Thursday, February 07, 2013

Math & Physics

Fans of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest like to attribute mind boggling erudition to the author. He certainly has a large and pretentious vocabulary. He has a lot to say about drugs, tennis, rehab, and suicide. I will assume he actually knows about those things, because I can't critique him on those accounts. The claim that he understands higher math and science seems pretty dubious, though.

At one point he claims that the odds of a 54-54 tie in 108 tennis matches are 1 in 2^27. If the players are roughly equally matched, they are actually a bit less than 8%.

VERY MINOR SPOILER: A central character supposedly commits suicide by cutting a hole in the door of a microwave oven and exploding his head - in less than ten seconds. A typical microwave oven produces about 700 W of microwave power = .16 kcal/sec. At that rate, it's going to take a hell of a long time to heat several kilograms of water to the steam point, and the subject is going to get really uncomfortable first. He would find it roughly equivalent to trying to incinerate himself under a 700 Watt heat lamp.