A Fortnightly Electronic Newsletter from the Hope College Department of Mathematics
January 19, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 8

 Tomorrow's colloquium sure to be a hit!  
How likely is it that Sammy Sosa hits a home run when Roger Clemens is pitching?  Or strikes out? Or walks?  Sosa is a good hitter, but Clemens is a good pitcher.  Sosa hits a lot of home runs, but Clemens doesn’t give up many.  Sosa strikes out a lot and Clemens strikes out a lot of hitters, so, perhaps Sosa is likely to strike out.  Answers to questions such as these go into constructing a simulation model of baseball. 

In tomorrow's colloquium, Professor Mike Stob from Calvin College will look at some historical models of the batter-pitcher match up (yes, there is a history!) and develop a “modern” mathematical model to answer these questions.  The title of his talk is “Simulating Baseball” and will take place in VWF 104 at 4:00 tomorrow. 

Tea and goodies will be served in VWF 222 before the colloquium at from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m.

  Next week's colloquium promises to be strange

Next week's colloquium will be presented by Prof. Steve Schlicker from Grand Valley State University.  He will talk about "The Strange World of the Hausdorff Metric Geometry."  This talk will be an introduction to the Hausdorff metric geometry. The "points" in this geometry are sets---that is they can represent actual physical objects. For four of the last five summers, students in the REU program at GVSU have been researching the properties of this geometry. They have discovered that lines and segments in this geometry exhibit some unexpected and rather odd behavior. In this talk he will introduce line segments with infinitely many and finitely many (greater than 1) points at each location, see connections with this geometry to the Fibonacci and Lucas numbers, learn a fascinating property of the number 19, and other oddities.

Tea and goodies will again be served in VWF 222 before the colloquium at from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m.

Mathematical Contest in Modeling to take place next month

The Mathematical Contest in Modeling is an international competition in which teams of two or three students produce a solution to an open-ended, real world, mathematical modeling problem. The competition takes place over a long weekend. The problems are announced on a Thursday evening, and the completed solution is due on the following Monday evening. Over the course of the weekend, the competitors pick one of the three announced problems, then research the situation and prepare a solution. For students interested in applied mathematics, this is a great opportunity to see what mathematical modeling is like.

Traditionally, students from small liberal arts colleges, such as Hope, have done well in this competition. The reason for this is that, in addition to doing the mathematics, each problem requires the solution to communicate the findings to a non-mathematical audience in some way.  More information is available at  In addition to information about this contest, you can link to previous contest questions at this site.

This year the competition will take place from 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 3 through 8 p.m. on Monday, February 7. If you are interested in getting more information or competing, please contact Prof. Cinzori (  The deadline for applications is 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 2.

Math in Action Conference set for next month

For those of you interested in mathematics education, the Math in Action Conference next month gives you an opportunity to hear professors and teachers from the area talk about different mathematical topics that are applicable to those in K-12 education.  The conference is schedule from 8:40 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 24 at the downtown campus of Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids.  This year's theme is "Assessment Through Algebra and Number: Utilizing Multiple Benchmarks." 

The plenary speaker is Dr. Edward Roeber of the Michigan Department of Education. In his presentation, Dr. Roeber will focus on impending changes in the MEAP program, the MI-Access program for the assessment of students with disabilities, and school accountability through such programs as No Child Left Behind and Michigan's Education YES!  There are more than 30 other sessions to attend with topics like "The Tortoise and the Hare: Discovering Slope," "The Crazy Universe where Math and Art Collide," and "What's your Angle?"

Prof. Mary DeYoung has conference brochures available outside her office (209 VWF).  They are also available online at  The mathematics department will pay the registration fee for those attending and transportation will be available.  You simply need to fill out a registration form that is in the conference brochure and return it to Prof. DeYoung by February 7.

What can you do with a math major?

You like mathematics, but aren't interested in teaching.  You might think there is not much else you can do with a math major.  How about solving crimes?  You can do that if your are Charlie Epps (mathematical genius) who helps out his FBI Special Agent brother on Sunday's from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. EDT on CBS.  The show is called NUMB3RS and it sounds 1NT3R3ST1NG. 

In next week's episode, Charlie uses a mathematical equation to identify the killer's point of origin by working back from the crime scene locations.  (This is kind of like how you did your homework in calculus by looking at the answer in the back of the book and figuring out the solution.)  You can check out the show's web site at

In the real world, you can actually do a lot with a math major besides teach.  Check out for information about other career options for those majoring in mathematics.

Faith under Fire

Faith under Fire is a weekly TV show hosted by Lee Strobel (see that includes debate on such topics as:

If you would like to be part of a bimonthly Sunday morning (10:30 a.m. to noon) discussion group that listens to the program and then discusses the topics over bagels and hot chocolate at my home, contact Tim Pennings at I'll form a distribution list of interested students and send invitations via email. No obligation. Let me know if you'd like your name to be on the list.

Google adds calculator feature

We all know that Google can help you find out who Felix Hausdorff was and that Froogle will help you find the appropriate driver's side mirror for your 1997 Ford Escort.  But did you know that Google also is a calculator.  To use Google's built-in calculator function, simply enter your calculation into the search box and enter.  The calculator can do basic arithmetic, evaluate trigonometric functions, determine physical constants, and will even give you appropriate units of measure and do conversions.  For more information visit

Problem Solvers of the Fortnight

Congratulations to Sommer Amundsen, Daniela Banu, Jim Boerkoel, Aaron Cinzori, Meg Estochen, Melissa Gifford, Henry Gould, Jamie Lajiness, Malinda Lasater, Sean Thurmer, David Visser and Emily Wandell for showing that

1 - 1/2 + 1/3 - 1/4 + ... + 1/2003 - 1/2004 = 1/1003 + 1/1004 + ... + 1/2004

(Dr. Cinzori's clever poem of near-epic proportions is posted outside his office for your amusement and edification.)  Problem solvers are invited to stop by Dr. Pearson's office (VWF 212) to claim their sweet rewards.

Problem of the Fortnight


We received a request for a problem in three-dimensional coordinate geometry to start off the new year.  At "Off on a Tangent," we aim to please, so here goes. . . .

The two lines

L1(t) = <4, -5, 1> + t<2, 4, -3>
L2(s) = <2, -1, 0> + s<1, 3, 2>

in three-dimensional space are skew: that is, they are not parallel and do not intersect.  Find the distance between L1 and L2.

Affix your solution to the end of a barbecue skewer (it's never too early to think about summer!) and drop it in the "Problem of the Fortnight" slot outside Dr. Pearson's office (VWF 212) by 3:00 on Friday, January 28.  As always, authors of correct solutions will be announced in the next issue of "Off on a Tangent" and will receive a calorific treat for their efforts.

Mathography: Theodor Kaluza (1885 - 1954)

Our featured mathematician this issue is Theodor Kaluza, a contemporary of Albert Einstein.  Kaluza was a German mathematician who received his training at the University of Koenigsberg and later became a Privatdozent there.  Kaluza's interests drew him toward a study of mathematical physics, and his most famous result in this area was a unification of Einstein's theory of gravity and Maxwell's theory of light.  His ideas involved the introduction of a fifth dimension, and while initially a hot topic of research, they later fell into the background with the introduction of quantum mechanics.  Einstein was a champion of Kaluza's ideas, but despite Einstein's support, Kaluza was not promoted from Privatdozent to professor until 20 years after his initial appointment.   Kaluza died on January 19, 1954.

Kaluza's ideas have once again received some attention in string theory.  Kaluza is mentioned in "The Elegant Universe," a NOVA video about string theory that is available in Van Wylen Library (QC794.6.S85 G75 2003) and online at  To read more about string theory please visit and to learn more about Kaluza himself please see

Got a Math Question?

Ask Elvis ...

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Hey there humans,

I had a great Christmas break.  Since I didn't have to come into the office, I had lots of time to sleep, eat, and play.  Of course the most interesting thing about Christmas is all the new smells that are around---new smelly people to meet, trees indoors, and lots of food.   It doesn't get any better than that!  Speaking of smells, did you hear about the research done with dogs ability to detect cancer.  It was on 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago.  You can check it out online at

As you can see by my picture, I am resting.  That means I did not receive any questions since the last newsletter.  Well a new semester has begun and I am ready to get back to work.  Send me an email me with any math questions you might have at  I or one of my human colleagues will do our best to answer it.

Take care and keep warm!


The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.
Albert Einstein