## 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?

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 ofCrazy Trainby 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 freightPotatoes 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…

### 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.