Reading the Comics, April 19, 2016: Mostly Reruns Edition
Though I believe all my commentary on this is new, most of the comic strips to mention mathematical subjects since last time were strips in reruns. It’ll pick up again.
Lincoln Pierce’s Big Nate: First Class for the 16th of April originally ran the 11th of April, 1992. (First Class is a day-by-day reprinting of the comic strip.) Nate can’t believe that Francis is enchanted by the shapes in geometry. I can believe it, although I have a certain selection bias in the matter. Many fields of mathematics offer beauty. Geometry offers one that even the untrained eye can see. The diagrams that help along a geometric proof can be works of art, or at least suggest art. They also can be links to the world of Platonic ideals. The idea that there are perfect circles and squares and dodecahedrons and such is a strong one, at least in the Western tradition. And even a shaky sketch of that seems to evoke this perfection and render it understandable, even understood. There is joy to be had in this.
Nate Fakes’s Break Of Day for the 16th is a name-drop strip. Arithmetic serves as an easy-to-understand bit of work any reader can imagine making a mistake on. Really any work in any field can produce a mistake. And sometimes a mistake can be productive. This is as true in mathematics as it is in any creative field, and for much the same reason. It can teach why to do things one way rather than another. It can suggest alternate approaches. It can make you notice things you hadn’t noticed. But it’s easy in arithmetic to conclude that a mistake is just a wrongheaded effort, to be cut as soon as possible.
Bill Rechin’s Crock for the 18th (a rerun, though I don’t know from when) does mention mathematics in an appropriate context. Possibly the most important use of mathematics, after bookkeeping, is navigation. To know where one is, and where one means to go, is of great value. Finding ways to turn the observations and calculations needed to find one’s position into something that could be done in the field was a great challenge to armies and navies. You may remember the slide rule scene in the movie Apollo 13. The calculations there were all about converting navigational data for the Apollo Command Module to that for the Lunar Module. The Lunar Module was, relative to the Command Module, upside-down and rotated a little bit. Good navigation does demand a good sense of numbers.
Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set rerun from the 19th is about an application of mathematics I hear about but never see. I’m told there are many people in the world who need to halve or double recipes. And further, that the traditional English units of measure — three teaspoons in a tablespoon, two cups in a quart, four quarts in a gallon, et cetera — makes this sort of recipe scaling particularly easy. I am unconvinced, but I do like the array of extra size- and mathematics-related jokes stuffed into the background.
Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark for the 20th of April, originally run the 1st of June, 1970, is a curious pre-echo of the rock mentioned above. It’s a joke along the same lines anyway.