Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Mathland in Alice in Wonderland

Last week I attended Alice in Wonderland (3D version) with my children and father. Despite my reasonable grasp of English, I was left wondering at times if I fully understood the dialogue. Given comments made when I was younger about a link to drugs (the caterpillar and the hookah) and the Mad Hatter being mad because of the glue fumes, I put aside my misgivings but left with many questions.

Further research pointed out that a subplot of the author Lewis Caroll (a mathematician) is a satire on the new forms of mathematics that were coming out at the end of the 19th century. See NPR's The Mad Hatter's Secret Ingredient: Math. A more detailed article on the mathematical issues embedded in the book was issued in New Scientist Alice's adventures in algebra: Wonderland solved through a disseration written by Melanie Bayley.

Interesting to see how some individuals dealt with the changes to the traditional ways of thinking (Euclidean geometry had been around for 2000 years). Even more interesting is the fact that it took more than a century to find many of the allusions in the original text given that the text is very popular.

For those who would like to listen to Alice in Wonderland in Audio format, I found this wonderful site that provides books in mp3 (IPod and ITune ready).

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

An Olympic pool from Damascus to Ankara (or Damascus' 2009 water deficit and the 830 km long pool)

To conceptualize the deficit of 41.5 million cubic meters of drinking water Damascus faced in 2009 (see SyriaStep's article written on 27 Feb 2010), one could think in terms of an Olympic swimming pool with length of 830 kilometres, width of 25 meters and depth of 2 meters . This pool would go from Damascus to Ankara (a distance of 778 km according to Wolfram│Alpha the source of the map).
This pool would cover 2,075 hectares and would take a person nearly 20 days to walk from start to end if the person covers the equivalent of a marathon (42 km) every day.
As a point of comparison, it would have more 1,660 times more water that the largest swimming pool acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records which covers 8 hectares has a length of 1,013 meters and a capacity for 25 million litres of water. This lagoon is located in the resort of San Alfonso del Mar in Chile and has the capacity equivalent of 10 Olympic pools.
This deficit (20% of the overall need for drinking water) is 15,400 litres per person (assuming a population of 2.688 million for metropolitan Damascus – again from the sme Wolfram│Alpha search) which would take up half a 20 foot shipping container per person. If we are to take an unofficial statistic of 6 million, the volume is still staggering (a container for each 4 person family).

Uploaded on April 26, 2006 by Telstar Logistics  (Flickr)

My final thoughts, let's hope:
  • that the article is wrong (please provide links)
  • I made some calculation errors (my assumptions are included below).
  • Damascus gets lots more rain (the trend is good according to a Syrian official in Syria-news on the 28th of February relative to building a new dam)
  • serious efforts are put in place to conserve drinking water given the population growth. Is 20% a good target?
Post scriptum:
1) These are the numbers I used to do the calculations:
  • 1 Hectare equals 10,000 square meters
  • Olympic pool dimensions are 50 meters length by 25 meters wide by 2 meters deep according to section 3 of the FINA website). As such, we can find 50 x 25 x 2 = 2,500 cubic meters of water in an Olympic size pool.
  • 1 cubic meter of water equals 1,000 litres
  • 41,500,000 cubic meters divided by 2,500 meters gives 16,600 equivalent pools. If put one pool after another (50 meters length) we get 830,000 meters (or 83 kilometres)
  • A 20 foot container is approximately 33 cubic meters (5.919 length x 2.340 width x 2.380 height = 32.96 cubic meters) as per WikiAnswer
2) I would love to have the numbers corrolated between both articles (SyriaSteps and Syria-news). For example, the official stated a requirement for 150 litres per person per day. Does it match the required amount? Note that the dam would have a capacity of 60 million cubic meters.