Like most people, my knowledge of maths is limited to the skills I need to function in society. (I blame crappy high school teachers for that.) However, the diversity and implications of maths theory is truly fascinating if you're willing to give it a chance. This animated map breaks down the basics.
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After thousands of years of trying, mathematicians are still working out the number known as pi or “π”. We typically think of pi as approximately 3.14 but the most successful attempt to calculate it more precisely worked out its value to over 13 trillion digits after the decimal point. We have known since the 18th century that we will never be able to calculate all the digits of pi because it is an irrational number, one that continues forever without any repeating pattern. But there is a semblance of order to all that "random" chaos.
It may surprise you to know that the world's first computer programmer did not actually own a computer. In fact, she lived and died almost a century before the first computer was even built. The first person to write a computer program was none other than Ada, Countess of Lovelace, a remarkable mathematician and writer who also happened to be the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron.
Every few years, the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) assesses the mathematics level of hundreds of thousands of students around the world. In 2000, when the first tests were held, Australia ranked 6th for maths. In the most recent results, we had dropped to 19th. Here's why we need to be literate in maths, and why our failure to do so is spelling bad news for our careers, life choices -- and even our mental health.
Not all programmers come from a maths background. In fact, if you're self-taught, chances are you've stumbled on a useful mathematical formula (say, on Wikipedia), except its in formal notation and might as well be Sanskrit. Sometimes you can get lucky and find code snippets, but if you're reading straight from research papers, this isn't always an option. Fortunately, you can translate it, if you have the time.
Until the late 20th century, a 'computer' was not a machine like the one you may be reading this on now, but a job title -- literally, someone who makes computations. This term can be found all the way back to the 17th century, but one of the most important eras for the human computer occurred during World War II.
With a depletion in the male workforce, it follows that a large majority of these human computers -- largely tasked with calculating bullet and missile trajectories -- were women. Six of these women then went on to become the programmers of the ENIAC, the world's first computing machine; their names were Kay McNulty, Betty Holberton, Marlyn Meltzer, Ruth Teitelbaum, Jean Bartik, and Fran Spence.
Turing. Even if you don't know the man, you've heard the name. There's the Turing Machine: a mathematical model that defined early computing and modern day programming, and the more well-known Turing Test, an early definition of artificial intelligence. Most people with any interest in computing or robotics will have heard of the name Turing, but how many know the story of the man behind it all?
Some riddles are more than just a bit of fun -- they're also an effective intelligence barometer. The following brain-teaser from TED-Ed will test both your maths knowledge and ability to think outside the box. It starts with four people who need to get to the other side of a bridge, each with their own walking speeds and quickly gets complicated...
Dear Lifehacker, I'm 32 and have just been accepted as a marine engineer trainee. Horribly, I have just realised I have forgotten how to do most of the basic maths I learned in school. Algebra is killing me right now and even fractions are a challenge. I rely on technology for all these calculations and can no longer remember how to do this on paper. Any good sites, apps or other ideas to help me out? Thanks, Pi Hard