17 June 2010

Daily Digest, 17.06.2010

The "Happy Birthday Dad!" Edition

Today is my Dad's birthday, and so I'll start with a couple of items in his honor. My Dad is the source of my math-geek genes, so it's appropriate to begin with prime numbers:

Neil Gunter (via R bloggers) is in the midst of a Memento-like series (because it is progressing in reverse order) of three posts on prime numbers in R. The series started with with Part III, which showed that prime numbers in the R package schoolmath (which I have installed on my system) are seriously broken: in other words, the function primes() in schoolmath generates some numbers that aren't. For example, it generates as prime 133, which as schoolmath itself can (correctly) tell you, using the function prime.factor(), is equal to 7*19.

In Part II of the series, which appeared today, Gunter provides a new function for generating primes.
primegen(x) will generate all primes less than x.

Using Gunter's function (plus R's built-in capabilities) we can determine that the 88th prime is 457, which happens also to be the number in the Köchel catalogue of Mozart's piano sonata in C minor. Spooky!

Martin Gardner, who published the column "Mathematical Games" for many years in Scientific American, died this past 22 May, just before I began this blog. According to his obituary in the New York Times, his first article for Scientific American in 1956 was on hexaflexagons.

I fondly remember the hexaflexagon that my Dad made for us to play with when I was a kid, one of the many fun and fascinating science and math projects we did together when I was growing up. I think I'll make a new hexaflexagon in honor of your birthday!

My Dad is a chemical engineer, so he may be interested in the following story:

Did the lead in Caravaggio's paints kill him? 80beats reports that Italian scientists believe they have identified Caravaggio's bones, and these show an unusually high concentration of lead.

In other news:

Marc A Hight at the philosophers' magazine has a good short profile of 19th-century German thinker Wilhelm Dilthey, who argued for a distinction between Geisteswissenschaften (what we would now call the humanities and social sciences) and Naturwissenschaften (sciences). And we're still stuck with this separation, which has not worked out well. Although that wasn't Dilthey's fault, and he wasn't wrong about everything.

Hitchcock's Psycho turns 50 this week. Jack Sullivan has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal on Bernard Herrmann's music, which may have saved the movie: apparently Hitchcock was disastified with the film, and was considering recutting it for TV before he heard Herrmann's score. Among my college-aged students, many of whose parents were not yet born when Psycho was first in the theaters, I have yet to find even one who does not immediately know the music from the shower scene in Pycho. And yet, Sullivan relates, Hitchcock's music notes originally had that scene marked to be silent.

Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester died on Wednesday night. The Globe and Mail has an excellent obituary, that links to this video of Forrester singing Mahler's "Urlicht," conducted by Glenn Gould.

Ozzy Osbourne is having his genome sequenced. As the story at SkyNews puts it: "It is hoped the results from the £27,000 test, which takes three months, will provide information on how drugs are absorbed in the body."

Via BoingBoing, an X-ray pin-up calendar from the medical equipment supplier Eizo:

The stiletto heels are a particularly nice touch.

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution alerts us to an unusual story reported by Reuters:
German student attacks Hell's Angels with puppy
Tue Jun 15, 2010 10:55am EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German student created a major traffic jam in Bavaria after making a rude gesture at a group of Hell's Angels motorcycle gang members, hurling a puppy at them and then escaping on a stolen bulldozer.

German police said on Monday that after making his getaway from the Hell's Angels club, the 26-year-old dumped the bulldozer, causing a 5 km (3 miles) traffic jam near the southern town of Allershausen, local police said. He then fled to his home nearby where he was apprehended by the police.

"What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell's Angels is currently unclear," said a spokesman for local police, adding that the student had lately been suffering from depression.

The puppy was now in safe hands, the spokesman added.

It's a symptom of advanced and probably incurable polymathy when a single blog entry refers to prime numbers, the chemistry of Caravaggio's paint, Bernard Herrmann, Ozzy Osbourne's genome, and Wilhelm Dilthey.
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