Off on a Tangent
A Fortnightly Electronic Newsletter from the Hope College Department of Mathematics
 January 19, 2018 Vol. 16, No. 8

Colloquium: How a computer can determine what bird was heard

Title:  What Bird was Heard?
Speaker:  Paul Pearson, Hope College
Time:  Tuesday, January 23 at 11:00 am
Place:  VanderWerf 102
Have you ever heard a beautiful bird song and wished you could tell what kind of bird it was?  Have you ever wondered how mathematics and technology can be used to identify birds by their songs?  During the past two summers, a team of Hope math professors and undergraduate student researchers have used signal processing and machine learning to identify birds by their songs to a high degree of accuracy.  This talk by Dr. Paul Pearson will feature pictures (and a few formulas) that provide an intuitive understanding of how our research team used wavelets and artificial neural networks to solve this classification problem.

Colloquium: How to win at Tenzi

Title: How to win at Tenzi
Speaker:  Steve Bacinski, Davenport University
Time:  Thursday, February 1 at 11:00 am
Place:  VanderWerf 104
Tenzi is a fun, fast-paced dice game enjoyed by players of all ages. While the game is simple to play, an analysis of the probabilities involved yields many interesting results. We will work through a Markov chain analysis of Tenzi to find the probability of winning in k rolls, the advantage of rolling a speed x faster than your opponent, and ultimately how to win at Tenzi. Along the way, we will discover a function with some interesting properties including predictable jumps at every rational number, and continuous at the irrationals.

Upcoming Colloquia

The  following colloquia are on the schedule for this semester. Additional ones will likely be added later.
  • Thursday, February 8, Anil Venkatesh, Ferris State University
  • Tuesday, February 20, Mark Bollman, Albion College
  • Tuesday, April 3, Ed Aboufadel, Grand Valley State University
  • Tuesday, April 17, Yew Meng Koh, Hope College
  • Thursday, April 26, Martha Precup, Northwestern University

Russell Houpt presents poster at Joint Mathematics Meetings

Mathematics major Russell Houpt traveled to San Diego during the first week of classes this semester to present a poster titled, "Name That Bird: Using Neural Networks to Identify Birds." His poster was presented at the Joint Mathematics Meetings sponsored by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America.

His research explores how neural networks can be used to identify different birds from recordings of their songs. He explored convolutions, wavelets, and neural networks, how they work together, and what techniques were employed to teach the programs how to quickly and accurately identify birds.

Summer workshop on big data available to undergraduates

The University of Michigan Biostatistics, Statistics and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science departments are running a six-week workshop this June and July in Ann Arbor on big data, targeted specifically at undergraduates. There is no cost to attend, and accepted applicants will receive a stipend to cover living expenses.

Lectures will be led by a diverse group of stellar biostatistics, statistics, electrical engineering, and computer science faculty at the University of Michigan. Working in teams, students will participate in mentored big data research projects.

Application closes March 1, 2018 (though an email said offers will start to go out on Feb 15, so don't delay). For more information about the workshop and an application visit

Math in the News: AMS Notices

The Notices is the world's most widely read mathematical journal and is published (almost) monthly  by the American Mathematical Society. Here were a couple articles in this month's edition.
  • Gerrymandering is in the news now, especially in Michigan. A short article, "Can Math Help the Supreme Court Free Congress from Gerrymanders?", looks to see if mathematics can be used to bring about a more fair election process in the United States.
  • In "Taking Mathematics to Heart" the authors explore producing a mathematical model of a heart or better yet, a mathematical model of your heart in order to personalize medicine and find a treatments that work on the individual level.

Problem of the Fortnight

Anna is pulling a heavy sled along level ground by a rope of fixed length L.  Assume Anna begins walking at the origin of a coordinate plane and that the sled is initially at the point (0,L).  She walks to the right along the x-axis dragging the sled behind, as shown in the figure. (Click on the figure to enlarge it.)  Find an equation for the path of the sled.

Write your solution -- showing all your work, please! -- on a sled, a snowman, or a snow flake and drop it by the Problem of the Fortnight slot outside Dr. Pearson's office (VWF 212) by 3:00 p.m. on Friday, January 26.  As always, be sure to include your name and the name(s) of your professor(s) -- e.g. Queen Elsa of Arendelle, Dr. Olaf -- on your solution

You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart

Carol King

Off on a Tangent