Hugh Pickens writes: "CBS News reports that 26-year-old "Wheel of Fortune" fanatic Caitlin Burke stunned the show last week when she correctly solved the phrase "I've Got a Good Feeling About This" with only the letter "L" showing winning a $6,500 trip to the Caribbean for solving the puzzle but leading some people to think the win was fixed and leaving host Pat Sajak almost speechless. "He didn't say anything at first," says Burke. "He was just shocked. And I just wanted to see what I won. I was so excited. So much energy. He's like, hold on. Hold on." How did she do it? Chris Jones explains that Burke was born with a particular talent, and she has sharpened that skill since she was a little girl watching Wheel of Fortune every night, without fail, with her dad back in Jersey. When Burke first sees a puzzle, she immediately begins breaking it down into smaller pieces — "chunks," she calls them and each word becomes its own miniature puzzle. When most people watch a show like Wheel of Fortune, their heads begin swimming with the nearly endless possibilities but Burke's strategy, her puzzles-within-puzzles way of thinking, is designed to narrow the range starting with the smallest words first. "Burke's brain has a one-way valve built into it and as more letters are guessed and either lit up or discarded, she can permanently drop those from contention," writes Jones. "Burke has trained her brain so that the impossible falls away, never to return, and eventually, out of the crowded ether, only a handful of solutions emerge.""
Pickens writes: "G.V. Ramanathan, a professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes in the Washington Post that although a lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential, unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everybody's daily life. "All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss," writes Ramanathan. "Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation." Ramanathan says that the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body, but even with generous government grants over the past 25 years, countless courses, conferences, and books written on how to teach teachers to teach, where is the evidence that these efforts have helped students? A 2008 review by the Education Department found that the nation is at "greater risk now" than it was in 1983, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores for 17-year-olds have remained stagnant since the 1980s (PDF). Meanwhile those who do love math and science have been doing very well and our graduate schools are the best in the world. "As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?""
Hugh Pickens writes: "Discover Magazine reports that despite the average person shaking hands nearly 15,000 times in a lifetime, one in five (19 per cent) admit they hate the act of the handshake and are unsure how to do it properly, regularly making a handshake faux pas such as having sweaty palms, squeezing too hard or holding on too long while over half the population (56 per cent) say they have been on the receiving end of an unpleasant handshake experience in the past month alone. But help is at hand as scientists have developed a mathematical equation for the perfect handshake taking into account the twelve primary measures needed to convey respect and trust to the recipient. “The human handshake is one of the most crucial elements of impression formation and is used as a source of information for making a judgement about another person," says Professor Geoffrey Beattie, Head of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester, who devised the formula. "A handshake reveals aspects of the personality of the person giving it – for example, a soft handshake can indicate insecurity, whilst a quick-to-let-go handshake can suggest arrogance – so it is surprising that up until now there has not been a guide showing people how they should shake hands." The research was performed at the behest of Chevrolet as part of a handshake training guide for its staff and is meant to offer peace of mind and reassurance to its customers. A full guide to the perfect handshake is available on Flickr."
Hugh Pickens writes: "Nature reports that data collected on the timing of attacks and number of casualties from more than 54,000 events across nine insurgent wars, including those fought in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 and in Sierra Leone between 1994 and 2003 suggests that insurgencies have a common underlying pattern that may allow the timing of attacks and the number of casualties to be predicted. By plotting the distribution of the frequency and size of events, the team found that insurgent wars follow an approximate power law, in which the frequency of attacks decreases with increasing attack size to the power of 2.5. That means that for any insurgent war, an attack with 10 casualties is 316 times more likely to occur than one with 100 casualties (316 is 10 to the power of 2.5). "We found that the way in which humans do insurgent wars — that is, the number of casualties and the timing of events — is universal," says team leader Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami in Florida. "This changes the way we think insurgency works." To explain what was driving this common pattern, the researchers created a mathematical model that assumes that insurgent groups form and fragment when they sense danger, and strike in well-timed bursts to maximize their media exposure. Johnson is now working to predict how the insurgency in Afghanistan might respond to the influx of foreign troops recently announced by US President Barack Obama. "We do observe a complicated pattern that has to do with the way humans do violence in some collective way," adds Johnson."
Pickens writes: "MIT Tech Review reports that John Barrow at the Center for Mathematical Sciences has discovered two entirely new arrangements of rowers in a racing eight in which the rowing forces cancel to make the boat wiggle-free. The traditional way of rigging a boat places rowers alternately pulling oars on each side of the boat. "The traditional rig appears symmetrical and simple in ways that might tempt you into thinking it is in every sense optimal. However, this is not the case," says Barrow who goes on to show that the balance of forces in this rig as the oars are pulled through the water always produces a wiggle. An arrangement in which the transverse forces cancel was discovered by the Moto Guzzi Club team on Lake Como in 1956 who went on to win gold representing Italy at the Melbourne Olympic Games later that year. Barrow's new discovery is a combination of a zero-moment Italian Four with its mirror image (PDF) and a methodology that generalizes the solution to the "zero wiggle" problem for any number of crew, proving along the way that only crew numbers divisible by four can be wiggle-free. "Barrow ends by saying that his work is not intended to revolutionize rowing tactics. That seems overly modest. Clearly, Barrow's paper should be recognized as a master stroke.""