Playing With Tiles

The Math Less Travelled, one of the blogs that I read, posted yesterday a link to another web site, a Tiling Database created by Brian Wichmann and Tony Lee. The database is exactly what it says on the label: a collection of patterns which one could put on a flat surface and extend outward in both directions as far as you like. In principle, you could get any of them to spruce up your kitchen, although some of them would be a bit staggering to face in the morning, even in other color schemes.

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Everything I Know About Trapezoids

The set of posts about the area of a trapezoid seems to form a nearly coherent enough whole that it seems worthwhile to make a convenient reference point so that people searching for “how do you find the area of a trapezoid in the most convoluted and over-explained way possible?” have convenient access to it all. So, this is the path of that whole discussion.

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Or, Work It Out The Easy Way

[ I figure this to be the last important bit of Trapezoid Week. ]

I have one last bit of proving the area formula for the trapezoid, and figure this should wrap up all the exposition I mean to do here. I’m starting again with a trapezoid, with the two parallel bases AB and DE drawn so they’re horizontal. I’m making no assumptions about the legs AD and BE; they might be parallel, they might not be. This makes a proof that’s improved from the difference-of-triangles proof, since it works for more shapes. It’ll work naturally for parallelograms and rectangles, whether you want them to be trapezoids or not. It’s also improved from the twin-trapezoid proof, because it requires so much less extra work.

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How Two Trapezoids Make This Simpler

[ More of Trapezoid Week! Here we make finding the area simpler by doubling the number of trapezoids on the screen. ]

Figuring out the area of a trapezoid based on making it the difference between two triangles works all right. “All right” carries with it a sense of inadequacy. The complaints against it are pretty basic. The first is that it doesn’t work for everything which might be called a trapezoid. Maybe we don’t want to consider parallelograms and rectangles to be particular kinds of trapezoids, but, why rule them out if we don’t have to? The second point is the proof is a little convoluted, requiring us to break out of thinking about trapezoids to remember details of similar triangles. It’d be nice if we had a more direct way of proving things.

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The Difference Of Two Triangles

[ Trapezoid Week continues! ]

Yesterday I set out a diagram, showing off one example of a trapezoid, with which I mean to show one way to get the formula for a trapezoid’s area. The approach being used here is to find two triangles so that the difference in area between the two is the area of the trapezoid. This can often be a convenient way of finding the area of something: find simple shapes to work with so that the area we want is the sum or the difference of these easy areas. Later on I mean to do this area as the sum of simple shapes.

For now, though, I have the trapezoid set up so its area will be the difference of two triangle areas. The area of a triangle is a simple enough formula: it’s one-half the length of the base times the height. We’ll see much of that formula.

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Drawing A Trapezoid’s Picture

(It strikes me, this might just as well be Trapezoid Week here. )

Since I did work out the area of a trapezoid starting from the area formula for triangles, and since I was embarrassed to have not seen it sooner, I decide to share it here, where it may do someone some good, particularly if it’s me for next time I teach a class like this. The punch line is known far ahead of time. The trapezoid is a four-sided figure with two sides parallel. The parallel sides have lengths b1 and b2; they’re considered bases. The two bases are an altitude a apart. The area of the trapezoid then is a * (b1 + b2)/2.

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How To Forget The Area Of A Trapezoid

When I lecture I like to improvise. I prepare notes, of course, the more detailed the more precise I need to be, but my performing instincts are most satisfied when I just go in front of the class with some key points to hit and maybe a few key lines worked out ahead of time. But I did recently make an iconic mistake, repeating the mathematics instructor’s equivalent of the lawyer asking in court a question without already knowing what the answer will be. Improvisation has to be carefully prepared.

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Some More Comic Strips

I might turn this into a regular feature. A couple more comic strips, all this week on, ran nice little mathematically-linked themes, and as far as I can tell I’m the only one who reads any of them so I might spread the word some.

Grant Snider’s Incidental Comics returns again with the Triangle Circus, in his strip of the 12th of March. This strip is also noteworthy for making use of “scalene”, which is also known as “that other kind of triangle” which nobody can remember the name for. (He’s had several other math-panel comic strips, and I really enjoy how full he stuffs the panels with drawings and jokes in most strips.)

Dave Blazek’s Loose Parts from the 15th of March puts up a version of the Cretan Paradox that amused me much more than I thought it would at first glance. I kept thinking back about it and grinning. (This blurs the line between mathematics and philosophy, but those lines have always been pretty blurred, particularly in the hotly disputed territory of Logic.)

Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff is in reruns, of course, and shows a random scattering of strips from the 1930s and 1940s and, really, seem to show off how far we’ve advanced in efficiency in setup-and-punchline since the early 20th century. But the rerun from the 17th of March (I can’t make out the publication date, although the figures in the article probably could be used to guess at the year) does demonstrate the sort of estimating-a-value that’s good mental exercise too.

I note that where Mutt divides 150,000,000 into 700,000,000 I would instead have divided the 150 million into 750,000,000, because that’s a much easier problem, and he just wanted an estimate anyway. It would get to the estimate of ten cents a week later in the word balloon more easily that way, too. But making estimates and approximations are in part an art. But I don’t think of anything that gives me 2/3ds of a cent as an intermediate value on the way to what I want as being a good approximation.

There’s nothing fresh from Bill Whitehead’s Free Range, though I’m still reading just in case.