|Modern rendering of the original 1947 Memo 10742|
The mathematician prankster
Can you imagine yourself receiving this memo in your inbox in Washington in 1947? There's a certain artistic je ne sais quoi in this memo...
This prank was made by J Carson Mark and Stan Ulam. A&S was Administration and Services.
And Ulam, well known for working on the Manhattan project, also worked on really interesting things in mathematics. Specifically, a collaboration with Nicholas Constantine Metropolis and John Von Neumann. You might know this as the Monte Carlo method (so named due to Ulam's uncle always asking for money to go and gamble in a Monte Carlo casino...). Some people have learned about a specific Monte Carlo simulation (the first) known as Buffon's needle.
Copying the pranksterWhen I stumbled upon this many years ago, I decided that it would make a fantastic programming challenge for a workshop and/or class. I first tried it in a Java class, but people didn't get quite into it. Many years later I redid it as part of a weekly Python class I was teaching at a previous employer.
The document is the output of a Python script. In order to make the memo look like it came from the era, I photocopied it. It still didn't look quite right, so I then scanned that into Gimp, bumped the Red and Blue in the color balance tool to give it that stencil / mimeograph / ditto look.
Here is what I asked the students:
a) the whole memo
b) the list of numbers
Whichever assignment you choose, the numbers must be generated programmatically."
That was basically it. So, go ahead and try it. In Python. Or in R, or whatever you fancy and post a solution as a comment.
We will come back in some days (so everybody gets a chance to try it) and present some possible methods of doing this. Oh, and why the title of "the return of the Los Alamos Memo"? Well, I noticed I had blogged about it before some years back, but never detailed it...
Learning more on Stan Ulam
See the wikipedia entry and also:
[EDIT: Part 2 is at: los-alamos-10742-making-of.html]