My paper entitled “Skunk Redux” on probability was published in the October 2012 edition of Mathematics Magazine. I am pleased to announce it is the most-read math magazine and is consistently used as reference in upper-year math courses. But the tangible benefit is of course that I am now searchable on JSTOR.
The question I deal with is familiar to anyone taking Math 111 - Linear Algebra. It is by far the most relevant and accessible mathematics course at Queen’s, not least because of Peter’s tireless commitment to pedagogy (Dr. Peter Taylor is the co-author). In Skunk, a pair of dice is rolled again and again until either you choose to sit or at least one 1 comes up. If you sit, your payoff is the dice sum of all your previous rolls. If at least one 1 comes up while you are still standing, your payoff is zero.
It is not a difficult article to read. Everything is elementary. It contributes nothing to mathematical lore and pales in comparison to the other articles in the magazine. I make tangential comments about risk-taking (“It took some willpower not to allow my emotions to steer me toward the standard freshman crowd—the eternal optimists who luckily see the world as their oyster, untainted by the rationality I sometimes wish I could do away with”) and bad habits (“Peter started rolling the dice on that first day of class. As usual, I did not bring anything to class, not even a calculator, so I had to ballpark it.”) True mathematicians will be turned off.
The paper links my undergraduate career from the first day of class, through the disenfranchising inaugural year when I sought refuge in the mathematics department to compensate for my failures in Commerce, to the otherwise miserable summer of 2011 when the paper was officially accepted, to the current quandary of what role mathematics will play in my career.
Mathematics is the most elegant of all disciplines. Its study is deeply satisfying because it makes principles of ancillary courses go full circle. The queuing models of 341 are stochastic processes in the form of Markov chains (Stat 455). Their time-reversibility property make equations easily derivable. Finance, of course, is all about statistics and regression. The most salient criticism of commerce is that more technically-minded disciplines can easily learn the material. The reverse does not hold. This explains why McKinsey seems so intent on hiring engineers.
My relationship with mathematics is on-off. In grades 8, 10 and 12, in the heat of rediscovery, I placed well into the top tiers in Canada for mathematics competitions. In grade 12, I was invited to write the Canadian Mathematics Olympiad. In the off years, I characterized the subject as a passive, unimportant, socially disparaging, unrewarding field relegated to nerds and self-satisfied intellectuals. More recently, I rediscovered the discipline. I hope it plays some part in my future.