Getting to Mars is never going to be cheap. But a couple of mathematicians have figured out how to shave some significant bucks off the price tag. Rather than fly *to *the red planet when its orbit brings it closest, the craft will "meet" it on the way. The strategy is called ballistic capture and involves launching the ship into a Mars-like orbit, but moving slower than the planet itself. Eventually Mars will catch up and all that fuel that would have been necessary to cruise to the planet suddenly becomes dead weight. Which means there's no need to carry it, so you can have a smaller, lighter craft. All of this adds up to a significantly cheaper journey. But there is one problem -- the journey will take much, *much* longer. As is, it would take six months to get to there, using ballistic capture would add several more months. It wouldn't be great for sending humans to Mars, but it could make sending future rovers much more affordable for NASA and other agency.

Filed under: Transportation, Science

**Via:** Gizmodo

**Source:** Scientific American

If WiFi can track a heartbeat through walls, why can't I get internet in my corner bathroom? Jason Cole was trying to figure that out too, but unlike me, he's a PhD student in physics. So he mapped his own apartment and assigned refraction values to the walls (shown above), then applied so-called Helmholtz equations to model the electromagnetic waves. As detailed in his (math-drenched) blog, the best spot for his router was where you'd expect: directly in the center. Since that was out of the question, he was still able to get "tendrils" of internet by placing it in the corner of the apartment. His experiment implies that even in a distant room you could eke some connectivity by judiciously shifting around your laptop. Some commenters want him to turn his equations into a WiFi mapping web service -- unfortunately, he thinks the idea is "unfeasible" due to the processing time and assumptions made.

**Via:** Ars Technica

**Source:** Jason Cole

D-Wave has long wanted to show that its quantum computing technology is the real deal, and it may have just come closer to proving its case. The company now says that its computer has calculated Ramsey numbers, or solutions to optimization-based math problems that are sometimes difficult to find using traditional systems. The computation represented one of the biggest-ever implementations of an algorithm, according to researchers. However, the feat isn't necessarily proof of quantum computing at work. As *Wired* explains, we've seen all of these numbers in previous experiments; the challenge wasn't difficult enough to require the involvement of a quantum computer. However, D-Wave may have better evidence in the future. Its third-generation system, due in 2015, should have enough power to find Ramsay numbers that are theoretically impossible to calculate today.

Filed under: Alt

**Via:** Wired

**Source:** Physical Review Letters

It's a beautiful world we live in. And, while the sweet and romantic part is debatable, strange and fantastic is not. Our universe is one populated by non-planetary celestial bodies with their own non-planetary satellites, high school social hierarchies based on predictable mathematical formulas and military-funded "gut-on-a-chips." It's a weird place filled with weird stories, and we just can't get enough of it. So, what has the last seven days brought us from the fringes of science and tech? Keep reading after the break to find out. This is alt-week.

Filed under: Peripherals, Science, Alt

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Well, Google's gone an done it, turning the Internet into one giant graphing calculator. The software behemoth has brought graphing capabilities to search, letting users input a mathematical function into the engine -- or multiple functions, separated by commas. And, this being Google, users can explore the graphs more closely by zooming in and out and panning across. According to the company, it "covers an extensive range of single variable functions including trigonometric, exponential, logarithmic and their compositions." If you know what all of that means, we're guessing you're pretty psyched about this news.

Filed under: Alt

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A computer solving a Rubik's cube? P'shaw. Doing it in 10.69 seconds? Been there, record set. But to crack one of any size? Color us impressed. Erik Demaine of MIT claims to have done just that -- he and his team developed an algorithm that applies to cubes no matter how ambitious their dimensions. Pretty early on, he realized he needed to take a different angle than he would with a standard 3 x 3 x 3 puzzle, which other scientists have tackled by borrowing computers from Google to consider all 43 quintillion possible moves -- a strategy known simply as "brute force." As you can imagine, that's not exactly a viable solution when you're wrestling with an 11 x 11 x 11 cube. So Demaine and his fellow researchers settled on an approach that's actually a riff on one commonly used by Rubik's enthusiasts, who might attempt to move a square into its desired position while leaving the rest of the cube as unchanged as possible. That's a tedious way to go, of course, so instead the team grouped several cubies that all needed to go in the same direction, a tactic that reduced the number of moves by a factor of log *n*, with *n *representing the length of any of the cube's sides. Since moving individual cubies into an ideal spot requires a number of moves equal to *n*², the final algorithm is *n*²/log *n*. If we just lost you non-math majors with that formula, rest assured that the scientists expect folks won't be able to apply it directly, per se, though they *do *say it could help cube-solvers sharpen their strategy. Other that, all you overachievers out there, you're still on your own with that 20 x 20 x 20.

Filed under: Alt

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]]>Man has striven for centuries to build a better mousetrap, but in the digital age, mice are the least of our worries. No, the modern day rat race requires a better alarm clock instead, and lord knows we've seen plenty, from tickers that chomp your change to clocks that give you target practice. What we don't see that often is a clock that makes you think at the same time it provokes a physical action. Thus, the Twist Alarm Clock, which displays a simple math equation when it's time to wake up, but requires effort to silence. In order to quiet the alarm, you have to twist the numbered dials on either side of its LCD screen into the right position -- in this case, to figure out