29 April 2011

Large deviations Take 2

This week a tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leaving 38 confirmed dead. That storm in all killed hundreds.

This article from the NY times discusses how predicting tornadoes is still very difficult. There are many factors, and it still isn't clear to meteorologists exactly when a tornado will form and come down to the earth.

I grew up with tornadoes, and when I moved to California I thought earthquakes were a lot scarier. It is true that earthquakes kill many more people around the world than do tornadoes. And earthquakes have had serious consequences even in places with amazing infrastructure, like we saw recently in Japan. At the same time, tornadoes that can hit at any time in any place-- as long as "conditions are right"-- make them a difficult problem for scientists to figure out.

As storms become more often and more severe in the world, I would like to see us put more resources toward understanding them-- both by collecting new and more measurements, and by analyzing old data about these storms. We won't be able to divert them, and we won't be able to stop their destruction; but if we can warn people ahead of time, we can save lives.

25 April 2011

Beauty and Counting

Sometimes enumeration is beautiful! But engineers don't like having to enumerate everything, because that takes a long time.

There are 892 ways to partition a 3x4 grid into unit rectangles. Thanks to angichau for the link.