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Applied Math at the Movies (including supplement)

This morning I had an article entitled The Mysterious Equilibrium of Zombies in the Boston Globe Ideas section about applied math in movies. I mentioned a number of movies, math and articles. For those who are interested in more details, here are some references, film clips and stills:

Casino Royale and Fractals

Harry Potter and The Millennium Bridge

The Dark Knight and Game Theory

Zombie Epidemiology

Six Degrees of Separation

Balance Theory

Community Urinalysis

The NYT Magazine’s Year in Ideas is my favorite issue of the year, and this one is no exception. One idea that I particularly enjoyed is the concept of community urinalysis. By examining the sewage water of a city, scientists can examine which drugs its inhabitants are using. As Clive Thompson writes:

…when [Jennifer] Field’s team tested a mere teaspoonful of water from a sewage plant — which it ultimately did in many American cities — the sample revealed the presence of 11 different drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

The research team called this technique community urinalysis. From a privacy standpoint, it’s a very clever approach to monitoring drug usage, because while it is involuntary — drug users can’t help urinating — it also manages to preserve the public’s anonymity. “It’s the closest to the urinal you can get without violating privacy,” says Field, who presented her findings at an August meeting of the American Chemical Society.

I look forward to a whole slew of maps that show, at a glance, the drug usage of different cities. And better yet, ones that show the drug use over time (which they have already begun measuring).

Floating Cities

There are two types of floating cities: cities that float in water (see ocean colonization) and cities that float in the sky (such as Cloud City). Both are still theoretical; the latter is really theoretical.

Geoffrey Landis provides an interesting point though about building floating cities on Venus, whose surface is generally considered to be akin Hell:

However, viewed in a different way, the problem with Venus is merely that the ground level is too far below the one atmosphere level. At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet.

(quote from Wikipedia)

Green Space Cools Cities

According to a recent study, adding parks in urban spaces can cool the city by as much as 4°C.

Vegetation cools local temperatures when the water it has absorbed is evaporated from its leaves – much like the cooling effect of perspiration. The researchers say that the increased greenery would not have to involve building new parks. For instance, green roofing – roll-out strips of soil planted with succulents, commonly used in Germany – would have a similar effect.

China Plans a Pre-Fab Green Metropolis

Wired Magazine has an article entitled Pop-Up Cities, about the plan for a large new city near Shanghai, called Dongtan:

Dongtan’s master plan — hundreds of pages of maps, schematics, and data — has almost nothing to say about architectural style. Instead, it outlines the world’s first green city, every block engineered in response to China’s environmental crisis. It’s like the source code for an urban operating system.

There is lots of info and details here about large-scale urban design within the context of being extremely environmentally friendly. A very exciting idea, and an interesting article.

City Birds Switch to Singing at Night

According to new research, it appears that British robins have switched to singing at night when in urban environments, in order to be heard:

“There are two ways of looking at these results,” says Fuller, who admits he does not know if the birds that sing at night are vocal in the daytime too. “On one hand, you could conclude that these birds are highly adaptable to the urban environment. On the other, it could be that they are suffering from the poor-quality habitat and having trouble attracting a mate.”