## Reading the Comics, August 16, 2014: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Edition

Zach Weinersmith’s **Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal ** is a long-running and well-regarded web comic that I haven’t paid much attention to because I don’t read many web comics. XKCD, **Newshounds,** and a couple others are about it. I’m not opposed to web comics, mind you, I just don’t get around to following them typically. But **Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal ** started running on Gocomics.com recently, and Gocomics makes it easy to start adding comics, and I did, and that’s served me well for the mathematical comics collections since it’s been a pretty dry spell. I bet it’s the summer vacation.

**Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal ** (July 30) seems like a reach for inclusion in mathematical comics since its caption is “Physicists make lousy firemen” and it talks about the action of a fire — and of the “living things” caught in the fire — as processes producing wobbling and increases in disorder. That’s an effort at describing a couple of ideas, the first that the temperature of a thing is connected to the speed at which the molecules making it up are moving, and the second that the famous entropy is a never-decreasing quantity. We get these notions from thermodynamics and particularly the attempt to understand physically important quantities like heat and temperature in terms of particles — which have mass and position and momentum — and their interactions. You could write an entire blog about entropy and probably someone does.

Randy Glasbergen’s **Glasbergen Cartoons** (August 2) uses the word-problem setup for a strip of “Dog Math” and tries to remind everyone teaching undergraduates the quotient rule that it really could be worse, considering.

Nate Fakes’s **Break of Day** (August 4) takes us into an anthropomorphized world that isn’t numerals for a change, to play on the idea that skill in arithmetic is evidence of particular intelligence.

George McManus’s **Bringing Up Father** (August 11, rerun from April 12, 1949) goes to the old motif of using money to explain addition problems. It’s not a bad strategy, of course: in a way, arithmetic is one of the first abstractions one does, in going from the idea that a hundred of something added to a hundred fifty of something will yield two hundred fifty of that thing, and it doesn’t matter what that something is: you’ve abstracted out the ideas of “a hundred plus a hundred fifty”. In algebra we start to think about whether we can add together numbers without knowing what one or both of the numbers are — “x plus y” — and later still we look at adding together things that aren’t necessarily numbers.

And back to **Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (August 13)**, which has a physicist type building a model of his “lack of dates” based on random walks and, his colleague objects, “only works if we assume you’re an ideal gas molecule”. But models are often built on assumptions that might, taken literally, be nonsensical, like imagining the universe to have exactly three elements in it, supposing that people never act against their maximal long-term economic gain, or — to summon a traditional mathematics/physics joke — assuming a spherical cow. The point of a model is to capture some interesting behavior, and avoid the complicating factors that can’t be dealt with precisely or which don’t relate to the behavior being studied. Choosing how to simplify is the skill and art that earns mathematicians the big money.

And then for August 16, **Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal** does a binary numbers joke. I confess my skepticism that there are any good alternate-base-number jokes, but you might like them.

## ivasallay 8:15 pm

onMonday, 18 August, 2014 Permalink |I LOVED the binary joke!

LikeLike

## Thomas Anderson 6:34 pm

onTuesday, 19 August, 2014 Permalink |SMBC is one of those webcomics that I read most every day, and some days I get caught up in reading the backlog that I don’t get anything else done. I love it so much.

LikeLike

## Joseph Nebus 3:28 pm

onWednesday, 20 August, 2014 Permalink |I’m glad you enjoy it so. I haven’t been reading it, but that’s just a reflection of my having some strikingly old-fashioned habits about comic strips.

LikeLike

## Joseph Nebus 3:27 pm

onWednesday, 20 August, 2014 Permalink |Aw, I’m glad to have shared it with you, then.

LikeLike

## Compu-Toon, Math Comics are Compu-Toon, Math Comics | Joseph Nebus's Sense Of Humor 3:26 pm

onWednesday, 20 August, 2014 Permalink |[…] Meantime, there’ve been a bunch of comics, mostly Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, that talked about mathematics subjects, so I talked about them. They don’t talk about me. […]

LikeLike

## elkement 9:09 am

onSunday, 24 August, 2014 Permalink |A lot of jokes like the ‘Physicists would be lousy firemen’ could be / are created along the same lines I guess – physicists explaining everyday things too complicated or not in an appropriate way :-)

But I like this joke a lot – the essence of the statistical character of physical properties dealt with in thermodynamics covered by a simple cartoon.

LikeLike

## Joseph Nebus 8:37 pm

onTuesday, 26 August, 2014 Permalink |Oh, certainly. I suppose there’s always going to be some humor in having things explained in such precise technical terms that the everyday becomes confusing. And professions are going to blend together at some point too; I could imagine a lawyer choosing to describe a fire in almost the same way.

LikeLike

## nebusresearch | My Math Blog Statistics, August 2014 11:52 pm

onMonday, 1 September, 2014 Permalink |[…] Reading the Comics, August 16, 2014: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Edition, showing what kind of fans that comic has, I guess. […]

LikeLike