Pie and Pi

A graphic I found by doing a Creative Commons search – but it was made by a friend. Coincidence or…? via lemasney.deviantart.com/

I came across a book at the library this past week quite by coincidence. Well, maybe..

The book is Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence. Don’t be frightened by it being written by a mathematician, Joseph Mazur. It is about the seemingly improbable, surprising moments in our lives that seem to be coincidences. Maybe you attribute those events to serendipity. Or Fate. Look at some of the synonyms for coincidence: correspondence, agreement, accord, concurrence, consistency, conformity, fluke, harmony, compatibility. Do you attribute these kinds of events to coincidence or something else?

Others have said that “extremely improbable events are commonplace.” In 1866, the British mathematician Augustus De Morgan wrote, “Whatever can happen will happen if we make trials enough.”

What are the odds of being hit by lightning  once? More than once?  Roy Sullivan, a park ranger in Virginia who spent a lot of time outside in all kinds of weather was struck 7 times.

Enter the mathematical concepts of probability. This was one of those things that actually interested me in that rare interesting math class I was required to take.

Have you heard of the birthday paradox? What is the lowest number of people who must be in the same room to make it likely that at least two people will have the same birth day and month? Answer: 23. With 30 people in the room, the probability of a shared birthday is about 0.7 (or 70 percent).

Joseph Mazur knows that we are intrigued when someone wins the lottery four times in a row. How did you react when you learned that Abraham Lincoln had dreams that foreshadowed his own assassination? Creepy?

That statistics course you had to take may have taught you about correlation and causation. People confuse the two. Maybe cavemen believed that waking up caused the sun to appear.  You talk about a friend you haven’t talked to in years and they call you on the phone that day. Correlation does not imply causation. A correlation between two variables does not imply that one causes the other.

Some of Mazur’s examples seem to be “pure coincidence.” You find  your college copy of Moby Dick in a used bookstore in Paris on your first visit to the city? How do we explain the unlikelihood of strangers named Maria and Francisco, seeking each other in a hotel lobby, accidentally meet the wrong Francisco and the wrong Maria, another pair of strangers also looking for each other?

Mazur asserts that if there is any likelihood that something could happen, no matter how small the probability, it is bound to happen to someone at some time.

“What are the odds?” is what you might say in one of these situations. Like a déjà vu experience it might feel like some ripple just went through time, space or your universe.

In the paper, Methods for Studying Coincidences, mathematicians defined a coincidence as a “surprising concurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related, with no apparent causal connection.”

In The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, David Hand says that principle “tells us that events which we regard as highly improbable occur because we got things wrong. If we can find out where we went wrong, then the improbable will become probable.”

It’s no coincidence that ukuleles are popping up in ads on Facebook and other websites this week for me, because I was searching and looking at them on Amazon.com last weekend.

There’s the joke about two guys in a Dublin pub drinking and discovering a series of amazing coincidences in their lives. Another patron listening is stunned by the coincidences. But the bartender says, “Nah, it’s just the O’Reilly twins have been drinking too much.”

More Reading



Connecting with Coincidence: The New Science for Using Synchronicity and Serendipity in Your Life

There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives

time machine

The “eyeball” time machine of Timeless

Okay, so I am a sucker for time travel stories in print and on a screen. When I read that two new time travel television shows would launch this season, I set my DVR.

As I have written before about time travel stories, they have a long history in print from H.G. Wells The Time Machine and likewise in the movies and on TV.

Timeless is one of the new time travel series that premiered this fall.  In it a history professor (Abigail Spencer), a scientist (Malcolm Barrett) and a soldier (Matt Lanter) are charged with trying to stop Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić). Flynn is (or appears to be)  a time-traveling criminal who has stolen the main “mothership” time machine from a research facility and seems bent on changing the course of American history.

The show went through lengthy negotiations in order to get “in-season stacking rights”, which allows NBC to stream all episodes of the series’ current season via all the network’s online platforms.

Flynn and his associates are plotting to rewrite American history, but the team of three other “good guys” time travelers (using a smaller auxiliary time machine) also have some connections to Flynn’s plan. Lucy Preston’s primary concern is for her ailing mother. Master Sergeant Wyatt is grieving over the recent demise of his wife. Rufus, the scientist who helped develop the time machine, is distressed over the fact that criminal mastermind Garcia Flynn stole his invention.

In the first episode, they traveled back to the day the Hindenburg zeppelin burst into flames while landing in New Jersey. They should never change the past, but it ended up that the crash still occurred but in a different way. That set up changes in the present that they returned to in 2016.  I like that so far the plots have not left history “as is” but that the changes are good, bad and still largely unknown.


Frequency is the other new television series that airs on The CW. It is inspired by the 2000 film of the same name. In the film, given the chance to travel back in time and change one event in his life, the protagonist John Sullivan wants to undo a fire took the life of his firefighter father.


Similar to the film, the TV show is set in 2016, where NYPD Detective Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) discovers that she is able to speak to her deceased father Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith) twenty years back in time in 1996 using his old ham radio.

Her attempts to save his life trigger a “butterfly effect” that occurs when we change the past and it sends ripples that changes the present in unforeseen ways. So far, in order to fix the damage, she must work with her father across time via the radio to solve a decades-old murder case.



People were driving crazily Friday night when I was on the highway headed home, and that big moon was right there. It looked full, but it didn’t reach Full Moon status around my neighborhood until today. But people have believed for a couple of thousand years that the Moon has all kinds of effects on us, including craziness.

In Moon Lore, our beloved satellite – especially the full version – affects fertility, crime rates, dog attacks, road kills, increases blood loss during surgery, powers werewolves, births, heart attacks, deaths, suicides, violence, psychiatric hospital admissions, epileptic seizures and crazy drivers.

There are lunar tidal forces but even though we are mostly water, the Moon doesn’t pull at us. Many studies have shown that lunar phases have little or no connection to what we and the animal do here on Earth.

We might be able to explain some of our beliefs as confirmation bias. That is the idea that people favor information that supports their preconceived notions. I kind of expect people to act crazy near the Full Moon, so I pay extra attention to every strange behavior I see during a Full Moon and that reinforces that belief.

As long as we are talking lore, pay attention today because a Full Moon in October without any frost is supposed to mean a warmer month ahead.

The most common name for this month’s Full Moon is the Hunters Moon but I suspect there are more non-hunters reading this blog than hunters. Hunters Moon was also one of the American Indian names (at least as interpreted by the colonists) for this time when bare trees offer a clearer view of fattening deer. It also was the time for them to begin storing meat for the winter ahead. The Cherokee people called this a harvest moon (Dunin[i]di) because it was the time of the harvest festival called Nowatequa.

This year I’m using the Dakotah Sioux name (Anglicized) of “Moon When Quilling and Beading is Done,” a name that reminds us that we all shift our activities and energies with the seasons. The harvest is over, we are “winterizing” and many of us up north are moving our activities more are shifting inside for more solitary and sedentary work.

Maybe it is time for you to do some beading and quilling.

If that doesn’t work for your situation, try Blood Moon or Sanguine Moon or, if you’re feeling more Druid, Wiccan or other American Indian, have a nice full Travel Moon, Moon When the Water Freezes, Moon of the Changing Seasons, Leaf Fall Moon, Basket Moon, Big Wind Moon, Shedding Moon, Winterfelleth (Winter Coming), Windermanoth (Vintage Month), Ten Colds Moon, Moon of the Changing Season, Blackberry Moon or Moon of Falling Leaves.

What might be considered the oldest government computer is more than 12 billion miles from Earth.

There were two Voyager probes launched in 1977. They both have 69.63 kilobytes of total computer memory on board. That is almost exactly equal to the memory required for the illustration of Voyager in this post. They still work because were set to overwrite old data once it has been sent to Earth.

Artist's Concept of Voyager

Artist’s impression of Voyager 1  – image via WikiMedia Commons

The Voyager program was to study the outer Solar System. Oddly, Voyager 1 launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. It has been sending data for 39 years. It still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data.

It was 135 AU (2.02×1010 km) from the Sun as of June 2016, making it the farthest spacecraft from Earth.

Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn before a flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan set it on a trajectory out of the solar system. Voyager 2 also visited those planets before heading to Uranus and Neptune. It is currently in the Heliosheath, a zone in the outer limits of the Sun’s magnetic field.

You may remember Voyager because each probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems. I wrote about the discs in my “Hello Aliens!” post. The “records” have photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, scientific information, spoken greetings from Earthlings, “Sounds of Earth” audio with whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and music (including works by Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry, and Valya Balkanska, Eastern and Western classics and indigenous music from around the world.   It also has a greeting to the aliens in 55 different languages.


gold-plated disc being attached to Voyager 1

The Voyager probes are not the only artificial objects we have launched that are leaving the Solar System. There is a pretty large list of space probes and their upper stages launched by NASA the aliens might come across out there. And we have others closer to home that are in orbit around planets or around the Sun.

More at wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1


Mirror scratching is not about making scratches on a mirror (and not DIY on how to remove them). It is about one of those odd mind-body phenomenon.

You have an itch, so you scratch it. Except sometimes scratching is not a good thing to do (poison ivy, scabs,  eczema) because it makes things worse.

There was a study done to test “whether central mechanisms of scratching-induced itch attenuation can be activated by scratching the limb contralateral to the itching limb when the participant is made to visually perceive the non-itching limb as the itching limb by means of mirror images.”  In simpler English, try scratching your left elbow if the right elbow itches.

Crazy, right? But it worked!  By scratching the non-itching place it seems to have activated a “mirror condition” so that the non-itching place was visually perceived as the itching place.

We have in our brains what are referred to as mirror neurons but this isn’t about that. This particular experiment used a real  mirror placed between the participant’s forearms “to create the visual illusion that the participant’s itching (right) forearm was being scratched while in fact the non-itching forearm was scratched”

The mind not only plays trick on us, but we can trick the mind.


Don’t eat blackberries after Old Michealmas.

So it is said in folklore.  On Old Michaelmas Day (October 10 or 11) the Devil puts his foot on blackberries.

Michaelmas itself is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel (AKA the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels) and in the Western Christian calendar it occurs on September 29. Because it falls near the equinox, it is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days.

The Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Lucifer in the war in heaven. He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes as well, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland as one of the quarter days.That’s because it is the date in the Christian calendar which celebrates the Archangel Michael’s defeat of Lucifer (the Devil).

On his expulsion from heaven, Lucifer landed in a thorny blackberry bush which he supposedly cursed and spat on. Hence you should not eat blackberries after this date.

Any science to the lore? Since blackberries contain a high concentration of bitter tasting tannins which over time accumulate in the fruit and since Old Michaelmas day falls late in the blackberry season, the berries picked after that date tend to be very bitter. Depending on where you are picking those berries, autumn weather is usually damper and the fruit will contain more fungus spores which won’t help the taste either.

Thanks for wrecking the blackberries, Mr. Lucifer.

Lucifer falls from heaven

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