CNN Light Years Guest Post: How Professors’ Dads Made Math Fun

Hi all,

This weekend’s Father’s Day celebrations have inspired my monthly article over at the CNN Light Years blog. Here’s a sample:

There are many misconceptions about mathematicians in popular culture. For example, windows and mirrors do not make for the best writing surfaces, despite what you might assume from “A Beautiful Mind” or “Good Will Hunting.”

Mathematicians are also frequently portrayed as painfully socially awkward. And while this is sometimes the case, the true range of personality types is much more varied. Even among the more socially awkward, it is not uncommon for mathematicians to fall in love, marry and start a family.

What must it be like to grow up in a household with a mathematician? In the spirit of Father’s Day, I spoke with two mathematicians whose fathers were also mathematicians about what it’s like being raised in a mathematical household

Click here for the rest!

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Pi Day vs. Half Tau Day

By now my views on Pi Day are well documented (see earlier posts from 2011 and 2009 if you’re curious). Recently, though, I’ve decided to try to be a little less curmudgeonly when it comes to math holidays. Consequently, while it would be easy to provide snarky commentary on articles with particularly egregious mathematical errors, this year I will try to restrain myself.

As I’ve said before, one of my biggest problems with Pi day is that the activities are, for the most part, a little ridiculous, and don’t actually do anything to better the general populace’s understanding of mathematics. Last year, I explained why contests involving the recitation of digits of are silly, so this year I’d like to offer an alternative. Why not use the day as an opportunity to debate with students the relative merits of and ?

Of course, I’m talking about more than Greek letters . . . → Read More: Pi Day vs. Half Tau Day

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Two Cups of Mathematics

With the holidays in full force, many of you are no doubt spending time in the kitchen; those of you who aren’t are nevertheless reaping the benefits provided by those who are. ‘Tis the season of baked goods, and if you are lucky enough to have a family member who knows how to bake, then for the month of December you will eat like a king.

This dude knows a thing or two about baked goods.

For my money, the best part of the baking process (aside from the delicious final act) is the careful and precise initial measurement of the ingredients. Keeping an accurate account of the relative proportions of each piece of the recipe is a hallmark of baking, and reflects the nature of baking itself: one part art, one part science. Unlike some other culinary arts, the measurements really do matter. Screw up these proportions and . . . → Read More: Two Cups of Mathematics

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An Introduction to Pumpkin Chunkin’

In a recent episode of ABC’s Modern Family, Cameron and Mitchell (the show’s unambiguously gay duo) are with some friends talking about Thanksgiving when Cameron decides to tell a story from his youth which, in his opinion, is quite compelling. Mitchell knows better, but doesn’t have the heart to tell him that this particular story suffers from some basic structural flaws. As Mitchell puts it, the story can be summarized as follows: “Once Cam and his friends tried to slingshot a pumpkin across a football field. Three seconds. That’s all you need to tell that story.” Readers in the U.S. can see the full clip below:

Needless to say, Cameron’s version of the story is much more embellished. In his rendition, their experiment was a success; as he puts it, the pumpkin flew across the field, “goal post to goal post.”

When I first heard him say . . . → Read More: An Introduction to Pumpkin Chunkin’

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11/11/11. Great.

To the question making the news circuit today (“Does today’s date have any special significance?”) I believe an article at Scientific American provides the most compelling answer: no. Not only does the article brush aside suggestions that this day might have some deeper meaning, but it also spends some time discussing why such numerological curiosities capture our collective imagination to the extent that they do. If you only read one article about 11/11/11 today (or two, I suppose, since you’re already reading this), let it be that one.

If you are a masochist like me, though, there are plenty of ridiculous articles floating around today to help you get your blood boiling. One of my favorites comes from today‘s Philadelphia Inquirer. It’s full of gems like:

One may be the loneliest number, [La Salle University math teacher Stephen] Andrilli said, but 11 ranks among the most odd – and not . . . → Read More: 11/11/11. Great.

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Math + Halloween, Part 4

It’s that time of year again. If you are looking for some math-themed costume ideas, then look no further. Though it gets harder to keep this tradition with each passing year, here are a few ideas is you’re looking to rock that mathematical look at whatever event you are planning to attend during this frightful Halloween season. Ideas from previous years can be found here, here, and here.

Without further ado, let’s begin!

1. Tony Stark

Yes, yes, I know – since Iron Man hit the screens in the summer of 2008, the titular character has become a popular costume idea, joining the ranks of comic book icons like Superman and Spiderman. I’m not talking about dressing up as Iron Man, though. Instead, I am recommending a costume based on the man inside the suit – Tony Stark, playboy billionaire and (more importantly) mathematical w√ľnderkind. All you really need is . . . → Read More: Math + Halloween, Part 4

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More Shameless Self-Promotion

Hi all. As a small gift for you going into this weekend, here‘s a link to an article from The Numbers Guy at the Wall Street Journal. I was one of several people interviewed for my thoughts on the preponderance of math holidays that have been in the news recently. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you will already know my general feelings towards these holidays. More details, though, can be found here or here. If you’re curious, you can probably find other articles in which I jump on the soapbox.

I’ll be back next week with something more substantive. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend, and if you’re in Los Angeles, Happy Carmageddon!

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Second Annual Tau Day: Interview and Ideas!

Last year marked the dawn of a new era in mathematical holidays. Spearheaded by Dr. Michael Hartl, Tau Day (celebrated today, June 28th) is an attempt to draw awareness to what he sees as a fundamental error in the definition of the beloved circle constant . In particular, he (and others) argue that the more natural choice of the circle constant should be , which he affectionately dubs . I outlined the reasons for this in a post last year, though if you have the time, I highly encourage you to read Hartl’s Tau Manifesto.

This year, I thought it would be nice to talk with Dr. Hartl in more detail about his inspirations for Tau Day, and where he envisions it in the future. He was gracious enough to agree to a brief interview, which I humbly submit to you here.


Q: When did you first . . . → Read More: Second Annual Tau Day: Interview and Ideas!

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