Reading the Comics, January 19, 2019: Not Making The Cut Edition


I’m trying to be a bit more rigorous about comic strips needing mathematical content before I talk about them. So, for example, Maria Scrivan had a Half Full that’s a Venn Diagram joke. But I feel like that isn’t quite enough for me to discuss at greater length. There was a Barney Google where Jughead explains why he didn’t do his mathematics homework. And I’m trying not to bring up Randolph Itch, since I’ve been through several circuits of the short-lived strip already. But it re-ran the one that renders Randolph as a string of numerals. If you haven’t seen that before, it’s a cute bit of symbols play.

Now here’s the comics that did make the cut:

A numeral 3 turns backwards to Fi, calling out 'Catch me!' Fi doesn't respond; the 3 falls on its back. Dethany: 'You're rejecting that department's expense report?' Fi: 'I don't trust its numbers.'
Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack for the 18th of January 2019. This and other essays mentioning On The Fastrack should be at this link.

Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack for the 18th is an anthropomorphic numerals joke. It’s part of Holbrook’s style to draw metaphors as literal happenings. It’s also a variation on a joke Holbrook used just last month, depicting then the phrase “accepting his numbers”. What I said about “accepting numbers” transfers over naturally to “trusting numbers”. It’s not that a number itself means anything. It’s that numbers are used to represent some narrative. If we can’t believe the narrative, we don’t believe the numbers. And the numbers used to represent something can give us reasons to trust, or reject, a narrative.

Caption; Eric didn't listen in class when teacher explained circ = 2 * pi * R. Picture is Eic trying to squeeze into too tight a pair of pants: 'These pants are too small ... can't fit'em.'
Eric the Circle for the 18th of January 2019. This one is credited to ‘Krisis’. Somehow I don’t write up every single Eric the Circle. But when I do, Eric the Circle talk is at this link.

Eric the Circle for the 18th I can dub an anthropomorphic geometry joke for the week. At least it brings up one of the handful of geometry facts that people remember outside school. The relationship between the circumference and the diameter (or radius, if you rather) of a circle has been known just forever. It has the advantage of going through π, supporting and being supported by that celebrity number. … I’m not quite sure about the logic of this joke, though. My experience is that guys at least are fairly good about knowing their waist size (if you don’t know, it’s 38, although a 40 can feel so comfortable, and they’re sure they can wear a 36). Radius is a harder thing to keep in mind. But maybe it’s different for circles.

Teacher pointing to 6 + 4 on the blackboard: 'Nerwin, if I add these two numbers together, what do I get?' Nerwin: 'A bigger number!' Nerwin, in the corner: 'I'm not a detail person!'
Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 19th of January 2019. When I find something in Broom Hilda inspirational, what’s inspired should be at this link.

Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 19th is a student-and-teacher problem. One thing is that Nerwin’s not wrong. It’s just that simply saying something true isn’t enough. We want to say things that are true and interesting.

But “you add two numbers and get a number” can be interesting. It depends on context. For example, in group theory, we will start by describing groups as a collection of things and an operation which works like addition. What does it mean to work like addition? Here, it means if you add two things from the collection, you get something from the collection. The collection of things is “closed” under your operation. And mathematical operations defined this abstractly — or defined this vaguely, if you don’t like the way it goes — can be great. We’re introduced to vectors, for example, as “ordered sets of numbers”. And that definition works all right. But when you start thinking of them instead as “things you can add to vectors and get other vectors out” you gain new power. You can use the mechanism developed for ordered sets of numbers to describe many things, including matrices and functions and shapes. But when we do that we’re saying things about how addition works, rather than what this particular addition is.

You know, on reflection, I’m not sure that Eric the Circle was more worthy of discussion than that Barney Google was. Hm.


And I should be back with more comics on Sunday. They should appear at this link when it’s all ready.

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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. He/him.

4 thoughts on “Reading the Comics, January 19, 2019: Not Making The Cut Edition”

  1. The Barney Google I like, but the Venn was a good ommission (how is insomnia in the sleep circle) and the visual numbers gag is ok. Feel bad for Nerwin. It seems like saying true things that are not interesting might actually be a goal for a contrary student. (Which is not what Nerwin was going for.)

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  2. So, an algorithm is definatly NOT an Earworm stuck in Bill Clinton’s V.P.’s head?

    At the risk of second guessing Bill Holbrook, shouldn’t the positions of the number and Fi be reversed? As is, it’s more the numbers don’t trust Fi instead of the other way around? Maybe have the 3 say it will catch her and fails to do so, Then she could say “I don’t trust those numbers.”

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    1. I like the idea of reversing the positions of Fi and the untrustworthy 3. But the objection I can think of — and that might be why Holbrook drew it that way instead — is that having Fi do a failed trust fall onto the 3 would imply she had accepted that department’s numbers before and been burned. But she’s been set up as too sharp and skeptical to fall for that. Maybe it’d work if it were set up as why she was such a ruthless financial examiner but that might be too complicated for a four-panel daily strip.

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