“I Am Looking for Wife 1,000”

Jonah Weiner in Slate:

090522_MB_zimbooTN He has 999 wives. He hails from an unnamed region of central Africa (“a thin layer of impenetrable rainforest,” he tells interviewers) known only as d'bush. His name is Prince Zimboo Abakunamabooba, and if he sounds fishy to you, he should. Outlandish back stories are common in hip-hop—a genre perched on the fault line between tell-it-like-it-is verité and winking artifice—but Zimboo's mythology is patently unbelievable, 100 percent wink. Is he a loon? A comedian? A walking 419 scam, claiming African royalty as part of some elaborate performance-art hoax?

It's worth caring about Zimboo's knotty identity play not just for the novelty of his persona but because of his deliriously funny music. Zimboo has been performing since at least 2007, and his renown has grown of late, thanks to his association with Diplo, the DJ and producer best known for his work with MIA. Diplo is preparing a reggae project called Major Lazer, and Zimboo, based in Jamaica, has been announced as one of the album's featured guests. This week, Zimboo released a daffy video in which he freestyles over Major Lazer's first single, “Hold the Line.” The video showcases Zimboo's idiosyncratic charm—he wears a permanent grin and inexplicably holds a small plastic alligator as he raps—and it captures several of his central, if contradictory, leitmotifs: the virtues of clean living, the pleasures of polygamy, the piteousness of those who masturbate.

More here.

A high-stakes race to discover other Earth-like worlds

Lee Billings in Seed Magazine:

ScreenHunter_06 May. 28 22.09 I’d come to meet Debra Fischer, a professor at San Francisco State University. As a co-discoverer of more than 150 planets, nearly half the known total outside our solar system, she is a prominent figure in astronomy. Her work on this lonely mountaintop could propel her past that, though, into realms of myth and legend. Fischer is using a modest, neglected telescope at CTIO to search for Earth-like planets in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own. If they exist, she should find them in three to five years.

The implications would be timeless, echoing ancient questions of life’s purpose, outlining futures distant yet possible. Against the certainty of another Earth circling one of the closest stars in the sky, the entirety of recorded history would abruptly seem the briefest prelude to an eternal denouement, a fire kindled to be passed on without end. Alpha Centauri could become a beacon illuminating and bringing significance to the accumulated toils of generations. Driven by the spectral hope of another living world unexplored, our own could profoundly change. Or Fischer’s project could simply fail. Many astronomers assume it will.

We were scheduled for lunch in CTIO’s cafeteria, but “lunch” meant “breakfast” there, as most of the mountain’s tenants slept in after spending their nights at telescopes. Over their meals, they discussed their hopes for the next generation of world-class observatories, and the globe-gripping economic turmoil that cast all such plans into question. Giant cathedrals of glass and steel could soon sprout on the nearby peaks to wring deeper secrets from starlight, but only if the powers that be find the money and the drive to build them.

More here.

The Nominees for the 2009 3QD Prize in Science Are:

Alphabetical list of blog names followed by the blog post title:

(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)

For prize details, click here.

And after looking around, click here to vote.

  1. 2020 Science: Blogging the demise of science journalism
  2. 2020 Science: Cultural Smokescreen
  3. 3 Quarks Daily: A Scientist Goes To An Ashram For A Personal Retreat
  4. 3 Quarks Daily: Giambattista Della Porta of Naples: How to Turn a Woman Green
  5. 3 Quarks Daily: Shrooming In Late Capitalism: The Way Of The Truffle
  6. A Blog Around The Clock: Circadian Rhythm of Aggression in Crayfish
  7. A Blog Around The Clock: Co-Researching spaces for Freelance Scientists?
  8. A Blog Around The Clock: Defining the Journalism vs. Blogging Debate, with a Science Reporting angle
  9. A Blog Around The Clock: The Shock Value of Science Blogs
  10. A Blog Around The Clock: Why social insects do not suffer from ill effects of rotating and night shift work?
  11. A Blog Around The Clock: Yes, Archaea also have circadian clocks!
  12. Adventures in Ethics and Science: How does salt melt snails?
  13. Adventures in Ethics and Science: SVP Ethics Education Commitee statement: lessons learned from ‘Aetogate’
  14. Adventures in Ethics and Science: The Hellinga Retractions (part 1): when replication fails, what should happen next?
  15. Adventures in Ethics and Science: The Hellinga Retractions (part 2): when replication fails, what should happen next?
  16. AK’s Rambling Thoughts: Wiring the Cell for Power
  17. Ambivalent Engineer: Insulating the pool
  18. Astroblog: Galileos’ DNA, and different forms of Blindness
  19. Back Reaction: The Variational Principle
  20. Bad Astronomy: A tiny wobble reveals a massive planet
  21. Bad Astronomy: …but how do we recover from Jenny McCarthy?
  22. Bad Astronomy: Science IS Imagination
  23. Bad Astronomy: Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble
  24. Bioephemera: Art vs. Science, Part Two: You want raw data? You can’t handle raw data!
  25. Bioephemera: For the last time: that “Twitter is Evil” paper is not about Twitter!
  26. Bioephemera: Jared Diamond hides behind the “it wasn’t science” defense
  27. Bioephemera: Science journalism: don’t forget the editors
  28. Cardiobrief: Comment: If prasugrel is delayed, who is to blame?
  29. Cardiobrief: JAMA editors take strong stance against conflict of interest and free speech
  30. Central & Science: Hey Burt’s Bees, Who’re You Callin’ Ugly?
  31. Central & Science: When Chemistry Was Swell
  32. Chemjobber: Critiquing the LA Times Sangji article, etc.
  33. Cocktail Party Physics: A Nation Of Winers
  34. Cocktail Party Physics: A Spark In The Dark
  35. Cocktail Party Physics: Crosstown Traffic
  36. Cocktail Party Physics: For Whom The Bells Toll
  37. Cocktail Party Physics: Science, politics, and getting it wrong
  38. Cocktail Party Physics: Stradivari’s Secret
  39. Cocktail Party Physics: The Universe Makes A Lotta Gas
  40. Cocktail Party Physics: They Like To Move It, Move It
  41. Cognitive Daily: Guys on dates want to know: Is it really impossible to ignore an attractive face?
  42. Cognitive Daily: One more way video games might be good for you
  43. Computing Intelligence: Animal Intelligence Continued
  44. Cosmic Variance: Have a Thermodynamically Consistent Christmas
  45. Cosmic Variance: What Will the LHC Find?
  46. Cosmic Variance: Rules for Time Travelers
  47. Daylight Atheism: The Age of Wonder
  48. Daylight Atheism: Bands of Iron
  49. Dot Physics: Physics of Fantastic Contraption I
  50. Erik’s Blog: Distance to the Horizon
  51. E’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too: Indus: What did Rao Really Do?
  52. Expression Patterns: A Squishy Topic
  53. Expression Patterns: Last Saturday
  54. Florida Citizens for Science: Florida’s Greatest Menace: Introduction
  55. Florida Citizens for Science: Florida’s Greatest Menace V: Brainwashing Students
  56. Florida Citizens for Science: Florida’s Greatest Menace VI: Misconceptions, misinterpretations and misinformation
  57. Gene Expression: Genetic variation in space & time – Iceland
  58. Gene Expression: How Ashkenazi Jewish are you?
  59. Gene Expression: Inbreeding & the downfall of the Spanish Hapsburgs
  60. Gene Expression: The ancient origins of African pygmies
  61. Genetic Future: Is a personal genome sequence worth $350,000?
  62. Green Gabro: How Gay Marriage Causes Earthquakes
  63. Hot Topic: Monckton & the case of the missing Curry
  64. I Was Lost But Now I Live Here: Corpus callosum: 1st edition of open science round-up
  65. In the Dark: A Unified Quantum Theory of the Sexual Interaction
  66. In The Pipeline: Genes to Diseases: Hard Work, You Say?
  67. In The Pipeline: Floppiness is not Your Friend: Who Knew
  68. In The Pipeline: Ten Years After: The Genomics Frenzy
  69. In The Pipeline: Things I Won’t Work With: Triazadienyl Fluoride
  70. In The Pipeline: Your Paper Is A Sack Of Raving Nonsense. Thank You.
  71. It’s Only a Theory: Obviously plenty of philosophers use history as a source in philosophy of science
  72. It’s Only a Theory: The cult of contingency and the Future of the history and philosophy of science
  73. Laelaps: Getting to know “Ida”
  74. Laelaps: Repost: The Tragedy of Saartje Baartman
  75. Laelaps: Poor, poor Ida, Or: “Overselling an Adapid”
  76. Laelaps: The “Million-Dollar Pig’s-Tooth Mystery”
  77. Mauka to Makai: Baby-Making
  78. Mauka to Makai: Do Whales Have Ears?
  79. Mauka to Makai: SHARK! (ahem, shark?)
  80. Mauka to Makai: The Ocean’s Big pHat Problem
  81. Minerva’s Howl: Pinker on Violence, then and now…
  82. My Genes and Me: Journey to My Genes
  83. Nano-hybrids: The excitement of a scientist from balls and sticks
  84. Nano-hybrids: Difficult nanotechnology decisions
  85. Neurophilosophy: Voluntary amputation and extra phantom limbs
  86. Neurotopia: Depression Post 4: The Serotonin Theory (and why it’s probably wrong)
  87. Neurotopia: The Serotonin System and All that Goes With it
  88. Neurotopia: The Value of Stupidity: are we doing it right?
  89. NeuroWhoa!: Believer Brains Different from Non-Believer Brains?
  90. Observations of a Nerd: A Marine Biologist’s Story
  91. Observations of a Nerd: Having Some Fun With Evolution
  92. Observations of a Nerd: The End of the Age of Man?
  93. Observations of a Nerd: Why I am not a Darwinist, but we should celebrate Darwin Day
  94. Open Parachute: Human Morality I: Religious confusion
  95. Open Parachute: Human Morality II: Objective morality
  96. Open Parachute: Human Morality III: Moral intuition
  97. Open Parachute: Human Morality IV: Role of religion
  98. Open Parachute: Human Morality V: The secular conscience
  99. Professor Astronomy: The Copernican Principle
  100. Quantum Bayesian Networks: PageRank – How Google used Statistics to Change the World
  101. Respectful Insolence: One more time: Vaccine refusal endangers children
  102. Science After Sunclipse: Reverse the Baryon Flux Polarity!
  103. Science After Sunclipse: The Necessity of Mathematics
  104. Science of Running: Smell This!
  105. Science-based Medicine: 2009: Shaping up to be a really bad year for antivaccinationists
  106. Science Based Medicine: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, part II
  107. Science Made Cool: Failure is in the Eye of the Beholder
  108. Science Made Cool: Natural History at the Time of Darwin’s Birth
  109. Science, Why Not: Language is Culture and Culture is Language
  110. Science, Why Not: Niche partitioning in orb-weaver spiders of Louisiana
  111. Science, Why Not: Review of Mark B. Tappan’s “Language, Culture, and Moral Development: A Vygotskian Perspective”
  112. Science, Why Not: The development of the agricultural systems used by the Attini tribe over the past 50 million years
  113. Simostronomy: Gomez’s Hamburger-Want Fries With That?
  114. Simostronomy: Hubble Sees Toast
  115. Simostronomy: Polaris
  116. Simostronomy: The Remarkable Bobbie Vaile
  117. Simostronomy: The Simonsen T-M Diagram
  118. Skulls in the Stars: Levitation and diamagnetism, or: LEAVE EARNSHAW ALONE!!!
  119. Skulls in the Stars: Michael Faraday, grand unified theorist? (1851)
  120. Skulls in the Stars: Mr. Faraday goes wild — with atomic speculation! (1844)
  121. Skulls in the Stars: Optics in the Haunted Mansion!
  122. Skull in the Stars: The gallery of failed atomic models, 1903-1913
  123. Southern Fried Science: A curious case of convergent evolution?
  124. Southern Fried Science: The ecological disaster that is dolphin safe tuna
  125. Southern Fried Science: The Serpent and the Platypus
  126. Starts With a Bang: The Camera that Changed the Universe: Part 1
  127. Starts With a Bang: The Camera that Changed the Universe: Part 5
  128. Starts With a Bang: The LHC, Black Holes and You
  129. Stinky Journalism: Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse
  130. Tetrapod Zoology: Passerine birds fight dirty, a la Velociraptor
  131. Tetrapod Zoology: The small, recently extinct, island-dwelling crocodilians of the south Pacific
  132. The Artful Amoeba: Moss That Swings Both (All?) Ways
  133. The Chem Blog: Chemistry: Exploding shit at the nano scale
  134. The Chem Blog: More Christmas from the lab ideas
  135. The Chem Blog: This month in JACs history
  136. The Intersection: Singled Out
  137. The Loom: Dawn of the Picasso Fish
  138. The Loom: Science Held Hostage
  139. The Mousetrap: Major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain: part 4: the easy problem of A-consciousness
  140. The Neurocritic: Intersex (for lack of a better word)…
  141. The Neurocritic: Mirror Neurons Control Hard-ons?
  142. The Neurocritic: The Neurology of Twitter
  143. The Neurocritic: Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience
  144. The Primate Diaries: Male Chauvinist Chimps or the Meat Market of Public Opinion?
  145. The Primate Diaries: Rivalry Among the Reefs
  146. The Primate Diaries: Superorganisms and Group Selection
  147. The Science Babe: The Physics of High Heels
  148. The Spacewriter’s Ramblings:Mass Holes
  149. The Tree of Life: Elsevier, fake medical journals, and yet another reason for #openaccess
  150. Tomkow: Blackburn, Truth and other Hot Topics
  151. Tom Paine’s Ghost: Dr. Temple Grandin
  152. Tom Paine’s Ghost: Nikola Tesla
  153. Tom Paine’s Ghost: The Darwin/Lincoln Coincidence
  154. Totally Synthetic: Eudesmane Terpense
  155. Uncertain Principles: Everything Is Relative in the Magic Closet
  156. Uncertain Principles: We Are Science
  157. Underverse: Everything That Is The Case
  158. Underverse: Refuting “It,” Thus
  159. Unitary Flow: Smooth Quantum Mechanics
  160. Unitary Flow: Smooth Quantum Mechanics: 4.The Video
  161. Unitary Flow: The Counterintuitive Time: 1. Time and Determinism
  162. Unitary Flow: The Illusion of Center
  163. Unitary Flow: The Spinning Dancer’s Mystery
  164. Way: Implementing Fantasy Science Funding
  165. Way: The journal scope in focus — putting scholarly communication in context
  166. Weird Things: Plugging into Black Holes
  167. What’s New: Sailing into the wind, or faster than the wind
  168. What’s New: The Black-Scholes equation
  169. WhirledView: Prairie
  170. World of Psychology: Top Ten Online Psychology Experiments
  171. World of Weird Things: What Makes a Planet Habitable?

To vote, click here.

bankers

090601_r18529_p233

The world of banking, it’s becoming clear, operates according to different norms from those of the rest of the business world. Take the offsite corporate weekend. Normal behavior on these occasions consists of punishing the minibar and nursing consequent hangovers, hitting on long-fancied colleagues, and putting embarrassing items, ideally pornographic videos, on one another’s hotel bills. For form’s sake, a few new ideas are cooked up, and then gradually allowed to die a natural death when everyone is back at work and liver-function levels have stabilized. In June, 1994, when a team from J. P. Morgan went on an off-site weekend to Boca Raton, they conformed to normative behavior in certain respects. Binge drinking occurred; a senior colleague’s nose was broken; somebody charged a trashed Jet Ski and many cheeseburgers to somebody else’s account. Where the J. P. Morgan team broke with tradition was in coming up with a real idea—an idea that changed the entire nature of modern banking, with consequences that are currently rocking the planet.

more from John Lanchester at The New Yorker here.

war

TLS_Rabb_563500a

Soothed by the waters lapping against the swaying gondolas, ravished by the mist-shrouded views of towers and domes, the visitor to Venice is soon ready to accept her nickname, La Serenissima. But the truth is that there is no place on earth whose fate and achievements owe more to fierce hostilities, to bitter competition, to ruthless struggles for survival and supremacy. Venice is the ultimate Darwinian city. Sharp elbows were second nature to its Renaissance patricians, and throughout the society animosities and feuds were endemic. Even a distinguished man of letters and a cardinal, Pietro Bembo, lost the use of a finger in a street fight over a lawsuit. Lower down the social scale, two factions regularly scheduled violent encounters on the city’s bridges. The dark vision of James Fenimore Cooper’s Bravo is no travesty of a quarrelsome, intrigue-ridden republic. And the competitive instinct served Venice well as she swept rivals aside to establish her wealth, dominance of the Aegean, rule of northern Italy, and presence throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

more from Theodore Rabb at the TLS here.

Romeo and Juliet as simple harmonic oscillators

Steven Strogatz in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_05 May. 28 14.45 “In the spring,” wrote Tennyson, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” And so in keeping with the spirit of the season, this week’s column looks at love affairs — mathematically. The analysis is offered tongue in cheek, but it does touch on a serious point: that the laws of nature are written as differential equations. It also helps explain why, in the words of another poet, “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

To illustrate the approach, suppose Romeo is in love with Juliet, but in our version of the story, Juliet is a fickle lover. The more Romeo loves her, the more she wants to run away and hide. But when he takes the hint and backs off, she begins to find him strangely attractive. He, on the other hand, tends to echo her: he warms up when she loves him and cools down when she hates him.

What happens to our star-crossed lovers? How does their love ebb and flow over time? That’s where the math comes in. By writing equations that summarize how Romeo and Juliet respond to each other’s affections and then solving those equations with calculus, we can predict the course of their affair. The resulting forecast for this couple is, tragically, a never-ending cycle of love and hate. At least they manage to achieve simultaneous love a quarter of the time.

More here.

Explosions in the Lab

What can be learned from the death of a young biochemist at UCLA?

Beryl Lieff Benderly in Slate:

ScreenHunter_04 May. 28 13.26 A few days after Christmas of 2008, a young technician in a biochemistry laboratory at the University of California-Los Angeles began to transfer a tablespoon of t-butyl lithium from one container to another. T-butyl lithium is pyrophoric, meaning it ignites on contact with air, but Sheri Sangji wasn't wearing a protective lab coat—instead, she had on a flammable synthetic sweatshirt. Somehow the stuff spilled onto her clothing, and she was engulfed in flames. Sangji died from her burns 18 days later, and UCLA officials bemoaned the “tragic accident” that killed her.

According to a recently completed government investigation, the fire could have been foreseen. On May 4, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited the university for multiple “serious”—i.e., potentially life-threatening—violations, including its inability to show that Sangji had been trained to handle the dangerous substance and the lack of proper protective attire. UCLA's own safety officials had already faulted the lab on the latter issue back in October, but the problem went uncorrected. All told, Cal/OSHA imposed $31,875 in fines, which the university did not contest.

More here.

Bush, God, Iraq and Gog

Clive Hamilton in CounterPunch:

040206bush In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle … and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elysée Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Römer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Römer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university’s review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.

The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush’s invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs”.

More here.

The subprime New York Times reporter

From Salon:

Busted “How could a person who wrote about economics for a living fall into the kind of credit card trap that consumer groups had warned about for years?” Because bad decisions, he did make. Hoo boy. Andrews does not stint on the details — the huge credit card bills, the decision to buy a house and get remarried while still paying hefty alimony bills, the inability to make income and expenses match up. He willingly signed his name on the dotted line of mortgages that made no rational economic sense. And he fully owns up to it. Most Americans do not like to talk about their private finances, but Andrews is fearless. Anyone who has ever fought about money problems with his or her partner will wince at the unflattering portrayal Andrews delivers of his own “first-class prick”-ness. It is not a pretty sight.

“We can't keep racking up debt like this,” I told her one night, annoyed that she didn't appear to share my urgency. “Even with your job, we're spending way more than we make every month. If we keep this up, we'll lose the house.”

“Aaach, there you go again,” Patty snapped. “Why is it that every time you look at a bill you act as if the world were coming to an end? I am doing what I can to make money, and to spend as little as possible. I know better than anyone that we have money problems, but it is not the end of the world. You act as if I'm not taking this seriously unless I get as hysterical as you.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? I exploded. “Maybe you don't understand, but this is a simple question of math. We're running deeper into debt every month. It's not as though I'm crazy or that I'm imagining all this.”

I'm sorry — but I'm never going to be able to read another Edmund Andrews-bylined story without thinking of him screaming expletives at his wife, or seething in anger at his own circumstances while covering a White House press conference on housing sector reform. But strangely, what makes this book work is that while “Busted” is on the one hand a classic trashy Americana let-it-all-hang-out mea culpa worthy of Dr. Phil it is also a cogent analysis of how the mortgage lending market got out of control and submarined the U.S. economy.

More here.

The “Bitch” Evolved: Why Girls Are So Cruel to Each Other

From Scientific American:

Bitch-evolved-girls-cruel_1 About a month ago I was invited to give a brief talk to my nephew Gianni’s first grade class—nothing too deep, mind you, rather simply about what it’s like living in a foreign place such as Belfast. The highlight of my presentation was the uproarious laughter that erupted when I mentioned that people on this side of the Atlantic refer to diapers as “nappies” and cookies as “biscuits.” But one must play to the audience.

Now, my sister resides in a small town in central Ohio, so perhaps there’s something about the mid-West which breeds especially endearing and affectionate six-year-olds, but I should be forgiven for momentarily siding with Rousseau that afternoon on his overly simplistic view that society corrupts and turns such naïve, innocent cherubs into monstrous adults. To give an example, one little girl waved at me in so kind a manner that it seemed, in that instant, I was in the presence of a better species of humankind, one that naturally regards other people as benevolent curiosities and the contrivances of social etiquette haven’t tarnished and brutally tamed genuine emotions.

What punctured this rose-tinted illusion of mine was the knowledge that these diminutive figures giggling and sitting Indian-style on the carpet before me might also be viewed as incubating adolescents. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d swear the world knows not an eviler soul than an angry, angst-ridden, hormonally intoxicated teen. And if this little pigtailed girl is anything like the rest of her gender, in just a few years’ time she will unfortunately morph into an eye-rolling, gossiping, ostracizing, sarcastic, dismissive, cliquish ninth-grader, embroiled in the classic cafeteria style bitchery of adolescent female social politics.
More here.

Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter That Made the World Modern

Brian Hayes in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_02 May. 27 23.41 Timothy Gowers, a distinguished mathematician at the University of Cambridge, recently conducted an experiment in collaborative mathematics. He was puzzling over an interesting problem, and rather than go off to work on it in solitude, he posted a note on his blog, inviting others to join him in seeking a solution. There have been hundreds of responses, and the voluminous discussion has spread to other blogs as well as a wiki where participants coordinate efforts and summarize progress.

If Blaise Pascal had had a blog or a wiki, perhaps he would have tried the same strategy when he took up a mathematical challenge in 1654—a problem concerned with figuring the odds in a gambling game. Instead, Pascal wrote a letter to an older colleague, Pierre de Fermat, and the two of them batted the problem back and forth in a correspondence that went on for several weeks, with occasional input from a few others. Most of the letters were later published—after the deaths of both authors—and they became foundation documents in the theory of probability. Keith Devlin now gives us a helpful guidebook to this famous episode of epistolary mathematics.

Here is the essence of the wagering problem that caused all the fuss, as Devlin presents it in a slightly simplified form:

The players, Blaise and Pierre, place equal bets on who will win the best of five tosses of a fair coin. We’ll suppose that on each round, Blaise chooses heads, Pierre tails. Now suppose they have to abandon the game after three tosses, with Blaise ahead 2 to 1. How do they divide the pot?

Since Blaise is leading, it seems he deserves a larger share of the wager. But how much larger? Gamblers and scholars had taken up this question before, at least as far back as Luca Pacioli and Girolamo Cardano a century earlier, but they had failed to settle it. Pascal and Fermat not only got the answer; they also set forth with reasonable clarity how they derived it and why it’s right.

More here.

An Excerpt from China Mieville’s The City & The City

The City and the City Surprisingly, in the WSJ:

Chapter One

I COULD NOT SEE THE STREET or much of the estate. We were enclosed by dirt-coloured blocks, from windows out of which leaned vested men and women with morning hair and mugs of drink, eating breakfast and watching us. This open ground between the buildings had once been sculpted. It pitched like a golf course—a child's mimicking of geography. Maybe they had been going to wood it and put in a pond. There was a copse but the saplings were dead.

The grass was weedy, threaded with paths footwalked between rubbish, rutted by wheel tracks. There were police at various tasks. I wasn't the first detective there—I saw Bardo Naustin and a couple of others—but I was the most senior. I followed the sergeant to where most of my colleagues clustered, between a low derelict tower and a skateboard park ringed by big drum- shaped trash bins. Just beyond it we could hear the docks. A bunch of kids sat on a wall before standing officers. The gulls coiled over the gathering.

“Inspector.” I nodded at whomever that was. Someone offered a coffee but I shook my head and looked at the woman I had come to see.

zoochitecture

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When the Bronx Zoo recently called lights out on the World of Darkness, I was disappointed. That’s not to say I was surprised: It’s news to nobody that the Bronx — like almost every other zoo, aquarium, museum, college, industry, company, household, individual — isn’t exactly flush right now, and something had to give. But though the loss of the nocturnal animals is a significant one, the exhibit’s closing was noteworthy for another reason. When it comes to zoo buildings, the World of Darkness is one of the most fascinating. The World of Darkness was built in 1969. It has no windows, and from above looks like a giant letter C; the exterior is made up of tall, narrow gray stone panels of varying heights, which pitch inward. Unlike a lot of the other things you find in zoos, there’s nothing goofy or frenetic about it. It is not austere or staid or “classic” in any historic way. You would actually never expect to stumble upon a building like the World of Darkness in a zoo. It’s the kind of structure you’d expect to find in a zoo on, say, the Krypton of 1978’s Superman. But this element of surprise is exactly what makes the building so compelling, its closing a loss. As a field, the architecture of zoos is a funny thing.

more from Jesse Smith at The Smart Set here.