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Posts Tagged ‘maths’

Is There A Mathematician In The House?

So, what it is; I'm hoping for help from a mathematician, should one happen to read this. But first, a complaint, the discussion of which may well end up taking longer than the actual topic…

The commonly given definition of a mathematical exponent (rather than an exponent of mathematics, which would be an enthusiastic maths teacher; I'm here all week, folks!) is that it represents how many times a given number should be multiplied by itself. Even as a child—a rather pedantic child, I should admit, but I know for a fact that I wasn't the only one—when I was given this explanation by a maths teacher, I found it both misleading and ambiguous.

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Maths Symbols, And Why They Matter

Several of my posts on html have contained passing mentions of writing with screen-readers for the visually impaired in mind. This one's a bit more directly aimed at that subject, although using the right symbols for the right job is, I think, a good thing in its own right. Think of it, if you will, as something of a mildly consciousness-raising piece, coupled with a simple "how to" guide.

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Scales Of Confusion

This article by Jerry Coyne got me to thinking. Britain is, supposedly, a decimalised country, though you'd not know it from the road-signs. Certainly kids these days are taught—as they should be—in purely decimal measurements, but the change-over was gradual. This was further exacerbated, in my case, by the fact that we moved around a lot between education-districts when I was a kid; and different districts made the change at different times, leading to me being taught one year in metric, the next in imperial, and the next back to metric. Which, as you can probably imagine, Gentle Reader, led to my preferences for measurement-scales being somewhat confused.

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Charles Darwin AKA Charlie Ismay-Darling

Charles Ismay-Darling, who wasted a good portion of the early part of his life chasing around the world and bringing home dead finches, before finally turning to serious mathematological studies. Suffered from cirripedaphobia—the irrational hatred of barnacles.

One hundred and fifty years ago, pioneer mathenaturalist, Charlie Ismay Darling, advanced the theory that was to change the world of mathematology forever: the theory of evolvomatutics by mutable seduction. Briefly stated, he postulamatated—and has since been proved correct by so many independent methods that only a nutter or a creationist would argue against it—that numbers and shapes evolvomalate over time to become different numbers and shapes.

There are so many pieces of supporting evidamence for this that it would be daft to try to list them all, but here are some of the better known examples. The number 2, it has been discovered, if looked at in a warped mirror with your eyes nearly shut, looks a bit like the number 5—a clear example of evolvomatution. If you think of a number, add the year of your birth and divide by the square root of Russell's Teapot, you end up with an unexpectedly irrational answer. Not only did this add further evidamence in support of Darling's theory, but it also opened up a whole new branch of study; that of irrational, nay stark raving bonkers, number theory. Not since an unknown and possibly stoned 9th Century Indian mathematologist invented the number 58, has the field been so invigorated. Perhaps the greatest triumph in the field of evolvomatutics though, came in the 1920s (so numerologists, who know about arcane stuff like dates, not to mention prunes, raisins and other fruit of questionable taste, tell us), David Hilbert, supreme infinitologist, discovered that the number 8, when turned on its side, produces an infinity of bad mathematological puns. It was a sad loss to the mathematological world when he retired to open what has become the word's most successful chain of hotels. Or possibly just a hotel with infinite entrances; no one's quite sure.

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A Hair’s Breadth

Recession news stories regularly talk about billions and trillions of dollars these days, unfortunately on the wrong side of the balance sheet. Popular TV shows about science describe unimaginably small particles along with equally unimaginably large numbers of stars, galaxies, distances and possible life-bearing planets. Young earth creationists espouse a thousands-of-years history instead of billions, often with no apparent sense of just how much they're shortening the life-span of the universe by. The latter, if we take the current estimate of the age of the universe as 13.75 billion years and the creationist claim of a six thousand year old universe, means that they're claiming the universe is just 0.00004% as old as it actually is. For those who prefer fractions, that's 41,000,000. If we're talking about the age of the Earth, they're closer to correct but still wrong by several orders of magnitude. They're claiming the planet to be just 0.0001% or 110,000 its actual age.

I sometimes wonder if, just maybe, an inability to grasp the sheer length of time that geology and cosmology give evolution to work with—how much time is allowed for tiny, minuscule changes to accumulate—doesn't play a small part in biblical literalists' easy denial of evolution. This post isn't about religion or creationists, though, and they're certainly not the only ones to have a hard time grasping very big and very small numbers.

An example.

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Do you ever see comments that are so astoundingly dumb that your jaw bruises as it bounces off your chest? I have a name for them; I call them ‘why are there still monkeys’ comments. That’s how amazingly, stupefyingly silly I mean.

Yesterday I posted this graph, showing sea-ice shrinkage in the Arctic, on a post about climate change.

It wasn’t much of a post, just a whimsical analogy I thought of that seemed worth throwing out there, and I wasn’t really expecting any feedback off it at all. And I was nearly right in my expectation. Nearly. I did, however, get this comment:

“There are nice satellite photos to misspell[sic] the myth that Arctic ice is shrinking. That is, it’s shrinking in some places (hence you can draw a nice graph) and growing in other places.”

My jaw-thud registered on the Richter scale! After a mildly sarcastic reply, however, I left it alone.

But.

It kept niggling at me; an itch in the back of my mind.

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This one’s a guest-post from Fisherman. Fishy’s a keen golfer, fresh-water fisher, quiz enthusiast and, most importantly for us here, a chemistry teacher.

I’ve been after him for a while now to do a piece on kitchen chemistry; something that parents could do with their kids, maybe, or those of us who never grew out of that childhood fascination with the world that makes us gasp with delight when, with some ordinary, everyday bits & bobs, we realise we can discover some quite astounding things.

Anyway, enough from me, already! Here’s Fishy:

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