Maybe you saw (or read) “Moneyball” – about finding valuable baseball-players through computer geek-ery. And there’s a darned good chance you heard about mathematical rankings and election predictions.
“You can use math to rank just about anything,” said Roanoke College Math Professor Roland Minton to a recent, packed “Coffee Shop Talk” at Mill Mt. Coffee.
Think Amazon, Netflix, Pandora [music] – all of those “if you like that, you would probably like this”- systems, he said. And Google!
He explained how such systems can be used to determine “Who’s #1 in College Football.” He started his own ranking-system thirty years ago: “It’s simple and it works!”
Simple, to Roland anyhow: He spoke about strengths of schedules; 246 Division 1 teams. And equations, unknowns, a matrix. “But a computer does the math!”
Sometimes his system is “right on the money for the point spread”: “Almost scary,” he chuckled.
He noted the unpopularity of the current BCS [Bowl Championship Series] configuring – satirized by “The Onion” – and figures a playoff system will happen in a couple of years.
He fielded many audience questions – especially for predictions on specific games. (Southeast teams are underrated, he said.)
Roland joked frequently, making math seem kinda fun. (Balancing my checkbook is not fun. When I asked a cocktail party of Boston accountants if “outstanding” checks were the month’s best, they choked on their olives.)
“It’s a diverse field: If you think of a problem, probably a math professor has studied it…. You get to stick your nose into everyone’s business!” He laughed.
Both he and wife / RC Teaching Associate Jan Minton (no math slouch herself) bring a playful spirit to math. She is spearheading RC’s still-in-progress regional contribution to the national Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project [Sept. 30, 2011, column] – about a thousand pieces by some 200 local contributors as of Nov. 1. (The show opens Jan. 25th, coordinated by RC Gallery Director Talia Logan.)
Roland also enjoys demonstrating card tricks to students: “No sleight-of-hand necessary! Just math.” (“Fun stuff,” he joked last year, “so people won’t avoid me at parties.”) And he melded his love of golf with – you guessed it – math (physics, too): “Golf by the Numbers.” His book seems useful to fans and players alike.
RC colleagues describe the “math power couple” as brilliant and kind. Add in their wit and playfulness – and their chosen field seems a whole lot friendlier.
The final RC talk is Dec. 6 (Thurs.), Mill Mt. Coffee, 8 pm, free. German and Linguistics Prof. Jim Ogier will discuss “The Maya and the End of Time.” (Will Dec. be your last chance for a cookie – or Life Itself? Doubtful, but do attend.)
For more crochet / coral info: firstname.lastname@example.org.