Math in the Movies: Stand and Deliver

During the course of my K-12 math education, I was able to watch Stand and Deliver two times during math class. The first time was in 5th or 6th grade, and during this first viewing I was less inspired by the mathematics than by the stellar performance of Lou Diamond Phillips, whose winning catch phrase “I strangled him, his body’s decomposing in my locker” has stuck with me well into my adult life.

The second time I saw the film was in high school, during the month between the AP exams and summer vacation when teachers are generally a little less rigorous with their lesson plans. Wiser now, I was able to more fully appreciate the mathematics on display in the film. I understood what it was like to sit down for an AP Test, and while I’ve never had Andy Garcia accuse me of cheating, I think I can . . . → Read More: Math in the Movies: Stand and Deliver

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The Math of March Madness

With the NCAA college basketball tournament now well under way, no doubt many of you are following the games closely, and vying for your teams to make it to that sacred promised land known as the Final Four. Even the President’s caught some of the madness.

When filling out a bracket, of course you would like to predict as many games correctly as possible. No doubt a thorough understanding of the teams can help in this endeavor, as well as a careful analysis of their performance throughout the season. But none of us is perfect, and we are bound to make some incorrect predictions.

Even if you are quite skilled when it comes to picking winners, and can pick correctly 75% of the time, the odds of you selecting the correct winner for each game of the tournament are about 1 in 74,325,939. Roughly speaking, this means that even if . . . → Read More: The Math of March Madness

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Verizon Employees Suck at Math

If you’ve got the time, and/or the patience, listening to this audio clip of George Vaccaro try to deal with a series of Verizon representatives who claim that 0.002 = 0.00002 should be enough to strike fear into your heart regarding the future of mathematical literacy in this country. Then again, he’s talking about problems he had while in Canada, so maybe the reps are Canadian. We’d never make such an obvious mistake here in the States, right? Right…

On a related note, I would encourage all of you to start writing the dollar amounts on your checks as more complicated mathematical expressions. Everyone could use a boost to their mathematical literacy, bankers included.

The audio clip is quite long, and the longer it goes on, the more depressing it gets.

. . . → Read More: Verizon Employees Suck at Math

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Pi Day

Hot on the heels of Square Root Day comes Pi Day, a day held in honor of arguably the most famous mathematical constant, π. And like Square Root Day, I am forced to approach this holiday with a certain degree of hesitation.

There is no doubt that Pi Day is the most prestigious mathematical holiday, but this recognition usually only serves to illustrate the sad state of mathematical literacy in this country. For example, one year I remember reading a news article about Pi Day where the author described π as a number whose decimal expansion “was believed to go on forever.” Of course, belief has nothing to do with it – this is a simple consequence of the irrationality of π, a fact which is apparently lost amidst the pie eating hubbub of this holiday. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident – for as much as Pi . . . → Read More: Pi Day

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Optimization at the Checkout

On more than one occasion, while waiting in line to buy my lunch on campus, the cashiers at the front have asked those of us in the line to split into smaller lines – one line for each cashier. This seems to be met with hesitation on the part of those of us who are in line, and rightly so. Perhaps I am simply projecting, but it seems like they all know the same thing I do: that having only one line feed into all the cashiers is the most efficient way to manage a queue. One would think the cashiers should know this as well, but apparently not. So, if you have ever asked people to form separate lines when waiting to be helped, pay attention, because you need to learn why people in line rarely pay attention to you. For a person waiting in a single line, there . . . → Read More: Optimization at the Checkout

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Square Root Day?

I just noticed this article on the front page of Yahoo, which discusses the pending celebrations for tomorrow, in honor of the square root function. Tomorrow is given the name “Square Root Day,” naturally enough, because the date is 3/3/09. Seeing as how there are only 9 square root days per century, apparently the sparsity of this phenomenon is enough to make some people excited when such dates do occur. Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 3,996,0011/2.

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I’m not really sure who deemed this story worthy of inclusion on the front page of Yahoo. Similarly, I don’t know what it means when the article says that tomorrow’s “holiday” is met with great enthusiasm by “math buffs.” The article seems to suggest that a celebration like this falls within the realms of mathematics, when it more appropriately falls into the realm of . . . → Read More: Square Root Day?

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