Digital Dice: Computational Solutions to Practical Probability Problems

Princeton University Press
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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.

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About the author

Paul J. Nahin is the author of many best-selling popular-math books, including Chases and Escapes, Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula, When Least is Best, Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, and An Imaginary Tale (all Princeton). He is professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 24, 2013
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400846115
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Language
English
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Genres
Computers / Mathematical & Statistical Software
Mathematics / Probability & Statistics / General
Mathematics / Recreations & Games
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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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.

The mathematics of ancient Egypt was fundamentally different from our math today. Contrary to what people might think, it wasn't a primitive forerunner of modern mathematics. In fact, it can’t be understood using our current computational methods. Count Like an Egyptian provides a fun, hands-on introduction to the intuitive and often-surprising art of ancient Egyptian math. David Reimer guides you step-by-step through addition, subtraction, multiplication, and more. He even shows you how fractions and decimals may have been calculated—they technically didn’t exist in the land of the pharaohs. You’ll be counting like an Egyptian in no time, and along the way you’ll learn firsthand how mathematics is an expression of the culture that uses it, and why there’s more to math than rote memorization and bewildering abstraction.

Reimer takes you on a lively and entertaining tour of the ancient Egyptian world, providing rich historical details and amusing anecdotes as he presents a host of mathematical problems drawn from different eras of the Egyptian past. Each of these problems is like a tantalizing puzzle, often with a beautiful and elegant solution. As you solve them, you’ll be immersed in many facets of Egyptian life, from hieroglyphs and pyramid building to agriculture, religion, and even bread baking and beer brewing.

Fully illustrated in color throughout, Count Like an Egyptian also teaches you some Babylonian computation—the precursor to our modern system—and compares ancient Egyptian mathematics to today’s math, letting you decide for yourself which is better.

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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