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Mathematics Awareness Month 2010

As April comes and goes, so too does Mathematics Awareness Month. Every year, the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics swirls mathematics with a different delightful discipline: last year it was climate, and the year before was voting.

This year’s theme is mathematics and sports, a topic which has inspired a number of articles here on this site. As usual, there are a number of essays that discuss this theme from various perspectives; while usual suspects such as football and baseball play a central role in many of the essays, other sports get to mingle with mathematics as well, including track, golf, and tennis (also NASCAR, if you consider that a sport).

This dude always thinks about math when he is golfing.

There are too many articles to discuss, so I’d encourage you to go take a look and see if anything strikes your . . . → Read More: Mathematics Awareness Month 2010

Judge v. Justices

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, it is not always easy to determine a person’s mathematical background based on his or her occupation. Sure, a burger flipper at McDonald’s may not look like the next Einstein, but how can you be sure she’s not just working a summer job to afford university? Conversely, just because someone is highly educated doesn’t mean he knows the difference between a prime and a composite number (although I’d argue that it should). Case in point: Supreme Court justices may or may not know the meaning of the word orthogonal. Here’s a snippet from the oral arguments in the case of Briscoe v. Virginia (courtesy of blog The Volokh Conspiracy):

MR. FRIEDMAN: I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here because the Commonwealth is acknowledging – CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I’m sorry. Entirely what? MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal. Right angle. . . . → Read More: Judge v. Justices

A Mathematical New Years Game

First, let me begin by wishing a happy 2010 to you all. If you celebrate the holidays the way I do, then the past few weeks have seen you spending time with friends and family. And if you really celebrate the holidays the way I do, then some of that time with friends and family will have been spent with mathematical puzzles.

Very recently I was with a group of friends, discussing all that would come to pass in this new year. One friend, whose anonymity I will preserve by referring to him only as “Smith,” was in the enviable position of being the only one among us whose age divided the current year (I won’t embarrass him by revealing his age, but given that it’s a divisor of 2010, this certainly restricts the possibilities). Once we realized this, it became natural to ask how common an occurrence this should . . . → Read More: A Mathematical New Years Game

More on Nerdy T-Shirts

Recently I received an email imploring me to check out all of the “unique designs” available at a site called I’m not sure why I was the recipient of such an email – they could have found me through my university affiliations, or through this blog, but I’m not sure which. If you’ve been reading my musings for a while, you may know of the problems I have with the intersection between mathematics and clothing. Most of what’s out there is junk. As one might expect, I was therefore quite skeptical when I received this solicitation. At the same time, I’d never heard of this site before, and so I hoped that perhaps a company that understood my frustrations had come to fruition.

Have my prayers been answered? Sort of. Let’s consider a few examples.

Despite claiming to have “unique designs,” the shirts at are all variations on . . . → Read More: More on Nerdy T-Shirts

Mathematics Awareness Month 2009

With April on its way out, it behooves me to take a moment and mention the focus of this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month. April has been bestowed with this glorious title every year since 1986 – last year the topic was Mathematics and Voting, which I discussed at some length in three earlier posts (see here, here, and here).

This year’s focus is on Mathematics and Climate. On the homepage you can find links to a variety of articles, most of which focus on the difficulty in coming up with mathematical models that can accurately reflect the complexity of the interconnected world in which we live. This is perhaps best summarized by Professor Pat Kenschaft, who writes the following in her essay, “Climate Change: A Research Opportunity for Mathematics?”:

How do we analyze the dynamics of the atmosphere, the oceans, the solid earth (especially volcanic emissions) and the biosphere . . . → Read More: Mathematics Awareness Month 2009

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

Mariah Carey Is not a Mathematician

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but it has come to my attention that Mariah Carey is not, in fact, a mathematician. Moreover, I’m fairly certain she is not a physicist, either.

The evidence is fairly compelling. According to this article from, the famous crooner misappropriated Einstein’s famous mass energy equivalence formula E = mc2: In interviews to promote the record, the singer’s eleventh studio release, Carey told reporters she re-interpreted the equation to stand for “emancipation equals Mariah Carey times two.”

Forgetting for a moment the question of what it means for Mariah Carey to be one half of emancipation, there is the arguably more important issue of her not understanding the difference between mc2 and mc x 2. Granted, Mariah Carey didn’t get this far based on her math skills, but by botching what many consider to be the most famous equation in . . . → Read More: Mariah Carey Is not a Mathematician

Math as Your Wingman: Mail Goggles

As many of you with Gmail accounts may already know, Google launched a feature last week that aims to put arithmetic squarely in the shoes of your most trusted wingman. The feature, dubbed Mail Goggles, is explained in the Official Gmail Blog.

In summary, the Mail Goggles feature allows you to make Gmail aware of certain hours during the week when you should not be sending e-mail (due to exhaustion, inebriation, or the side effects of whatever other illicit things you do in your personal life). Once these hours are set, should you decide to send an e-mail during one of these highlighted times, you will first be prompted to answer a series of math questions, in an attempt to prove to Gmail that you have sufficient mental faculties to be sending e-mail.

A noble pursuit, to be sure. A trustworthy internet wingman may be just the thing for those . . . → Read More: Math as Your Wingman: Mail Goggles