## π Day tribute from Arches National Park

March 14, 2014

Arches National Park Happy Pi Day! “PsyPhi” by Pete Apicella, 2010 Community Artist in the Parks (kh)

Hey, I wonder when Fibonacci’s birthday falls. π

## March 14, 2014: π Day! A π roundup, mostly pie

March 14, 2014

#### Let’s rerun this one.  I like the photographs. I may go search for a good piece of pie.

Of course you remembered that today is pi Day, right?

Happy π Day! Pi Day Pie – Slashfood.com

Oh, or maybe better, π Day.

We’ll start with the brief post from a few months ago, and then build on it with some activities and posts from around the WordPress-o-sphere.

Make (and Eat) a Pie – These pie recipes for Pi Day from NPR’s McCallister look incredibly tasty. But, there’s no shame in putting a frozen store-bought pie in the oven, or picking up a pie from your local bakery. Any kind of pie is great on Pi Day! If you’re making your own, get inspired by these beautifully designed Pi Day Pies. Tell us on Facebook: What’s your favorite kind of pie for Pi Day?

Hope your π Day is complete as a circle, and well-rounded!

How are others celebrating?  A look around WordPress:

At SocialMediaPhobe, a musical interpretation of pi featuring the music of Michael Blake:

So Long Freedom:

Today is March 14th, also known as “Pi Day” for us math geeks out there because March 14th (3/14) is the first 3 digits of π (3.14159…).  To celebrate “Pi Day” I highly recommend doing something mathematical while having some pie at 1:59 pm.  I recommend Yumology‘s S’mores Pie as it has 3 main ingredients (chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker) and about 0.14159 other ingredients like sugar, butter, and stuff.  If you are not a math geek, its okay…you can still eat pie and count things like how many stop signs you pass on your way back to work from lunch.  Or you could go to the library and take out a book on something fun like binary code.  As we like to say, “There are only 10 types of people in the world:  Those that understand binary and those that don’t.”  Seriously, binary is as easy as 01000001, 01000010, 01000011.

So besides being  the cause of much techie “irrational” exuberance, Pi Day  is a great way to get some engagement with students.

Marymount High School has several activities, last year they had a design competition incorporating pi; the students then made and sold buttons of each design, proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Hmm- math subject matter, design, production, sales, accounting.

Sounds like what we do in manufacturing.
Maybe celebrating Pi Day is not so irrational as first thought.

Free said his pie is peach.

On March 12, 2009 your lawmakers  passed a non-binding resolution (HRES 224) recognizing March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day. It is one of the more legit holidays we discuss here, and it is actually an homage to geeks everywhere who see the date as a reason to celebrate due to its mathematical implications. We say any reason to celebrate anything is just fine by us.

Since we are predominately about food we will suggest a few places to actually enjoy a pie.

If you followed us at all this week you may have seen the pie at Bowl and Barrel pop up on our pages. This is the uber delicious Butterscotch Pie served as the solo dessert at the bowling alley and restaurant.  Go eat one of these.

He’s got more pi pie, if you click over there.

Gareth Branwyn at MakeZine offers more pie and a mnemonic:

How to Remember Pi to 15 Digits

By way of sci-fi author and mathenaut Rudy Rucker’s Facebook wall comes this:

One way to remember the first few digits of pi is to count the letters in the words of this phrase:

“How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.”

[Image via FreakingNews]

b.love offers this clock image (is this clock for sale somewhere?):

A clock for pi day

Chirag Singh explains his “passion for pi.”

Daniel Tammet, “Different Ways of Knowing:

Geeks are really out in force today, flaunting pi for all they’ve got.

More:

## It’s π (pi) Day, 2014!

March 14, 2014

One might wonder when a good sociologist will write that book about how our vexing and depressing times push people to extreme measures, dwelling on one particular manifestation:  The invention of new celebrations on the calendar.

In my lifetime Halloween grew from one short dress-up night with candy for kids, to a major commercially-exploited festival, from an interesting social event to a religiously-fraught night of bacchanalia with a weeks-long buildup.  Cinco de Mayo grew into a festival of all things Mexican, though very few people can explain what the day commemorates, even among our Mexican neighbors.  (No, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day.)

St. Patrick’s Day grew in stature, and Guinness products now are freely available in almost every state.  Bastille Day gets a celebration even in Oak Cliff, Texas.  I’ve pushed Hubble Day, and Feynman Day; this weekend I’ll encourage people to celebrate James Madison’s birthday — and in January, I encourage the commemoration of Millard Fillmore’s birthday.

It could be a fun book, if not intellectually deep.

It will explain why, on Einstein’s birthday, March 14, we celebrate the number π (pi).

That book has not been written down, yet.  So we’re left simply to celebrate.

Down in Austin, at SXSW, some performance artist used the sky as his canvas on π Day Eve; The Austin American-Statesman captured it:

Caption from the Austin American-Statesman: Austin American-Statesman Tomorrow is pi day, aka March 14, aka 3.14 – which is why mathematical pi was spelled out in a circle over Austin today (Friday isn’t supposed to be as good of a day for skywriting)

Photo by Austin Humphreys / Austin American-Statesman — with Joseph Lawrence Cantu.

There’s too much good stuff, on Einstein and on pi, for one post.

Happy pi Day!

Here’s to Albert Einstein, wherever you are!

More:

A photo at Life in a Pecan Guild caught a much more informative photograph of the Austin skywriting:

Each letter, and digit (yes, they printed pi in the Sky!) was formed by five airplanes flying in formation. Wow. Just wow. Photo at Life in a Pecan Guild. (Go there for more photos.)

There will be some great photos of that Austin skywriting, I predict.  Will you point them out to us, in comments?

## Uh-oh. Common Core curriculum and “absolute values” in small town Idaho

September 21, 2013

This story caught my eye, partly because it’s from the town where I was born in southern Idaho, partly because it deals with education issues, specifically the Common Core State Standards on the ground — er, in the classroom — and partly because of the way it could be spun into silly and inaccurate controversy by radical right-wing people, who have spun similar stories worse.

In Burley, Idaho, junior high schools are teaching values.  Not just any values, but “absolute values.”  Just wait until the “values coalition” wackoes hear!  (Somebody should alert Eric Bolling at Fox News!)

What?  Well, yeah, it’s in math class. Still, absolute  values?  Do the parents know?

### Burley Teacher talks about Common Core By Brittany Cooper

Story Created: Sep 8, 2013 at 9:50 PM MDT

Story Updated: Sep 8, 2013 at 11:57 PM MDT

Burley, Idaho ( KMVT-TV / KTWT-TV ) Classes are underway in the Cassia Joint School District. So what do teachers think about the Common Core Standards?

Math teacher Cindy Tolman enjoys Common Core because teachers can focus on specific areas. She tells us she can use more real life examples and show illustrations of how to do the problems.

“And instead of just saying the absolute value of any number is positive, now we’re teaching them it’s the distance from zero and we actually got a string out and put it on a number line and we compared that the absolute value of a –3 is the same as the absolute of 3 because that’s the distance from zero on a number line,” adds Tolman who teaches at Burley Junior High School.

Tolman says sometimes what parents don’t understand is the Common Core builds a stronger foundation and as early as the kindergarten level, youngsters are receiving a more hands–on education than perhaps before.

Will anyone notice the teaching of absolute values in Burley, Idaho?  If they notice, will they avoid embarrassing themselves with a demonstration of their ignorance of mathematics?

More, and related information:

Junior High School in Burley, Idaho; the building I presume the class in the story is taught. This is not the great gray, gothic building that existed when I lived there. Photo linked from Google Maps

## March 14: π Day! A π roundup, mostly pie

March 14, 2013

Of course you remembered that today is pi Day, right?

Happy π Day! Pi Day Pie – Slashfood.com

Oh, or maybe better, π Day.

We’ll start with the brief post from a few months ago, and then build on it with some activities and posts from around the WordPress-o-sphere.

Make (and Eat) a Pie – These pie recipes for Pi Day from NPR’s McCallister look incredibly tasty. But, there’s no shame in putting a frozen store-bought pie in the oven, or picking up a pie from your local bakery. Any kind of pie is great on Pi Day! If you’re making your own, get inspired by these beautifully designed Pi Day Pies. Tell us on Facebook: What’s your favorite kind of pie for Pi Day?

Hope your π Day is complete as a circle, and well-rounded!

How are others celebrating?  A look around WordPress:

At SocialMediaPhobe, a musical interpretation of pifeaturing the music of Michael Blake:

So Long Freedom:

Today is March 14th, also known as “Pi Day” for us math geeks out there because March 14th (3/14) is the first 3 digits of π (3.14159…).  To celebrate “Pi Day” I highly recommend doing something mathematical while having some pie at 1:59 pm.  I recommend Yumology‘s S’mores Pie as it has 3 main ingredients (chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker) and about 0.14159 other ingredients like sugar, butter, and stuff.  If you are not a math geek, its okay…you can still eat pie and count things like how many stop signs you pass on your way back to work from lunch.  Or you could go to the library and take out a book on something fun like binary code.  As we like to say, “There are only 10 types of people in the world:  Those that understand binary and those that don’t.”  Seriously, binary is as easy as 01000001, 01000010, 01000011.

So besides being  the cause of much techie “irrational” exuberance, Pi Day  is a great way to get some engagement with students.

Marymount High School has several activities, last year they had a design competition incorporating pi; the students then made and sold buttons of each design, proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Hmm- math subject matter, design, production, sales, accounting.

Sounds like what we do in manufacturing.
Maybe celebrating Pi Day is not so irrational as first thought.

Free said his pie is peach.

On March 12, 2009 your lawmakers  passed a non-binding resolution (HRES 224) recognizing March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day. It is one of the more legit holidays we discuss here, and it is actually an homage to geeks everywhere who see the date as a reason to celebrate due to its mathematical implications. We say any reason to celebrate anything is just fine by us.

Since we are predominately about food we will suggest a few places to actually enjoy a pie.

If you followed us at all this week you may have seen the pie at Bowl and Barrel pop up on our pages. This is the uber delicious Butterscotch Pie served as the solo dessert at the bowling alley and restaurant.  Go eat one of these.

He’s got more pi pie, if you click over there.

Gareth Branwyn at MakeZine offers more pie and a mnemonic:

How to Remember Pi to 15 Digits

By way of sci-fi author and mathenaut Rudy Rucker’s Facebook wall comes this:

One way to remember the first few digits of pi is to count the letters in the words of this phrase:

“How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.”

[Image via FreakingNews]

b.love offers this clock image (is this clock for sale somewhere?):

A clock for pi day

Chirag Singh explains his “passion for pi.”

Daniel Tammet, “Different Ways of Knowing:

Geeks are really out in force today, flaunting pi for all they’ve got.

More:

## It’s raining crazy

January 12, 2013

Sheesh! Did climate change boost the crazy crop, or what?

Without much comment, a few stories that cropped up in the browser today; as the comic writer Dave Barry says, you can’t make this stuff up.  If you were trying to sell it as fiction, they’d laugh you out of the room.  Nobody could be that crazy . . . and yet:

1. Creationists visited the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found they don’t like what science knows about nature, especially evolution.  Why did they even bother to go?  Story at the Sensuous Curmudgeon.
2. At Slate, David Weigel wrote about Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to eliminate the state tax on gasoline — the tax that pays for roads and bridges — and instead tax hybrid cars.   It’s stupid, because it dramatically increases taxes on clean air machines, and it creates the wrong incentives for a tax system.  But it’s dramatically crazy because it sucks money out of the funds to build and repair roads and bridges.  As best I can tell, it takes a tax that collects about \$100/vehicle now, and imposes a tax on about 5% of cars, of about \$100.  There can’t be enough money coming in to replace the tax.  In short, McDonnell’s plan damages jobs, hurts business, and leaves Virginia in the back row of well-run states.  With patriot plans like McDonnell’s, who needs al Quaeda, the Soviet Union, or China?

Fox News’s Eric Bolling calls the distributive property of multiplication “liberal bias.” It must be embarrassing to flunk algebra so publicly on national television. RawStory image

3. Sometimes the excess of stupid makes you feel embarrassed for them.  Fox News distorter Eric Bolling accused teachers (natch!) of indoctrinating students in algebra classes.  (See what I mean?  You can’t make up this sort of crazy — oh, you don’t see what I mean?  Read on).  Seems Mr. Bolling has discovered — this is exclusive — that there are problems in algebra books that teach the distributive property of multiplication! Can you get much more liberal that that? Bolling wonders.  The rest of us wonder, can Fox News sink any lower in the stupid sump.  (Distributive property.)
4. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, James Yeager who claims to be a consultant and instructor in security, urges people to arm up for civil war because, Yeager is sure, Obama is coming to get everybody’s guns.  His profanity-laced YouTube rant is off of his site, but preserved for us (fortunately? unfortunately?) at RawStory.  This is a bit too crazy even for West Tennessee — the state suspended the man’s handgun carry permits. (Would he have been so persecuted, had he been living in East Tennessee?)
5. Hackers exploited a flaw they found in Java 7 — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can’t figure a fix, and neither has Oracle, so Homeland Security urges businesses to disable Java on their browsers.

There’s a statue to Frank Zappa in Europe, another in Baltimore; Rep. Gingrey, not so much. Frank Zappa-Statue von Vaclav Cesak in Bad Doberan Quelle: selbst fotographiert Fotograf/Zeichner: Hei_ber Datum: 2003 Sonstiges: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Another Republican Member of the House of Representatives made a burro of himself with comments about rape.  In a bad paraphrase of Frank Zappa, “Rep. Phil Gingrey, what’s gotten into you?”  Gingrey misrepresents a district in Georgia.
7. The House GOP is still threatening to shoot America’s economy in the head unless Democrats agree to crash the economy in the ditch with draconian, unnecessary and damaging spending cuts.
8. Anthony Watts already has a half-dozen posts up denying the recent findings that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous 48 United States.  James Delingpole, at The Daily Mail is just making stuff up.  (Should it be “Gourdian?”) I hadn’t realized there was a King of Denial crown up for grabs.
Update, January 15, 2013:  Greg Laden reported that the Watts blog has taken crazy to cosmic proportions.

There is good information out there.  I hope there is an army of sane people to get the good information, and sort it from the bad.

I’m going to sleep on it.  Good night!

More:

This one’s for you, Eric Bollinger; from Khan Academy, the Distributive Property of Multiplication:

(Did you notice that the answer was the same under the “liberal” distributive law as it was without its use?)

## Bored in class? Do some math, for fun.

December 22, 2011

This is a good video that all math teachers ought to see (heck, I can figure out how to use it as a bell ringer in social studies, I think).

I had to mention it, just because of Michael Tobis’s wonderful headline at Planet 3.0:  “Bored in class?  Do some math instead.”

I confess to being caught doing math instead, in English, in history — and in art we often made mathematical games to create patterns.  From the stuff I see on walls in schools, that’s still popular.

Some time ago I ordered a poster from Max Temkin, the brilliant poster propagandist/artist.  It says that the universe is easy to understand if you speak its language, and that language is mathematics.  True.

Also true that in most of the disciplines that work into classes we call social studies, we do not have the ability to discern the cool patterns like Fibonacci numbers in pine cones, pineapples and sunflower blossoms.  People look for those pattersn in history anyway, and that poses a key problem to policy makers.  People want to see a pattern, expect to see a pattern, and historians cannot meet that expectation, other than quoting Santayana.

Maybe one of my students will be the one who discerns a key pattern.  It’ll be one of the slackers, if it happens.

## March 14: π Day!

March 14, 2011

Of course you remembered that today is pi Day, right?

Happy π Day! Pi Day Pie - Slashfood.com

Oh, or maybe better, π Day.

Make (and Eat) a Pie – These pie recipes for Pi Day from NPR’s McCallister look incredibly tasty. But, there’s no shame in putting a frozen store-bought pie in the oven, or picking up a pie from your local bakery. Any kind of pie is great on Pi Day! If you’re making your own, get inspired by these beautifully designed Pi Day Pies. Tell us on Facebook: What’s your favorite kind of pie for Pi Day?

Hope your π Day is complete as a circle, and well-rounded!

## Antique, if not ancient, technology

December 28, 2010

You could slide through the physics final with this device, at one time.

This is the device used to put humans on the Moon.

Have you ever used one?

It’s a slide ruleNice story about Art Hunt’s kids listening to tales from the olden days, and bringing back a little piece of the olden days for him.  He now claims to be ready for a power outage at his lab.

How does anyone understand a logarithmic scale anymore without a slide rule?  Does anyone make good slide rules anymore?

## Where does your state, or nation rank? Advanced level of math proficiency

December 27, 2010

I had to turn the graphic on its side to fit it in here big enough that you can read it. Where does your state, or nation, rank in percentage of students achieving an advanced level of math proficiency? For U.S. citizens, this is not a pretty chart.

Source: The Atlantic, “Your Child Left Behind” and acccompanying charts, “Miseducation Nation,” November 2010.

Where does your state, or nation, rank?

Hey, at least we’re ahead of Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan.  Can your students find those nations on a map?  Do they know what continents to look in?

Tip of the old scrub brush to McLeod’s Cartoons.

## Texas ranks ahead of Indiana in higher level math proficiency!

December 26, 2010

That’s not really great news — Texas loses to Lithuania.

But without changing the captions on this great cartoon from McLeod Cartoons, it’s about the best we can say.

McLeod’s inspiration came from The Atlantic’s report, “Your Child left Behind.”

## Powers of Ten day coming: 10/10/10

August 30, 2010

### TENTH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL POWERS OF TEN DAY

Santa Monica, California, August 27, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — The Eames Office announces with pleasure the Tenth Annual International Powers of Ten Day on October 10, 2010 (10/10/10). Powers of Ten Day promotes and encourages Powers of Ten Thinking, a form of rich, cross-disciplinary thought that approaches ideas from multiple interrelated perspectives, ranging from the infinitesimal to the cosmic—and the orders of magnitude in between.

The Milky Way Galaxy from the film, Powers of Ten, by Charles and Ray Eames. For use only in conjunction with press about Powers of Ten Day 2010. © 1977 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com) (caption provided)

Powers of Ten Day is inspired by the classic film Powers of Ten by designers Charles and Ray Eames. The film, a nine-minute visual journey of scale, takes the viewer from a picnic out to the edge of space and then back to a carbon atom in the hand of the man sleeping at the picnic. Every 10 seconds the view is from 10 times further away. In all, more than 40 Powers of Ten are visualized seamlessly. One of the most widely seen short films of all time—at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for decades and still widely used in schools around the world—Powers of Ten has influenced pop culture from The Simpsons to the rock band Coldplay, from Hummer commercials to the movie Men in Black. But Powers of Ten received perhaps the ultimate accolade in 1998 when the Library of Congress selected it, along with Easy Rider, Bride of Frankenstein, and Tootsie, for the National Film Registry—one of the 25 films of great cultural value chosen each year.

And the film’s importance only grows. Scale is not precisely just size, it is the relative size of things. As Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office, has said: “Scale is the new geography. So many of our challenges today are ultimately matters of scale. To be a good citizen of the world and have a chance to make it a better place, a person must have a real understanding of scale.”

Powers of Ten Day is for teachers, librarians, architects, designers, store owners, webmasters, business people, scientists, filmmakers, meditation gurus, parents, kids, and anyone wanting to extend the boundaries of their thinking. Participating can be as simple as watching the video (showing online throughout October [the tenth month] at www.powersof10.com), or putting together a screening of the film for friends or co-workers—at home, in a school, or at a library. Our goal is for as many people as possible to watch or share the film on that day. Some will be seeing it for the first time. Some will be revisiting a favorite classic. Everyone can be part of the conversation.

Powers of Ten Day can also be a lot more. Activities are happening worldwide throughout October. With the help of the DVD Scale is the New Geography as well as a Powers of Ten Box Kit, individuals (teachers in the broadest sense) can lead engaging workshops for kids and/or adults that let participants create their own scale journeys. Although those materials may be purchased at www.eamesoffice.com, as Eames Office Education Director Carla Hartman notes, “We’ve set aside some sets to be available at no charge for inquiring schools and teachers.” Those supplies are limited—and some are already being put to use. To inquire about availability of Powers of Ten supplies at no charge, email info@eamesoffice.com.

The Eames Office also encourages you to create and share your contributions. Over the years art has been created, music shared, global pilgrimages performed, and more. But most of all there has been hands-on learning. Events can be registered, and photographs, drawings, and writings uploaded. Sorted by power and by event, these will serve as inspiration and fodder for other events around the world—more than 1,000, possibly 10,000.

Anyone living in or visiting Southern California is welcome to visit the Powers of Ten Exhibition at the Eames Office in Santa Monica from now until the end of the year. There will be an event each day the exhibition is open during the month of October. Many more fun and thought-provoking activities will be available at www.powersof10.com by the end of the summer. The exhibit includes such things as a box that can hold 1 million pennies; as of mid-August, there were already 250,000! All the pennies collected will be given to TreePeople, an environmental nonprofit that unites the power of trees, people and technology to grow a sustainable future for Los Angeles.

Powers of Ten Thinking extends beyond this unique date of 10/10/10. As Demetrios says, “There is a little bit of the numerologist in all of us, so we love celebrating this date, but empowering people to explore and make connections between scales is a year-round goal of ours.” The Eames Office looks forward to tracking and inspiring another decade’s worth of Powers of Ten events. Towards that end, a map of the Earth on the website (and at the Office) will track events around our world.

The Eames Office is dedicated to communicating, preserving, and extending the work of Charles and Ray Eames. Additional information is available online at www.powersof10.com, as well as at www.eamesoffice.com and www.eamesfoundation.org.

The Powers of Ten Exhibition is open from 11 to 6, Wednesday through Saturday at the Eames Office, 850 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90405; 310/396-5991.

Powers of Ten Day is generously sponsored by IBM Corporation with additional support from Herman Miller Inc., Vitra, and Penfolds.

Your school should have one of the Eames versions of the film in the school library (they did more than one).  This is truly a classic, and it should be a good discussion starter for several different topics — map reading, map scaling, environmentalism, existentialism, transcendentalism, and more.

So what will you do for Powers of Ten Day?

## Stupid math tricks: Judge’s innumeracy screws defendant

June 4, 2010

Which is larger, 1/4, or 1/2?

Nothing like the judge in this story, I’m sure.  From the depths of Europe, Zeno details how a judge’s seeming infacility with numbers took an injustice against a petitioner in his court, and made it worse.

It’s the sort of error you’d expect of a third-grade kid who hasn’t watched enough “Sesame Street.”  Which of these fractions is larger?  1/5, or 1/6?

Is the judge really that dumb, or is this an elaborate, sarcastic hoax on the petitioner?

Math teachers, can you use this to show the importance of learning math well enough to do simple math functions mentally, without paper and calculator?

While you’re at Zeno’s place, Halfway There, look around. Zeno writes well, has good stories to tell, and you could learn a lot about a lot of things — you know, just by observing.

## Calculus as fun

October 1, 2009

I used to love math tests.  And math homework. When I knew the stuff, I’d start hearing Bach in my head and get into a rhythm of solving the problems (though I didn’t know it was Bach until much later — “Aha!  That’s the math solving music!”).

But eventually my brain ossified, before I got calculus into it.  I believe (this is belief, not science) that at some point rather early in life our brains lose the ability to pick up new math ideas.  If you don’t have most of the stuff you need already in there, you won’t get it.  I frittered my math ability away in the library and traveling with the debate squad, not knowing that I’d never be able to get it back.  In my dual degree program, I ran into that wall where I had five years worth of credits, but was still a year away from the biology degree with a tiny handful of core courses for which calculus was a prerequisite.  Worse, I was close to completing a third major.

And I’d failed at calculus four times.

Earlier this last evening I sat with a couple of new teachers in math at a parents’ night function for seniors.  They commiserated over trying to make math relevant for students.  One said he couldn’t figure out how history teachers survive at all with no mass of problems to solve at the end of each chapter (that was refreshing).

It’s a constant problem.

Then I ran into this story by Jennifer Ouellette at Cocktail Party Physics:

Students need to feel inspired, particularly when it comes to a difficult subject. While I was at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics last year as journalist in residence, I got to know UC-Santa Barbara mathematician Bisi Agboola, who generously shared his own story with me. Bisi was educated in the UK and failed most of his math classes through their equivalent of high school. “I found it dull, confusing and difficult.” As a child, he was determined to find a career where he wouldn’t need any math, finally announcing to his skeptical parents that he would be a woodcutter. He was crushed when they pointed out that he would need to measure the wood.

But one summer he encountered a Time-Life book on mathematics –- Mathematics by David Bergamini -– that offered “an account of the history of some of the main ideas of mathematics, from the Babylonians up until the 1960s, and it captured my imagination and made the subject come alive to me for the very first time.” It changed his mind about this seemingly dry subject. He realized there was beauty in it. He wound up teaching himself calculus, and told me he is convinced most physicists also do this. Today he is a PhD mathematician specializing in number theory, and exotic multidimensional topologies. Ironically, he still doesn’t much like basic arithmetic: “I find it boring.”

Jennifer is writing a book on calculus, how it’s real-life stuff.  I hope it’s a great success.  I hope it works.  I hope some student is inspired to get calculus before her or his brain gets ossified.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Decrepit Old Fool.

Calculate how far you can send this message:

## The circle is unbroken, though there may be tangential lines

September 30, 2009

Do you recognize this?

No, it's not a slide rule - photo by Decrepit Old Fool

It sure looks like a slide rule, doesn’t it?

The last really grand slide rule I had was a fancy aluminum job that my older brother Wes used at the Air Force Academy.  It was easily worth a couple of hundred dollars, and it had a very nice leather pouch.

Somebody stole it from me in the football locker room.  I never liked football as much after that.

At the University of Utah I got enough ahead to buy a smaller version that still resides somewhere in our house.  I actually used it once in a debate round to great effect — it was cross examination debate (not so big back then), on an energy topic.  The affirmative (UCLA?  USC?  One of those two) had a daylight savings case.  They rattled off some huge number of barrels of oil to be saved, and on c-x I got it out of them that the number was barrels saved per month.  Then I got ‘em to confess to how many barrels we actually use in the U.S., daily, and with the slide rule’s help calculated that they were saving one-half of one percent (0.5%), with some rather draconian measures and stiff fines and jail time.

I had the slide rule with me to do homework on the drive to and from the meet across the deserts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico; I was used it only to make sure I wasn’t off by an order of magnitude on the calculation — but when I looked up I feared the eyes of the judge were going to inflate and float out of his head.  We won the round, I won the speaker points that round, and the judge commented about how facile the negative had been with numbers . . .

But I digress.  A little.

Decrepit Old Fool posted that picture.  It’s an iPhone — with a slide rule application (“app” to the technoscenti).

Using electrons to mimic an old slide rule!  It leaves one speechless, and with a tear in one’s eye.

I’m sure I’d have to play with the thing for a few minutes to figure out how to do percentages again.  The slide rule use in that debate round a few decades ago was cutting edge application of the tool at hand.  It was not a fancy calculation, or difficult — it was overkill, really, because we all should have been able to do the calculations in our heads, with little fear of being inaccurate.  The judge in the round was probably a speech or rhetoric grad student, working on a masters or Ph.D., and hadn’t taken a math class since freshman year.  I don’t know if he thought to feel stupid; maybe he hoped the praise for our use of the thing would cover that up.

DOF makes the case that technology shouldn’t make us feel stupid, not if its makers want to sell it.    Maybe that has more to do with the demise of the slide rule than the rise of calculators does.  It’s a great post over there.  Go read it.