Humble Pi by Matt Parker review – a comedy of maths errors


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Impossible footballs, skyscrapers that shake, the next Y2K-style bug – when maths goes wrong

You might think you have a phone number, but you don’t really. It’s not a number: you’re not going to perform any mathematical operations on it, and if it starts with a zero then things will go wrong if you do what you would normally do with a number that starts with zero, ie omit it. For this reason, as the “standup mathematician” Matt Parker explains with amusing pedantry, he would really rather we call them “phone digits”.

This is an innocent example of our general fuzziness about maths, where intuitions can go drastically awry. “As humans,” Parker notes for example, “we are not good at judging the size of large numbers.” A million seconds, he points out, is less than two weeks, but a billion seconds is 31 years. And even the mathematics of ...