A Mathematical Meme from Janet

Janet over at Adventures in Ethics and Science has tagged all of us newbies with a Pi meme. As the new math-geek-in-residence here, I’m obligated to take on anything dealing with Pi.

  • 3 reasons you blog about science
    1. Because I genuinely enjoy teaching, and the one thing that I regret
      about being in industry instead of academia is that I don’t get to teach.
      Blogging gives me an opportunity to do something sort-of like teaching,
      but on my own terms and my own schedule.

    2. Because I’m obsessed with this stuff, and I love it, and I want to try
      to show other people why they should love it too.

    3. Because I’m a thoroughly nasty person who enjoys mocking idiots.
  • Point at which you would stop blogging: This is an easy one. If it were to stop being fun.
  • 1 thing you frequently blog besides science: I could cheat here, and say math. But that would be cheating, and we know math geeks never cheat, right? So that leaves music. I come from a family of musicians; my older brother was a professional french horn player and composer (before he went nutso and became a fundie ultra-orthodox rabbi); my younger sister is a music teacher. As a techie, I’m the black sheep of the family :-).
  • 4 words that describe your blogging style: I’ll pick words that I’ve gotten in real feedback from readers. (1) informative, (2) engaging, (3) obnoxious, and (4) arrogant. (Guess which ones were feedback from people who were targets of bad-math critiques?)
  • 1 aspect of blogging you find difficult: dealing with rude commenters.
  • 5 SB blogs that are new to you.
    1. Afarensis. No, it’s not new to SB, but it’s new to me.
    2. A Blog Around the Clock. I used to read one Coturnix’s blogs back at the old home; now he’s merged three blogs into one here. Good stuff.
    3. Chaotic Utopia. One of my fellow newbies who’s got an obsession with fractals.
    4. Framing Science. The intersection of science and politics.
    5. Terra Sigillata. Taking on alt-woo medicine.
  • 9 non-SB blogs: In no particular order:
    1. Big Dumb Chimp
    2. Rockstar Ramblings
    3. Pandagon
    4. Feministe
    5. World O’ Crap
    6. Making Light
    7. Orcinus
    8. Milieu
    9. Eschaton
  • 2 important features of your blogging environment: this one is actually hard, because I don’t really have a single blogging environment. Best I can come up with is my IPod, and a network connection. (I constantly look at various online sources like wikipedia, mathworld, and various peoples webpages to check what I’m writing.)
  • 6 items you would bring to a meet-up with the other ScienceBloggers:
    1. My powerbook. (Or MacBook if I ever get around to upgrading.)
    2. Geeky t-shirt.
    3. Sunglasses (to mask the glare of PZs fame 🙂 )
    4. A bottle of good rum. (inside joke)
    5. A Zagats guide. (What’s the point of getting together with fun people, and not going out for good food?)
    6. My lovely wife. She’s also a hopeless geek (computational linguistics), and a true expert at finding the very best food wherever she goes. Plus she can read maps, which I can’t. (I’m actually learning disabled – maps mean absolutely nothing to me. I have no idea how people use them to get places. Really.)
  • 5 conversations you would have before the end of that meet-up: I’m going to cheat a bit… A couple of convos that Janet wants to have would involve me, so I’ll just join in.
    1. With both Abel Pharmboy and Janet about being from NJ.
    2. With Janet about math jokes.
    3. With Orac about the kinds of goofy sciffy we both seem to like.
    4. With Tara about Findlay, Ohio. I spent four years of my childhood outside of New Jersey, and that was in Findlay Ohio, In another of these memes that circulate around the geeks of the blogosphere, Tara mentioned that she grew up in that miserable little town. I’m curious to find out if it changed after my family left.
    5. With Abel Pharmboy, about alt-woo medicine. I’ve been meaning to take on some of the stupid mathematical arguments used by alt-med types, but I haven’t had the patience to sit through the gunk of their sites to track down the stuff where I can offer something new.

0 thoughts on “A Mathematical Meme from Janet

  1. DouglasG

    In my youth, I collected a bunch of Math Jokes… Such as:
    Q: What do you get if you cross an elephant with a zebra.
    A: Elephant zebra sin theta.
    Q: What do you get if you cross an elephant with a mountain climber.
    A: You can’t do that. A mountain climber is a scalar.

  2. jackd

    Can’t read maps? Wow. I love ’em like a hobbit – can pore endlessly over a topo map of an area I know well. I’m curious, are there other types of visual portrayals that you have trouble with?

  3. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Lots. In general, I have a lot of trouble with correlating anything I see with the actual spatial relationships. The more abstract it gets, or the faster I need to be able to do something with it, the harder it gets for me.
    So with a map, even though I know intellectually how it works, correlating the abstract static scaled 2d image on a map with the real moving 3d world around me is just not something I can really do.
    From a slightly different angle, I can’t catch a ball if you throw it to me. No way I can figure out where it is while it’s moving.
    On the other hand, I’ve got an interestingly bizzare ability to visualize things like extra dimensions, or non-euclidian geometries. Because I’m naturally so disconnected from normal spatial perception, and I have to work so hard to get a spatial understanding of my perceptions, I’ve been forced to develop the skill, and that turns out to be useful.
    Finally, as an interesting aside. I’ve known about this disability for my whole life, but I never knew where it came from. During grad school, I developed a wierd nervous tick, and the tests they did to make sure it was nothing serious showed a very small patch of very old scar tissue in my brain – right in the area that we use for spatial perception. After getting the results, but before telling me about them, the neurologist asked a whole bunch of questions about things I could and couldn’t do. He seemed quite thrilled to actually have a patient with a bit of damage there that he could question.

  4. Abel Pharmboy

    Mark, thanks for the plug – I should’ve put in my meme that it would also be great to talk with you about how to ferret out the good alt-med studies from the bad. In the middle of a bunch of garbage, there are also several really interesting and promising approaches.
    Amazing story about your learning disability – did the neurologist have any insights as to how the unfortunate scar tissue might have cause a compensatory neural outgrowth elsewhere that might account for your extraordinary math abilities?
    I’ve been checking in ever since Orac first linked to you, so I’m honored to be in your Sb pledge class!

  5. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    No problem wrt the plug 🙂
    And wrt the learning disability… The MRIs and CTs they did didn’t show anything except that one little patch of scar tissue, which looks typical of the kind of damage that can happen from oxygen depravation in the birth canal during labor – so it’s congenital.
    Neither the neuro nor I thought that in general, my math skill is related to that. There’s nothing strange about my brain other than that little patch of scar tissue; and there’s a lot of mathematical ability in my family on both sides.
    My father’s a physicist, and since I was good at mathish stuff, he just started teaching me stuff whenever I was interested. I learned about bell curves and standard deviations in third grade! I think that both my enthusiasm for mathematical stuff, and the way that I explain it are products of the way my dad taught me. I think that the greatest amount of credit goes to him.

  6. jackd

    Thanks, Mark. That is fascinating. Your neurologist’s excitement is understandable, since much of what we know about how the brain’s organization and function comes from studying people with damage to particular locations.
    I know a little boy with some obvious developmental problems, mainly verbal. They found a bit of scar tissue apparently similar to yours, but in a different location in the brain. Before that, I wasn’t aware that such scarring happened.

  7. Rietzsche Boknekht

    I’m good at maps, atlases & spatial orientation — but logico-mathematically hopeless(y’know, what follows from a premise & what doesn’t)– while my sister is the reverse(spatially disabled but better than average w/ math & logic.) In fact, I’m so disbabled in mathematics that I cannot really peform elementary arithmetic, needing to embarrassingly count fingers or write things down. But, I’m not sure that I’d consider myself someone w/ just a learning disability; the fact is that I’m borderline retarded(IQ 70-85), was in special academic programs for the very dull, & never completed high school.
    No, see, my problem is associated w/ low spearman’s g. I’m simply cognitively wanting. In my experience, the reason that I cannot seem to grasp mathematics & logic is that I cannot seem to hold them in working memory long enough to see relationships & sort things out. Now, I don’t know how much more intelligent I’d be if my WM were better, but what I am almost sure of is that WM is a salient factor in my stupidity.

  8. Daniel Martin

    Speaking of math jokes, while I was in grad. school my wife (then fiancee) and I once went to a Halloween party hosted by another one of the grad students (and therefore full of math people). We dressed as a math pun.
    We dressed in purple and were carrying bus and light rail schedules. Some people got our costume right away; almost all got it when we pointed out that we were purple and commuting.


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