Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Second Helping of Numb3rs

I've been catching up on my Tivo on the second season of Numb3rs, the CBS television series about a math professor Charlie Epps who uses math to help his brother at the FBI.

Most of the episodes this season do a nice job explaining mathematical concepts including several relating to theoretical computer science (see below), though the connections between the math and the plot get more and more tenuous.

A couple of Numb3rs related web sites give more details on the mathematics described in the show. Texas Instruments created a site giving high school level descriptions and activities on the topics discussed in the show including Voronoi Diagrams, Entropy, Eulerian Tours, Steiner Trees, Error-Correcting Codes, The Art Gallery Problem and Pseudorandom Numbers. Also, a Northeastern professor writes a weblog giving more detailed mathematical explanations of the topics on the show.

In my favorite episode of the season Convergence, a rival mathematician gives a talk finding a hole in the proof of the Epps Convergence, Charlie's best work. This causes Charlie to go through an introspective phase questioning whether his FBI work keeps him away from doing his real research as a mathematician. He considers the importance of being a mathematician while being part of a larger world, philosophical issues that many real mathematicians also contemplate.


  1. I liked that episode also as well. What I'm beginning to not like; however, is Charlie. His presence is a bit jarring when considering the whole cast. I especially like Charlie's mentor - the physicist. He plays the sage pretty well.

  2. It's still pretty entertaining as the seasons go on, although there is more "hand waving" with the math now.

    They dropped the ball on some character development possibilities between Charlie and Amita. Instead of growing any of the relationships everything is just kept static, as if the same emotional premise could be sustained indefinately.

  3. actually, macniel, one of the standard, silent mutual assumptions which sustain relationships is precisely that the same emotional premise [can/will] be sustained indefinitely.
    I agree with your observation about missed opportunties for development. I think they intend to rectify that starting with the season finale.