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Treebeard's Stumper
28 February 2003

World Record Breaking Stumper

At Dunn Middle School, we all thought of our beloved teacher Cynthia visiting Boston last week just in time for "the storm of the century." Sure it's a short century so far, but what are the odds? That has me wondering about breaking records and expecting the unexpected. Try flipping a coin 100 times. How often can you expect to break a record in the greatest number of consecutive heads and tails in a row? Your first flip is automatically a record of one, but how many more records will you set? What if you double the number of flips? Weather and sports records are more interesting to think about.

Boston, February 2003, just in time for an extreme blizzard and a long way from California. I asked my fellow DMS teacher Cynthia Carbone Ward for a photo from her trip. She obliged with the comment "I like the way the car is completely buried, and there's something forlorn about the bicycle..." I mostly wanted this photo so I could link it to Cynthia's beautiful Zacate Canyon website featuring her remarkable photos, interviews, and writing. What are the odds of encountering record-breaking weather on your next trip?

It's easy to flip a fair coin many times and count the longest runs of heads and tails. I'll try a real experiment at school, and write a BASIC program if I find time, and think about the math. There are real questions here about risk and coincidence!

Sports and weather records are more complicated. I have some local Santa Barbara weather data on my Santa Barbara Rainfall page, and more links at my Water Stress (18 Oct 2002) and Rain or Shine (5 Jan 2001) stumpers. Are these records really different from flipping a coin?

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Copyright © 2003 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org