My wife and I enjoy playing Wingspan, a beautiful strategy game about choosing birds to live in your bird sanctuary. This past week we played a few games together against the computer — she’s much better than I am, so I hoped to pick up some strategy tips from her for the next time we play against … More Maximal matching: What to do when?
This year at Carleton I’ve gotten to teach one of my favorite parts of multivariable calculus, the multivariable chain rule. Despite its scary-sounding name, the multivariable chain rule seems to capture a fundamental principle about how the world works, a principle I call “narratives add.” I’ll walk you through how the multivariable chain rule works … More Narratives Add
Part of my job as an academic is to write up and share my research results with the rest of the mathematical community, but while I moderately enjoy writing, I don’t enjoy how long it takes me: I spend a lot of time rewriting whole sections to make a point slightly better, or having to … More Writing an academic paper with Scrum
I’ve been helping put together some materials for a new class we’re tentatively calling “Math and Public Life”, organized around ten or so concepts from higher mathematics and how they relate to the way we think about life and each other. One of the themes I’m hoping to show is that often as our understanding … More Better than binary: four kinds of false dichotomy
For a future blog post, I’ve been thinking about how sometimes, when we have two alternatives, one is really a special or “limiting” case of the other, the way a square is just a special case of rectangle. I’m still working on that post, but meanwhile I’ve been distracted by thinking about other shapes that … More A Quadrilateral Venn Diagram
A frequent reader of this blog sent me a link to this video on Facebook, of a side-by-side comparison between a traditional method for doing multidigit multiplication (which is over very quickly) and a new “grid” method (which takes a long time to explain): She wanted to know why anyone would use the long, drawn-out … More New Math vs Old Math
A recent Washington Post article has the title “When a danger is growing exponentially, everything looks fine until it doesn’t.” The article talks about how suddenly exponential growth seems to go from vanishingly tiny to passing a major threshold. This made me wonder if there is some natural moment in time at which we can … More Does an exponential curve have a corner?
FiveThirtyEight recently posted a piece called “The Impeachment Hearings Just Confirmed Voters’ Preexisting Opinions”: the same wave of new information has just made everybody more convinced of what they already thought: One explanation of this phenomenon is “motivated reasoning”: a person finding data more reliable and arguments more convincing if they fit with what the … More More information doesn’t have to make you more certain
In World War II, allied forces faced an unusual statistical puzzle: to make good strategic decisions, they needed to know roughly how many tanks Germany was building every month, but they had very limited evidence whether that number was small or large. One clue was that captured tanks had serial numbers on some of their … More German tanks and Doomsday
Last month, this New York Times headline caught my eye for three reasons: Netherlands Was 10 Percent Liable in Srebrenica Deaths, Top Dutch Court Finds Reason #1: Having lived in the Netherlands, headlines about Dutch affairs usually stick out to me. Reason #2: I’d just been reading The Themis Files, a fiction series in which … More 10 percent liable