Thursday, September 13, 2007

Your mileage may vary.

There are many memorable moments in the the first long form video played regularly on MTV, which was Michael Jackson's Thriller. There's Michael as a dancing zombie, there's Michael's transformation into a were-kitteh, there's Vincent Price rapping.

Personally, the highlight for me is Michael talking to his super-hot yet virginal girl friend before the monster parts and the singing parts begin, and he speaks the line of deathless dialogue, "I'm not like other boys."

Never were truer words spoken.

The same could be said for me, though not for the same reasons. I like math. I really enjoy it. I have students, some of them nice folks, whom I know dream of the day when they will never have to open a math book ever again, but I think about it every day, and I like it that way. Right now when I ride BART, I take the book pictured here, The Green Book of Mathematical Problems with me, and when I pick one of the problems and start working on it, I am transported to another world. I get on the train at BayFair, open the book, scribble some ideas and damn! I'm at Fruitvale already! How did that happen?

It's not that nobody else would ever think of math as an enjoyable thing. Some folks work on Sudoku on BART. Sudoku is fun, but all the problems are really just variations of the same problem. In math, things can be very different, and with good math problems, coming up with the right path for solving a problem is the major challenge. Let me state two problems from the book that can be put into simple English sentences.

Problem A: You have 43 positive whole numbers. They add up to 124. Prove that at least ten of the numbers have to be equal to each other.

Problem B: Four points are drawn on a piece of paper. You have a disk, say the top of a pickle jar. If the top of the pickle jar can be placed so that it simultaneously covers any three out of four of the points on the paper chosen at random, prove that it must be able to cover all four at the same time.

Fun, right? Well, your mileage may vary.

First new flag in many weeks! A big hello to Tanzania, though I must admit to being old enough to remember when you changed your name from Tanganyika and Zanzibar, two of the coolest geographical place names EVAH.


dguzman said...

Well, I did find a certain small thrill in doing those identity thingies in trig (you know, cos2x = sin/cosxwhatevah). But my brain just doesn't work in a mathy way, I think.

Still--so far so good in the calc class, though it's been a stressful couple of weeks for me. Don't think I haven't forgotten your offer of help, either!

Distributorcap said...

considering i have a masters in math (i know i am such a nerd) - you got me - and i love math

as for Zanzibar

Meet Cathy, who's lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square.
But Patty's only seen the sight.
A girl can see from Brooklyn Heights
What a crazy pair

FranIAm said...

Oh that damned Distributorcap! Stole my line!! At 4.21 didn't you have other numbers to deal with or something?

Matty Boy said...

DC, don't give up on these math puzzles so easily. You've got a master's, so the path to these should be (relatively) straightforward. Proof by contradiction is the main trick for both.

Luckily, there is still a Lake Tanganyika, which is still a pretty cool name.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I had the worlds worst math teachers in high school and college and I hated math for years. But as I get older I appreciate it more and more.

Mathman6293 said...

For a math teacher I really don't like puzzles, they have alway driven me crazy. I never could do them fast enough.

I just prefrer the practical.