Archive for the Mathematics Category

The Dow of Money Sense

Posted in Deep And Profound Brain Things, Mathematics, Money with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2008 by weirleader

As a former (small-time) investor and math teacher, I’ve long been frustrated with the news’ approach to reporting ups and downs, highs and lows in the market.  My favorite type of report states that “The Dow was up today on rumors that ____________________.”  Come on!  You’re telling me that the only thing that contributed to this massively complex market today was a single rumor?  No one in their right mind believes that, certainly not whoever wrote the article…  yet they feel compelled to put a reason to the day’s events.  And I really believe a lot of people out there take the report at face value.

What was merely a pet peeve, however, became much more serious after I read this paper by Arthur Lupia, et al. at the University of Michigan (hat tip, once again, to Freakonomics).  I don’t want to steal his thunder too much – you should read for yourself – but suffice it to say that the status quo is really just fostering ignorance and poor investing sense.  I consider myself good with numbers, but this interpretation of events eluded me.  Reading it, however, explains a lot about how an economy can appear so good and perform so badly at the same time; it’s all about where you focus your attention.

Whether or not the media is swayed by the solid suggestions, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to at least better interpret this kind of financial data in the future.  That’s a start…

More by Prof. Lupia here.

Gender and Education

Posted in Education, Mathematics on March 14, 2008 by weirleader

This interesting article brought to light some interesting statistics that I wouldn’t have guessed on my own.  I’m not really sure what to make of it just yet, but I’m hoping that I might at least use the information to encourage my students, especially girls that might not see themselves as capable of going into an engineering-related filed.

Part of the program I work with encourages students to choose a path as they enter their junior year: the Biomed path, or the Engineering path.  Overwhelmingly, the girls tend to prefer Biomed.  That’s not necessarily a problem (before I get flamed for insinuating otherwise) – I just want to make sure all students feel they are capable of either choice.  Last year, for instance, out of about twenty students, only two were girls.

My Mathematic Idol

Posted in Mathematics on February 9, 2008 by weirleader

This dude is amazing!

wow…  and again I say, wow.

I actually (at one time) learned how to do the date thing, only I never became faster than 30 seconds or so (which, for the uninitiated, I think is still impressive).  But the rest is just WAY beyond me!

Is Kevin Bacon for real?

Posted in Deep And Profound Brain Things, Mathematics on February 6, 2008 by weirleader

Okay – just going for the fun title there.

I’m actually writing to recommend this really interesting article in Discover about a modern look at the famous claim.  Would you believe the claim was terribly unsound and its details very glossed over?  It’s one of those things that everybody knows and which, therefore, everybody should think twice about believing.  Nonetheless, when you think about all the disparate people you know, it just isn’t that surprising to imagine that disparate to the sixth power equals a connection…  it’s all the power of math!  🙂

And if you just love the amazing things that can be done with technology, just try out the link below.  To be honest, I’m not really sure how useful it is…  but I instinctively find it fascinating.

What is wrong with this question?

Posted in Deep And Profound Brain Things, Education, Mathematics on January 28, 2008 by weirleader

Which of the following is not a real number?

a. 0/5

b. -sqrt(23)  [for you non-math people, that’s the best I can do for square root]

c. 12/sqrt(6)

d. 0 degrees

e. pi  [or, if you prefer, the symbol formerly known as pi]

The above question was presented to us just hours ago as part of what I surmise to be an advertisement for why we should hire this lady to come in and tutor our students on how to take the ACT. Why every teacher in the school needed to sit in on this lecture is beyond me, because I don’t really have the time in my already overburdened course to teach students how to properly manage their reading comprehension of essays. [I’m not trying to get into an argument on reading across the curriculum – just bear with me]

What really bugs me about this question is that on a very important standardized test (thanks to No Child Left Behind, we look like an inept school if our students fail to do well on this test) a question as ridiculous as that above might be considered typical.  Are they testing for understanding of what a “real number” is?  Doesn’t look like it.  If they were, they’d throw in an imaginary number.

I’d like to think that I’d eventually arrive at the correct answer because it’s the “least bad” alternative, but that doesn’t seem to me an appropriate way of testing for a students’ aptitude.  And I’m not even trying to start a debate on the usefulness/efficacy of standardized tests!  I just am offended that such an inane question (or a group thereof) could separate those accepted to a given college from those who are not.  It reminds me of someone holding up an open palm and asking “How many fingers am I holding up?”  When you answer five, they laugh and say, “Silly rabbit!  The thumb is not a finger!”  C’mon!  What are we really testing for here?

The Game of Life

Posted in Genre: Science Fiction, Literature, Mathematics on January 22, 2008 by weirleader

Game of Life (Conway)

No, not the Parker Bros. classic – I’m talking about John Conway‘s Game of Life (or here).  It’s really quite interesting, even for non-math-types (I think…  guess I’m sort of assuming there).  The great part about it is how complexity can arise from a very simple set of rules.

I’ve been familiar with this for years, but just had it on my mind (can’t recall even why) and figured I’d do a bit of advertising.

At the very least, read through the description and perhaps fiddle with the Java applet.  It’s pretty cool to mess around with, if you’ve got the time.

One literary connection – David Brin (one of my favorite sci-fi authors) actually incorporated the Game into a novel (Glory Season)…  very interesting novel, for more than the math.

Hope you enjoy it (even just a little).

Where Math Meets Music

Posted in Humor, Mathematics, Music, Movies & Entertainment with tags , , on January 19, 2008 by weirleader

Proof that my professor is on of the most fun mathematicians I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, he snuck a link to this video into our homework assignment for this week.  I was wondering why he linked to YouTube and, suffice it to say, had to share with you all.  I’ve already watched it 4 times this morning (Quinn made me play it twice because he liked the music) and could watch it over and over.

For you non-math types, I’m sure you won’t quite get all the references but hopefully enough to gain an appreciation for the flavor of it (not to mention the effort and creativity in writing it).

A few of the references (for starters):

Oops, almost forgot to credit these guys (in the video) at

Apparently, this actually made the rounds back in ’05 – but this is a new one for me.