Posts tagged ‘denominator’

Impossible Tasks for Rabbits

Too cold to run to the convenient store for a six-pack? Too many Allen wrenches necessary for you to put together that Vrådal loft bed that you bought from Ikea? Want someone to walk Fido while you finish the last 1,126 pages of War and Peace?

Task RabbitIf you need something done but you’re too lazy or unqualified to do it yourself — and if you live in certain metropolitan areas — then you can have one of the “runners” at TaskRabbit do it for you. It’s a service that turns grunt work into a game. Simply post the task that needs to be done, and runners bid for the opportunity to do it.

There is no limit to the types of tasks that are listed. A recent posting asked, “Do you know a Girl Scout from whom I can place a cookie order?” One of the top runners completed the task “Prank Call Our Customer Service Rep” in which he posed as an animal-welfare activist who sought donations to buy Viagra for soon-to-be-extinct Siberian tigers [“Call of Duty,” Wired, Aug 2011].

That’s funny stuff.

I received no compensation from TaskRabbit to write this post, nor am I an angel investor; I just think it’s a great idea. There ought to be a similar service for intellectual tasks…

  • Statistician needed to massage data from a research study to get the results we’d like.
  • Geometer needed to square a circle and/or trisect an angle.
  • Looking for contractor to build real-life version of Waterfall by M. C. Escher.
  • Puzzler needed to solve the following slider puzzle:14-15 Slider Puzzle
  • Logician needed to figure out who shaves the Barber of Seville.
  • Number theorist needed to rationalize the denominator of a fraction with sqrt(pi) in the denominator.
  • Spatial geometrician needed to get Dirk Gently’s couch unstuck, or to walk through a revolving door with a pair of skis on her shoulder.
  • Engineer and hopeless romantic needed to kiss a girl by walking halfway to her, then halfway again, then halfway again, …

February 24, 2012 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Rational Thoughts

I saw the word irrational a lot on Pi Day, and my friend Patrick Flynn recently invited me to join the Global Anti-Rationalization Foundation (GARF) on Facebook. Both of these things reminded me of the following story, which comes from a four-decade veteran of the classroom, John Benson of Evanston Township High School.

A student of John’s solved a problem and obtained a fractional answer that contained the square root of pi in the denominator. But then the student did a curious thing. He started to multiply the numerator and denominator by the square root of pi.

“What are you doing?” John asked.

“Rationalizing the denominator,” the student responded.

(If you don’t understand why that’s funny, you may be too young.)

Thanks to calculators, the process of rationalizing denominators is no longer necessary. One could make the argument that it wasn’t really necessary before the days of calculators, either, but there was at least some reason for doing it back then — converting a fractional result to a decimal was difficult if the denominator was irrational. If the denominator could be converted to a rational number, then the division would be less arduous.

When I worked for MathCounts, I was fortunate to spend two memorable years with John Benson. He served as a member of the MathCounts Question Writing Committee. John wrote phenomenal problems, had keen mathematical insight, and could put you on the path to a solution for every problem. But most importantly, John was inspirational. I once attended a presentation by John, and I loved the quote he displayed at the end of his talk: “You can’t get burnt out unless you were once on fire.” When he talked about his classroom, you realized what’s possible in math education. His philosophy has kept both he and his students inspired for nearly 40 years, and the following statement from John, which he claims to repeat often at parent-teacher conferences, will help you understand why: 

I promise that I will try hard to make sure that something happens every day in class that cannot be replicated anywhere else. If a student is not in class, that student will never be able to recapture that teachable moment. They will have missed something.

March 17, 2010 at 1:16 am Leave a comment


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.

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