talk like a pirate

1. Costumes:  At the very least wear a Pirates of the Caribbean shirt.  Depending on how casual your work is, you may be able to pull off a full on pirate costume.

2. Make a pirate movie/show marathon: Pirates of the Caribbean, Hook, Jake and the Never Land Pirates are all fantastic pirate shows.  Even the Goonies would be a great choice.

3. Play Pirate themed video/board games: the Pirate King is a monopoly style game, use for alternate rules for better gameplay.  The Monkey Island games are a perfect way to celebrate! Join Guybrush Threepwood in his adventures as a pirate!


4. Learn how to talk like a pirate: there’s whole websites and books devoted to this, a Pirate Primer is a fantastic resource, and is $6.40 on amazon right now. I just ordered it during this blog writing.

5.  Read a couple pirate books: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series is fantastic, and by Redwall Author Brain Jacques.  Vampirates is at the very least entertaining.  Under the Black Flag is a great non-fiction resource on pirates.

6. Combine all and have a party:  Invite some friends over, play the games listed above, have a costume contest, and drink some grog and salted pork!