Monthly Archives: November 2007

Pathetic Innumeracy – this time from Great Britain

My fellow SBer Craig McClain sent me a link to yet another an example of how mind-bogglingly innumerate people are. At least, for once it’s not Americans.

The British lottery put out a “scratch-off” game called “Cool Cash”. The idea of
it is that it’s got a target temperature on the card, and to win, you need uncover
only temperatures colder than the target. Simple, right?

Since Britain is on the metric system, they measure temperatures in Celsius. So naturally, some of the temperatures end up being below zero. And that’s where the trouble came in. So many
people didn’t know that below zero, larger numbers are lower and thus colder, that
the lottery had to withdraw the game!

To quote one of the “victims”:

On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn’t.

I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher – not lower – than -8 but I’m not having it.

I love that “I’m not having it” line. That’s a classic.

What I find particularly surprising is that this isn’t just math – it’s just a basic, minimal awareness of your surroundings. We’re talking
about adults here – people who’ve clearly lived through plenty of winters, where the temperature
in Great Britain routinely drops below zero degrees celsius. That means that these people don’t know that when it’s -10, it’s colder than when it’s -2! To me, this seems to be on about the
same intellectual level as trying to eat wax fruit, because you don’t know he difference between
it and real fruit.

Musical Goofiness with a Mathy-Bent

Ladies and gentlemen.. For your pleasure and edification, allow me to present… The singing Tesla coils!

Yes, if you’re clever, and you’re willing to do a whole lot of work, you can operate a Tesla coil so that the sparking from the coil produces a particular pitch. Even you’re even more clever, you can vary the way that the coil is run to produce different pitches, and arrange it into a song. And if you’re really remarkably clever, you can set up two singing Tesla coils, and have them play a duet.

Revisiting Old Friends, the Finale

Now, it’s time for the final chapter in my “visits with old friends” series, which brings us
back to the Good Math/Bad Math all-time reader favorite crackpot: Mr. George Shollenberger.

Last time I mentioned George, a number of readers commented on the fact that it’s cruel to pick on poor George, because the guy is clearly not all there: he’s suffered from a number of medical problems which can cause impaired reasoning, etc. I don’t like to be pointlessly cruel, and in general, I think it’s inappropriate to be harsh with someone who is suffering from medical problems – particularly medical problems that affect the functioning of the mind.

But I don’t cut George any slack. None at all. Because much of what spews from his mouth isn’t the
result of an impaired mind: it’s the product of an arrogant, vile, awful person. Since our last contact
with George, aside from the humorous idiocy, he’s also taken it upon himself to explain how we’ll never
have a peaceful society in America until we get rid of all of those damned foreigners
, who have
“unamerican mindsets”. That post was where I really started to despise George. He’s not just a senile
old fool – he’s a disgusting, horrible person, just another of the evil ghouls who used a horrible
event, committed by a severely ill individual, as a cudgel to promote a deeply racist agenda.

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Mathematical Constructions and the Abstraction Barrier

There was an interesting discussion about mathematical constructions in the comment thread on my post about the professor who doesn’t like infinity, and I thought it was worth turning it into a post of its own.

In the history of this blog, I’ve often talked about the idea of “building mathematics”. I’ve shown several constructions – most often using something based on Peano arithmetic – but I’ve never really gone into great detail about what it means, and how it works.

I’ve also often said that the underlying theory of most modern math is built using set theory. But what does that really mean? That’s the important question, and the subject of this post.

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Friday Random Recipe: Mac and Cheese!

One of my favorite comfort foods is a mac&cheese tuna casserole. That’s real mac&cheese, not any of that glow in the dark orange garbage. It amazes me just how many people have never actually had a proper, home-made macaroni and cheese! It’s really good eating (unlike the glow in the dark stuff). The most important thing for this is to use good cheddar cheese. The pre-shredded stuff is tasteless – you need a good brick of some kind of high quality, aged cheddar cheese. Of the widely available stuff, my favorite is Cabot extra-sharp.


  • 1 pound of macaroni, cooked according to instructions an the box, then cooled.
  • 3/4 pound shredded cheddar cheese.
  • 2 cups milk.
  • 8 tablespoons butter.
  • 1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced.
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard.
  • 1 can of good quality tuna, preferably packed in olive oil, drained
    and crumbled.
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
  • 2 tablespoons of flour.
  • 1 head broccoli, steamed and cut into small pieces.


  1. In 2 tbs of butter, brown the sliced mushrooms. Add salt to taste.
  2. In another 2 tbs butter, toast the bread-crumbs until they’re nicely browned.
  3. Put the cooked macaroni, broccoli, mushrooms, and tuna into a large mixing bowl, and mix
    them together.
  4. In a saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tbs butter, and then add the flour. Whisk together
    to form a roux, and cook on medium low heat until it’s about the color of coffee with milk.
  5. Add the milk, and whisk vigourously to dissolve the roux into the milk. Increase the heat
    to medium, and stir until it reaches a boil and thickens.
  6. Add the mustard and 2/3rds of the cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is thick. Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that the salt in the sauce is the only salt for the macaroni.)
  7. Pour the sauce over the pasta mixture in the bowl, and mix it through.
  8. Dump the resulting mixture into a large casserole dish. Top with the toasted bread crumbs
    and the remaining cheese.
  9. Cover with foil, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes; then remove the foil and let it bake
    for another 20 minutes.

It’s a humble dish, but it’s really awfully good. If you’re adventurous, you can also do all sorts of variations – this dish is great for playing with. For example, replacing the mustard with curry powder
is terrific!