It’s a familiar complaint from kids struggling with math: “Why do I have to learn this? When am I ever going use algorithms (matrices, quadratic equations) in real life?”
Amy Webb has an answer. A tech geek who founded a digital strategy agency, she was single at 30 and sick of disappointing dates. So she set out to use her computational skills to find a husband.
In “Data, a Love Story” — published last year, now released in paperback — she describes how she created a spreadsheet of all her dates. She used it to calculate, for example, that a man who ordered more than one drink on a first date was more likely than others to have lied about himself online. She read up on Match.com’s algorithms, OkCupid’s “complex framework of math” and eHarmony’s 29 dimensions of compatibility. She developed a formula for evaluating men’s e-profiles. She analyzed how other women presented themselves online, calculated which keywords drew more responses, how long an effective personal description was. (Ninety to 100 words.) She plotted graphs, drew matrices.
She also lost weight and got a better haircut. (Math isn’t everything.)
Long story short, she married the first man she dated under her new system. They have a daughter and live in Baltimore. She includes a note from her husband: “Because I’m sure you’re wondering,” he writes, “yes, I did appreciate the beauty of her perfect spreadsheets.”
A magnitude-9 earthquake, a massive tsunami, around 19,000 dead, explosions at nuclear reactors: These are well-known elements of the crisis that struck Japan in March 2011. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster” puts these elements in a context that raises serious questions about how the modern world is handling — or failing to handle — nuclear power.
The authors — David Lochbaum, head of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project; Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the group’s Global Security Program; and Susan Stranahan, a journalist known for her coverage of the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island— open with a vivid, minute-by-minute account of the disaster as experienced by plant workers, politicians, nuclear scientists and the terrified population around Fukushima.
Less dramatic but perhaps more chilling is the authors’ discussion of the lackluster response of the nuclear industry and its regulators, particularly in the United States. “The catastrophe at Fukushima should not have been a surprise to anyone familiar with the vulnerabilities of today’s global reactor fleet,” the book warns. “If those vulnerabilities are not addressed, the next accident won’t be a surprise, either.”