## Me Week: How To Write Out Numbers

When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.

How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.

## Some Giant Kids Tromping Around, Plus Mathematics Comics

I don’t mean to brag but over on my mathematics blog I’ve recently had two roundups of mathematically themed comic strips. The “Hatless Aliens” Edition let me reveal that Einstein’s paper introducing “E = mc2 doesn’t actually contain the equation “E = mc2”, so please go over there to read about that. The “Trapezoid” Edition let me introduce someone to Percy Crosby’s classic comic strip Skippy, which I also count as a public service.

To give folks who stick around here something to read, though, might I offer a pair of installments from Winsor McCay’s classic comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland? The backstory is a little involved and hard to summarize since, well, it’s dreamland, but in the installment from September 29, 1907, Nemo and company are sneaking around, best as giants can, Manhattan. In the installment from October 6, well, the sneaking has really advanced to knocking the city over. These things happen.

But it all shows off McCay’s style: incredibly gorgeous artwork drawn with stunning precision — in the second strip look at how consistent the city buildings are between panels 1, 2, and 5, even though it wouldn’t make any difference if they were to vary — and with the loose dreamy narrative that the title of the strip implies. It’s not the kind of comic strip that I could imagine running in the newspapers today. Partly that’s because weekly narrative strips are, except for Prince Valiant, dead; partly that’s because this sort of whimsy is a very hard thing to create or to sustain.

I feel I should say something about Impie, but I don’t know what. The character was picked up earlier along Nemo and Flip’s adventures and I don’t know what I can say.

• 1. 1
• 1. (tie) 6
• 1. (tie) 10
• 1. (tie) 2
• 5. 5
• 5. (tie) 4
• 5. (tie) 9
• 5. (tie) 0
• 9. 8
• 9. (tie) 7
• 9. (tie) 3
• 12. 11
• 12. (tie) 30
• 12. (tie) 12
• 12. (tie) 20
• 16. 15
• 16. (tie) 16
• 18. 18
• 18. (tie) 14
• 18. (tie) 19
• 18. (tie) 13
• 22. 17
• 23. 21
• 23. (tie) 26
• 23. (tie) 22
• 26. 25
• 26. (tie) 24
• 26. (tie) 29
• 29. 28
• 29. (tie) 27
• 29. (tie) 23

## Love Was … (Also: Math Comics, Sadness)

So in all the anticipatory fuss about the comic strip The Better Half coming to its kind of noticed end after 58 years, which is nine years longer than Peanuts, is that another longrunning comic strip you kind of remember seems to be vanishing.

The past week, Bill Asprey’s Love Is…, which is not just a Simpsons joke about two naked eight-year-olds who are married but is actually a thing that exists in the real world, has been rather less obviously existing. It used to appear on gocomics.com, and stopped about a year or so ago; it’d since been appearing on comic sites for newspapers with the right Comics Kingdom subscription, but now that’s gone too. Their official web site still exists, but it’s useless, and if it contains any daily comics I can’t find them.

The comic strip began as a set of love notes that Kim Casali wrote her future husband, Roberto, and it emerged into the newspapers in early 1970. When Roberto was diagnosed with cancer Casali brought in Bill Asprey to work on the strip, and he’s been producing it since 1975, facts which I think add a useful bittersweet touch to a comic strip that’s otherwise very lightweight. Of course, the strip has been running for 44 years now, 17 years longer than Walt Kelly’s Pogo originally ran, and trying to think of something like 13,700 illustratable one-panel expressions of love (the strip doesn’t run Sundays) is a pretty difficult task.

I have no idea what’s happening with it: whether the strip is going out of production, whether its Tribune Media Services syndicate is repositioning it, whether it’s changing syndicates, whether it’s becoming self-syndicated, whether something else is happening.

Since I don’t want to just point you to the lastest roundup of mathematics comics over in my other blog without something that’s also entertaining, let me give you this Sunday’s Funky Winkerbean. Every time you think Tom Batiuk’s produced the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever, along he comes with the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever.

## The Last Half, Plus Math Comics

There’s a rumor going around that at the end of the month Randy Glasbergen’s comic The Better Half will end; at least one newspaper’s already asked readers to tell them what to replace it with because they don’t want to have to make this difficult editorial decision. (Spoiler: they’re going to replace it with a box ad saying people should advertise in the newspaper because newspaper ads are effective, like the one the Trenton Times’s been running as a full-page ad on the back of section one every day for the past six years.)

I imagine the strip ending, if it’s true it is, won’t wreck many people’s lives; to the extent they think of the strip at all it’s probably as “that weak-tea imitator of The Lockhorns,” although actually The Better Half came out first; it debuted in 1956, a dozen years before The Lockhorns got going. But it’s always a bit of a loss to see a comic strip ending, especially one that’s been going since Eisenhower’s first term. I have to admit what I always thought about it, growing up, was that it had that certain indefatigable nature that got it doing five panel jokes on Sundays in addition to the strip-a-day load, although since The Lockhorns did that too it doesn’t even make this strip stand out.

Wikipedia says that a pilot for a sitcom based on it, starring Lily Tomlin and James Coco, was made in the early 70s. I actually would kind of like to know how that turend out; comic-strip-to-live-action adaptations are pretty rare. I know there was a Skippy movie in the 1930s, and a couple Li’l Abner and Barney Google movies, and a string of Blondie films. Dennis the Menace made a successful TV series. I can’t think of successful live-action adaptations since then, though, except for the one you’re right about to name and which I’m going to feel stupid not saying first.

In the meanwhile, my mathematics blog has a bunch of comics to discuss, because comic strips decided Friday the most important thing they could possibly do is say something that inspired me to talk mathematics. I don’t know either.

## Math Comics Plus a Compu-Toon I Found Funny

It’s only fair to say when Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon is not a strange and baffling comic strip with humor only vaguely discernable, so, here it is: the strip from the 6th of November, a panel I understand and find funny. There’s still nothing happening in Apartment 3-G, but it’s a different kind of nothing from what wasn’t happening before, focusing on different characters who aren’t doing anything.

Meanwhile, over in my mathematics blog, there’s a bunch of comics reviewed, and two of them even include pictures.

## Compu-Toon Is Compu-Toon Today. Also: Math Comics

Really, all that the Compu-Toon of November 5th needs to be perfect is for Charles Boyce to have spelled it with an “h”.

Since there is so much nothing that can possibly be said about that let me point readers over to my mathematics blog, where I talk about some mathematics comics that let me get out of the usual rut and into things like infinity, the continuum, cross products, and animal legs. Enjoy, please.

## Comic Strips I Don’t, Do Understand

I haven’t mentioned Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon, the technology comic strip for that aunt you love but who wants you to stop making Google’s logo change into weird stuff for holidays or the birthdays of logicians or stuff, for a while but please be reassured that it still exists and is a thing that carries on. As proof of this I offer the installment from the 19th of October, which clearly means something, although I don’t know what. My best guess is very specific subsets of furry fandom.

Since it’s kind of dismal to talk about nothing but comic strips I dislike let me bring up Michael Fry’s Committed, which ended years ago but is rerunning something from 1999 and that hasn’t aged a day in the past fifteen years. OK, it’s funny in the way people from 1964 dissing the Beatles as this month’s flavor of boy band is funny, but it kind of makes me wonder what’s going wrong with pop culture that kids are still into Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers. I know they have some new stuff that wasn’t around back then, but, I mean, we’d thrown out pretty much everything from 1984 by the time 1999 rolled around.

So if that’s all things I don’t understand, fine, but let me share some things I do understand, in the form of comic strips that discussed mathematical topics, and that I discuss over on my mathematics blog. Enjoy, won’t you please?

## Comic Strip _Momma_ Descending Into Madness

By everything I have ever heard on the topic, Mell Lazarus, the cartoonist for Miss Peach (which I have heard endlessly praised but never, ever seen, except in parodies of it) and Momma, is one of the sweetest persons to know. Having him in your set of acquaintances is reportedly a minor but noticeable blessing of life. I haven’t got any reason to disbelieve this. But whatever his greatness as a person is, there is the point that his comic strip is Momma, and like many comic strips that have been running since the era of the Petticoat Affair, it’s really not all that funny. You can make out the outlines where it was funny once upon a time, or should have been, but it seems to be around mostly because once a comic strip has been running for ten years nothing will ever stop its running.

Lately, though, it’s taken a weird turn, to the point that I have to wonder if the comic really is descending into madness. The most recent baffling example of this comes from this past Sunday’s strip. I have nothing but love for the mock-factual comedic form; it’s always been one of my favorites. And I appreciate a comic strip delivering information with a light humorous tone; Tim Rickard’s Brewster Rockit, Space Guy! often does this for Sunday strips. But this … this just approaches the Dadaist weirdness of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, except for leaving me confused about “On Oct. 13th [Mr. Moon’s] a fan of Columbus” is even supposed to mean. At least Zippy I know is just stringing amusing syllables together.

Meanwhile, if that’s not enough for you, my mathematics blog has a couple of new comic strips up for discussion, although this time, none of them are actually pictured. You can just imagine what happend in them, or you’d rather, can follow the links. They’re in there somewhere.

## Math Comics and Dave Barry

My mathematics blog has got a fresh bunch of comic strips to talk about, thanks largely to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and Eric the Circle, but there’s also The Little King, if you have a vague memory of seeing that somewhere.

Meanwhile, today is after all the 8th of October, an important running joke in Dave Barry Slept Here, a truly grand mock history of the United States. So I’d like to not explain that and instead point to “The Chuckletrousers Decades”, about a moment of the early Popular Internet and Dave Barry’s role in it. Thank you, won’t you?

## Math Comics and Mind Melds

I’m not looking particularly to cause trouble, I should say, but Comic Strip Master Command decided everybody had to tell jokes about mathematics so my blog over that way has another article gathering them. Please consider reading, won’t you? It’s literally just one browser tab over to the left, at least the way I make it out.

In the meanwhile I was figuring to go back to hanging out and talking on this Star Trek forum that I mostly like, even if the technology talk sometimes gets a little fractious, and then I see someone started up a post asking people to list their favorite mind-melds, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be doing something else with my time. I should, but that seems like too much work, too.

## Why I Am Not Talking About Apartment 3-G

Over on my mathematics blog (sorry, LFFL) there’s been a fresh round of comic strips that I can talk about. I also found reason to talk about Robert Benchley, who so long ago provided the only productivity advice you’ll ever need. It’s just that good.

Meanwhile I would kind of like-ish to update you with what’s driving me crazy about Apartment 3-G but you kind of knew that already: it spent all summer of nothing but Tommie and Some Other Woman talking to each other about how they were going to talk to each other without actually doing it. Finally after months of nothing going on a guy that I guess they were both kind of attracted to, in that Apartment 3-G form of attraction where “the guy appears on camera several times in a row, I guess”, now the strip has turned to This Guy and Some Other Woman talking about they have something to talk about, which they seem set up to say to each other over and over without actually doing it. This has got to be some Andy Kaufman-esque attempt to see just how far they can go without readers rising up in rebellion, which is going to fail, because Darby Conley has put Get Fuzzy in unannounced and unexplained reruns since last November without driving himself off all the comics pages yet, and Brooke McEldowney of 9 Chickweed Lane went completely nuts sometime around 2008 and his comic is still going.

## Later That Same Afternoon …

Over on my mathematics blog, there’ve been a bunch of comic strips worth mentioning over there, and I like to think that’s worth mentioning over here, if you don’t think that’s me talking about myself too much.

If you do, well, I understand, but remember my exasperation at how Apartment 3-G just turned into two randomly-arranged heads talking about how they couldn’t talk about what they were going to talk about? And this had been going on with no exaggeration since chasing some green-shirted … woman that also looks like one of those forgotten signers of the Declaration of Independence … away with their hideous deer-kangaroo-fox-nightmare, back on the 13th of July?

Well. I certainly don’t want to suggest something exciting happening after 59 days, since it is Apartment 3-G and everything, but the strip for the 9th of September kind of suggests that maybe sometime in the next week or two we might see a third person of some kind. Maybe.

There’s no sign of the strip actually having anything happen, and the most logical person to be turning up is someone who rode off back in June to “face his demons”, which I would have thought kind of interesting-ish to see, and apparently we didn’t. There’s also no sign of the strip getting back to the apartment, which we haven’t seen since, if I’m reading the featureless background correctly, the 11th of May, which is 122 days ago. But at least it’s suggesting that something might someday happen to someone, and we might hear about it from someone on-screen. Maybe.

## Statistics Saturday on Labor Day: Humor Blogging In August 2014

So on to my monthly examination of whether anyone actually read my little humor blog here anytime recently. The good news is people seem to have: WordPress’s statistics in fact say I had my greatest number yet of unique visitors this past month, 369 of them, up from July’s then-record of 332. The total number of page views declined very slightly, to 682 from July’s record 704, and this suggests the number of views per visitor collapsed very modestly from 2.12 down to 1.85, but I’m comfortable with that. I reached viewer number 7,864 by the end of the month, and 7,865 just after the start of the next.

I had a nice, broad-based popularity this past month, with a remarkable-to-me 27 posts getting ten or more views, so it isn’t like people just find the one, probably Turbo-based, page and ignore the rest of what I have to write. That’s comforting. August 2014’s most popular posts around here were apparently:

From all the nations of the world the United States sent me the most readers in August (514). The United Kingdom nearly doubled its readership (57, up from 32), and Australia came in at 30 which is again some kind of increase though I admit I don’t know how many. And Spain popped in with ten readers which I didn’t see coming. A single reader each came from Germany, Moldova, Qatar, Sweden, and Uruguay. Germany was the only single-reader country last month. India, which went from one reader in May and June, to three in July, was up to six in August. This is a pretty good trend, though I’m still doing rather better per-capita in Singapore (three).

And, so, what search terms bring people around here? It hasn’t been the kind of month to inspire much poetry but among the search terms have een:

• robert benchley
• koko clown end of world
• turbo the film facts kids (also) what was an interesting fact about turbo the movie
• 2038 dave barry
• joan randall barefoot captain future

I don’t understand that last one either.

## Some Comics, Plus A Confession

Over on my mathematics blog is a fresh round of comic strips which have mathematical themes, or that I can drag in to having mathematical themes. I hope you enjoy.

If you don’t, please enjoy this utterly true confession: I laughed at Ziggy today. And on reflection, I believe that laugh to be correct and appropriate and I stand by it.

## Clown Arrested After Hitting Man In Face With Pi

I’m not precisely sure whether this belongs more as a reblog on my mathematics or my humor blog but, what the heck. Austin Hodgens, the Modern Philosopher, brings to general attention news of Calculo, the Math-Loving Clown. It turns out that Maine is kind of a strange place when you get right down to it.

(I have to admit, I really can’t get into the fear of clowns that so many people report having, but I do have what I think a reasonable and proportionate fear of being smashed in the face with hard, sharp objects, which I think is really important to the goings-on here.)

Hodgens, I should point out, is an indefatigable writer with a long series of “news reports from Maine” which make the place out to sound like a strange, wondrous land of curious events, which is correct.

Calculo, The Math Loving Clown, was arrested and charged with assault after hitting a Milford man in the face with Pi.

The incident occurred at a child’s birthday party, and the victim, who asked to remain anonymous, was the father of a guest.

According to witnesses, Calculo had been entertaining the guests by making irrational numbers out of balloons, solving humorous math equations, and quizzing kids on the decimal values of fractions.

“Then it kinda went to hell in a hand basket wicked quick,” Tom Beecher, a parent of one of the guests, told this Modern Philosopher.  “The Math Clown asked everyone who loved Pi.  Of course, all the kids raised their hands.  Some of the parents did, too.”

What happened next will be a part of birthday party lore for centuries, and further fuel the world’s fear of both clowns and math.

“He reached into his bag of tricks…

View original post 237 more words

## Math Comics, And, What The Heck, A Comic Strip Whose Existence I Can’t Explain

My mathematics blog had another roundup of comic strips, so do please go over and read that if you haven’t already. If you have read it, you’re welcome to read it again, but it won’t have changed all that much since you looked at it last time. Maybe there’ll be a couple more tiny icons of people who’ve clicked the “like” button, so if you’re a fan of tiny icons there’s that to look forward to.

If not, then, let me fill out this post by bringing up Donna A Lewis’s Reply All, surely one of the most alleged comic strips to be in print today. And it is literally in print, like, running in newspapers. Comic strips have always valued writing over artwork — a comic strip with funny final panels will go farther than a bland strip with great artwork, however odd that might seem for a visual medium like comics — but here, well. I can see the humor, but it’s up against such a wall of bad artwork I just do not understand how this is more than just the comic strip that runs in the daily student newspaper because unspeakably terrible things get to run in the daily student newspaper. And Lewis gets two comics, with the panel-strip version Reply All Lite, which I just do not understand at all.

I don’t want to be cranky, and I don’t want to sound like I’m calling for Lewis’s head or anything. I have no reason to think she’s anything but a pleasant person with good friends and a useful day job (the only cartoonist who can afford to live just on the comic strip is Charles Schulz) and appealing hobbies and all. I just offer this for you to gape at and not understand.

## Math Comics and You Know What Else?

Once more my mathematics blog has gotten enough comic strips to talk about that I’m talking about it over here so you can go read my talking about it there. Does that seem fair to you?

Attached to these kinds of posts lately I’ve put up a bunch of comics to point out how Compu-Toon doesn’t make sense, or maybe some other comic strip does. I don’t want you to think I’m turning into one of the estimated every blogger in existence in reading the comics and complaining about them, though, so I offer you instead some space here in which you may consider the meaning of comic strips and what their significance in the modern information economy is. Please let me know if you turn up something interesting. Here goes:

(Anything come up?)

## How To Write Out Numbers

Here are some rules for writing numbers.

For whole numbers under ten, write them out as words. For ten, 11, and twelve, discuss the matter with your copy editor, engaging in a long-running and frank exchange of typographical views that will, as always, end with at least one of the parties arrested for stuffing a body part into a toaster on the “bagel” setting that is itself stuffed into a composting pit, and might bring in some other parties who will discover they can not believe these other people are allowed to vote or hold sharp objects such as hula hoops. If the argument is not productive enough bring up the matter of zero and what results will surely end with arson. For numbers larger than twelve use digits, as they’re too tedious if given the chance to be words. Exceptions: googol googolplex either neither fimble flumble seizure leisure sixty-four caffeine.

When writing a string of numbers it’s important to alternate between digits and words for clarity, as for example in the famous aircraft being the Boeing “seven40seven” or the less famous aircraft the Boeing “7.thirty.7”. In addition to reading clarity the graphic design potential is powerful, and if you can’t imagine a trendy club writing its address this way you’ve failed graphic design class and probably can’t even recognize Futura when you see it, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person but does mean we’ll have to have someone watching whenever you walk into the campus’s Fine Arts Library.

Percentages should never be referred to in print, as they make the reader suspect this is a word problem and the reader will go off to the bridge column. They may be used in PowerPoint slides only if the percent symbol is animated, rotating around one or two axes but not the third.

Negative numbers require special protection so as not to startle skittish readers. Besides being denoted with a minus sign they should be preceded by a man on foot waving a large red flag, and followed by another man ringing a bell. It is good practice to surround the number in parentheses, in case of spilling, and to be printed in red ink, lest the supply of red ink get noticeably too large. At that, you’ll want to have your copy reviewed by trained professional mathematicians. Do not rely on the untrained kind, as they will try to clean up spilled negative numbers by having them (the numbers) eaten by a goat. Trained professional mathematicians will call in something from accredited accounting ungulates.

Imaginary numbers may be written any old way you like, as the non-mathematical reader thinks you’re just making them up anyway, while the mathematically inclined roll their eyes and sigh knowingly whenever the subject comes up. Really, you probably don’t even have to do that much. Rewrite the sentence to avoid the whole subject, even if you have to change the essay’s subject from the history of polynomials into, oh, lumps of putty.

If you need to pluralize a number go wild and add an apostrophe before the s or es, as in: 7.thirty.7’es. In fact, nobody’s ever lived to regret adding apostrophes where they’re not needed, so, what the heck, toss in something so, like, this year is known as 201’4, or the population of the United States as 317′,84’2,’000. Apostrophes are also cool if you need to omit the part of the number that’s boring. Why not try writing the volume of your refrigerator in cubic inches as 14’82 and leave the reader to work out the omitted numbers for their fun and mental exercise, other than that if the reader finds out where you live they might jab you with an apostrophe in front of the toaster?

Know the difference between ordinal and cardinal numbers! If mixed they will fight until one is stuffed into a toaster and the other sneaks off to make long-distance calls on your land line. In cases of ambiguity remember that cardinal numbers are nearly invariably Rh-positive while ordinal numbers are afraid of bats, owing to the longstanding resentment of ordinal numbers for vampire novels after their manuscripts were rejected.

If you don’t like those rules, try some other ones. That’ll go well.

## Over There, Mathematics Comics

Over on the mathematics blog I’ve posted some discussion of a half-dozen comics that mention mathematics themes. If that seems a little vague to you, I’ve also included an alleged mathematics joke that I’ve never seen anybody actually tell and why it should be termed a joke.

I’m embarrassed that I don’t have anything more to offer in terms of comic strips right now, not even one that I thought was funny like the Mary Worth where everybody’s horrified at having to talk with Mary, so let me offer the search term poetry that has brought people to here the past couple weeks:

• spoof text title math and cartoon strip
• cricket nebus
• nobody ever died for dear old rutgers
• pearls before swine math comic
• cool facts about the turbo movie
• if- then form in mathematics comics strip
• rbert benchley jokes of the day

I’m not surprised that searches for mathematics comic strips are bringing people here. And I’m not surprised that somebody searching for “nebus” might find me because it’s a pretty distinctive name, but how cricket gets into the mix I don’t know. I’ve stared at the game without understanding what’s going on, certainly, and can kind of see how it’s related to baseball, and years ago my office computer in Singapore had a bookmark for a pretty nice cricket simulator Java applet (remember Java applets that did anything besides provide advertisements and security flaws?) and I could fiddle around with that without ever knowing what I was doing.

Also I’m curious about the writings of this “rbert benchley”, and imagine that on finding some I’ll be a fn.

(Well, seriously: Robert Benchley Jokes of the Day? He’s funny in small amounts, sure, but his Benchley touch really needs paragraphs, preferably essays, to be funny. A Benchley line by itself doesn’t show the writing off well.)

## What It Means To Be A Math Major

Primarily, it means I just can not believe these people who go out memorizing the value of $e$ — the base of the natural logarithm — to only five places after the decimal point. I mean, come on, the second through fifth digits are repeated in the sixth through ninth positions! If you’ve bothered to memorize the first five digits past the decimal point then you’ve got the first nine down. Why deny yourself the free fruits of your mental labors? And don’t go telling me that it’s because you memorized it in base two or base sixteen or one of those silly other bases absolutely nobody needs. If we were talking about memorizing the value of $e$ in base twelve then we wouldn’t have talked about the decimal point, would we? We’d be talking about the radix point. Sheesh.

Secondarily, it means I believe in the existence of people who’ve memorized the value of $e$ to a mere five places past the decimal point.

## You Can Send Me Any Obsoleted Bills For Responsible Care

You know, it’s just a convention that we (I’m talking here about the United States) put out money in denominations of one and five and ten and twenty dollars, plus some other highly fictional amounts like fifty or a hundred or even two dollars. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it in a more orderly fashion, by which is meant the way computer programmers would do it, which is in denominations of one, two, four, eight, sixteen, and so on. Then an ordinary transaction could be much more logically handled, like this:

“Hundred and forty dollars, all right … uh … here’s a 64-dollar bill, and … 140 minus 64 is … more than 64, right? Well, I guess I have a 32 here and that’s … 140 minus 32 is … wait, 32 and 64 is … something and then that away from 140 is … uh … I could swear I had a couple 8-dollar bills when I set out this morning and … uh … OK, 140 minus 64 has to be like 86 … 76, thanks, and then from that I take away 32 and … no, I put in 32 and … ”

All right, so we’d have a couple more people who finish buying things at the supermarket by curling up in a ball and weeping, but that’s why the rest of us have credit cards for crying out loud.

## Over on the Other Blog: Comic Strips!

It’s not got quite so large a fan base — well, I post less, because it’s harder work — but I do keep up a mathematics blog where among other things I review comic strips that have touched on mathematical themes. I’ve just put up a fresh summary of this past month’s, and if you’d care for pointers to a bunch of comic strips and some mention of what they’re talking about, please visit.

I should warn you that this includes a lot of comic strips that you probably didn’t know existed, because somehow I keep finding comics like Rabbits Against Magic or On A Claire Day that nobody else has ever heard of or read. At least people have heard of Mutt and Jeff, although they stopped reading it back in the Coolidge administration, and maybe remember hearing about Wee Pals. It’s a talent I somehow have.

Numbers have been used for things for thousands of years, longer if we count stopping for lunch. But surely the greatest breakthrough was when people started to use numbers for numbers, instead of the other way around. So let’s take a chance to review some interesting and quirky facts about various numbers and avoid the people who make a big fuss about the difference between numbers and numerals.

-20. This the so-called “ambiguous point”, as for negative numbers less than this, it’s clear that “becoming bigger” means a more negative number; while for numbers greater than this, “becoming bigger” might mean becoming more negative or more positive depending on just how quarrelsome the person you’re trying to speak with is being.

-8. According to most historians of mathematics, this is the number which should properly be 0 so as to make the number line work wholly sensibly.

-4. This is of historic importance as -4 was the first expansion number ever to appear in the playoffs, and (three years later) was the first to win. This set off a “gold rush” as people sought easy success in other negative numbers and while the field has proved useful this pioneering number, as so often happens, saw its fortunes dwindle. In 1964 a statewide reorganization merged it with negative 5 and negative pi, but the need to establish a regional snow-clearing plan means that its administrative organization is equivalent to being a separate number in all but legal name.

0.78. Packing fraction for pretty much everything.

1.000000 … 00003. This is the smallest number that’s still larger than 1.

6. This is the average number of days the typical American will lose, per year, to chanting the drum parts of the theme from George of the Jungle. Of course, while you’re busy chanting it the day doesn’t seem lost at all; if anything, it seems to be picking up quite nicely and actually going into the lyrics feels like a mild step down.

4.587. This is a phony number slipped in as a copyright trap by the Hammond World Atlas Corporation. The four was based on a real number (seven), but the digits past the decimal are believed to have been selected by Caleb Stillson Hammond as the sort of whimsy for which he was so well known. It slipped into the regular number line following a famous yet confusing court ruling which determined that whatever Lieutenant Columbo’s first name was, it wasn’t “Lucius”.

8. This is a most popular base for numbers among people who are fans of base eight, such as those who are programming computers in the 1960s. Some adherents insist we should move to base eight, on the grounds of they have reasons, but they overlook the increased property taxes which combined with moving expenses make the prospect wholly uneconomical. Just nod vacantly and scuttle off to some important business, possibly in base five.

16. This is a fascinating number as it records the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully write the song “On Top Of Spaghetti”.

17.113. The most seventeen-est of numbers, according to a survey of leading mathematics departments who were kidding. There’s just no appreciation for good sarcasm anymore.

18. And this is the number of additional years after the invention of the atomic bomb that it required humanity to successfully record “On Top Of Spaghetti”.

138. This is the smallest number (by avoirdupois weight) to never be used for anything except appearances in lists of numbers with some interesting or uninteresting property to them.

311. This is the number most convincingly prime-like of all the numbers people can’t be bothered to quite figure out whether is prime or not. 313 is a pretty good one too except that one really feels like it ought to be divisible by 17. We keep checking it to make sure it hasn’t changed its mind.

$\sqrt{\imath}$. This is a popular number among people who think they’re being puckishly whimsical about algebra or who have stumbled across the mathematical equivalent of “how do I know I’m not just dreaming I’m awake?” The answer is that if you were just dreaming you were awake, you would know whether the blue you see is the same hue as the red other people see. See also: Boltzmann brains.

$\sqrt{j - k}$. The scariest quaternion in the world.

[ Also, for the non-bots following me, and who like mathematics stuff, I do keep up a mathematics-focused blog, with less efforts on my part to be generally silly. ]