## Reading the Comics, September 9, 2017: First Split Week Edition, Part 2

I don’t actually like it when a split week has so many more comics one day than the next, but I also don’t like splitting across a day if I can avoid it. This week, I had to do a little of both since there were so many comic strips that were relevant enough on the 8th. But they were dominated by the idea of going back to school, yet.

Randy Glasbergen’s **Glasbergen Cartoons** rerun for the 8th is another back-to-school gag. And it uses arithmetic as the mathematics at its most basic. Arithmetic might not be the most fundamental mathematics, but it does seem to be one of the parts we understand first. It’s probably last to be forgotten even on a long summer break.

Mark Pett’s **Mr Lowe** rerun for the 8th is built on the familiar old question of why learn arithmetic when there’s computers. Quentin is unconvinced of this as motive for learning long division. I’ll grant the case could be made better. I admit I’m not sure how, though. I think long division is good as a way to teach, especially, the process of estimating and improving estimates of a calculation. There’s a lot of real mathematics in doing that.

Guy Gilchrist’s **Nancy** for the 8th is another back-to-school strip. Nancy’s faced with “this much math” so close to summer. Her given problem’s a bit of a mess to me. But it’s mostly teaching whether the student’s got the hang of the order of operations. And the instructor clearly hasn’t got the sense right. People can ask whether we should parse “12 divided by 3 times 4” as “(12 divided by 3) times 4” or as “12 divided by (3 times 4)”, and that does make a major difference. Multiplication commutes; you can do it in any order. Division doesn’t. Leaving ambiguous phrasing is the sort of thing you learn, instinctively, to avoid. Nancy would be justified in refusing to do the problem on the grounds that there is no unambiguous way to evaluate it, and that the instructor surely did not mean for her to evaluate it all four different plausible ways.

By the way, I’ve seen going around Normal Person Twitter this week a comment about how they just discovered the division symbol ÷, the obelus, is “just” the fraction bar with dots above and below where the unknown numbers go. I agree this is a great mnemonic for understanding what is being asked for with the symbol. But I see *no evidence* that this is where the symbol, historically, comes from. We first see ÷ used for division in the writings of Johann Henrich Rahn, in 1659, and the symbol gained popularity particularly when John Pell picked it up nine years later. But it’s not like Rahn invented the symbol out of nowhere; it had been used for subtraction for over 125 years at that point. There were also a good number of writers using : or / or \ for division. There were some people using a center dot before and after a / mark for this, like the % sign fell on its side. That ÷ gained popularity in English and American writing seems to be a quirk of fate, possibly augmented by it being relatively easy to produce on a standard typewriter. (Florian Cajori notes that the National Committee on Mathematical Requirements recommended dropping ÷ altogether in favor of a symbol that actually has use in non-mathematical life, the / mark. The Committee recommended this in 1923, so you see how well the form agenda is doing.)

Dave Whamond’s **Reality Check** for the 8th is the anthropomorphic-numerals joke for this week. A week without one is always a bit … peculiar.

Mark Leiknes’s **Cow and Boy** rerun for the 9th only mentions mathematics, and that as a course that Billy would rather be skipping. But I like the comic strip and want to promote its memory as much as possible. It’s a deeply weird thing, because it has something like 400 running jokes, and it’s hard to get into because the *first* couple times you see a pastoral conversation interrupted by an orca firing a bazooka at a cat-helicopter while a panda brags of blowing up the moon it seems like pure gibberish. If you can get through that, you realize why this is funny.

Dave Blazek’s **Loose Parts** for the 9th uses chalkboards full of stuff as the sign of a professor doing serious thinking. Mathematics is will-suited for chalkboards, at least in comic strips. It conveys a lot of thought and doesn’t need much preplanning. Although a joke about the difficulties in planning out blackboard use does take that planning. Yes, there is a particular pain that comes from having more stuff to write down in the quick yet easily collaborative medium of the chalkboard than there is board space to write.

Brian Basset’s **Red and Rover** for the 9th also really only casually mentions mathematics. But it’s another comic strip I like a good deal so would like to talk up. Anyway, it does show Red discovering he doesn’t mind doing mathematics when he sees the use.

## In Which I Just Have To Suppose Someone’s Being Naughty – Another Blog, Meanwhile 12:24 am

onThursday, 14 September, 2017 Permalink |[…] also, I did talk about some comic strips on my mathematics blog and none of them were Dennis the Menace so don’t worry about […]

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## Roy Kassinger 10:35 pm

onFriday, 15 September, 2017 Permalink |Admittedly what I know of Newspaper Popeye could easily fit inside a thimble Theatre but I notice this past week features Swee’pea loudly complaining about his allowance, my question is this unusual? None of the other characters seem to notice him talking, let alone talking back

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## Joseph Nebus 11:39 pm

onSunday, 17 September, 2017 Permalink |Swee’pea complaining about stuff is a common enough feature of the Sagendorf-era Popeye strips. At least the comics that get drawn on for the eternal reruns, which seems to be an era running from about 1969 to 1985. Two story before Spincoal, for example, was `Who Am I’ (originally run December 1969 to May 1970) and starts out with Swee’pea decrying the generation gap and wondering who the heck he is, exactly. It gets from there into weird territories, by which I mean Olive Oyl renting a gorilla from the zoo to make Popeye jealous, because Bud Sagendorf. But Swee’pea doesn’t seem to have much trouble talking to, or being understood by, other adults in that. Though the only example I ran across on a quick search of him speaking to anybody was to Popeye’s grandmom, so maybe that just runs in the family.

I haven’t been reviewing the in-eternal-rerun story strips on my humor blog, although I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth providing some space for recaps or for people who do want to figure out what the heck the storyline was in a Sagendorf-era Popeye or something.

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