Archive for April, 2015

11 Things to Hate About Conference Calls

Old PhoneHave you noticed that the word telecommute can be split into the two-word phrase telecom mute?

Elegant, isn’t it? After all, there’s nothing I enjoy more than hitting the “mute” button so I can microwave a Hot Pocket® while doing a conference call from home.

There are a few old jokes at the intersection of math and telephony:

I’m sorry. The number you dialed is imaginary. Please rotate your phone 90°, and try again.

When I dial into conference calls, I hope beyond hope that the dial-in number is imaginary. But no such luck.

Got math problems? Call 1 – 800 – (7 × 5 + 36) – (212).

Both of those jokes are terrible, and I apologize. But you came here for math jokes, and since I’m about to rant about something that isn’t math-related, I figured I should lead with something that connects the rant below with the reason for your visit. And those are the only jokes I know that even tangentially relate math to conference calls.

So, there ya go.

Now, my rant. I hate conference calls. I mean, a lot. We’re talking full-on despision here, like the kind Tartaglia had for Cardano. Conference calls are occasionally useful and productive, but typically they involve too many people and waste too much time. If I’m never invited to another conference call, I promise I won’t complain about feeling lonely.

Dave Barry said:

If there’s one word that describes why the human race never has and never will reach its full potential, that one word would be: meetings.

Replace “meetings” with “conference calls,” and it’s equally true.

I have 11 reasons for despising these unproductive time-sucks, but feel free to add additional reasons in the Comments section.

  1. People who dial in late. For God’s sake, please don’t dial in 10 minutes late and then expect the rest of us to catch you up on what’s been discussed so far. Show up on time.
  2. People who dial in late and announce themselves. As if it isn’t bad enough that you’re late, now the conversation is interrupted while the rest of us hear your name. If your conference call provider says, “After the tone, please state your name and then press the pound key,” just press the pound key; and if your provider says, “Please announce yourself,” don’t.
  3. Someone bumping the redial button. Now we all have to hear ten (or more) melodic beeps. Oh, for Pete’s sake, please put your finger back in your nose so this doesn’t happen again.
  4. People who coordinate activities for those in the main office. For instance, someone interrupts the conference call to sing “Happy Birthday” and deliver cupcakes to the 8 people who are gathered in a conference room. Meanwhile, the 14 of us in other locations have to imagine how good those cupcakes must taste, based on what sounds like giraffes chewing bubble gum on the other end of the line.
  5. Trying to focus for an hour on voices from a far-away land. I know I can’t do it, and I’m not alone. Dr. Mike Hollier from Dolby Communications explains,

    …if we visualize our entire cognitive capability as the size of a football field, then our conscious intelligence — the portion of our intelligence that’s available in the moment — would be the size of a tiny grain of sand. In face-to-face meetings, we don’t need to strain our conscious intelligence to figure out who’s speaking… But conference call audio is so hard to decipher that we need to devote our entire conscious intelligence to analyzing audio information. With our conscious intelligence so taxed, paying attention to the subject of the conference call is exhausting.

  6. Multi-tasking douchepickles who continually ask, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” Sorry, Biff, I cannot repeat the question. But I would like you to repeat after me: I will not play Evil Genius during conference calls.
  7. Calls being continually rescheduled because one person can’t attend. Perhaps this is reasonable if the one person is the Queen Mum or the Dalai Lama. Otherwise, accept that it’s impossible to find a time that will work for 27 people, and proceed with those who are available. Be a good employee, take notes, and send a follow-up to everyone after the call — including those who couldn’t be there. That’s progress, and you won’t have to wait till June 2054 to find a mutually agreeable time.
  8. Making 15 people wait while the organizer uses his cell phone to call the one jerk-off who hasn’t dialed in yet. If he doesn’t deem the call important enough to remember it, why does the organizer think he’s important enough to warrant a reminder? Why is his time more important than yours? Send him an IM, maybe, but proceed without him.
  9. The long-distance yeller who shouts, “Okay!” from the far side of his office to the speakerphone. Are you afraid of catching a communicable disease through the phone? Or is it just that your Justin Bieber bobblehead is on the other side of the room? Please, get a little closer to the phone so we can hear you.
  10. Bad mobile connections. If you cause static for more than 5 seconds, mute yourself. If you cause static for more than 10 seconds, hang up. Nothing you have to say is so important that we should have to tolerate this. And if your input is that important, then call from a landline.
  11. Conference calls that take place when you should be driving home. No calls starting later than 4 p.m. Period. And for goodness sake, no calls after noon on Friday!

Greg at says, “You hate conference calls? I hate them more.” Here’s a pearl of his wisdom.

I really am doing my best. I have to remember:

  • They aren’t doing this call because they hate me specifically, but rather…
  • They are doing this call because they hate humanity, and this small amount of suffering that we all share will bring us together as humans.
  • By suffering through the call, I become more human.

What do you hate about conference calls?

April 16, 2015 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment

Don’t Believe the HIPE

Let’s get this party started with a classic word puzzle.

What English word contains four consecutive letters that appear consecutively in the alphabet?

In Mathematical Mind-Benders (AK Peters, 2007), Peter Winkler describes how the puzzle above served as inspiration for a word game.

I and three other high-school juniors at a 1963 National Science Foundation summer program began to fire letter combinations at one another, asking for a word containing that combination… the most deadly combinations were three or four letters, as in GNT, PTC, THAC and HEMU. We named the game after one of our favorite combinations, HIPE.

This seemed like a good game to play with my sons. I explained the game, and then I gave them a simple example to be sure they understood.


They quickly generated a long list of solutions, including:

  • tERm
  • obsERver
  • fishERman
  • buckminstERfullerene

Since that introduction a few weeks ago, the boys and I have played quite a few games. It’s a good activity to pass the time on a long car ride. The following are some of my favorites:


(these two are fun in tandem)

(the game’s namesake is a worthy adversary)


The practice with my sons has made me a better-than-average HIPE player, so when I recently found myself needing to keep my sons busy while I prepared dinner, I offered the following challenge:

Create a HIPE for me that you think is difficult, and I’ll give you a nickel for every second it takes me to solve it.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Eli attacked the problem with gusto. Fifteen minutes later, he announced, “Daddy, I have a HIPE for you,” and presented me with this:


That was three days ago. Sure, I could use More Words or some other website to find the answer, but that’s cheating. Winkler wrote, “Of course, you can find solutions for any of them easily on your computer… But I suggest trying out your brain first.”

The downside to relying on my brain? This is gonna cost me a fortune.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve created the following HIPEs. They are roughly in order from easy to hard, and as a hint, I’ll tell you that there is a common theme among the words that I used to create them.

  1. MPL
  2. XPR
  3. YMM
  4. MSCR
  5. MPT
  6. ITESI
  7. NSV
  8. RIGON
  9. OEFF
  10. CTAH
  11. THME
  12. SJU
  13. TRAH (bonus points for finding more than one)

Winkler tells the story of how HIPE got him into Harvard. He wrote “The HIPE Story” as the essay on his admissions application, and four years later, he overheard a tutor who served on the admissions committee torturing a colleague with HIPEs and calling them HIPEs.

I can’t promise that HIPEs will get you into college, but hopefully you’ll have a little fun.

April 9, 2015 at 10:17 pm 2 comments

If Mathematicians Had Nicknames

Her name is Tara, but she should expect her friends to call her by a different name from now on.

Not knowing all seven dwarfs is forgivable. Not knowing that sneaky isn’t spelled with two e‘s is less excusable. That she committed both errors simultaneously all but guarantees that her friends will call her Sneaky for the rest of her life.

Or maybe it’s only a guy thing to give nicknames to their friends for colossal fails?

If a guy had made this mistake, his best friend would have texted him before the show was over:

Nice guess, Sneaky.

I got a nickname in a most inglorious fashion. After an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Fort Devens, MA, we headed to the local bar and ordered a round of Irish car bombs.

CupcakeThe problem was, the Guinness arrived in a 16-ounce plastic cup, and the shot of Bailey’s and Jameson’s arrived in a 10-ounce plastic cup. When we tried to drop the smaller cup into the larger cup, it floated. We spent a good half-hour debating how we’d get the shot to the bottom of the larger cup, and I seemed to offer more ideas than most. The bartendress, finally tired of my yammering, looked at me and said, “Okay, cupcake, you gonna talk about it all night, or you gonna drink it?”

All I could think was, “Dear Lord, I pray that my friends didn’t hear that.”

When I turned around, they sang in unison, “Cuuuup-caaaaaake.”

It stuck. That was 15 years ago, but there are those who still call me Cupcake on the Ultimate field. And sadly, there are those who still call me Cupcake when they run into me at the grocery store. Nothing like your seven-year-old, father-worshiping son asking, “Daddy, why did that man call you ‘Cupcake’?”

Sadly, famous mathematicians don’t have nicknames. At least not cool ones, not generally. Sure, Euclid may be the “Father of Geometry,” but his friends didn’t call him that when they were drinking mead around a campfire. And while textbooks may refer to Leibnitz as the “Aristotle of the 17th Century,” none of his peeps did.

The only two cool mathematician nicknames I could find — and by “cool,” I mean that they didn’t start with “Father of” — were “The Passionate Skeptic” for Bertrand Russell and “The Samian Sage” for Pythagoras. Granted, it’s not like “The Italian Stallion” for Rocky or “The Master of Disaster” for Apollo Creed, but mathematicians aren’t generally nickname-acquiring types.

But I think mathematicians deserve nicknames, so here are some suggestions for your consideration.

  • Leonardo “No Questionacci, No” Fibonacci
  • Pierre “Not Fer Pa” de Fermat
  • Leonhard “If She’s Squeaky” Euler
  • Carl Friedrich “Anyone’s” Gauss
  • Blaise “Little” Pascal
  • John “Cock-a-Doodle-Do” Napier
  • Benoit B. “Benoit B. Mandelbrot” Mandelbrot
  • “Chortlin'” Lewis Carroll
  • Maria “Which Witch” Agnesi
  • George Bernard “Dirty” Dantzig
  • Emmy “I Barely” Noether
  • Girolamo “I’m Sick” Cardano
  • William “Off the Charts” Playfair
  • Alan “Fac” Turing
  • Charles “Too Much” Babbage

To be sure, the best thing you could do right now would be to leave a comment in which you refer to me as “cupcake.”

While most nicknames above are silly, like the nicknames given to football by players by Chris Berman, some of them may require an explanation.

  • John Napier once covered a black rooster with lamp soot to catch a thief.
  • Benoit B. Mandelbrot is the “Father of Fractals,” which are self-repeating.
  • Lewis Carroll coined many words, including chortle.
  • The Witch of Agnesi is a famous curve.
  • Girolamo Cardano was an infamous hypochondriac who predicted his own death.
  • William Playfair invented line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, and circle graphs.

April 3, 2015 at 4:27 am 4 comments

About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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