Will You Be Alive 10 Years from Now?: And Numerous Other Curious Questions in Probability

Princeton University Press
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What are the chances of a game-show contestant finding a chicken in a box? Is the Hanukkah dreidel a fair game? Will you be alive ten years from now? These are just some of the one-of-a-kind probability puzzles that acclaimed popular math writer Paul Nahin offers in this lively and informative book.

Nahin brings probability to life with colorful and amusing historical anecdotes as well as an electrifying approach to solving puzzles that illustrates many of the techniques that mathematicians and scientists use to grapple with probability. He looks at classic puzzles from the past--from Galileo's dice-tossing problem to a disarming dice puzzle that would have astonished even Newton--and also includes a dozen challenge problems for you to tackle yourself, with complete solutions provided in the back of the book.


Nahin then presents twenty-five unusual probability puzzlers that you aren't likely to find anywhere else, and which range in difficulty from ones that are easy but clever to others that are technically intricate. Each problem is accompanied by an entertaining discussion of its background and solution, and is backed up by theory and computer simulations whenever possible in order to show how theory and computer experimentation can often work together on probability questions. All the MATLAB® Monte Carlo simulation codes needed to solve the problems computationally are included in the book.With his characteristic wit, audacity, and insight, Nahin demonstrates why seemingly simple probability problems can stump even the experts.

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About the author

Paul J. Nahin is professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He is the best-selling author of many popular-math books, including Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, The Logician and the Engineer, Number-Crunching, Mrs. Perkins's Electric Quilt, and An Imaginary Tale (all Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Nov 24, 2013
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781400848379
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Language
English
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Genres
Mathematics / Probability & Statistics / General
Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Some probability problems are so difficult that they stump the smartest mathematicians. But even the hardest of these problems can often be solved with a computer and a Monte Carlo simulation, in which a random-number generator simulates a physical process, such as a million rolls of a pair of dice. This is what Digital Dice is all about: how to get numerical answers to difficult probability problems without having to solve complicated mathematical equations.

Popular-math writer Paul Nahin challenges readers to solve twenty-one difficult but fun problems, from determining the odds of coin-flipping games to figuring out the behavior of elevators. Problems build from relatively easy (deciding whether a dishwasher who breaks most of the dishes at a restaurant during a given week is clumsy or just the victim of randomness) to the very difficult (tackling branching processes of the kind that had to be solved by Manhattan Project mathematician Stanislaw Ulam). In his characteristic style, Nahin brings the problems to life with interesting and odd historical anecdotes. Readers learn, for example, not just how to determine the optimal stopping point in any selection process but that astronomer Johannes Kepler selected his second wife by interviewing eleven women.


The book shows readers how to write elementary computer codes using any common programming language, and provides solutions and line-by-line walk-throughs of a MATLAB code for each problem.



Digital Dice will appeal to anyone who enjoys popular math or computer science. In a new preface, Nahin wittily addresses some of the responses he received to the first edition.

“Brilliant, funny . . . the best math teacher you never had.”—San Francisco Chronicle Once considered tedious, the field of statistics is rapidly evolving into a discipline Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, has actually called “sexy.” From batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research, the real-world application of statistics continues to grow by leaps and bounds. How can we catch schools that cheat on standardized tests? How does Netflix know which movies you’ll like? What is causing the rising incidence of autism? As best-selling author Charles Wheelan shows us in Naked Statistics, the right data and a few well-chosen statistical tools can help us answer these questions and more.

For those who slept through Stats 101, this book is a lifesaver. Wheelan strips away the arcane and technical details and focuses on the underlying intuition that drives statistical analysis. He clarifies key concepts such as inference, correlation, and regression analysis, reveals how biased or careless parties can manipulate or misrepresent data, and shows us how brilliant and creative researchers are exploiting the valuable data from natural experiments to tackle thorny questions.

And in Wheelan’s trademark style, there’s not a dull page in sight. You’ll encounter clever Schlitz Beer marketers leveraging basic probability, an International Sausage Festival illuminating the tenets of the central limit theorem, and a head-scratching choice from the famous game show Let’s Make a Deal—and you’ll come away with insights each time. With the wit, accessibility, and sheer fun that turned Naked Economics into a bestseller, Wheelan defies the odds yet again by bringing another essential, formerly unglamorous discipline to life.

What are your chances of dying on your next flight, being called for jury duty, or winning the lottery? We all encounter probability problems in our everyday lives. In this collection of twenty-one puzzles, Paul Nahin challenges us to think creatively about the laws of probability as they apply in playful, sometimes deceptive, ways to a fascinating array of speculative situations. Games of Russian roulette, problems involving the accumulation of insects on flypaper, and strategies for determining the odds of the underdog winning the World Series all reveal intriguing dimensions to the workings of probability. Over the years, Nahin, a veteran writer and teacher of the subject, has collected these and other favorite puzzles designed to instruct and entertain math enthusiasts of all backgrounds.

If idiots A and B alternately take aim at each other with a six-shot revolver containing one bullet, what is the probability idiot A will win? What are the chances it will snow on your birthday in any given year? How can researchers use coin flipping and the laws of probability to obtain honest answers to embarrassing survey questions? The solutions are presented here in detail, and many contain a profound element of surprise. And some puzzles are beautiful illustrations of basic mathematical concepts: "The Blind Spider and the Fly," for example, is a clever variation of a "random walk" problem, and "Duelling Idiots" and "The Underdog and the World Series" are straightforward introductions to binomial distributions.


Written in an informal way and containing a plethora of interesting historical material, Duelling Idiots is ideal for those who are fascinated by mathematics and the role it plays in everyday life and in our imaginations.

One of Wall Street Journal's Best Ten Works of Nonfiction in 2012
 
New York Times Bestseller

“Not so different in spirit from the way public intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith once shaped discussions of economic policy and public figures like Walter Cronkite helped sway opinion on the Vietnam War…could turn out to be one of the more momentous books of the decade.”
—New York Times Book Review
 
"Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise is The Soul of a New Machine for the 21st century."
—Rachel Maddow, author of Drift

"A serious treatise about the craft of prediction—without academic mathematics—cheerily aimed at lay readers. Silver's coverage is polymathic, ranging from poker and earthquakes to climate change and terrorism."
—New York Review of Books

Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger—all by the time he was thirty. He solidified his standing as the nation's foremost political forecaster with his near perfect prediction of the 2012 election. Silver is the founder and editor in chief of the website FiveThirtyEight. 
 
Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. He explains and evaluates how these forecasters think and what bonds they share. What lies behind their success? Are they good—or just lucky? What patterns have they unraveled? And are their forecasts really right? He explores unanticipated commonalities and exposes unexpected juxtapositions. And sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. In other cases, prediction is still a very rudimentary—and dangerous—science.

Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. They distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.

With everything from the health of the global economy to our ability to fight terrorism dependent on the quality of our predictions, Nate Silver’s insights are an essential read.
What does quilting have to do with electric circuit theory? The answer is just one of the fascinating ways that best-selling popular math writer Paul Nahin illustrates the deep interplay of math and physics in the world around us in his latest book of challenging mathematical puzzles, Mrs. Perkins's Electric Quilt. With his trademark combination of intriguing mathematical problems and the historical anecdotes surrounding them, Nahin invites readers on an exciting and informative exploration of some of the many ways math and physics combine to create something vastly more powerful, useful, and interesting than either is by itself.

In a series of brief and largely self-contained chapters, Nahin discusses a wide range of topics in which math and physics are mutually dependent and mutually illuminating, from Newtonian gravity and Newton's laws of mechanics to ballistics, air drag, and electricity. The mathematical subjects range from algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and calculus to differential equations, Fourier series, and theoretical and Monte Carlo probability. Each chapter includes problems--some three dozen in all--that challenge readers to try their hand at applying what they have learned. Just as in his other books of mathematical puzzles, Nahin discusses the historical background of each problem, gives many examples, includes MATLAB codes, and provides complete and detailed solutions at the end.



Mrs. Perkins's Electric Quilt will appeal to students interested in new math and physics applications, teachers looking for unusual examples to use in class--and anyone who enjoys popular math books.

Today complex numbers have such widespread practical use--from electrical engineering to aeronautics--that few people would expect the story behind their derivation to be filled with adventure and enigma. In An Imaginary Tale, Paul Nahin tells the 2000-year-old history of one of mathematics' most elusive numbers, the square root of minus one, also known as i. He recreates the baffling mathematical problems that conjured it up, and the colorful characters who tried to solve them.

In 1878, when two brothers stole a mathematical papyrus from the ancient Egyptian burial site in the Valley of Kings, they led scholars to the earliest known occurrence of the square root of a negative number. The papyrus offered a specific numerical example of how to calculate the volume of a truncated square pyramid, which implied the need for i. In the first century, the mathematician-engineer Heron of Alexandria encountered I in a separate project, but fudged the arithmetic; medieval mathematicians stumbled upon the concept while grappling with the meaning of negative numbers, but dismissed their square roots as nonsense. By the time of Descartes, a theoretical use for these elusive square roots--now called "imaginary numbers"--was suspected, but efforts to solve them led to intense, bitter debates. The notorious i finally won acceptance and was put to use in complex analysis and theoretical physics in Napoleonic times.

Addressing readers with both a general and scholarly interest in mathematics, Nahin weaves into this narrative entertaining historical facts and mathematical discussions, including the application of complex numbers and functions to important problems, such as Kepler's laws of planetary motion and ac electrical circuits. This book can be read as an engaging history, almost a biography, of one of the most evasive and pervasive "numbers" in all of mathematics.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

An engaging collection of intriguing problems that shows you how to think like a mathematical physicist

Paul Nahin is a master at explaining odd phenomena through straightforward mathematics. In this collection of twenty-six intriguing problems, he explores how mathematical physicists think. Always entertaining, the problems range from ancient catapult conundrums to the puzzling physics of a very peculiar kind of glass called NASTYGLASS—and from dodging trucks to why raindrops fall slower than the rate of gravity. The questions raised may seem impossible to answer at first and may require an unexpected twist in reasoning, but sometimes their solutions are surprisingly simple. Nahin’s goal, however, is always to guide readers—who will need only to have studied advanced high school math and physics—in expanding their mathematical thinking to make sense of the curiosities of the physical world.

The problems are in the first part of the book and the solutions are in the second, so that readers may challenge themselves to solve the questions on their own before looking at the explanations. The problems show how mathematics—including algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and calculus—can be united with physical laws to solve both real and theoretical problems. Historical anecdotes woven throughout the book bring alive the circumstances and people involved in some amazing discoveries and achievements.

More than a puzzle book, this work will immerse you in the delights of scientific history while honing your math skills.

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