Reading the Comics, April 5, 2013


Before getting to the next round of comic strips that mention mathematics stuff, I’d like to do a bit of self-promotion. Freshly published is the book Oh, Sandy: An Anthology Of Humor For A Serious Purpose, edited by Lynn Beighley, Peter Barlow, Andrea Donio, and A J Fader. This is a collection of humorous bits, written out of a sense of needing to do something useful after the Superstorm. I have an essay in there, based on the strange feelings I had of being remote (and quite safe) while seeing my home state — and particularly the piers at Seaside Heights, New Jersey — being battered by a storm. The book is available also through CreateSpace.

Jenny Campbell’s Flo and Friends (March 23) mentions π, and what’s really a fairly indistinct question for a tutor to ask the student. “Explain pi” is more open-ended than I think could be useful to answer: you could write books trying to describe what it’s used for, never mind the history of studying it. After all, it’s the only transcendental number with enough pop cultural cachet to appear routinely in newspaper comic strips; what constitutes an explanation of it? Alas, the strip just goes for the easiest pi pun to be made.

Scott Hilburn’s The Argyle Sweater (March 25) returns to the gimmick of anthropomorphized numerals. It’s a cute enough joke; it’s also apparently a different pair of 1 and 2 from earlier in the month. I do wonder what, in this panel’s continuity, subtraction might mean. Still, Hilburn is obviously never far from thinking of anthropomorphized numbers, as he came back to the setting on April 3, with another 2 putting in an appearance.

Tak Bui’s PC and Pixel (March 28) goes to the mathematics-as-signifying-complexity motif so many cartoonists (with cause) like. It’s compared to a long string of zeroes and ones as a beautifully simple computation, which does reflect a real attitude. There’s beauty in simplificy and sometimes it’s worth going to the extra work to find that. (The commenters at gocomics.com get occupied by people talking about the glories of writing computer code in machine language. I see this as a bit of geek snobbery. The main advantage that writing in machine language gets you is speed and maybe compactness; but, we have computers fast enough, and with enough memory, that we don’t need to optimize that severely. The cost in ease of coding, maintaining code, and porting to different computers — or to an upgraded computer — has to be considered too.)

Jeff Mallet’s Frazz (March 29) uses long division as an example of a complex problem. For the elementary school level, that’s fair enough. I wouldn’t argue against it being called a complex problem for after elementary school too. I believe that long division is the first bit of arithmetic people do in which you can’t simply follow a routine and be assured of the solution; you might have to make an attempt, see it doesn’t work, and try something else.

John Deering’s Strange Brew (April 2) does a rounding-up joke that I’d barely have noticed except that Gary Brookins and Susie MacNelly’s Shoe did the same joke for April 5. For some reason I laughed more at the Shoe version, possibly because the setting in that one telegraphed the punch line less.

Jeff Payden’s Biff and Riley (April 3) does a joke about the probability of lottery tickets — well, 50-50 tickets in this case — and what cumulative purchases will give you. I do rather like Nub’s (the squirrel) general attitude about the prizes they mean to win.

Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda (April 4) brings this roster of strips to a close with another tutor joke. This one has the sort of simple, tightly-focused question that actually I’d imagine a kid would just look up online, but Wikipedia (or Mathworld) might fall too far outside the scope of stuff that can appear in Broom Hilda comics.

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