Posted by: bkivey | 27 May 2011

Math and Writing

A selection of humor from mathematics and writing.

HOW TO WRITE GOOD
by Sally Bulford

1.  Avoid alliteration.  Always.
2.  Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3.  Avoid cliches like the plague.  (They’re old hat.)
4.  Employ the vernacular.
5.  Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6.  Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7.  It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8.  Contractions aren’t necessary.
9.  Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate
    quotations.  Tell me what you know.”
12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s
    highly superfluous.
14. Be more or less specific.
15. Understatement is always best.
16. One-word sentences?  Eliminate.
17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
18. The passive voice is to be avoided.
19. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
20. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
21. Who needs rhetorical questions?
22. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

Theory and Practice


A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer are all given identical rubber balls and told to find the volume. They are given anything they want to measure it, and have all the time they need. The mathematician pulls out a measuring tape and records the circumference. He then divides by two times pi to get the radius, cubes that, multiplies by pi again, and then multiplies by four-thirds and thereby calculates the volume. The physicist gets a bucket of water, places 1.00000 gallons of water in the bucket, drops in the ball, and measures the displacement to six significant figures. And the engineer? He writes down the serial number of the ball, and looks it up.

The Evolution of Math Teaching

OK , so it’s old.

1960s: A peasant sells a bag of potatoes for $10. His costs amount to 4/5 of his selling price. What is his profit?

1970s: A farmer sells a bag of potatoes for $10. His costs amount to 4/5 of his selling price, that is, $8. What is his profit?

1970s (new math): A farmer exchanges a set P of potatoes with set M of money. The cardinality of the set M is equal to 10, and each element of M is worth $1. Draw ten big dots representing the elements of M. The set C of production costs is composed of two big dots less than the set M. Represent C as a subset of M and give the answer to the question: What is the cardinality of the set of profits?

1980s: A farmer sells a bag of potatoes for $10. His production costs are $8, and his profit is $2. Underline the word “potatoes” and discuss with your classmates.

1990s: A farmer sells a bag of potatoes for $10. His or her production costs are 0.80 of his or her revenue. On your calculator, graph revenue vs. costs. Run the POTATO program to determine the profit. Discuss the result with students in your group. Write a brief essay that analyzes this example in the real world of economics.

For Your Love . . .

“Do you love your math more than me?”
“Of course not, dear – I love you much more.”
“Then prove it!”
“OK… Let R be the set of all lovable objects…”

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