Posts Tagged ‘Humor’

“Among all positive integers, the integer 1 is the largest.”

Here’s a funny anecdote about the subtleties of logic. The isoperimetric theorem is the statement that, among all planar figures of a fixed perimeter, the circle (of that circumference) encloses the greatest area.

Steiner gave five proofs of the isoperimetric theorem. Lovely as they are, he left one point open to attack: all proofs assume the existence of a solution (his strategy is always to take a figure that is not a circle and show that its area can be improved). This did not go unpunished. The analyst vultures can smell an existence assumption from miles away. […] Perron at least jokes about it:

Theorem. Among all curves of a given length, the circle encloses the greatest area.
Proof. For any curve that is not a circle, there is a method (given by Steiner) by which one finds a curve that encloses greater area. Therefore the circle has the greatest area.

Theorem. Among all positive integers, the integer 1 is the largest.
Proof. For any integer that is not 1, there is a method (to take the square) by which one finds a larger positive integer. Therefore 1 is the largest integer.

— Viktor BlåsjöThe evolution of the isoperimetric problem (2005), quoting Oskar PerronZur Existenzfrage eines Maximums oder Minimums (1913)


I read a lot of webcomics. I know, a lot of people read some webcomics. (Actually, most people just read xkcd. That’s fine–it’s funny. Used to be funnier.) But everyone’s missing out on a lot of funny webcomics, and that’s a shame. Since a few people actually like my sense of humor, I figured that it is my civic Internet duty to point people to the webcomics I read, since I’m sure everyone will at least like some of them. (If not, where is your heart?)

Let’s pause here for my endorsement of Google Reader. Google Reader is my gateway to the Internet, and there’s no way I could read as much online as I do without it. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept: most websites nowadays supply feeds of their content, so you can check up on their updates without constantly visiting the site. I subscribe to 41 websites, which update on entirely different timetables with wildly differing frequencies. But whenever I go to Google Reader, all my new Internets are there for the reading. (And since it’s a Google product, the past Internets are, of course, easily searchable.) If you don’t use a RSS feed reader yet, why not? You already have a Google Reader account if you have Gmail. DO IT. I’ll wait.

Okay. Here are the 15 webcomics I am currently subscribed to (it fluctuates every month or so).

Totally awesome:

  • Nedroid Picture Diary. Oh my. This is probably my favorite webcomic. Every single one is totally amazing. Stars Reginald, a bird (of some sort?), and Beartato, a bear-tato. You need to read this.
  • chainsawsuit. It doesn’t really make any sense, but that’s sort of the point. The best webcomic for those of you with no attention span.
  • Dinosaur Comics. Hard to explain this one. It has a fair bit of text but always hits…some sort of point…right on the head. Stars T-Rex, a pretty cool dinosaur and dude. Very excellent.
  • xkcd. Yeah, it’s a great comic. Math and romance and stick figures and whatever you already read this.
  • Chronillogical. It’s a webcomic about time-traveling students by my friend Greg Poulos, and his friend John Chouinard. Great art and a great story. You have to start from the beginning, but it’s not that old. Do it.
  • Penny Arcade. These guys are the veterans of the webcomic industry. Unfortunately, this comic doesn’t really make sense unless you are up-to-the-day on video game news. (Maybe you should subscribe to a gaming blog!) Every comic comes with a long blog entry, and often is making fun of something announced that morning.
  • Sheldon Comic Strip. If you’re feeling nostalgic, this is basically a daily newspaper comic strip that isn’t in any newspapers. One difference: unlike newspaper comics, this is actually funny. Centers around a typical 10-year-old billionaire and his talking duck.
  • pictures for sad children. Funny, kind of depressing sometimes, in a funny way.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Quite funny usually-one-panel strips with a twist caption. Quite irreverent but worth reading (just not around your parents!).

Here are the rest (which are still excellent) but I am sick of writing blurbs:

  • Hark! A Vagrant. Generally about history. Pretty good even if you don’t know much about history.
  • Thinkin’ Lincoln. It’s sort of about Lincoln. Used to be a lot funnier, but still pretty good.
  • Gunshow. Just subscribed recently. Pretty funny.
  • indexed. Funny graphs drawn on notecards.
  • Buttersafe.  Reminds me a bit of pictures for sad children but more peaceful.
  • Simulated Comic Product. Sometimes I wonder why I am subscribed to this. Then I remember it updates infrequently and is sort of funny.

Read away! If you have any suggestions for webcomics that I don’t subscribe to, leave them in the comments!

Math stand-up II

(This is the act I performed for the second annual IU undergraduate math talent show. I also served as emcee.)

I’m glad all of you made it out here tonight. One great thing about math is how diverse it is–not just of mathematicians, but of the entire field itself. Math ranges from the purest, most useless subjects–the ones I like–to applied fields, like engineering; at the same time, some fields like computer science straddle the dichotomy, strangely both applied and pure at the same time.

As some of you know, I’ve recently come to like computer science a lot. I’m still learning the ropes, but it’s already pretty easy for me to find the computer scientists at a breakfast buffet. They’re usually in a queue by the hash table.

See, the choice between math and related fields is a tradeoff between purity and utility. The more applied fields actually get some important results.

For example, in computer science, they recently deduced the best way to walk: the logic gait. Of course, if you do too many logical ands, your ampersands may get inflamed, a serious condition called conjunctivitis.

In electrical engineering, they’re working on making even better semiconductors. I think adding gallium to silicon is totally dope.

In physics, they recently discovered a new salsa a thousand times better than pico de gallo. It’s called nano de gallo. And they excavated a derivative of the velociraptor: the acceleraptor.

Seriously, though. You probably saw that Wall Street Journal article about how mathematician is the best profession, since it pays well, and sitting in a chair doesn’t really have any occupational hazards.

Still, some mathematicians have gotten into entrepreneurial endeavors. I’ve been eating out lately at Markov’s chain of restaurants. They’re kind of artsy; you don’t actually get to order off a menu. They just choose your dish randomly based on the probability that you’ll like it. I highly recommend their Chinese, though. I quite enjoy their random wok.

Even the Ghostbusters have gone into math lately, studying Hilbert spaces. They’ve already made a lot of breakthroughs in spectral theory.

But Rick Astley hasn’t had as much success in game theory. He’s studying the prisoner’s dilemma, but he just can’t get past his moral hangups about ratting out the other prisoner to lessen your own sentence. Even if he knows the other prisoner won’t rat him out, Rick’s still never gonna give him up.

And ever since the economy tanked, cartesian products of rings have become more popular, since grad students can only afford to study free modules.

The military pulled out of some math research, too. At the NSA they can’t even generalize any more; they’ve been reduced to lieutenantizing. They’ve also been reconsidering some policies at their complex prisons. The problem with conjugal visits is that sometimes they result in those elements multiplying, which becomes a real problem of square magnitude.

But really, now. I’ve been making it sound like math isn’t good for anything, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I use calculus in the grocery store all the time. For example, how do you differentiate between cuts of beef? Prime rib.

And algebra comes in handy on the dance floor. You know the robot, right? It’s composed only of rigid motions, so it turns out it’s actually a subgroup of isometries.

And analysis is indispensable in the kitchen. The other day, I made a sequence of sandwiches for myself: first a p-naught butter and jelly sandwich, then a p1 butter and jelly sandwich, then a p2 butter and jelly sandwich… I tried to eat the whole series, but I realized the sandwiches didn’t get smaller, so I diverged from that plan.

To me, at least, math is really exciting. Seriously. I just get really excited whenever I’m doing math. Like, the other day, I had the surface integral of the curl of a vector field, and I was really stoked to turn it into a path integral instead.

One problem I’ve noticed in math classes is that there’s so much material in each class, but it isn’t compact enough to cover finitely. Good professors know that it’s easier once you add on a point at infinity; then you can always cover it finitely.

Anyway. Probably a lot of you have AT&T Wireless plans, right? They changed their name one and a half years ago or so; that’s because they realized how important linear algebra is, and they wanted to be invertible. So now they’re no longer singular.

A recent medical study found that Viagra works on some ring members with zero powers. After the trial, they were no longer nilpotent.

Anyway, I think it’s time for the next act, so I’m going to leave you with a little physics problem… (A demo ensues.)


Behold, gentlemen. The world’s first LOLCATION.