Reading the Comics, August 3, 2015: Things That Make Me Cranky Edition


My edition name sounds cranky and I’m sorry for that. But the fact is a couple of the comics in this roundup did things that irritated me. I hope you don’t think worse of me when you’ve heard why they made me cranky.

Todd the Dinosaur figures the implications of 100 T-rexes and 100 monkeys in a room with 100 typewriters. The T-rexes need the monkeys as food.
Patrick Roberts’s Todd the Dinosaur for the 31st of July, 2015.
Patrick Roberts’s Todd the Dinosaur (July 31) is a riff on the infinite-monkey problem, often discussed in the comics. Todd isn’t quite into the perfect randomness that the thought experiment wants. The strip does make me wonder if there have been any variations on the infinite monkey problem in which, instead of a series of randomly typed characters, random words are picked instead. On the one hand, there are many more possible words than there are letters every time something is to be typed. On the other hand, obvious nonsense like ‘gazurlnikov’ won’t turn up. But it’s easier to imagine a keyboard than it is a random pick of all the words in the language.

Lorie Ransom’s Daily Drawing (July 31) is some compass and protractor wordplay. Protractors aren’t part of the classical set of tools used for geometric proofs — compasses and straightedges alone do it — although they are convenient things to have. And they can be used to confirm hunches or refute possibilities, in much the same way trying out a specific case of a problem can guide one to solving a general problem.

Tony Carillo’s F Minus (August 1) makes a joke that I admit I don’t quite get. I think it’s trying to say that you get better pay with more mathematics training. That ought to be a nice affirmation of my chosen field’s value, although it comes across to me as snotty. For one, typically, more training in any field correlates with higher salaries. It’s not some magic that only mathematics has. For another, salary is not the measure of the worth of something, nor should it be.

Tom Thaves’s Frank and Ernest (August 1) tries to use up the mathematics puns for this installment.

Steve Breen and Mike Thompson’s Grand Avenue (August 2) is another entry in the “kids refusing mathematics for summer break” string of comics. And, of course, the kids display an ironic understanding of probability while trying to avoid Grandma’s mathematics workbooks. I’m on the kids’ side here, by the way. Previous summer installments have shown Grandma making the kids do tedious, boring, repetitive calculations that make me, now, not want to do mathematics. It’s in the name of getting them back in practice before the school year starts, but as depicted, it’s an attempt to crush all the joy of mathematics. At least working out best ways to hide is a use of probability that has some clear purpose and some fun to it. The daily strips for this week seem to be going in a different direction.

Dave Coverly’s Speed Bump (August 2) makes me wonder something I never thought about before. Would Romans see the symbols I, V, X, and so on as “one” and “five” and “ten” and so on? I mean, certainly they would in contexts where a number was expected. But if they just encountered the symbol without context, would they read it as the letter or as the number? I rate this as my favorite of this set of strips because it has given me something so fresh to ponder.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

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

11 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, August 3, 2015: Things That Make Me Cranky Edition”

  1. It might be that Todd could one day become correct; we now have some apple i-products in our house and auto correct is annoyingly trying to remake our random typos into recognized prose. Usually it becomes gibberish. (This is especially so of apple’s transposing cuss words. I have a text from husband to this end, descrbing a plumbing issue that came out sounding like a politician’s unrehearsed sound bite for the local news.)

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    1. I happen to have recently got a new iPod, and I’ve been discovering what strange things it will do in trying to correct words for me. There’s a certain weird structuralist poetry to the most severe outcomes it produces, I have to admit, and I’m a bit fascinated by that.

      There’s at least one reasonably funny science fiction novel (Fritz Leiber’s The Silver Eggheads) about computers that have been developed that can auto-complete stories from a starting point. And ultimately, they really only need the one word to start from, and everything else can follow from a plot-template and that key word. It’s a funny idea until you hear about computer-generated news articles. (These are articles for the boring pages of the business pages, mostly, stuff where data about a company has been released and how that affects its financial standings are explained. But it is something that used to require people work out boring text for.)

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      1. I read The Drunkard’s Walk this winter, and I think I preferred some of Leonard Mlodinow’s examples better than monkeys emulating Shakespeare. I was particularly delighted with the idea that pure randomness is quite difficult to achieve. As an example of this, Mlodinow referenced the idea that ‘perfection is a kind of chaos’ in connection with randomness in quantum physics (a subject I know little about). (Also, I should mention that I didn’t note the original source of this idea, as referenced by Mlodinow, and I’ve since returned the book to the library so I am being sloppy with my attribution.)

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        1. I haven’t read The Drunkard’s Walk yet, though I keep figuring to get to it. I’m curious what some of the alternate examples might be.

          Randomness is a wondrous and strange concept, though, it’s true. The idea seems obvious, yet it’s so very hard to describe, and it seems like it’s both omnipresent and impossible to call upon deliberately. It almost takes on the status of a religious mystery, something fundamentally beyond human comprehension yet which can if stared at can stimulate good thinking.

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          1. There is some irony to what you observe, as one of the complaints directed at the humanities–and narrative-making in particular–is that the quest for some great meaning, a narrative that unravels mystery, drives story-telling and relies on make-believe, confusion and social misdirection. Then, comes the charged statement that mathematics is nothing like that! I enjoy both disciplines too much to wish to see them simplified into oppositions of one another, and perhaps this is why I enjoy randomness (as a concept) so much.

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            1. It’s easy, I think, for mathematicians to get an idea of our field’s supreme glories. Some of that is because it does touch on things that get to be universally true in ways that even physicists can’t match, and that swells one’s head. (We can at least imagine a universe with different physics, at least in some ways; we can’t imagine one in which `2 + 2 = 4′ would not be true without changing the meanings of 2, +, 2, =, and 4.) That it is this very human, very culturally dependent construct is something I’ve been appreciating better lately.

              Anyway, randomness is weird in a very deep way.

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