## Posts tagged ‘postaweek2011’

### 13 Best Names in Mathematics

What’s the best name ever? My vote goes to an Army Reservist whose name — and I’m not making this up; you can find documentation here — is

**Staff Sergeant Max Fightmaster**

If names truly imply destiny, then this guy was born to be a tough-as-nails sergeant.

A close second is **Moxie Crimefighter Jillette**, daughter of comedian Penn Jillette. One can only hope that she grows up to be a superhero.

These names got me to thinking: What are the best names in the math world? The math equivalent to Staff Sergeant Max Fightmaster would be Algebra von Calculus. Alas, no real person has ever borne the burden of that name. But with multiple thousands of mathematicians since the beginning of time, there have got to be a few gems in there, right? Indeed. Here’s my dirty baker’s dozen.

**1. August Beer** – Are you kidding me? My favorite month *and* my favorite libation? Honestly, this name could only be bested by Ultimate Frisbee Copulation, and no mathematician with that name has yet walked the Earth.

**2. Weinan E** – To my knowledge, the only mathematician with a single-letter last name.

**3. Walcher of Malvern** – If things didn’t work out with mathematics, he was ready to be a fearless knight.

**4. Srinivasa Ramanujan** – It just rolls off the tongue so effortlessly.

**5. Jon Barwise** – True to his name, his best work was done on beer-stained napkins.

**6. Helmut Ulm** – The letters in his last name are a subset of the letters in his first name. How cool is that?

**7. John Viriamu Jones** – The inclusion of Viriamu, which is the Erromangan translation of Williams, makes extraordinary this otherwise very ordinary Welsh name.

**8. Ken Ono** – Six letters total, and the last name is a palindrome that also means *delicious* (Hawaiian), is the alternative name for Wahoo (fish), and is an acronym for “Or Nearest Offer.”

**9. Udny Yule** – Why it’s cool defies description. It just is.

**10. Brian Pink** – Not many mathy folks can pull off this color, but the Australia Statistician wears his name without shame.

**11. Nate Silver** – A good name, but he gets bonus points for having a cool title: psephologist (elections analyst). And double bonus points for his statement, “It’s always more interesting to apply [numbers] to batting averages than algebra class.”

**12. Chike Obi** – First sub-Saharan African to hold a doctorate in mathematics.

**13. Persi Diaconis** – Just an unbelievably cool name, predestined for greatness.

Not worthy of the Top 13, the following are a few honorable mentions…

- Morris DeGroot – Sounds like a comic book character, and it has perfect cadence.
- W. B. R. Lickorish – Three initials, and his last name is a popular treat.
- Alicia Boole Stott – She got her middle name from her father George, who was no slacker in the math world. Then she married an actuary whose last name has a consonant repeated three times. But to ensure that her name didn’t overpower her brilliance, she coined the term
*polytope*. Nicely done, Alicia. - Jim Propp – The inventor of the SRAT has a name that is most propper.
- James Ax – If name really dictates destiny, shouldn’t little Jimmy Ax have grown up to be a serial killer? Kudos to him for rising above his nomenclatorial limitations.
- Lewis Carroll – Okay, perhaps this one should be disqualified since it’s a pseudonym — but it is a great name, no?
- Nathaniel Nye – Alliteration, anyone?
- Panini of Shalatula – A great mathematician
*and*my favorite lunch-time snack. Win-win!

### Jokes for Another Day

A warm-up question to prepare you for the jokes that follow:

Name four days that start with the letter T.

A joke for the Celsius crowd…

“It’s freezing outside!” she said.

“I know,” he replied, “and it’s supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow!”

A sentiment shared by too many students…

Mother: Did you learn a lot in school today?

Son: Apparently not! I have to go back tomorrow!

If only this didn’t seem so believable…

Teacher: Tomorrow, Dr. Feynman is giving a lecture on Saturn, and everyone must attend.

Student: Wow, can you get there in just one day?

Ever have a professor like this?

When the student went to his logic professor for help, she replied, “Come back tomorrow.” The student returned the next day and was given the same instructions. The student returned every day, and every day he was told, “Come back tomorrow.”

Finally, the professor lost her patience. “This is outrageous!” she said to the student. “Don’t you understand simple language? I keep telling you to come tomorrow, yet you insist on coming today!”

And finally, a joke about yesterday…

“My math teacher is crazy,” Johnny told his mom. “Yesterday, she told us that 5 = 4 + 1. Today, she said that 5 = 3 + 2!”

### Unique Words

Using Scrabble^{®} tiles, my sons were making anagrams. One would select four tiles, and the other would have to rearrange them to form a word.

This struck me as interesting, so I posed the following question to them:

Take four consecutive letters from the alphabet, and rearrange them to form a common English word.

How many solutions do you think there are? Before you solve the problem, take a guess. Can five words be formed from four consecutive letters? Maybe ten words? Or fifteen?

Okay, now solve the problem. Take your time. We’ll wait for you.

There are 23 ways to select four consecutive letters, and each set of four letters can be arranged in 4! = 24 ways. With 23 × 24 = 552 possibilities, it seems like there ought to be several solutions.

Were you as surprised as I was to find that there was only one?

But maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised. Lots of things in life are unique…

Always remember that you’re unique, just like everybody else.

Student: Do you believe in God?

Professor: Yes — up to isomorphism!

Then again, lots of things *aren’t* unique…

Don’t think you’re special. Even if you’re 1 in a million, there are still 7,000 people in the world just like you.

Here are two unique, non-math jokes…

How do you catch a unique rabbit?

Unique up on it.How do you catch a tame rabbit?

The tame way!

### Happy 100/9 Day

Today is a special day indeed. You may have already noticed that today’s date is the repetitive 11/11/11, but did you know that **today is the only date this century that can be written in the form mm/dd/yy with one digit repeated six times**?

Some people celebrate 3/14 as Pi Day, and to ensure complete precision for their celebration, the moment at which they celebrate is 1:59:26 p.m. In a similar vein, I suggest that we all celebrate “100/9 Day” at 11:11.11 a.m. today. Too bad 100/9 doesn’t have a Greek letter nickname for which it is better known…

Not too long ago, I was forwarded an email that contained several pieces of numerical trivia. The first was this:

This year we’re going to experience four unusual dates: 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, and 11/11/11.

Today is one of those dates, and it is certainly unusual for a date to contain only one repeated digit. The only other dates with just one repeated digit during this century are 2/2/22, 2/22/22, 3/3/33, 4/4/44, 5/5/55, 6/6/66, 7/7/77, 8/8/88 and 9/9/99. Since there are only 13 dates that contain just one repeated digit, it could also be said that 2011 is an unusual year for hosting four of them.

The email also contained the following:

Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born. Now add the age you will be this year. The result will be 111 for everyone in the whole world.

Blanket mathematical statements like this one are frustrating, especially when they are untrue. My friend’s grandfather was born in 1899, so he will turn 112 this year. For him, the result is 99 + 112 = 211. And my sons were born in 2007 and turned 4 this year. For them, the result is 7 + 4 = 11. In fact, based on data about age distribution, the result will **not** be 111 for approximately 15% of the U.S. population. The yellow bars in the graph below indicate the ages for which this trick does not work.

A better statement of this “trick” might be…

Take the year in which you were born. Now add the age that you will be this year. The result will be 2011 for everyone in the whole, wide world.

Wow! Can you believe it? But it’s not much of a trick anymore, is it?

Happy 100/9 Day, everybody!

**[Update]** This post originally appeared as “Happy 10/9 Day,” but that was in error. I blame sleep deprivation. It has been updated to “100/9 Day” in all places.

### Food for Thought and Laughs

I was presented with an interesting Fermi question today:

How many pounds of food will you eat in your lifetime?

My first estimate: About 20 tons — approximately 1.5 pounds per day (roughly 500 pounds a year) for 80 years.

My second estimate: Unless by *pounds* you mean British currency, and by *food* you mean caviar, in which case my estimate would be closer to 21 million.

This made me think of several math and food jokes.

At a restaurant…

“What can I get for you?” asked the waiter.

The mathematician replied, “I’ll have the

seven‑layer dip as an appetizer. For my entree,primerib, dimsum, and thethree‑bean salad. To drink, arootbeer, andpifor dessert.”

Meanwhile at the cannibals’ house…

The cannibal family was eating dinner. One son says, “I really hate my math teacher.” The other son says, “I know. He’s so tough!” The mother tells them, “Quit complaining. If you don’t like the meat, just eat the noodles.”

And at the university…

What do you call a smiling, sober, courteous person at a math department social event?

The caterer.

One of my favorite pieces about math and food comes from Dave Barry:

Algebra is a vital tool for our young people to learn. The traditional method for teaching it, of course, is to require students to solve problems developed in 1928 by the American Association of Mathematics Teachers Obsessed With Fruit. For example: “If Billy has twice as many apples as Bobby, and Sally has seven more apples than Chester, who has one apple in each hand plus one concealed in his knickers, then how many apples does Ned have, assuming that his train leaves Chicago at noon?”

### Problems of Convenience

The candy that my sons received while trick-or-treating all had names with references to various disciplines:

- Baby Ruth – history; named for the daughter of President Grover Cleveland
- Snickers – sports; named after Frank C. Mars’s favorite horse
- 3 Musketeers – literature; named for Athos, Porthos, and Aramis from Alexandre Dumas’s novel
- Milky Way – astronomy; named after the galaxy
- 5th Avenue – geography; named after 5th Avenue in Reading, PA, where the candy bar was originally made

While there was no candy with references to advanced mathematics, several at least had numbers in the names. In addition to 3 Musketeers and 5th Avenue, there were also:

- Zero
- Take 5
- 100 Grand

I visited several local convenience stores to find other candy bars with numbers or math in the name. Sadly, my search yielded no others. Luckily, interesting things always happen when I’m in convenience stores…

A woman walks into a 7-Eleven and takes four items to the cash register. The clerk informs her that the register is broken, but he can figure the total using his calculator. The clerk then proceeds to

multiplythe prices together and declares that the total is $7.11. Although the woman knows the prices should have beenadded, not multiplied, she says nothing — as it turns out, the result would have been $7.11 whether the four prices were added or multiplied.There was no sales tax. What was the cost of each item?

Of course, you may be thinking, “If the four prices were multiplied together, the total would actually be 7.11 dollars^{4}.” And you would be correct. But for the sake of the problem, it’s best not to introduce “quartic dollars” as a unit of measure. I’ll ask that you please suspend disbelief, at least until you’ve solved the problem.

The problem above involves four items, and finding its solution is quite difficult. To reduce the level of difficulty, I wondered if an analogous problem could be created that involves only three items. After an hour of playing with Excel, I was able to create such a problem.

A woman walks into a 6-Sixty and takes three items to the cash register. The clerk informs her that the register is broken, but he can figure the total using his calculator. The clerk then proceeds to

multiplythe prices together and declares that the total is $6.60. Although the woman knows the prices should have beenadded, not multiplied, she says nothing — as it turns out, the result would have been $6.60 whether the three prices were added or multiplied.There was no sales tax. What was the cost of each item?

The problem with only three items is not significantly less difficult than the problem with four items, however, it is helped by the fact that there are two different solutions. Still, I wondered if an analogous problem could be created that involves only two items. Sure enough, one could.

A woman walks into an 8-Forty-One and takes two items to the cash register. The clerk informs her that the register is broken, but he can figure the total using his calculator. The clerk then proceeds to

multiplythe prices together and declares that the total is $8.41. Although the woman knows the prices should have beenadded, not multiplied, she says nothing — as it turns out, the result would have been $8.41 whether the two prices were added or multiplied.There was no sales tax. What was the cost of each item?

This last problem is far less difficult than the other two. Enjoy!

### If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Some neighbors recently told me that childless adults are happier than parents. When I mentioned this to a different friend (who is currently trying to become a parent), his response was, “Yeah, but the graph shows that parents don’t become really unhappy *until the third child*.”

A quick search did not yield the graph he mentioned, but it did provide a lot of contradictory information:

- A blog post by Philip Cohen claims that “children beget happiness, eventually.”
- A report from the Pew Research Center claims, “married people with children are about as happy as married people without children. And unmarried people with children are about as happy as unmarried people without children.” (This chart shows that marriage is a better predictor of happiness than children.)
- A Global Perspective on Happiness and Fertility by Margolis and Myrskyla indicates that people over 50 are happier than younger folks, regardless of the number of children; but among parents, those with 4+ kids are less happy than others.

So, I don’t know what to believe. All I know is that when my four-year-old son Eli created the following math joke last night, I was pretty happy.

What did the table say to the counter?

“Give me some numbers!”

Get it? *Counters*? They count!

Then today, while riding in the car, Eli’s twin brother Alex asked what language people speak in Europe. “I think they speak European,” he posited, “but Eli thinks they speak Urine.”

Who couldn’t be happy with wonderful moments like that?

For tolerating (another) story about my kids, here are a few funny quotes about happiness.

I didn’t know true happiness until I got married; but then it was too late.

Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop. – Gertrude Stein

Happiness is good health and a bad memory. – Ingrid Bergmann