January 14, 2012, 2:22 pm

By Robert Talbert

Audrey Watters writes in Hack [Higher] Education that maybe it’s time for programming to join critical thinking and effective writing as part of the body of required knowledge for all university students:

But I will posit that all students should learn programming, whether they plan to become programmers or not. Many universities already require students take composition in order to graduate. Perhaps it’s time for programming — “the new literacy” — to become a requirement too?

I don’t mean that every student needs to learn C++ or Python or Perl or Java or Ruby. But I do think everyone needs to know how the Web works — how search engines operate, for example, and what’s “server side” and what’s “client side” and why the difference matters. Everyone needs to know some HTML (a mark-up, not a programming, language I realize). And with the move towards the fifth revision of the HTML…

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January 5, 2012, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

By the time you read this, I’ll be heading back home to Michigan from the AMS/MAA Joint Meetings. Yesterday was the first day of the actual conference, and since it was the only day of the conference I was in attendance, I tried to pack in as much as I could. Here’s a rundown of what I saw.

I attended a talk on “The Separability Problem in Referendum Elections” by my GVSU colleague Jonathan Hodge in the AMS Special Session on the Mathematics of Decisions, Elections, and Games. I knew Jon worked in game theory but I had never seen a sustained scholarly presentation of his work before. It was impressive. What I appreciate the most about Jon’s research is its blend of real-world accessibility with mathematical depth. Also impressive was the amount of collaboration with undergraduates Jon did as a part of the research; three of those undergrads were in the audience.

Next was a talk on…

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November 22, 2011, 1:00 am

By Robert Talbert

Tomorrow (11/23) is not only Fibonacci Day, it’s also the release day for the English translation of *Math Girl*s, a mathematics-themed young adult novel (!) by Japanese author Hiroshi Yuki. *Math Girls* combines “the rigor of a mathematics text with the drama of teenage romance”, according to a press release by Bento Books (the US distributor of the novel).

I’d never heard of *Math Girls* before I saw that press release, but apparently it’s a cultural phenomenon in Japan, where it’s gone through eighteen printings, three sequels, comic book adaptations, and fan-created music videos. (The music video is here — I couldn’t figure out how to embed it. You should watch it, just because it’s the only Japanese pop video you will ever see that features a generating function.)

Bento Books describes the novel:

Math Girls introduces readers to a wide range of subjects, from the Fibonacci series …

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November 21, 2011, 7:45 am

By Robert Talbert

It’s been a couple of Math Mondays since we last looked at columnar transposition ciphers, so let’s jump back in. In the last post, we learned that CTC’s are really just permutations on the set of character positions in a message. That is, a CTC is a bijective function \( \{0, 1, 2, \dots, L-1\} \rightarrow \{0, 1, 2, \dots, L-1\}\) where \(L\) is the length of the message. One of the big questions we left hanging was whether there was a systematic way of specifying that function — for example, with a formula. The answer is YES, and in this post we’re going to develop that formula.

Before we start, let me just mention again that all of the following ideas are from my paper “The cycle structure and order of the rail fence cipher”, which was published in the journal *Cryptologia*. However, the formula you’re about to see here is a newer (and I think improved) version of the one in the…

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November 8, 2011, 6:52 am

By Robert Talbert

The title of this NY Times article making the rounds in the blogosphere is *titled* “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)”. But it seems like the real reason that 40% of university students today who plan on careers in the STEM disciplines end up changing into other fields or dropping out is only partly about the hardness of the subjects. What are the other parts? Read this:

But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash …

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September 19, 2011, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

http://www.flickr.com/photos/artnoose/

Last week in this post, I asked for requests for math topics you’d like to read about. One person wrote in and asked:

Why don’t you enlighten us about the name “Casting Out Nines?” I learned a system in grade school with the same name –it was a way of checking multiplication and long division answers. Long before calculators.

A review please?

OK then. Casting out nines is an old-fashioned method of checking for errors in basic arithmetic problems (addition and subtraction too, not just multiplication and division). Here’s how it works, using addition as an example.

Let’s suppose I’m trying to add 32189 to 87011. I get a sum of 119200. But did I make a mistake? Do the following to check:

- Take the first number, 32189, and remove — “cast out” — any 9′s…

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September 14, 2011, 8:00 am

By Robert Talbert

Happy Hump Day! Here are some items of interest from the past week:

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September 7, 2011, 7:30 am

By Robert Talbert

From around the interwebs this past week:

- John Cook shares Python code used to slice open a Menger sponge.
- OxDE talks about antiparallelograms and asks some questions about tiling the plane with them.
- 360 asks the important questions, such as Why can’t people on
*Glee* do math right? There’s more than one right answer to that question, I think.
- Alasdair McAndrew takes a detailed look at alternatives to MATLAB, including Octave, Scilab, and Freemat. Sadly, his preferred alternative isn’t 100% OS X friendly, but that’s not his fault.
- My GVSU colleague John Golden looks at different ways to annotate PDF’s using a Bamboo tablet.
- On Slashdot, a report that Google is shuttering 10 of its projects. Most of these are marginal at best, with the notable exception of Google Notebooks, which does seem to get used by a nontrivial number of people.
- Finally, at Mark Guzdial’s Computing…

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May 26, 2011, 8:01 pm

By Robert Talbert

As part of preparing for our impending move from Indy to Grand Rapids, my family and I have made a couple of visits to the area. These by necessity combine business with pleasure, since our three kids (ages 2, 5, and 7) don’t handle extended amounts of business well. On the last visit, we spent some time at the Grand Rapids Childrens Museum, the second floor of which is full of stuff that could occupy children — and mathematicians — for hours. This “exhibit” was, for me, one of the most evocative. Have a look:

Spinning table from Robert Talbert on Vimeo.

I asked this on Twitter a few days ago, but I’ll repost it here: In the spirit of Dan Meyer’s Any Questions? meme, what questions come to mind as you watch this? Particularly math, physics, etc. questions.

One other thing — just after I wrapped up the video on this, someone put one of the little discs rolling on the turntable…

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May 18, 2011, 9:53 am

By Robert Talbert

We’re in final exams week right now, and last night students in the MATLAB course took their exam. It included some essay questions asking for their favorite elements of the course and things that might be improved in the course. I loved what one of my students had to say about the assignment in the course he found to be the most interesting, so I’ve gotten permission from him to share it. The lab problem he’s referring to was to write a MATLAB program to implement the bisection method for polynomials.

It is really hard to decide which project I found most interesting; there are quite a few of them. If I had to choose just one though, I would probably have to say the lab set for April 6. I was having a really hard time getting the program to work, I spent a while tweaking it this way and that way. **But when you’re making a program that does not work yet, there is this sort of golden…**

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