Reading the Comics, February 14, 2015: Valentine’s Eve Edition

I haven’t had the chance to read today’s comics, what with it having snowed just enough last night that we have to deal with it instead of waiting for the sun to melt it, so, let me go with what I have. There’s a sad lack of strips I feel justified including the images of, since they’re all representatives and I’m used to those being reasonably stable links. Too bad.

Eric the Circle has a pair of strips by Griffinetsabine, the first on the 7th of February, and the next on February 13, both returning to “the Shape Single’s Bar” and both working on “complementary angles” for a pun. That all may help folks remember the difference between complementary angles — those add up to a right angle — and supplementary angles — those add up to two right angles, a straight line — although what it makes me wonder is the organization behind the Eric the Circle art collective. It hasn’t got any nominal author, after all, and there’s what appear to be different people writing and often drawing it, so, who does the scheduling so that the same joke doesn’t get repeated too frequently? I suppose there’s some way of finding that out for myself, but this is the Internet, so it’s easier to admit my ignorance and let the answer come up to me.

Mark Anderson’s Andertoons (February 10) surprised me with a joke about the Dewey decimal system that I hadn’t encountered before. I don’t know how that happened; it just did. This is, obviously, a use of decimal that’s distinct from the number system, but it’s so relatively rare to think of decimals as apart from representations of numbers that pointing it out has the power to surprise me at least.

Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten, and David Clark’s Barney and Clyde (February 10) draws on an old motif of lying-with-statistics. In this case it’s the somewhat old-fashioned, but still soothingly technical, advertising style of asserting some respectable fraction of a trusted authority trusts in whatever the product is. Numbers, especially ones that aren’t too long but which look precise, have some power to hypnotize, to convince just by virtue of looking like they must be convincing.

Lorie Ransom’s The Daily Drawing (February 11) does the sort of joke about types of triangles that I really expect out of Griffinetsabine’s Eric the Circle strips. Maybe Ransom couldn’t get into the Eric art collective.

Stuart Carlson and Jerry Resler’s Gray Matters (February 12) jokes about the introduction of the number “9”, which is a funny idea that touches on deeper questions. It’s hard to think of a time when people weren’t aware of the number 9, at least not once they’d noticed numbers at all. But we can say, for example, when the Romance languages got a word for “million” (French picked it up in the late 13th century), which at least suggests that it wasn’t until then that people were doing work that required them to look at such a number, although the idea of counting really big things was around well before then. A number like e, though — the base of the natural logarithm — was almost certainly not imagined before the 17th century. It was never added to the number system, but it was certainly added to humanity’s imagination of what a number might be, and what numbers might be interesting.

Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics has a pair of comics (which I believe are reprints, for the record), on February 12 and then on the 13th, which play with the implications of infinitely great amounts of time, and infinitely great universes. These infinities seem to suggest that everything which could possibly happen — anything that doesn’t violate physical law or deductive logic — would eventually happen, and for that matter, recur infinitely many times. That’s an unsettling thought, not just for the existentialist dread it seems to require when we watch Arthur Christmas, but because it seems to defy the notion of entropy as an ever-increasing quantity. And that seems to leave us with a real problem working out something as intuitively obvious as the direction in which time moves. If entropy tends to increase as time progresses, and we can get back to a universe with the same entropy as we presently have, then … how can we say that’s in the future? But if it isn’t in the future, then when is it? There is a lot to bother dinosaurs in this.

Rick Detorie’s One Big Happy (February 13, rerun) is another use of the motif of the student resisting word problems, by protesting the particular way a problem is made concrete.

Of this batch of strips I think the funniest is the Andertoons, even as it has the slightest mathematical content. Funny how things work sometimes.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

6 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, February 14, 2015: Valentine’s Eve Edition”

  1. I think One Big Happy is great… From my tutoring experience so far, children just stop thinking about the problem if you change the variables (in our case change the apples with potatoes). If they are used with finding x, and you want them to find e – they just block. Or if they get used with calling functions f, and I called it t, they could not do a thing. So, I find it really bad, that children are used with some specific notations in school math, that they get stressed when that notation is changed.


    1. I’m a bit surprised by this, but shouldn’t be. It is an extra step of abstraction to think of not just doing arithmetic in which you don’t know (or don’t care) what value “x” has, but also to realize that you don’t even care whether it’s called “x” or some other name. It does take time to feel as comfortable with an abstraction as with a specific concrete example — probably why it often helps work out a difficult general problem by working out a simple test case — and I really ought to be better at sympathizing with people learning these abstractions.


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