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  • Joseph Nebus 6:00 pm on Sunday, 19 March, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 2 Cows And A Chicken, Archie, , Arlo and Janis, Lard's World Peace Tips, , Off The Mark, Pi Day, , , Working Daze   

    Reading the Comics, March 18, 2017: Pi Day Edition 

    No surprise what the recurring theme for this set of mathematics-mentioning comic strips is. Look at the date range. But here goes.

    Henry Scarpelli and Craig Boldman’s Archie rerun for the 13th uses algebra as the thing that will stun a class into silence. I know the silence. As a grad student you get whole minutes of instructions on how to teach a course before being sent out as recitation section leader for some professor. And what you do get told is the importance of asking students their thoughts and their ideas. This maybe works in courses that are obviously friendly to opinions or partially formed ideas. But in Freshman Calculus? It’s just deadly. Even if you can draw someone into offering an idea how we might start calculating a limit (say), they’re either going to be exactly right or they’re going to need a lot of help coaxing the idea into something usable. I’d like to have more chatty classes, but some subjects are just hard to chat about.

    Mr Weatherby walks past a silent class. 'What a well-behaved class! ... Flutesnoot, how do you get them to be so quiet and still?' 'I just asked for a volunteer to solve an algebra problem!'

    Henry Scarpelli and Craig Boldman’s Archie rerun for the 13th of March, 2017. I didn’t know the mathematics teacher’s name and suppose that “Flutesnoot” is as plausible as anything. Anyway, I admire his ability to stand in front of a dead-silent class. The stage fright the scenario produces is powerful. At least when I was taught how to teach we got nothing about stage presence or how to remain confident during awkward pauses. What I know I learned from a half-year Drama course in high school.

    Steve Skelton’s 2 Cows And A Chicken for the 13th includes some casual talk about probability. As normally happens, they figure the chances are about 50-50. I think that’s a default estimate of the probability of something. If you have no evidence to suppose one outcome is more likely than the other, then that is a reason to suppose the chance of something is 50 percent. This is the Bayesian approach to probability, in which we rate things as more or less likely based on what information we have about how often they turn out. It’s a practical way of saying what we mean by the probability of something. It’s terrible if we don’t have much reliable information, though. We need to fall back on reasoning about what is likely and what is not to save us in that case.

    Scott Hilburn’s The Argyle Sweater lead off the Pi Day jokes with an anthropomorphic numerals panel. This is because I read most of the daily comics in alphabetical order by title. It is also because The Argyle Sweater is The Argyle Sweater. Among π’s famous traits is that it goes on forever, in decimal representations, yes. That’s not by itself extraordinary; dull numbers like one-third do that too. (Arguably, even a number like ‘2’ does, if you write all the zeroes in past the decimal point.) π gets to be interesting because it goes on forever without repeating, and without having a pattern easily describable. Also because it’s probably a normal number but we don’t actually know that for sure yet.

    Mark Parisi’s Off The Mark panel for the 14th is another anthropomorphic numerals joke and nearly the same joke as above. The answer, dear numeral, is “chained tweets”. I do not know that there’s a Twitter bot posting the digits of π in an enormous chained Twitter feed. But there’s a Twitter bot posting the digits of π in an enormous chained Twitter feed. If there isn’t, there is now.

    John Zakour and Scott Roberts’s Working Daze for the 14th is your basic Pi Day Wordplay panel. I think there were a few more along these lines but I didn’t record all of them. This strip will serve for them all, since it’s drawn from an appealing camera angle to give the joke life.

    Dave Blazek’s Loose Parts for the 14th is a mathematics wordplay panel but it hasn’t got anything to do with π. I suspect he lost track of what days he was working on, back six or so weeks when his deadline arrived.

    Keith Tutt and Daniel Saunders’s Lard’s World Peace Tips for the 15th is some sort of joke about the probability of the world being like what it seems to be. I’m not sure precisely what anyone is hoping to express here or how it ties in to world peace. But the world does seem to be extremely well described by techniques that suppose it to be random and unpredictable in detail. It is extremely well predictable in the main, which shows something weird about the workings of the world. It seems to be doing all right for itself.

    Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for the 15th is built on the staggering idea that the Earth might be the only place with life in the universe. The cosmos is a good stand-in for infinitely large things. It might be better as a way to understand the infinitely large than actual infinity would be. Somehow thinking of the number of stars (or whatnot) in the universe and writing out a representable number inspires an understanding for bigness that the word “infinity” or the symbols we have for it somehow don’t seem to, at least to me.

    Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler’s TruthFacts for the 17th gives us valuable information about how long ahead of time the comic strips are working. Arithmetic is probably the easiest thing to use if one needs an example of a fact. But even “2 + 2 = 4” is a fact only if we accept certain ideas about what we mean by “2” and “+” and “=” and “4”. That we use those definitions instead of others is a reflection of what we find interesting or useful or attractive. There is cultural artifice behind the labelling of this equation as a fact.

    Jimmy Johnson’s Arlo and Janis for the 18th capped off a week of trying to explain some point about the compression and dilution of time in comic strips. Comic strips use space and time to suggest more complete stories than they actually tell. They’re much like every other medium in this way. So, to symbolize deep thinking on a subject we get once again a panel full of mathematics. Yes, I noticed the misquoting of “E = mc2” there. I am not sure what Arlo means by “Remember the boat?” although thinking on it I think he did have a running daydream about living on a boat. Arlo and Janis isn’t a strongly story-driven comic strip, but Johnson is comfortable letting the setting evolve. Perhaps all this is forewarning that we’re going to jump ahead to a time in Arlo’s life when he has, or has had, a boat. I don’t know.

  • Joseph Nebus 6:00 pm on Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Pi Day   

    Terrible and Less-Terrible Pi 

    As the 14th of March comes around it’s the time for mathematics bloggers to put up whatever they can about π. I will stir from my traditional crankiness about Pi Day (look, we don’t write days of the year as 3.14 unless we’re doing fake stardates) to bring back my two most π-relevant posts:

    • Calculating Pi Terribly is about a probability-based way to calculate just what π’s digits are. It’s a lousy way to do it, but it works, technically.
    • Calculating Pi Less Terribly is about an analysis-based way to calculate just what π’s digits are. It’s a less bad way to do it, although we actually use better-yet ways to work out the digits of a number like this.
    • And what the heck, Normal Numbers, from an A To Z sequence. We do not actually know that π is a normal number. It’s the way I would bet, though, and here’s something about why I’d bet that way.
  • Joseph Nebus 6:00 pm on Thursday, 19 January, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Pi Day, , The Daily Drawing, The Elderberries, Ziggy   

    Reading the Comics, January 14, 2017: Maybe The Last Jumble? Edition 

    So now let me get to the other half of last week’s comics. Also, not to spoil things, but this coming week is looking pretty busy so I may have anothe split-week Reading the Comics coming up. The shocking thing this time is that the Houston Chronicle has announced it’s discontinuing its comics page. I don’t know why; I suppose because they’re fed up with people coming loyally to a daily feature. I will try finding alternate sources for the things I had still been reading there, but don’t know if I’ll make it.

    I’m saddened by this. Back in the 90s comics were just coming onto the Internet. The Houston Chronicle was one of a couple newspapers that knew what to do with them. It, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury-News, had exactly what we wanted in comics: you could make a page up of all the strips you wanted to read, and read them on a single page. You could even go backwards day by day in case you missed some. The Philadelphia Inquirer was the only page that let you put the comics in the order you wanted, as opposed to alphabetical order by title. But if you were unafraid of opening up URLs you could reorder the Houston Chronicle page you built too.

    And those have all faded away. In the interests of whatever interest is served by web site redesigns all these papers did away with their user-buildable comics pages. The Chronicle was the last holdout, but even they abolished their pages a few years ago, with a promise for a while that they’d have a replacement comics-page scheme up soon. It never came and now, I suppose, never will.

    Most of the newspapers’ sites had become redundant anyway. Comics Kingdom and GoComics.com offer user-customizable comics pages, with a subscription model that makes it clear that money ought to be going to the cartoonists. I still had the Chronicle for a few holdouts, like Joe Martin’s strips or the Jumble feature. And from that inertia that attaches to long-running Internet associations.

    So among the other things January 2017 takes away from us, it is taking the last, faded echo of the days in the 1990s when newspapers saw comics as awesome things that could be made part of their sites.

    Lorie Ransom’s The Daily Drawing for the 11th is almost but not quite the anthropomorphized-numerals joke for this installment. It’s certainly the most numerical duck content I’ve got on record.

    Tom II Wilson’s Ziggy for the 11th is an Early Pi Day joke. Cosmically there isn’t any reason we couldn’t use π in take-a-number dispensers, after all. Their purpose is to give us some certain order in which to do things. We could use any set of numbers which can be put in order. So the counting numbers work. So do the integers. And the real numbers. But practicality comes into it. Most people have probably heard that π is a bit bigger than 3 and a fair bit smaller than 4. But pity the two people who drew e^{\pi} and \pi^{e} figuring out who gets to go first. Still, I won’t be surprised if some mathematics-oriented place uses a gimmick like this, albeit with numbers that couldn’t be confused. At least not confused by people who go to mathematics-oriented places. That would be for fun rather than cake.

    CTEFH -OOO-; ITODI OOO--; RAWDON O--O-O; FITNAN OO--O-. He wanted to expand his collection and the Mesopotamian abacus would make a OOOO OOOOOOOO.

    the Jumble for the 11th of January, 2017. This link’s all but sure to die the 1st of February, so, sorry about that. Mesopotamia did have the abacus, although I don’t know that the depiction is anything close to what the actual ones looked like. I’d imagine they do, at least within the limits of what will be an understandable drawing.

    I can’t promise that the Jumble for the 11th is the last one I’ll ever feature here. I might find where David L Hoyt and Jeff Knurek keep a linkable reference to their strips and point to them. But just in case of the worst here’s an abacus gag for you to work on.

    Corey Pandolph, Phil Frank, and Joe Troise’s The Elderberries for the 12th is, I have to point out, a rerun. So if you’re trying to do the puzzle the reference to “the number of the last president” isn’t what you’re thinking of. It is an example of the conflation of intelligence with skill at arithmetic. It’s also an example the conflation of intelligence with a mastery of trivia. But I think it leans on arithmetic more. I am not sure when this strip first appeared. “The last president” might have been Bill Clinton (42) or George W Bush (43). But this means we’re taking the square root of either 33 or 34. And there’s no doing that in your head. The square root of a whole number is either a whole number — the way the square root of 36 is — or else it’s an irrational number. You can work out the square root of a non-perfect-square by hand. But it’s boring and it’s worse than just writing “\sqrt{33} ” or “\sqrt{34} ”. Except in figuring out if that number is larger than or smaller than five or six. It’s good for that.

    Dave Blazek’s Loose Parts for the 13th is the actuary joke for this installment. Actuarial studies are built on one of the great wonders of statistics: that it is possible to predict how often things will happen. They can happen to a population, as in forecasts of how many people will be in traffic accidents or fires or will lose their jobs or will move to a new city. We may have no idea to whom any of these will happen, and they may have no way of guessing, but the enormous number of people and great number of things that can combine to make a predictable state of affairs. I suppose it’s imaginable that a group could study its dynamics well enough to identify who screws up the most and most seriously. So they might be able to say what the odds are it is his fault. But I imagine in practice it’s too difficult to define screw-ups or to assign fault consistently enough to get the data needed.

    Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for the 14th is another multiverse strip, echoing the Dinosaur Comics I featured here Sunday. I’ll echo my comments then. If there is a multiverse — again, there is not evidence for this — then there may be infinitely many versions of every book of the Bible. This suggests, but it does not mandate, that there should be every possible incarnation of the Bible. And a multiverse might be a spendthrift option anyway. Just allow for enough editions, and the chance that any of them will have a misprint at any word or phrase, and we can eventually get infinitely many versions of every book of the Bible. If we wait long enough.

  • Joseph Nebus 6:00 pm on Sunday, 11 September, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Pi Day   

    Reading the Comics, September 6, 2016: Oh Thank Goodness We’re Back Edition 

    That’s a relief. After the previous week’s suspicious silence Comic Strip Master Command sent a healthy number of mathematically-themed comics my way. They cover a pretty normal spread of topics. So this makes for a nice normal sort of roundup.

    Mac King and Bill King’s Magic In A Minute for the 4th is an arithmetic-magic-trick. Like most arithmetic-magic it depends on some true but, to me, dull bit of mathematics. In this case, that 81,234,567 minus 12,345,678 is equal to something. As a kid this sort of trick never impressed me because, well, anyone can do subtraction. I didn’t appreciate that the fun of stage magic in presenting well the mundane.

    Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Zits for the 5th is an ordinary mathematics-is-hard joke. But it’s elevated by the artwork, which shows off the expressive and slightly surreal style that makes the comic so reliable and popular. The formulas look fair enough, the sorts of things someone might’ve been cramming before class. If they’re a bit jumbled up, well, Pierce hasn’t been well.

    'Are you okay, Pierce? You don't look so good.' Pierce indeed throws up, nastily. 'I don't have a stomach for math.' He's vomited a table full of trigonometry formulas, some of them gone awry.

    Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Zits for the 5th of September, 2016. It sure looks to me like there’s more things being explicitly multiplied by ‘1’ than are needed, but it might be the formulas got a little scrambled as Pierce vomited. We’ve all been there. Fun fact: apart from a bit in Calculus I where they drill you on differentiation formulas you never really need the secant. It makes a couple formulas a little more compact and that’s it, so if it’s been nagging at your mind go ahead and forget it.

    Jeffrey Caulfield and Alexandre Rouillard’s Mustard and Boloney for the 6th is an anthropomorphic-shapes joke and I feel like it’s been here before. Ah, yeah, there it is, from about this time last year. It’s a fair one to rerun.

    Mustard and Boloney popped back in on the 8th with a strip I don’t have in my archive at least. It’s your standard Pi Pun, though. If they’re smart they’ll rerun it in March. I like the coloring; it’s at least a pleasant panel to look at.

    Percy Crosby’s Skippy from the 9th of July, 1929 was rerun the 6th of September. It seems like a simple kid-saying-silly-stuff strip: what is the difference between the phone numbers Clinton 2651 and Clinton 2741 when they add to the same number? (And if Central knows what the number is why do they waste Skippy’s time correcting him? And why, 87 years later, does the phone yell at me for not guessing correctly whether I need the area code for a local number and whether I need to dial 1 before that?) But then who cares what the digits in a telephone number add to? What could that tell us about anything?

    As phone numbers historically developed, the sum can’t tell us anything at all. But if we had designed telephone numbers correctly we could have made it … not impossible to dial a wrong number, but at least made it harder. This insight comes to us from information theory, which, to be fair, we have because telephone companies spent decades trying to work out solutions to problems like people dialing numbers wrong or signals getting garbled in the transmission. We can allow for error detection by schemes as simple as passing along, besides the numbers, the sum of the numbers. This can allow for the detection of a single error: had Skippy called for number 2641 instead of 2741 the problem would be known. But it’s helpless against two errors, calling for 2541 instead of 2741. But we could detect a second error by calculating some second term based on the number we wanted, and sending that along too.

    By adding some more information, other modified sums of the digits we want, we can even start correcting errors. We understand the logic of this intuitively. When we repeat a message twice after sending it, we are trusting that even if one copy of the message is garbled the recipient will take the version received twice as more likely what’s meant. We can design subtler schemes, ones that don’t require we repeat the number three times over. But that should convince you that we can do it.

    The tradeoff is obvious. We have to say more digits of the number we want. It isn’t hard to reach the point we’re ending more error-detecting and error-correcting numbers than we are numbers we want. And what if we make a mistake in the error-correcting numbers? (If we used a smart enough scheme, we can work out the error was in the error-correcting number, and relax.) If it’s important that we get the message through, we shrug and accept this. If there’s no real harm done in getting the message wrong — if we can shrug off the problem of accidentally getting the wrong phone number — then we don’t worry about making a mistake.

    And at this point we’re only a few days into the week. I have enough hundreds of words on the close of the week I’ll put off posting that a couple of days. It’s quite good having the comics back to normal.

  • Joseph Nebus 6:00 pm on Tuesday, 5 July, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Pi Day,   

    Reading the Comics, July 2, 2016: Ripley’s Edition 

    As I said Sunday, there were more mathematics-mentioning comic strips than I expected last week. So do please read this little one and consider it an extra. The best stuff to talk about is from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which may or may not count as a comic strip. Depends how you view these things.

    Randy Glasbergen’s Glasbergen Cartoons for the 29th just uses arithmetic as the sort of problem it’s easiest to hide in bed from. We’ve all been there. And the problem doesn’t really enter into the joke at all. It’s just easy to draw.

    John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not on the 29th shows off a bit of real trivia: that 599 is the smallest number whose digits add up to 23. And yet it doesn’t say what the largest number is. That’s actually fair enough. There isn’t one. If you had a largest number whose digits add up to 23, you could get a bigger one by multiplying it by ten: 5990, for example. Or otherwise add a zero somewhere in the digits: 5099; or 50,909; or 50,909,000. If we ignore zeroes, though, there are finitely many different ways to write a number with digits that add up to 23. This is almost an example of a partition problem. Partitions are about how to break up a set of things into groups of one or more. But in a partition proper we don’t really care about the order: 5-9-9 is as good as 9-9-5. But we can see some minor differences between 599 and 995 as numbers. I imagine there must be a name for the sort of partition problem in which order matters, but I don’t know what it is. I’ll take nominations if someone’s heard of one.

    Graziano’s Ripley’s sneaks back in here the next day, too, with a trivia almost as baffling as the proper credit for the strip. I don’t know what Graziano is getting at with the claim that Ancient Greeks didn’t consider “one” to be a number. None of the commenters have an idea either and my exhaustive minutes of researching haven’t worked it out.

    But I wouldn’t blame the Ancient Greeks for finding something strange about 1. We find something strange about it too. Most notably, of all the counting numbers 1 falls outside the classifications of “prime” and “composite”. It fits into its own special category, “unity”. It divides into every whole number evenly; only it and zero do that, if you don’t consider zero to be a whole number. It’s the multiplicative identity, and it’s the numerator in the set of unit fractions — one-half and one-third and one-tenth and all that — the first fractions that people understand. There’s good reasons to find something exceptional about 1.

    dro-mo for the 30th somehow missed both Pi Day and Tau Day. I imagine it’s a rerun that the artist wasn’t watching too closely.

    Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks rerun for the 2nd concludes that storyline I mentioned on Sunday about Riley not seeing the point of learning subtraction. It’s always the motivation problem.

  • Joseph Nebus 6:00 pm on Sunday, 3 July, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , fairy tales, , Pi Day,   

    Reading the Comics, June 29, 2016: Math Is Just This Hard Stuff, Right? Edition 

    We’ve got into that stretch of the year when (United States) schools are out of session. Comic Strip Master Command seems to have thus ordered everyone to clean out their mathematics gags, even if they didn’t have any particularly strong ones. There were enough the past week I’m breaking this collection into two segments, though. And the first segment, I admit, is mostly the same joke repeated.

    Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 27th is the type case for my “Math Is Just This Hard Stuff, Right?” name here. In fairness to Broom Hilda, mathematics is a lot harder now than it was 1,500 years ago. It’s fair not being able to keep up. There was a time that finding roots of third-degree polynomials was the stuff of experts. Today it’s within the powers of any Boring Algebra student, although she’ll have to look up the formula for it.

    John McPherson’s Close To Home for the 27th is a bunch of trigonometry-cheat tattoos. I’m sure some folks have gotten mathematics tattoos that include … probably not these formulas. They’re not beautiful enough. Maybe some diagrams of triangles and the like, though. The proof of the Pythagoran Theorem in Euclid’s Elements, for example, includes this intricate figure I would expect captures imaginations and could be appreciated as a beautiful drawing.

    Missy Meyer’s Holiday Doodles observed that the 28th was “Tau Day”, which takes everything I find dubious about “Pi Day” and matches it to the silly idea that we would somehow make life better by replacing π with a symbol for 2π.

    Ginger Bread Boulevard: a witch with her candy house, and a witch with a house made of a Geometry book, a compass, erasers, that sort of thing. 'I'll eat any kid, but my sister prefers the nerdy ones.' Bonus text in the title panel: 'Cme on in, little child, we'll do quadratic equations'.

    Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange for the 29th of June, 2016. I like the Number-two-pencil fence.

    Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange for the 29th uses mathematics as the way to sort out nerds. I can’t say that’s necessarily wrong. It’s interesting to me that geometry and algebra communicate “nerdy” in a shorthand way that, say, an obsession with poetry or history or other interests wouldn’t. It wouldn’t fit the needs of this particular strip, but I imagine that a well-diagrammed sentence would be as good as a page full of equations for expressing nerdiness. The title card’s promise of doing quadratic equations would have worked on me as a kid, but I thought they sounded neat and exotic and something to discover because they sounded hard. When I took Boring High School Algebra that charm wore off.

    Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks rerun for the 29th starts a sequence of Riley doubting the use of parts of mathematics. The parts about making numbers smaller. It’s a better-than-normal treatment of the problem of getting a student motivated. The strip originally ran the 18th of April, 2001, and the story continued the several days after that.

    Bill Whitehead’s Free Range for the 29th uses Boring Algebra as an example of the stuff kinds have to do for homework.

  • Joseph Nebus 3:00 pm on Sunday, 17 April, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Pi Day, random numbers   

    Reading the Comics, April 15, 2016: Remarkably, No Income Tax Comics Edition 

    I’m as startled as you are. While a couple comic strips mentioned United States Income Tax Day, they didn’t do so in a way that seemed on-point enough for this Reading The Comics post. Of course, United States Income Tax Day happens to be the 18th this year. I haven’t seen Sunday’s comics yet.

    David L Hoyt and Jeff Knurek’s Jumble for the 11th of April one again uses arithmetic puns for its business. Also, if some science fiction writer doesn’t take hold of “Gribth” as a name for something they’re missing a fine syllable. “Tahew” is no slouch in the made-up word leagues either.

    TAHEW O - - - O; NIRKB - - O - O; CLEANC O - O - O -; GRIBTH - - O - O O; She knew what two times two equaled and didn't have to - - - - - - - - - -.

    David L Hoyt and Jeff Knurek’s Jumble for the 11th of April, 2016. The link will probably expire sometime before the year 2112.

    Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics for the 12th of April obviously originally ran sometime in mid-March. I have similarly ambiguous feelings about the value of Pi Day. I suppose it’s nice for people to think of “fun” and “mathematics” close together. Utahraptor’s distinction between “Pi Day” of March 14 and “Approximate Pi Day” of the 22nd of July s a curious one, though. It’s not as though 3.14 is any more exactly π than 22/7 is. I suppose you can argue that at some moment on 3/14 between 1:59:26 and 1:59:27 there’s some moment, 1:59:26.5358979 et cetera going on forever. But that assumes that time is a continuous thing, and it’s not like you’ll ever know what that moment is. By the time you might recognize it, it’s passed. They are all Approximate Pi Days; we just have to decide what the approximation is.

    Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for the 12th is a silly-homework problem question. I know the point is to joke about how Fauna misunderstands a word. But if we pretend the assignment is for real, what might its point be? To show that students know the parts of a right triangle? I guess that’s all right, but it doesn’t seem like much of an assignment. I don’t blame her for getting snarky in the face of that.

    Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues for the 13th is a gag about picking random numbers for arithmetic homework. The approach is doomed, surely, although it’s probably not completely doomed. I’m not sure Hammie’s age, but if his homework is about adding and subtracting numbers he probably mostly gets problems that give results between zero and twenty, and almost always less than a hundred. He might hit some by luck.

    'Quick! Give me five random numbers.' 'Nineteen, three, eleven, six, and eighty-one.' 'Perfect!' 'Wait --- why did you need five random numbers?' 'I had five homework problems left.' 'I can't wait to see your math grade.'

    Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott’s Baby Blues for the 13th of April, 2016. It’s only after Hammy walks away that Zoe wonders why he needs five random numbers?

    I’ve mentioned some how people are awful at picking “random” numbers in their heads. Zoe shows off one of the ways people are bad at it. People asked to name numbers “randomly” pick odd numbers more than even numbers. Somehow they just feel random. I doubt Kirkman and Scott were thinking of that; among other things, five numbers is a very small sample. Four odds out of five isn’t peculiar, not yet. They were probably just trying to pick numbers that sounded funny while fitting the space available. I’m a bit surprised 37 didn’t make the list.

    Mark Anderson’s Andertoons for the 13th is Mark Anderson’s Andertoons entry for this essay. I like the teacher’s answer, though.

    Patrick Roberts’s Todd the Dinosaur for the 14th just uses arithmetic as the most economic way to fit several problems on-screen at once. They’ve got a compactness that sentence-diagramming just can’t match.

    'It's just not coming to me, teacher!' 'That's okay, Todd. You can have this [ lollipop ] just for trying!' He licks it and suddenly answers the three arithmetic problems on the board. 'Good stuff, those Red Bull lollipops!'

    Patrick Roberts’s Todd the Dinosaur for the 14th of April, 2016. No fair wondering why his more distant eye is always the larger one.

    Greg Cravens’s The Buckets for the 15th amuses me with its use of coin-tossing as a way of making choices. I’m also amused the coin might be wrong only about half the time.

    John Deering’s Strange Brew for the 15th is a visual puzzle. It’s intending to make use of a board full of mathematical symbols to represent deep thought. But the symbols aren’t quite mathematics. They look much more like LaTeX, a typesetting code used to express mathematics in print. Some of the symbols are obscured, so I can’t say exactly what’s meant. But it should be something like this:

    F = \{F_{x} \in F_{c}: (is ... (1) ) \cap (minPixels < \|s\| < maxPixels ) \\ \partial{P} \\ (is_{connected}| > |s| - \epsilon) \}

    At the risk of disappointing, this appears to me gibberish. The appearance of words like ‘minPixels’ and ‘maxPixels’ suggest a bit of computer code. So does having a subscript that’s the full word “connected”. I wonder where Deering drew this example from.

    • Jacob Kanev 9:46 pm on Tuesday, 19 April, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Nice. On a totally unrelated note, my favourite comic about random numbers is from Dilbert, when he visits the accounting department: http://dilbert.com/strip/2001-10-25

      Regards from Jacob.


      • Joseph Nebus 2:08 am on Friday, 22 April, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Ha ha! Thank you. That’s a strip I had forgotten. It’s true, though; it’s so very hard to say what randomness is, or really pin down whether we’ve ever seen it.


    • elkement (Elke Stangl) 12:50 pm on Wednesday, 27 April, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I wonder why dinosaurs are so popular as characters? ;-)


      • Joseph Nebus 6:47 pm on Friday, 29 April, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Oh, dinosaurs have a lot going for them. They’ve got a great visual style and there’s at least one to fit any mood you might have. I’m a little surprised there are so few comic strips that have them. But modern comic strips have a strange aversion to funny-looking characters.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Joseph Nebus 3:00 pm on Tuesday, 15 March, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Pi Day, , , , ,   

    Reading the Comics, March 14, 2016: Pi Day Comics Event 

    Comic Strip Master Command had the regular pace of mathematically-themed comic strips the last few days. But it remembered what the 14th would be. You’ll see that when we get there.

    Ray Billingsley’s Curtis for the 11th of March is a student-resists-the-word-problem joke. But it’s a more interesting word problem than usual. It’s your classic problem of two trains meeting, but rather than ask when they’ll meet it asks where. It’s just an extra little step once the time of meeting is made, but that’s all right by me. Anything to freshen the scenario up.

    'Please answer this math question, Mr Wilkins. John is traveling east from San Francisco on a train at a speed of 80 miles per hour. Tom is going to that same meeting from New York, headed west, on a train traveling 100 miles per hour. In what state will they meet?' 'Couldn't they just Skype?'

    Ray Billingsley’s Curtis for the 11th of March, 2016. I am curious what the path of the rail line is.

    Tony Carrillo’s F Minus for the 11th was apparently our Venn Diagram joke for the week. I’m amused.

    Mason Mastroianni, Mick Mastroianni, and Perri Hart’s B.C. for the 12th of March name-drops statisticians. Statisticians are almost expected to produce interesting pictures of their results. It is the field that gave us bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, and many more. Statistics is, in part, about understanding a complicated set of data with a few numbers. It’s also about turning those numbers into recognizable pictures, all in the hope of finding meaning in a confusing world (ours).

    Brian Anderson’s Dog Eat Doug for the 13th of March uses walls full of mathematical scrawl as signifier for “stuff thought deeply about’. I don’t recognize any of the symbols specifically, although some of them look plausibly like calculus. I would not be surprised if Anderson had copied equations from a book on string theory. I’d do it to tell this joke.

    And then came the 14th of March. That gave us a bounty of Pi Day comics. Among them:

    'Happy Pi Day.' 'Mmm. I love apple pie.' 'Pi day, not Pie Day. Pi ... you know ... 3.14 ... March 14th. Get it?' 'Today is a pie-eating holiday?' 'Sort of. They do celebrate it with pie, but it's mostly about pi.' 'I don't understand what that kid says half the time.'

    John Hambrock’s The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee for the 14th of March, 2016. The strip is like this a lot.

    John Hambrock’s The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee trusts that the name of the day is wordplay enough.

    Scott Hilburn’s The Argyle Sweater is also a wordplay joke, although it’s a bit more advanced.

    Tim Rickard’s Brewster Rockit fuses the pun with one of its running, or at least rolling, gags.

    Bill Whitehead’s Free Range makes an urban legend out of the obsessive calculation of digits of π.

    And Missy Meyer’s informational panel cartoon Holiday Doodles mentions that besides “National” Pi Day it was also “National” Potato Chip Day, “National” Children’s Craft Day, and “International” Ask A Question Day. My question: for the first three days, which nation?

    Edited To Add: And I forgot to mention, after noting to myself that I ought to mention it. The Price Is Right (the United States edition) hopped onto the Pi Day fuss. It used the day as a thematic link for its Showcase prize packages, noting how you could work out π from the circumference of your new bicycles, or how π was a letter from your vacation destination of Greece, and if you think there weren’t brand-new cars in both Showcases you don’t know the game show well. Did anyone learn anything mathematical from this? I am skeptical. Do people come away thinking mathematics is more fun after this? … Conceivably. At least it was a day fairly free of people declaring they Hate Math and Can Never Do It.

  • Joseph Nebus 4:00 pm on Sunday, 13 March, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Pi Day,   

    Terrible And Less-Terrible Things with Pi 

    We are coming around “Pi Day”, the 14th of March, again. I don’t figure to have anything thematically appropriate for the day. I figure to continue the Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z, and I don’t tend to do a whole two posts in a single day. Two just seems like so many, doesn’t it?

    But I would like to point people who’re interested in some π-related stuff to what I posted last year. Those posts were:

    • Calculating Pi Terribly, in which I show a way to work out the value of π that’s fun and would take forever. I mean, yes, properly speaking they all take forever, but this takes forever just to get a couple of digits right. It might be fun to play with but don’t use this to get your digits of π. Really.
    • Calculating Pi Less Terribly, in which I show a way to do better. This doesn’t lend itself to any fun side projects. It’s just calculations. But it gets you accurate digits a lot faster.
  • Joseph Nebus 7:06 pm on Sunday, 17 May, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alternating series, , , , Funky Winkerbean, , Leibniz, , Pi Day,   

    Calculating Pi Less Terribly 

    Back on “Pi Day” I shared a terrible way of calculating the digits of π. It’s neat in principle, yes. Drop a needle randomly on a uniformly lined surface. Keep track of how often the needle crosses over a line. From this you can work out the numerical value of π. But it’s a terrible method. To be sure that π is about 3.14, rather than 3.12 or 3.38, you can expect to need to do over three and a third million needle-drops. So I described this as a terrible way to calculate π.

    A friend on Twitter asked if it was worse than adding up 4 * (1 – 1/3 + 1/5 – 1/7 + … ). It’s a good question. The answer is yes, it’s far worse than that. But I want to talk about working π out that way.

    Science teacher Mark Twain says if you divide the diameter of the moon into its circumference you get pi in the sky, and then laughs so hard at his own joke it causes chest pains.

    Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 17th of May, 2015. The worst part of this strip is Science Teacher Mark Twain will go back to the teachers’ lounge and complain that none of his students got it.

    This isn’t part of the main post. But the comic strip happened to mention π on a day when I’m talking about π so who am I to resist coincidence?

    (More …)

    • Matthew Wright 9:30 pm on Sunday, 17 May, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I tried memorising pi once, but for some reason I couldn’t finish. It wasn’t very rational of me. I sort of had to say that. (Actually, I probably didn’t…)


      • Joseph Nebus 5:27 pm on Wednesday, 20 May, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Aw, not to fear. I don’t think worse of you for saying it. It is the kind of joke people have to say, after all.


    • abyssbrain 3:40 am on Monday, 18 May, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It’s really difficult to manually calculate pi using a series. William Shanks claimed to have calculated pi manually up to more than 700 digits using the Machin’s formula,

      \frac{\pi}{4}=4\arctan \frac{1}{5}-\arctan \frac{1}{239}

      but he erred on the 528th digit, I think. It was a very amazing achievement nonetheless.


      • Joseph Nebus 5:31 pm on Wednesday, 20 May, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Shanks’s case is interesting, not just because of his great work and tragic error. There is also that museum rotunda that tries to honor him by displaying the digits of pi; it was built before his error was found.

        So the question is: keep the digits he calculated which are wrong, or replace them with the digits he would have calculated had he done the work right? Bearing in mind the purpose is to honor Shanks’s work, and nobody is going to get the digits of pi from reading what is essentially a piece of memorial art.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Chow Kim Wan 1:47 am on Wednesday, 3 June, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      From what I know, the Gregory-Leibniz series, while theoretically correct, converges very slowly to the desired value. I tried it once, up to around eight hundred terms. It was nightmare trying to get the figure to converge to a reasonably good number of decimal places. Some other formulas are more useful for this purpose. This series remains one of theoretical interest and mathematical beauty.


      • Joseph Nebus 10:40 pm on Friday, 5 June, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Oh, there’s no need to disparage the series as ‘theoretically’ correct; it’s right, no question about that. It’s just a matter of how much work is required to get what you want out of it. As series approximations for pi go, it’s not very efficient. It takes a lot of work to get a few meager decimal places right. But at least it’s very easy to understand.

        If you were stranded on a desert island and needed to calculate the digits of pi for some reason, you could remember this formula well enough and work out its terms well enough. Other formulas would get you more decimal places with fewer terms being calculated, but you have to remember and apply the formulas, and that’s a pain.

        Interestingly, it’s possible to calculate an arbitrary binary digit of pi without working out all the binary digits that come before it. There’s no way to do that for the decimal digits of pi; I forget whether there’s merely no known way to do that, or if it’s known to be impossible to do that. But the result is if you wanted to know just the (say) 2,038 trillionth binary digit of pi, you could work that out without knowing anything about the 2,037,999,999,999,999 digits that came before it.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Joseph Nebus 12:55 pm on Wednesday, 18 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: local news, Pi Day, video   

    Pi Day With A Friend 

    This is a touch self-indulgent, but: a friend from grad school, Dr Donna Dietz, appeared on one of the Washington, DC, morning news shows to talk about Pi Day, so please let me share that with you.

    I’m afraid that WordPress doesn’t make it easy for me to embed the video, so you’ll need to go to the local TV news web site, and I apologize for that because local TV news web sites have a tendency to be local TV news web sites. I also can’t swear that the video will work for those outside the United States.

    • abyssbrain 1:44 pm on Wednesday, 18 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      The video at least worked here in Hong Kong :)


    • n2sz 3:20 pm on Wednesday, 18 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply



    • Donna 3:23 pm on Wednesday, 18 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Wow! I feel world famous now! I’m sure that more people have watched me because of my Facebook and email and friends sharing this than ever watched (or at least cared) when it was live on the air in DC that morning! I can’t imagine most people who are awake at 7:30am on Saturday morning in DC really care much about Pi Day.


      • Joseph Nebus 4:31 am on Friday, 20 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        I was delighted seeing you speaking aloud, actually; I didn’t realize till the video how long it’s been since we actually talked.

        I’ve got trouble imagining anyone being up and about on purpose at 7:30 on a Saturday morning — even when cartoons were on, they were the stodgy and boring ones on before 8 am — but I can say that WordPress’s statistics say seventeen people looked at this page. I don’t know if that translates to watched the video, but it’s something, anyway. And apparently at least one of them was from Hong Kong, which is pretty near 180 degrees of longitude away from Washington, a pretty good approximation for worldwide.


    • LFFL 10:05 am on Friday, 20 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t think I could have pi day with you—but I could have pie day with you.


      • Joseph Nebus 8:35 pm on Sunday, 22 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Aw, well, thanks. This reminds me we’ve had some cheesecake in the fridge that’s gone without attention for too long.


  • Joseph Nebus 1:00 pm on Monday, 16 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alan Turing, , kites, , , , , Pi Day, , , telephones   

    Reading the Comics, March 15, 2015: Pi Day Edition 

    I had kind of expected the 14th of March — the Pi Day Of The Century — would produce a flurry of mathematics-themed comics. There were some, although they were fewer and less creatively diverse than I had expected. Anyway, between that, and the regular pace of comics, there’s plenty for me to write about. Recently featured, mostly on Gocomics.com, a little bit on Creators.com, have been:

    Brian Anderson’s Dog Eat Doug (March 11) features a cat who claims to be “pondering several quantum equations” to prove something about a parallel universe. It’s an interesting thing to claim because, really, how can the results of an equation prove something about reality? We’re extremely used to the idea that equations can model reality, and that the results of equations predict real things, to the point that it’s easy to forget that there is a difference. A model’s predictions still need some kind of validation, reason to think that these predictions are meaningful and correct when done correctly, and it’s quite hard to think of a meaningful way to validate a predication about “another” universe.

    (More …)

    • ivasallay 6:23 pm on Monday, 16 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I actually liked the out of order joke!
      My favorite pi comics were Long Story Short and Working Daze.


      • Joseph Nebus 9:09 pm on Tuesday, 17 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        The phone out of order joke most tickled me. It’s probably because of the quiet delivery.


  • Joseph Nebus 9:26 am on Saturday, 14 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Buffon's Needle Problem, Comte de Buffon, , , , Pi Day, , stochastics   

    Calculating Pi Terribly 

    I’m not really a fan of Pi Day. I’m not fond of the 3/14 format for writing dates to start with — it feels intolerably ambiguous to me for the first third of the month — and it requires reading the / as a . to make sense, when that just is not how the slash works. To use the / in any of its normal forms then Pi Day should be the 22nd of July, but that’s incompatible with the normal American date-writing conventions and leaves a day that’s nominally a promotion of the idea that “mathematics is cool” in the middle of summer vacation. This particular objection evaporates if you use . as the separator between month and day, but I don’t like that either, since it uses something indistinguishable from a decimal point as something which is not any kind of decimal point.

    Also it encourages people to post a lot of pictures of pies, and make jokes about pies, and that’s really not a good pun. It plays on the coincidence of sounds without having any of the kind of ambiguity or contrast between or insight into concepts that normally make for the strongest puns, and it hasn’t even got the spontaneity of being something that just came up in conversation. We could use better jokes is my point.

    But I don’t want to be relentlessly down about what’s essentially a bit of whimsy. (Although, also, dropping the ’20’ from 2015 so as to make this the Pi Day Of The Century? Tom Servo has a little song about that sort of thing.) So, here’s a neat and spectacularly inefficient way to generate the value of pi, that doesn’t superficially rely on anything to do with circles or diameters, and that’s probability-based. The wonderful randomness of the universe can give us a very specific and definite bit of information.

    (More …)

    • abyssbrain 10:28 am on Saturday, 14 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      When I first read about this method for calculating pi before, I have entertained the idea of trying it myself but I quickly discarded that idea, since who knows how long it would take before I would reach pi :)

      Btw, I’m also very confused with the American way of writing dates since I’m used to either ddmmyyyy format or yyyymmdd format. So, March 14, 2015 for me is 14/3/2015. I’ve also just posted some of my reasons why I don’t celebrate pi day…


      • Joseph Nebus 12:25 am on Monday, 16 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Oh, it would just take forever to find pi using needles and ruled lines. You’d do considerably better if you drew a quarter-circle on a square dartboard, and tossed darts at it, counting the ratio of darts that hit inside the quarter-circle to darts outside. At least you’d have a better night of it.

        I don’t know why the United States uses the month-day-year format, particularly since it hasn’t got much (any?) use elsewhere in the world. My suspicion is that there probably was a time when both month-day and day-month were common enough in English-speaking nations and the United States settled on one format while the United Kingdom another back in the 19th Century back when stuff standardized.


        • abyssbrain 1:08 am on Monday, 16 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          Well, it seems widespread because of US websites like Google use mmddyyyy format by default and most of the top sites are from the US…

          Though I have noticed that they are now slowly changing the date format of many wikipedia articles to ddmmyyyy format.


          • Joseph Nebus 9:05 pm on Tuesday, 17 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

            I have noticed what looks like a slow shift in american use to day-month-year format, at least when the month is given its proper name rather than a number. The year-month-day order seems irresistible if you’re determined to stick to writing things as digits, for reasons I have to agree are pretty solid.

            Anyway, there does seem to be something logical about sticking to one logical path about whether the thing written first should be the thing most likely to change and the thing written last the least likely, or the other way around.

            Liked by 1 person

    • LFFL 6:09 pm on Saturday, 14 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      See. I opened this blog after avoiding it for such a long time and my headache started instantly! The agony.


      • Joseph Nebus 12:26 am on Monday, 16 March, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Aw, dear. If it helps any I should have a fresh comic strips review in the next day or so. That’s nice and friendly.


  • Joseph Nebus 8:27 pm on Saturday, 16 March, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Pi Day, ,   

    Reading the Comics, March 12, 2013 

    I’ve got my seven further comic strips with mentions of mathematical topics, so I can preface that a bit with my surprise that at least some of the Gocomics.com comics didn’t bother to mention Pi Day, March 14. It might still be a slightly too much of a This Is Something People Do On The Web observance to be quite sensible for the newspaper comic strips. But there are quite a few strips on Gocomics.com that only appear online, and I thought one of them might.

    (I admit I’m a bit of a Pi Day grouch, on the flimsy grounds that 3/14 is roughly 0.214, which is a rotten approximation to π. But American-style date-writing never gets very good at approximating π. The day-month format used in most of the world offers 22/7 as a less strained Pi Day candidate, except that there’s few schools in session then, wiping out whatever use the day has as a playfully educational event.)

    Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten and David Clark’s Barney and Clyde (March 4) introduces a character which I believe is new to the strip, “Norman the math fanatic”. (He hasn’t returned since, as of this writing.) The setup is about the hypothetical and honestly somewhat silly argument about learning math being more important than learning English. I’m not sure I could rate either mathematics or English (or, at least, the understanding of one’s own language) as more important. The panel ends with the traditional scrawl of symbols as shorthand for “this is complicated mathematics stuff”, although it’s not so many symbols and it doesn’t look like much of a problem to me. Perhaps Norman is fanatic about math but doesn’t actually do it very well, which is not something he should be embarrassed about.

    (More …)

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