May(un)fair? Your chances of winning at McDonald's Monopoly

McDonald's are once again running their Monopoly promotion, where along with your food you can collect stickers featuring properties from the famous board game. It's not just a matter of filling up a sticker book, of course - collecting properties can win you big prizes - but only if you manage to build up a full set of any particular colour. It's basically a lottery with a cunning twist - it's easy to feel you're closer to winning than you really are.
 
For example, to win the top prize of £500,000 you just have to find the two dark blue properties (Park Lane and Mayfair), but whilst there are plenty of the former going around, it seems, from reading the competition rules,that there is just one Mayfair sticker in the entire country.If this is true, it means that thousands of people will find themselves "just one sticker away" from winning a small fortune, when in reality their minuscule chance of winning has barely increased.

Nuclear risk

News from Japan is getting worse and worse. After an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 shook Japan on Friday afternoon, a tsunami swept the east coast of Honshu claiming thousands of lives. As a consequence of the combined effect of earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant lost off-site power supply and back-up diesel generators which compromised the power plant security. The disabling of the plant’s cooling system resulted in the breaking of the Unit 2 reactor containment, and explosions at both Units 1 and 3.
 
The lastest news informs us of another fire in the Unit 4 reactor and Unit 5 reactor vessel diminishing water level. Radioactivity has reached dangerous levels and the population 20-kilometres around the power plant, as well as most of its workers, have been evacuated. It is the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

Continue Reading

A spoonful of sugar helps

Every day beverages containing caffeine and glucose keep us company from morning to night: a caffè latte during breakfast, soft drinks at lunch or during breaks, energy drinks at work or alcohol energy drinks late in the night. Keeping us awaken, boosting our energy, or just the pleasure of it are some of the reasons for consuming these drinks. But what are the effects of these substances in the functioning of our brain? Are the effects attributed to them true or are they just a myth?

IBM's Watson: wonder of the analytics age

When fans of Jeopardy!, America's favourite TV trivia game show, tune in this Valentine's Day they might wonder if they have mistakenly entered the Twilight Zone. At the center podium, where the smiling face of an expectant contestant would normally be, they will see a refrigerator-sized black box, silent and unassuming save for the luminous avatar at its core - a brain-like armillary sphere orbited by a score of glowing satellites. On February 14th, for the first time since Jeopardy!'s 1964 debut, two human contestants will compete against a machine. This is no hoax, incredulous readers. This... is... Watson!IBM's latest breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that in a few days will make history. If Deep Blue, the computer that beat Garry Kasparov at chess, was AI's sputnik, Watson is about to become its moon landing.

Continue Reading

What’s the point of gambling?

In the BBC Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, Alex Bellos, author of the outstanding Alex’s Adventures in Numberland, was discussing randomness and made the following claim. 'I've interviewed lots of mathematicians and none of them say, "yeah I love gambling." They just don’t do it. I mean, what's the point?' I don’t know if I count as a mathematician, but I've made more trips to Las Vegas than I can remember. Were Alex interviewing me, I guess he’d ask me, "why?"

Continue Reading