Archive for 'Arts and science'

April 30 as final day for retiring the Zimbabwe $100-trillion-dollar bills

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe announced its official intention that April 30, 2016, will be the final day for paying anything—anything at all—to people who turned in the now-decommissioned $100,000,000,000,000 bills, $10,000,000,000,000 bills, $1,000,000,000,000 bills, and old bills of lower denominations. That announcement:

Demonetisation of the Zimbabwean Dollar — The demonetisation of the Zimbabwe dollar which was announced by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development in the 2014 National Budget, as well as, in the Mid-term Fiscal Review, and in the Monetary Policy Statement of January 2015, commenced on 15 June 2015 and ended on 30 September 2015….The Bank is currently working with the Deposit Protection Corporation (DPC) to ensure that account holders whose balances were held with closed banks are paid. DPC is expected to fully pay out these beneficiaries by the end of April 2016. ”


A previous announcement, on June 9, 2015, explained that “Demonetisation is not compensation for the loss of value of the Z$ due to hyper-inflation. It is an exchange process.”

Here are the announced exchange rates for money that people had deposited in banks:

a) Accounts with balances of Zero to Z$175 quadrillion will be paid a flat US$5.

b) Accounts with balances above Z$175 quadrillion will be paid the equivalent value after applying the UN exchange rate of US$1/Z$35 quadrillion or US$1/Z$35,000 (revalued).

Slightly different rates were on offer for “walk-in cash customers”:

Banks will exchange ZW$ cash for US$ equivalent for walk-in cash customers at an exchange rate of Z$250 trillion to US$1 for 2008 note series and Z$250 to US$1 for 2009 note series.

NewsDay published a journalistic account of all this.

The old currency has a celebrated place in history. The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for mathematics was awarded to the then head of the bank, Dr. Gideon Gono, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

Dr. Gono wrote a book explaining why that currency was a good idea that other countries should adopt. The book is Zimbabwe’s Casino Economy — Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Challenges, Gideon Gono, ZPH Publishers, Harare, 2008, ISBN 978-079-743-679-4.


The special SMELLY issue of the magazine is out!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

The special SMELLY issue (vol. 22, no. 2) of the magazine (the Annals of Improbable Research) is now out! It’s bursting (as are all our issues) with carefully culled, improbable research snippets about everything, from anywhere, more or less. Click on the cover image, below, to see the issue’s table of contents and some of the articles.

This is the second issue of our all-PDF era. We hope you enjoy it, and that you will spread the word to friends and colleagues! There are additional new columns, and we have further tweaked the new design (by the one and only Geri Sullivan) to make it even more comfy to read on smartphones, as well as on larger screens.

If you are a subscriber, you should have received an email letting you know the new issue is available, with directions for downloading your copy.

If you are not yet a subscriber, you can purchase that issue —or subscribe!—on our Gumroad page.

Back issues of the magazine, and tables of contents, are available on the Improbable website.


Special thanks to Lauren Maurer Trew, our bookmaster, for working much of the tech magic that brought the magazine into this new era.

Leadership by a man with a big mouth (Podcast 61)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Does having a big mouth make a man more likely to become a political leader? A research study asked that very question. We discuss it, in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams  —with dramatic readings by Daniel Rosenberg — tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

Morphometrics maven: morphometricians must and can do better

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

booksteinA grizzled morphometrician casts a cold, gleeful eye at his field, and urges himself and his fellow morphometricians to do better. Morphometrics is the the continuing attempt to carefully measure and compare shapes and sizes. This morphometrician’s happy diatribe is in the form of a long, new paper:

The Inappropriate Symmetries of Multivariate Statistical Analysis in Geometric Morphometrics,” by Fred L. Bookstein (pictured here], Evolutionary Biology, epub 2016, pp 1-37. The author, who is at the University of Washington and the University of Vienna, writes, in densely grand language:

“In today’s geometric morphometrics the commonest multivariate statistical procedures, such as principal component analysis or regressions of Procrustes shape coordinates on Centroid Size, embody a tacit roster of symmetries—axioms concerning the homogeneity of the multiple spatial domains or descriptor vectors involved—that do not correspond to actual biological fact. These techniques are hence inappropriate for any application regarding which we have a-priori biological knowledge to the contrary (e.g., genetic/morphogenetic processes common to multiple landmarks, the range of normal in anatomy atlases, the consequences of growth or function for form). But nearly every morphometric investigation is motivated by prior insights of this sort. We therefore need new tools that explicitly incorporate these elements of knowledge, should they be quantitative, to break the symmetries of the classic morphometric approaches. Some of these are already available in our literature but deserve to be known more widely…”

Here’s a bit of flavored detail from the paper:


Group theory in the bedroom (OR: As the mattress turns…)

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Brian Hayes‘s essay (in American Scientist) called “Group Theory in the Bedroom” applies advanced mathematics to what happens in the bedroom. The bedroom is the room with the bed in it. The essay begins:

Having run out of sheep the other night, I found myself counting the ways to flip a mattress. Earlier that day I had flipped the very mattress on which I was not sleeping, and the chore had left a residue of puzzled discontent. If you’re going to bother at all with such a fussbudget bit of housekeeping, it seems like you ought to do it right, rotating the mattress to a different position each time, so as to pound down the lumps and fill in the sags on all the various surfaces. The trouble is, in the long interval between flips I always forget which way I flipped it last time. Lying awake that night, I was turning the problem over in my head, searching for a golden rule of mattress flipping….

The search for a mattress-flipping algorithm leads to some diverting mathematics, not just in the bedroom but also in the garage and at the breakfast table. Furthermore, although I can offer no golden rule for mattress flipping, I do have some practical advice….

Particularly helpful is the branch of mathematics known as group theory, which is the traditional tool for studies of symmetry.