RIP Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner

James Randi writes:

Martin Gardner has died. I have dreaded to type those words, and Martin would not have wanted to know that I’m so devastated at what I knew – day to day – had to happen very soon. I’m glad to report that his passing was painless and quick. That man was one of my giants, a very long-time friend of some 50 years or so. He was a delight, a very bright spot in my firmament, one to whom I could always turn to with a question or an idea, with any strange notion I could invent, and with any complaint or comment I could come up with.

I never had an angry word with Martin. Never. It was all laughs and smiles, all the best of everything.

James Randi: My World is a Little Bit Darker

Martin Gardner Wikipedia entry

(via Cole Tucker)

British government apologizes for appaling treatment of Alan Turing 55 years later

Alan Turing was a World War II code-breaker. He was also gay.

Fifty-five years after the mathematician committed suicide, Downing Street has apologised for the “appalling” way in which he was treated because of his sexuality.

According to Winston Churchill, Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.

His pivotal role in cracking intercepted messages helped the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles.

BBC: Alan Turing Profile

UCLA Mathematician Works To Make Virtual Surgery A Reality

“A surgeon accidently kills a patient, undoes the error and starts over again. Can mathematics make such science fiction a reality? The day is rapidly approaching when your surgeon can practice on your “digital double” – a virtual you – before performing an actual surgery, according to UCLA mathematician Joseph Teran, who is helping to make virtual surgery a viable technology. The advantages will save lives, he believes.

“You can fail spectacularly with no consequences when you use a simulator and then learn from your mistakes,” said Teran, 30, who joined UCLA’s mathematics department in July. “If you make errors, you can undo them – just as if you’re typing in a Word document and you make a mistake, you undo it. Starting over is a big benefit of the simulation. “Surgical simulation is coming, there is no question about it,” he said. It’s a cheaper alternative to cadavers and a safer alternative to patients.”

(via UCLA Newsroom)

Computer analysis provides Incan string theory

Via me, Fell, a pretend-ninja and superstar in my own mind

Oh? and New Scientist?

The mystery surrounding a cryptic string-based communication system used by ancient Incan administrators may at last be unravelling, thanks to computer analysis of hundreds of different knotted bundles.

The discovery provides a tantalising glimpse of bureaucracy in the Andean empire and may, for the first time, also reveal an Incan word written in string.

Woven from cotton, llama or alpaca wool, the mysterious string bundles – known as Khipu – consist of a single strand from which dangle up to thousands of subsidiary strings, each featuring a bewildering array of knots. Of the 600 or so Khipu that have been found, most date from between 1400 AD and 1500 AD. However, a few are thought to be about 1000 years old.

Spanish colonial documents suggest that Khipu were in some way used to keep records and communicate messages. Yet how the cords were used to convey useful information has puzzled generations of experts.

Unpicking the knots

Now, anthropologist Gary Urton and mathematician Carrie Brezine at Harvard University, Massachusetts, US, think they may have begun unravelling the knotty code. The pair built a searchable database containing key information about Khipu strings, such as the number and position of subsidiary strings and the number and position of knots tied in them.

The pair then used this database to search for similarities between 21 Khipus discovered in 1956 at the key Incan administrative base of Puruchuco, near modern day Lima in Peru. Superficial similarities suggested that the Khipu could be connected but the database revealed a crucial mathematical bond – the data represented by subsidiary strands on some of Khipu could be combined to create the strands found on more complex ones.

This suggests the Khipu were used to collate information from different parts of the empire, which stretched for more than 5500 kilometres. Brezine used the mathematical software package Mathematica to scour the database for other mathematical links ? and found several.

First word

“Local accountants would forward information on accomplished tasks upward through the hierarchy, with information at each successive level representing the summation of accounts from the levels below,” Urton says. “This communication was used to record the information deemed most important to the state, which often included accounting and other data related to censuses, finances and the military.”

And Urton and Brezine go a step further. Given that the Puruchuco strings may represent collations of data different regions, they suggest that a characteristic figure-of-eight knot found on all of the 21 Puruchuco strings may represent the place itself. If so, it would be the first word to ever be extracted from an Incan Khipu.

Completely deciphering the Khipu may never be possible, Urton says, but further analysis of the Khipu database might reveal other details of life. New archaeological discoveries could also throw up some more surprises, Urton told New Scientist.

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