The Fermi Paradox

The detection of life somewhere in the Universe other than the Earth would probably be the greatest discovery in history.  When pondering this thought a physics/maths teacher called Enrico Fermi wondered why considering the age and sheer size of the Universe that no other species had got in contact with us so far.  Think of it there are billions of stars, billions of planets which have all existed for billions of years – you would think that SETI would have picked up more than just white noise.

At the heart of this idea is a paradox – the Fermi Paradox.  It was in 1961 that Frank Drake perhaps moved towards an answer to this paradox when he developed an equation for the probability of a contactable alien society living somewhere else in the Milky Way.  The Drake equation tells us that there is a chance but it’s still quite uncertain.

Here’s the basis of the Drake Equation

N=N*x FpxNexFixFjxFcxFl


N is the number of civilizations in the Milky Way detectable by electromagnetic emissions

N* is the number of stars in the Galaxy

Fp is the fraction of stars which have planetary systems

Ne is the number of planets per solar system with an environment suitable for life

Fi is the fraction of suitable planets which have actually shown some life

Fl is the fraction of life bearing planets which have spawned intelligent life

Fc is the fraction of civilisations capable of communicating their existence into space

Fl is the fraction of the civilisations lifetime that detectable signals have been released (e.g for Earth it’s pretty small!)

Obviously some of these variables are quite difficult to calculate but all our research suggests that we should have been contacted somehow by something.  So Fermis Paradox still is true.  If you’re interested more about this subject it’s covered by two maths series on British Television one on BBC and the other Channel 4.  If you have trouble connecting with UK TV because of your location – this website shows you how to watch the BBC  abroad.  It’s a simple technique involved in just routing through a UK located proxy server which allows video streaming.

For further information –

Pattern in Wine Vintages

I think we all remember seeing a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac at some point in time right?  I was having a discussion with a guy who owns a 90 point wine club and he was telling me that despite all of our scientific advances, there are still a number of wineries which use the type of old school tools that so many people in my generation think are an absolute joke.

In any case, it was interesting to hear the pros and cons of using every available resource.  While you might think that having something like the Farmer’s Almanac would be worthwhile because after all, the goal is always to make better wine, you lose some respect within the industry these days by using those type of tools.  It isn’t really something that I agree with, but it is clearly something he has thought about a lot and talked about with a ton of people so what can you do other than simply respect his opinon and move on?

Mathematics of Waves

There are very few events in Nature that are quite as dramatic as the waves in our seas.  The Ocean impacts most of our daily lives and the waves impact all aspects to – from affects on shipping, tides and their role in the global climat which affects us all.  Using pure theory it should be possible to determine how a wave moves and interacts with other objects.  However there are few subjects in Maths quite as difficult as figuring out fluid motions.


It was Isaac Newton who attempted one of the most famous theories of water waves, although there were Greek mathematicians who had attempted something much earlier.  However we have moved on a long way from this and in 2001 the Surface Water Waves programme was held to focus entirely on water waves.

It brought together over 60 expert researchers including theorists and scientists from about 17 different countries including from the USSR.  Some of this research and ideas initiated at this programme have begun to have real practical applications.  One of the most visible is that of a method of predicting freak waves. Dr Peter Janssen came up with the method.  It covers the statistical aspects of wave behaviour and attempts to predict these waves.  Users can actually contact the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), who will get routing advice including predictions for size of the waves.

Other research into mathematical models that was inspired by the programme is the link between waves and hurricanes.  It has focused on the interaction between ocean waves and the hurricanes.  This topic is of particular interest to countries like the US who suffer a lot of these winds.  The work has progressed into the creation of several hurricane forecast models most notably in the University of Rhode Islands and another in the United Kingdoms Met office.

You can see some examples of the best hurricanes and wave television footage on the BBC web site.  Some of the BBC documentary Nature series has some incredible examples – if you can’t access the BBC Iplayer site because of country restrictions have a loook at this site –  It basically shows you how to use a proxy server to obscure your real IP address, you can then pretend you have a UK one in order to access the wonderful BBC Iplayer whenever you like.

Additional Citation

Joe Simpson – Building a UK IP Address  –

Math Apps on the Apple iPad

The iPad has a number of apps that are sure to challenge children in as far as math is concerned. These apps have been subjected to various tries and tests to ensure that they can be effectively used as classroom tools. Most of the apps are meant for children who are between the ages of 5 and 12. This however does not mean that adults cannot try them out.
The Motion Math for instance has in the recent past become a best seller; it offers the children a chance to practice those pesky decimals, fractions and percentages. The Mathstronaut is also an app that is found on the iPad and it is unique as it is filled with a lot of humor as well as math.

It is a collection of games featuring amusing cartoon sequences, and it is possible for the child to add and subtract figures in addition to multiplying and solving problems associated with division. The difficulty level increases with the time the child plays the game and it features two game modes so as to guarantee a little bit of longevity. The math problems keep on changing and this ensures that the children will always be engaged. Why get an iPad with an expensive GSM subscription if you can buy one simlock free with a loan, check your financial options to buy an iPhone or iPad here with a small short term mini loan:

If you want some fun and to practice your maths then there’s a selection of games that are perfect.  I’m talking of course of the casino games where at the core of every game is the subject of probability.  Balancing your bets against the odd and the probability of a result is the very essence of all the games of chance.  You don’t need to dash off to Las Vegas however, there’s quite a few roulette simulator programs that actually allow you to play all these games for free tokens.

Perhaps with a little practice and some serious probability study then you can then dash off to Vegas and make your fortune.  Here’s a cool song from my youth to play in the background,

Seriously though, there is no mathematical way to guarantee a win in any casino game without some sort of bias in one of the games. Perhaps a dodgy casino wheel, a tilted table or a bent croupier all are rather difficult to achieve in normal circumstances!

John Hennnings