Stray Thoughts

Things that tickle my fancy

Science quotes I: Piet Hein

Posted on April 23, 2015

Piet Hein was a Danish architect, designer, and polymath. His contribution to this series lies in his "grooks" - short, punchy poems that hit at the heart of a question. The definition of a good after-dinner speaker in Denmark is someone who can talk for half an hour without quoting one of Piet Hein's grooks. Below are several of my favourites. Problems worthy of attack, Prove their worth by hitting back   Everything’s ...

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Game theory is about people, not just mathematics. It needs a new name to reflect this

Game theory is all around us. Despite its innocuous-sounding name, it is not just a theory, and it deals with far more than traditional games. It is, in fact, about the real-life strategies that we use in our interactions with other people. Originally proposed by John von Neumann in the late 1940s, it provides a mathematical analysis of those strategies. His analysis exposed a critical flaw in them – a logical paradox which means that when we ...

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53. Terry Pratchett on science

An updated version of the tribute below has now been broadcast in The Science Show on Australia's ABC Radio National:   Terry Pratchett, who died on March 12th, lived in a village not far from me, and is one of my favourite authors. The newspapers are full of memorable philosophical and humorous quotes from his novels and interviews. But ...

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Renaming the comet lander

Posted on November 27, 2014

My suggestion for renaming the Philae comet lander after the ancient Greek marathon runner Pheidippides (Nature 515 (2014) 492) ( The Rosetta spacecraft's Philae probe, which landed successfully on an orbiting comet on 12 November (see Nature; 2014), could be renamed Pheidippides — for its record-setting marathon run and transmiss...

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Humour in Science

An "Ockham's Razor" talk delivered on April 1st, 2012 (for audio version check out I have twelve minutes to convince you that scientists have a sense of humour, and that humour is an important contributor and stimulant for science. It should only take one minute, because I need take you no further than a paper published by two American theoretical ...

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