Reading the Comics, January 27, 2015: Rabbit In A Trapezoid Edition


So the reason I fell behind on this Reading the Comics post is that I spent more time than I should have dithering about which ones to include. I hope it’s not disillusioning to learn that I have no clearly defined rules about what comics to include and what to leave out. It depends on how clearly mathematical in content the comic strip is; but it also depends on how much stuff I have gathered. If there’s a slow week, I start getting more generous about what I might include. And last week gave me a string of comics that I could argue my way into including, but few that obviously belonged. So I had a lot of time dithering.

To make it up to you, at the end of the post I should have our pet rabbit tucked within a trapezoid of his own construction. If that doesn’t make everything better I don’t know what will.

Mark Pett’s Mr Lowe for the 22nd of January (a rerun from the 19th of January, 2001) is really a standardized-test-question joke. But it brings up a debate about cultural biases in standardized tests that I don’t remember hearing lately. I may just be moving in the wrong circles. I remember self-assured rich white males explaining how it’s absurd to think cultural bias could affect test results since, after all, they’re standardized tests. I’ve sulked some around these parts about how I don’t buy mathematics’ self-promoted image of being culturally neutral either. A mathematical truth may be universal, but that we care about this truth is not. Anyway, Pett uses a mathematics word problem to tell the joke. That was probably the easiest way to put a cultural bias into a panel that

T Lewis and Michael Fry’s Over The Hedge for the 25th of January uses a bit of calculus to represent “a lot of hard thinking”. Hammy the Squirrel particularly is thinking of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. This particular part is the one that says the derivative of the integral of a function is the original function. It’s part of how integration and differentiation link together. And it shows part of calculus’s great appeal. It has those beautiful long-s integral signs that make this part of mathematics look like artwork.

Leigh Rubin’s Rubes for the 25th of January is a panel showing “Schrödinger’s Job Application”. It’s referring to Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment, meant to show there are things we don’t understand about quantum mechanics. It sets up a way that a quantum phenomenon can be set up to have distinct results in the everyday environment. The mathematics suggests that a cat, poisoned or not by toxic gas released or not by the decay of one atom, would be both alive and dead until some outside observer checks and settles the matter. How can this be? For that matter, how can the cat not be a qualified judge to whether it’s alive? Well, there are things we don’t understand about quantum mechanics.

Roy Schneider’s The Humble Stumble for the 26th of January (a rerun from the 30th of January, 2007) uses a bit of mathematics to mark Tommy, there, as a frighteningly brilliant weirdo. The equation is right, although trivial. The force it takes to keep something with a mass m moving in a circle of radius R at the linear speed v is \frac{m v^2}{R} . The radius of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is strikingly close to sixty times the Earth’s radius. The Ancient Greeks were able to argue that from some brilliantly considered geometry. Here, RE gets used as a name for “the radius of the Earth”. So the force holding the Moon in its orbit has to be approximately \frac{m v^2}{60 R_e} . That’s if we say m is the mass of the Moon, and v is its linear speed, and if we suppose the Moon’s orbit is a circle. It nearly is, and this would give us a good approximate answer to how much force holds the Moon in its orbit. It would be only a start, though; the precise movements of the Moon are surprisingly complicated. Newton himself could not fully explain them, even with the calculus and physics tools he invented for the task.

Dave Whamond’s Reality Check for the 26th of January isn’t quite the anthropomorphic-numerals joke for this essay. But we do get personified geometric constructs, which is close, and some silly wordplay. Much as I like the art for Over The Hedge showcasing a squirrel so burdened with thoughts that his head flops over, this might be my favorite of this bunch.

Dave Blazek’s Loose Parts for the 27th of January is a runner-up for the silly jokes trophy this time around.

Our pet rabbit flopped out inside of a cardboard box. The box was set up, upside-down, so he could go inside and chew on the contents. He's pulled the side flaps inward, so that the base is a trapezoidal prism.
Cardboard boxes are normally pretty good environments for rabbits, given that they’re places the rabbits can do in and not be seen. We set the box up, but he did all the chewing.

Now I know what you’re thinking: isn’t that actually a trapezoidal prism, underneath a rectangular prism? Yes, I suppose so. The only people who’re going to say so are trying to impress people by saying so, though. And those people won’t be impressed by it. I’m sorry. We gave him the box because rabbits generally like having cardboard boxes to go in and chew apart. He did on his own the pulling-in of the side flaps to make it stand so trapezoidal.

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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.

10 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, January 27, 2015: Rabbit In A Trapezoid Edition”

    1. He’s been working hard at becoming more cute lately. I’m surprised he isn’t resting on his cute laurels considering how certain his place in the household is.

      I’m new to rabbit-keeping. As a kid I kept guinea pigs, which I liked. But they weren’t nearly so extroverted as our rabbit, and their personality was more one of “gazing out wondering if they were supposed to be invited into this meeting”. It’s a style I like, certainly, but I understand people not seeing the appeal of that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aw :) We also had a guinea pig, to keep the first rabbit company. He Loved his food and would squeak loudly when he thought it was dinner time. Very different to the rabbits, who could only try the Jedi mind trick on you! :)

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        1. Oh, yes, the squeaking. Guinea pigs have a knack for that. Our rabbit sneezes sometime, and I swear one time I heard him bark, but those are rare events.

          Guinea pigs also have that popcorning habit. Rabbits will jump up sometimes too, although our rabbit’s reached the point in life where he would rather not do something quite that time-consuming if he can help it.

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  1. I got this idea for a probability problem
    You take aspirin every day
    The bottle holds 250 pills
    You only take a half
    But every time you want one a whole comes out
    What will it take for the halves to start to come out
    I think I explained this rite
    Sheldon

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    1. It’s a hard problem to answer, actually. What you need to provide an answer is to know how many halves there are, and how many wholes there are, and how well-mixed they are. If you have, say, 10 half-pills and 90 whole-pills, and you’re equally likely to pick a half or a whole, then the chance of picking a half-pill is ten out of a hundred, or ten percent. (There are 10 half-pills wanted, and there are 90 + 10 or 100 things to pick from.)

      However, in a real pill bottle, the half-pills and the whole-pills aren’t going to be equally likely to come out. The entire bottle starts out as whole-pills, after all. Half-pills are added when you’ve taken out a whole pill, cut it in half, and tossed one of the halves back in. So they’re going to start out almost entirely on top, closer to the lid and presumably more likely to be shaken or picked out.

      However again — in a jumble of large and small things, that gets shaken up, the small things are likely to drift to the bottom, and the large ones to the top. You’ve seen this when it seems like all the raisins sank to the bottom and the bran to the top of the cereal box; or when all the large peanuts are at the top of the mixed-nuts jar and the crumbly little things at the bottom. Half- and whole-pills aren’t as variable in size as mixed nuts, and the bottle isn’t shaken as thoroughly, but the effect is going to hold.

      So I’m not sure the problem can be answered purely by reasoning about it. I don’t think we can count on half-pills being as likely to be pulled out as whole-pills. And without some idea of the relatively likelihood of a half versus a whole there’s not a real way to answer. We can make some assumptions that might seem reasonable. But we can’t rely on those until they’re tested by experiment.

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