The Imaginary Number

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  1. The Imaginary Number

    Episode four of Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    The imaginary number takes mathematics to another dimension. It was discovered in sixteenth century Italy at a time when being a mathematician was akin to being a modern day rock star, when there was ‘nuff respect’ to be had from solving a particularly ‘wicked’ equation. And the wicked equation of the day went like this: "If the square root of 1 is both 1 and -1, then what is the square root of -1?"

    —Huffduffed by srushe

  2. The Number Four

    Episode one of Another Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Simon Singh’s journey begins with the number 4, which for over a century has fuelled one of the most elusive problems in mathematics: is it true that any map can be coloured with just 4 colours so that no two neighbouring countries have the same colour? This question has tested some of the most imaginative minds — including Lewis Carroll’s — and the eventual solution has aided the design of some of the world’s most complex air and road networks.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  3. 1 — The Most Popular Number

    Episode one of A Further Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Literally, the most popular number, as it appears more often than any other number. More specifically, the first digit of all numbers is a 1 about 30% of the time, whereas it is 9 just 4% of time. This was accidentally discovered by the engineer Frank Benford. It works for all numbers – mountain heights, river lengths, populations, etc.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  4. 1 — The Most Popular Number

    Episode one of A Further Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Literally, the most popular number, as it appears more often than any other number. More specifically, the first digit of all numbers is a 1 about 30% of the time, whereas it is 9 just 4% of time. This was accidentally discovered by the engineer Frank Benford. It works for all numbers – mountain heights, river lengths, populations, etc.

    —Huffduffed by Torvald

  5. The Largest Prime Number

    Episode three of Another Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Think of a number. Any number. Chances are you haven’t plumped for 2 to the power of 13,466,917 -1. To get this, you would need to keep multiplying 2 by itself 13,466,917 times, and then subtract 1 from the result. When written down it’s 4,053,900 digits long and fills 2 telephone directories. So, as you can imagine, it’s not the kind of number you’re likely to stumble over often. Unless you’re Bill Gates checking your bank statement at the end of the month.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  6. 1729 — The First Taxicab Number

    Episode five of A Further Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Curious properties sometimes lurk within seemingly undistinguished numbers. 1729 sparked one of maths most famous anecdotes: a young Indian, Srinivasa Ramanujan, lay dying of TB in a London hospital. G.H. Hardy, the leading mathematician in England, visited him there. "I came over in cab number 1729," Hardy told Ramanujan. "That seems a rather dull number to me."

    "Oh, no!" Ramanujan exclaimed. "1729 is the smallest number you can write as the sum of two cubes, in two different ways." Most of us would use a computer to figure out that 1³ + 12³ = 9³ + 10³ = 1729. Ramanujan did it from his sickbed without blinking.

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  7. 1729 — The First Taxicab Number

    Episode five of A Further Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Curious properties sometimes lurk within seemingly undistinguished numbers. 1729 sparked one of maths most famous anecdotes: a young Indian, Srinivasa Ramanujan, lay dying of TB in a London hospital. G.H. Hardy, the leading mathematician in England, visited him there. "I came over in cab number 1729," Hardy told Ramanujan. "That seems a rather dull number to me."

    "Oh, no!" Ramanujan exclaimed. "1729 is the smallest number you can write as the sum of two cubes, in two different ways." Most of us would use a computer to figure out that 1³ 12³ = 9³ 10³ = 1729. Ramanujan did it from his sickbed without blinking.

    —Huffduffed by matthewmcg

  8. Simple as Pi

    Episode two of Five Numbers, the BBC radio series presented by Simon Singh.

    Most people’s first slice of Pi is at school where it is generally made palatable as either 3.14 or the fraction 3 1/7. The memory of this number may be fuzzy for those propelled through their Maths GCSE by the power of Casio (where Pi was reduced to a button on the bottom row of the calculator), but the likelihood is they still recall that romanticised notion of a number whose decimal places randomly go on forever. At its simplest, Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. At its most complex, it is an irrational number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers and has an apparently random decimal string of infinite length.

    —Huffduffed by srushe