Off on a Tangent
A Fortnightly Electronic Newsletter from the Hope College Department of Mathematics
April 1, 2016 Vol. 14, No. 12

Baseball data will be the topic of next week's colloquium

Title: Analyzing Baseball Data
Speaker: Paul Pearson, Hope College Math Department
Time:  Thursday, April 7 at 4 pm 
Place:  VanderWerf 102

The box-office hit movie Moneyball tells the story of how the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team used statistics to overcome a financial disadvantage and made sports analytics widely known.  This talk will feature a variety of data analysis methods that can be applied to answer important questions using baseball data.  Students should bring a computer, paper, and pencil to the talk since there will be some activities involving computer simulations and hand computations.  The talk will be accessible to a general audience, and only basic knowledge about baseball will be assumed.

Hope students will present at three upcoming colloquia

Title: Proofs without Words
Speakers: Hope Students from the Bridge to Higher Mathematics course
Times: Tuesday, April 12 at 11:00 am
              Wednesday, April 13 at 7:00 pm
              Thursday, April 14 at 11:00 pm 
Place:  VanderWerf 104

Students from the Bridge course will be hosting an interactive, student-led colloquium series centered around the theme of "proofs without words." Come join us as you are able, and see why a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Upcoming Colloquia

There is one more colloquium that is currently on the schedule for this semester.
  • Tuesday, April 19 at 4:00pm, Eric Nordmoe, Kalamazoo College

Goldwater Scholars announced

Congratulations to math major Sarah Petersen on being awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious and competitive undergraduate research scholarships in the country!  Two other Hope students -- Daniel Clark and Kathryn Trentadue, both chemistry majors -- also received Goldwater Scholarships. 

The scholarships were awarded by the Board of Trustees of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation to undergraduate sophomores and juniors. The scholarships are for one or two years, depending on the recipient's year in school. Only 252 scholarships were given out for next year and more Hope College students received a scholarship than any other school in Michigan and was one of the top awarded colleges in the country.

Congratulations to all three Hope students on this distinctive honor!  

MCTM Scholarships available

Since 1989 the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) has awarded scholarships to college seniors and juniors who are enrolled in a teacher prep program and have mathematics as their primary teaching interest.  The award of $2500 must be used for tuition, books, labs, and/or fees necessary to fulfill requirements for a BA or BS degree. 

Applicants must be Michigan residents, enrolled in a teacher ed program, have an overall GPA of 3.00 or higher, and have successfully completed our required calculus sequence. Applications are due May 15, 2016. 

Four Hope students are previous winners of this award including Prof. Kate Vance! For more information, further requirements, and an application go to

Problem Solvers of the Fortnight

In our last POTF we gave the following problem:

Suppose three red checkers and two black checkers are arranged in an alternating pattern along a line (as shown in the figure below).


You are allowed to move the checkers as follows: By placing the tips of the first and second fingers on any two touching checkers, one of which must be red and the other black, you may slide the pair to another spot along the line.  The two checkers in the pair must touch each other at all times.  The checker at left in the pair must remain at left; the checker at right must remain at right.  Gaps in the chain are allowed at the end of any move except the final one.  After the last move the checkers need not be at the same spot on the line that they occupied at the start. 

A.  What is the smallest number of moves that will rearrange the checkers so that the three red checkers are on the left and the two black checkers are on the right (as shown in the figure below) -- and how do you do it? 

B.  Now answer the previous question assuming now that you are allowed to move two checkers of the same kind.

Congratulations to Paige Bleicher, Owen Brooks, Josiah Brouwer, Matt Childs, Alex Dolehanty, Richard Edwards, Robert Ganzi, Zach Geschwendt, Alek Gohrmann, Aleah Hahn, Lindsey Hoaglund, Ryan Holman, Russell Houpt, Erik Johnsen, Cassidy Kessel, Jacob Knol, Mitch Konkle, Jessica Korte, Eric Krzak, Nolan Ladd, Chris McAuley, Sarah Mozdren, Miles Pruitt, Jessica Reichenbach, Ty Schreur, Kathryn Trentadue, Sam VanderArk, and Allie VanderStoep -- all of whom correctly solved the Problem of the Fortnight in the last issue of the newsletter.

Problem of the Fortnight

The line y = mx, where m > 0, forms an acute angle with the x-axis, and the point P = (a,b) lies in the interior of the angle.  A line through P intersects both the x-axis and the line y = mx to form a triangle.

What is the minimum area of this triangle?  Express your answer in terms of m, a, and b.

Write your solution on a triangle of paper, and drop it in the Problem of the Fortnight slot outside Professor Mark Pearson's office (VWF 212) by 3:00 p.m. on Friday, April 8.  As always, be sure to write your name and the name(s) of your math professor(s) -- G.O. Metrie, Professor Al G. Bragh -- on your solution.

Math in the News: Pi versus Tau debate has come to a resolution

There has been growing discussion that says we should dump the number pi in favor of tau (which is twice pi).  The argument is that tau is easier to work with than pi since one revolution of a circle would be one tau instead of two pi. You can see this argument in a recent article in Scientific American. Others argue that since pi has been used for so long and is used so much, it should not be replaced with tau.

Apparently this disagreement has been put to rest and a compromise was obtained. The symbol pi will still be used, but will essentially be enhanced.  In a recent joint meeting of the International Mathematical Federation and the American Symbol Society, it was decided that starting on April 1 of next year, the symbol for pi will no longer be used to represent 3.14159... but it will now be used to represent twice that or 6.28318... and the symbol for tau would now be used to represent 3.14159....This decision was made because the symbols for pi and tau are very similar except pi has two vertical lines where tau just has one. Hence it would make sense that pi should be twice that of tau (and not the other way around).  Calculators and  formulas will have to be changed in the next year to reflect this decision.

There was also a fair amount of support at the meeting for the need of other symbols to represent 3pi, 4pi, and so on. Joe King, a member of the board of IMF said, "It is such a burden to use formulas that include leading coefficients and we need to find a way around this nightmare." This led to further debate and a resolution. The symbol that has commonly been used for tau would now be called pi (since nobody really knows what tau is), the symbol commonly used for pi would now be called bipi. This naturally leads to an easy way to make and give names to further symbols of tripi, quadripi and so on.


Unfortunately, after hearing that octopi would be used to represent a number,
members of the Octopus section of the International Mollusk Society are now up in arms over this use and have called an emergency meeting over the matter. Perhaps this controversy isn't over.

More Math in the News: Sleep Number Bed introduces bed with a Pi setting

The Sleep Number Bed Company recently developed a circular bed.  After its development, they found that the integer sleep numbers just didn’t feel right for anyone.  About ready to scrap the idea, engineer Betty Bie came up with an idea.  “Instead of using integers, it would make sense to use multiples of pi,” stated Bie.  “When we made this switch, everyone loved the feel of the new bed.  It really gives you a transcendental sleep experience."

Bie also mentioned that they have a new bed that uses logarithmic sleep numbers.  While she wouldn't tell us the shape of the new bed she did say when she uses it, she sleeps like a log.

In an off-the-record remark, a high ranking member of the design team at the Sleep Number Bed Company also said that they were secretly working on a bed numbering system that can be described as "unreal." 

Math Club T-shirts are delayed again

This year's math club T-shirts have been back ordered for over three weeks now.  In the meantime, math club members have created their own "attire" (i.e. body paint) to be used during their meetings.  Club president Drew A. Blank stated, “We are making due in a tough situation.”  He went on to say, “I’m just glad some of our members were able to get a little sun during spring break, so we don't make complete fools of ourselves”

Hopefully the shirts will be in soon and the math club will be able to come out of the dark hallways of VanderWerf sporting some more appropriate attire.

To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.

~ Anne Rice

Off on a Tangent