Posts tagged ‘engineering’

Riding the Gravy Train

I was recently telling a friend about the success of my book. “I don’t get it,” he said. “You write a few math jokes, and you’re riding the gravy train!”

This raises a few issues.

First of all, what the hell is a gravy train? Have they started carrying gravy by rail? Are there people at the train station with satchels of mashed potatoes, waiting for the five-fifteen to arrive?

Gravy Train

Second, creating jokes is hard. Creating math jokes is even harder. And creating funny math jokes is nearly impossible — as anyone who reads this blog can attest.

Third, I am not riding the gravy train. According to Wiktionary, riding the gravy train refers to “any lucrative endeavor that generates considerable income whilst requiring little effort and carrying little risk.” My book has sold well, and I am thankful for the minor level of celebrity it has brought me. But it has not allowed a lifestyle change. It’s not like the profits are enough for a new car. Heck, they aren’t even enough for a new bike! Maybe a helmet, if I shop at a second-hand store.

Finally, where did the expression riding the gravy train come from? The phrase everything else is gravy is sometimes used to describe a situation where expenses are covered and a significant profit remains. In addition, train rides are enjoyable — while you relax in comfort, a train takes you where you want to go. Conventional wisdom says that gravy train is the result when you put these two phrases together.

Here’s a math joke involving trains.

Q: You board a train in Newark that travels south at 15 mph. At the same time, your friend boards a train in Trenton that travels north at 25 mph. How long before you pass each other?

A: What the hell are you doing in Jersey?

Here’s another, though you’ve probably heard this one before.

Some math and engineering students boarded a train to a convention. Each of the math majors had a ticket, but the engineering students had only one ticket between them.

The math majors were laughing about this when an engineering student shouted, “Conductor!” With that, all the engineering majors squeezed into a bathroom. The intrigued math students watched as the conductor knocked on the bathroom door and said, “Ticket, please.” The conductor took the single ticket that was slid under the door, and left.

Not to be outdone, the math students boarded the return train without a ticket. The engineers laughed.

The engineer lookout yelled, “Conductor!” All of the engineering students crowded into one bathroom, while the math majors piled into another. Then, before the conductor entered the car, one of the math majors came out of his bathroom, knocked on the engineering students’ door, and said, “Ticket, please.”

And if you like Ozzy Ozborne, or if you enjoy terrible poetry, then you might appreciate the following revised lyrics for one of Ozzy’s songs.

Gravy Train (to the tune of Crazy Train by Ozzy Ozborne)

Gravy, for mashed potatoes
Millions of gallons ready to flo-o-o-ow
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love
My liquid brown freight

Potatoes so appealing
Other sides are lame —
I’m rolling down the rails on a gravy train
I’m rolling down the rails on a gravy train…

July 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

Science Festival

If you’re in Washington, DC, this weekend, check out the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

With over 1,500 exhibits for math, science, and engineering, the National Mall will be filled with geeks-a-plenty. NCTM will be participating in the event, running an activity based on the Bears in a Boat lesson from Illuminations. (I’ll be manning the exhibit on Saturday; if you’re there, stop by Booth 410 to say hello.)

A mathematician, an engineer, and a physicist are scheduled to appear at a science and engineering festival. Arriving in Washington, DC, they spy a festival (*) on the National Mall.

The physicist is driving the car. While stopped at a stoplight, he performs some calculations to determine the exact amount of acceleration needed so that the car will roll to a stop at the entrance to the festival. When the light changes green, he depresses the gas pedal for 2.837 seconds and then releases it. The car accelerates to 22 miles per hour, then slowly decelerates and comes to a stop approximately 150 meters beyond the festival. “Hmm,” he says, perplexed that his calculations failed him.

“You missed,” says the engineer. “My turn.” The engineer and physicist swap seats so the engineer can drive. They return to the same stoplight. The engineer then estimates the distance to the festival based on the position of the sun and the length of the shadow cast by the Washington Monument. He then finds the answer to the problem in a look-up table. He depresses the gas pedal until the car reaches a speed of 21 miles per hour and releases his foot. The car gently rolls to a stop 150 meters short of the festival entrance.

“Well,” says the physicist, “it seems that your method wasn’t very successful, either.”

“What are you talking about?” says the mathematician.  “On average, the two of you arrived perfectly!”

(*) How did they know it was science and engineering festival?

The physicist observed that it behaved like a science and engineering festival, so it must be a science and engineering festival.

The mathematician compared it to a festival he had attended a year before, thereby reducing it to a previously solved problem.

The engineer was looking for a science and engineering festival; therefore, it was a science and engineering festival.

October 23, 2010 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

One of My Favorite Stories

I heard a joke tonight about a slide rule that reminded me of my favorite story. First, the slide rule joke…

Several engineering students are taking a final. One of them is cheating and brought a slide rule to the exam.
“Hey,” the student next to him whispers. “Can you help me? What’s 3 × 6?”
The cheater reaches for his slide rule, and after a few seconds he replies, “19.”
“Are you sure?” asks the other.
The cheater again reaches for his slide rule, and after another few seconds he replies, “You’re right. It’s closer to 18… 18.3, to be precise.”

Yes, I know I’m dating myself by telling a slide rule joke. But honestly, I only know them from lore. I’ve seen them, and I understand how they work, but I’ve never actually used one for calculating.

Slide rules are a thing of the past, but math buffs have a fascination with them. One of my favorite stories is from Rick Wertheimer, perhaps the greatest math teacher ever from Pittsburgh. The following story, which may be apocryphal, is told exactly as I remember hearing it from Rick a decade-and-a-half ago.

Rick was getting a tour of a Hewlett-Packard facility. His guide shows him a room where there’s a bunch of old equipment — cathode ray tubes, punch cards, and lots of other outdated things. In one corner are two six-foot long slide rules that were designed for classroom use. Each has two hooks, and they were meant be hung at the top of the chalkboard for demonstration purposes — a teacher could use them to show students how the slides can be moved to perform calculations.

Rick says to his guide, “Can I have those?” After checking with some managers, the guide tells Rick that he can take them.

So, Rick takes both of them, one for his own collection, and one for his brother. On a trip to Washington, DC, he goes to his brother’s office at the Department of Defense, and on his shoulder he’s carrying the slide rule. As he walks in the door, the security guard stops him. Gruffly, the guard asks, “What’s that?”

“It’s a slide rule,” Rick says.

“Let me see it,” the guard says. When Rick hands it to him, the guard spends a few seconds inspecting it, and then starts moving the slides around.

Rick is a little puzzled by this. “What are you doing?” Rick finally asks.

And the guard says, “Clearing the data.”

June 10, 2010 at 7:34 am 1 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.

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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