Saturday, October 18, 2008

Occasioned for the prime

It's an amazing discovery - a new prime number with 13-million digits. To write it out by hand would take two-and-half-months. But with a computer it doesn't take anywhere near as long.... That's how the team at the University of California at Los Angeles found the number - by linking up 75 computers and harnessing their unused power. That allowed them to perform the enormous number of calculations needed to find and verify the new prime...

... ALISON CALDWELL: Have you actually seen this 13-million digit number.

TERENCE TAO: Yes well, it's on the internet but you know you don't learn anything by seeing it. I mean it's 10-million digits long. I don't think I would get much out of staring at 10-million digits. I think they're planning to make a poster with all the digits in a very, very tiny font. I think it will just have artistic value. It won't actually be of that much use...

Suggestions for other things to do with this new prime number

Use it as a name for your baby.

Put it on a coffee cup to amuse guests. A really, really big coffee cup.

Use it as an aspirational target for your nation's budget deficit.

Release it as a coffee table book.

Trial it as a sleeping drug. ("Count up to this number of sheep, and when you've reached it, stop...")

Use it as a friendly greeting to other people on public transport.

Teach it to your dog as a command to fetch the paper.

Use it to test your child's basic arithmetic.

Create a new system of telling the time, based around this number.

Strictly regulate the number of hundreds and thousands to be found in the standard family-pack of chocolate freckles according to it.

Use it as an atheist parable, or a religious metaphor, to either prove or disprove the existence of God.

Try it out as a notional phone number. (It would certainly discourage telemarketers.)

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