Friday, February 25, 2005

Numb3rs Review: "Sabotage"

A nice thrilling episode, with very little math (but see below). As always, major spoiler alert.

Plot summary: Series of trains are derailed. At each site, a paper containing the same set of numbers is left behind. Everyone thinks it's a code, but it actually isn't (at least not in the traditional sense). Some good old sleuthing yields the answer.

It was funny when the NTSB official asks Charlie if he knows any cryptography. Although technically isn't cryptanalysis what the code breakers do ? Larry the loony physicist had some hilarious quotes:
  • "Our evening was primal, in the carnal sense, not the mathematical."
  • "The math department, the least libidinous place on campus"
The last fact is sadly not too far from the truth, but wait ! Mathematicans are cool (via Mathpuzzle)

The only real math nuggets came at the end, when Charlie was trying to explain to the female FBI agent that math appears in nature. His example: The Fibonacci series ! Bzzttt...

As it turns out, Rudbeckia Hirta just today posted a note about the exaggerated claims concerning the Fibonacci series; that the Greeks referred to the "golden ratio" (no), that the pyramids and the Parthenon somehow magically encode this ratio (only if you round off heavily), and even how the ratio is supposed to be aesthetically pleasing (no evidence). Keith Devlin has more on this.

Oh well: if Dan Brown can do it...
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p.s I understand that we need some kind of romantic interest to give the series some spice (although CSI and Law and Order manage perfectly well without it), but why on earth are they setting up an advisor-student relationship ? Allegedly at some distant point in the past this used to be fairly common in the humanities, but nowadays ? My only question is: how long before this becomes a "Big Issue" in the academic blogosphere ?

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