EppsNet Archive: Math

Are You Smarter Than a Common Core Algebra Student?

1 Dec 2015 /

You can test your Common Core algebra skills against a 5-question sample test courtesy of the the New York Times. For all the controversy about Common Core, the questions seem pretty basic even for a person with an aging brain (I frigging CRUSHED it with a perfect 5 out of 5), the one exception being a graphing problem that should separate the mathematicians from the wannabes.

How hard is New York's high school algebra exam? 5 questions to test your math skills.

Posted by The New York Times on Monday, November 30, 2015

If Math Was Taught Like Science

4 Jun 2015 /

When is Diversity Not a Dilemma?

26 Feb 2015 /

I just read yet another brief — Solving the Diversity Dilemma — regarding lack of diversity in the STEM workforce.

If members of Group X are underrepresented in some professions, they must be overrepresented in others. For example, I used to work with a nursing organization . . . women far outnumber men in nursing but for the five years I worked there I never heard anyone talk about the shortage of men in nursing being a dilemma, crisis, etc., or suggesting that anything be done to change it.

I work in a STEM field. It’s a good job for me but not for everyone. My son (age 21) for example, never showed any interest in it and I don’t think he’ll be any less happy in life because he’s not working in STEM. There are pluses and minuses like any other profession.

Simple but possibly valid explanation for STEM demographics: Not everyone wants to work in STEM.

A Mega Millions Lottery Ticket is a Good Investment

12 Mar 2014 /

Mega Millions uses 75 numbers for the first five selections and 15 numbers for the Mega ball.

The number of unique combinations of five numbers selected from a pool of 75 is

\frac{75!}{5!(75-5)!} = 17,259,390

Multiply that times 15 possibilities for the Mega ball and the odds of winning come out to 1 in 258,890,850.


Any time you can get 350 million to one odds on a 258 million to one bet, you’ve got to take it.

The Hardest Available Challenge

22 Feb 2014 /

One of my colleagues at work has a son in 6th grade. She’s trying to figure out which math class to put him in for 7th grade.

Yuna Kim

Working backward, we know that “normal” kids take Algebra I in 9th grade, the smarter kids take Algebra I in 8th grade, and the smartest kids take Algebra I in 7th grade. Placement depends on how a kid scores on the math placement test.

My co-worker’s concern is if her kid gets a top score on the placement test and he’s eligible to take Algebra I in 7th grade, does she want him to do that, or to wait till 8th grade?

If he takes Algebra I in 7th grade, that would mean he’d be taking the hardest math classes all through high school. Would it be better from a college admission standpoint to take easier classes and get all A’s, or take the hardest classes and maybe get a B+?

Our kid has already been through the Irvine schools. He’s in college now so I can answer questions like this with the benefit of experience.

“I like to see kids push themselves to take the hardest challenge available,” I said. “Colleges are not impressed with kids who get A’s in easy classes.”

“But what if he takes hard classes and gets a B+?” she asked.

“My advice is, don’t get a B+.”

If your kid takes hard classes in high school and gets B’s in them, he or she may not be able to attend a top university, but it wasn’t their destiny to attend a top university. Your kid is not that kind of a kid.


That reminds me . . . Olympic figure skating is on TV this week. Are you watching it? Neither am I, but I’ve heard that some of the skaters actually fall down during their program.

They’re supposed to be the best skaters in the world. Even I could go out there and skate around for a few minutes without falling down. Granted, I couldn’t do any spins or jumps or skate backwards or anything like that.

The point is that to be recognized as the best at something, you can’t just do easy things well. You have to risk doing things that are hard to do. In the skating scenario, it’s not enough to say “I didn’t fall on my ass.” No, you didn’t, but you didn’t even try to do anything hard.

In any endeavor, you won’t impress people of discernment simply by avoiding anything that might give you some difficulty. Step up to the challenge.

We’re Still Smarter Than You Are

7 Dec 2013 /

Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results released Tuesday.

Harvard emblem

Why am I not shocked by that?

Because Americans on the whole are dumb and lazy. We have lots of dumb, lazy parents raising dumb, lazy kids. The average American kid doesn’t compare well academically to the average kid in an Asian country where academics and hard work are valued, or to the average kid from a small, homogenous European country where it’s easier to get everyone pulling in the same educational direction.

The U.S. is a big, diverse country and the average academic results are pulled down by a lot of dummkopfs.

But still, the smartest people in the world are Americans. Our smartest people are smarter than the smartest people in other lands.

You don’t think so? I’m looking at the list of winners of the 2013 Nobel Prizes . . . out of 11 recipients (I’m omitting the winners of the literature and peace prizes because those aren’t academic awards), eight are from the U.S. The other three are from Belgium, the UK and France, and the Frenchman is affiliated with Harvard University.

No one in Asian countries is winning any Nobel Prizes. Q.E.D.

Fast Work

17 Nov 2013 /

A junior high school math teacher posted this on Facebook:


That makes perfect sense to me. Work gets done a lot faster if the results don’t have to be correct.

Thus spoke The Programmer.

Screw Economics

23 Jan 2013 /

One of the classes I’m taking on Coursera is Principles of Economics for Scientists, taught by Prof. Antonio Rangel at Cal Tech.

First of all, it’s a great class. Rangel has a real passion for the material and he’s provided extra resources to accomodate online students, many of whom probably don’t have the math background of the average Cal Tech student.

He’s from Madrid, so his pronunciations and mannerisms are different, like the gesture below, which I captured from one of the video lectures.

Prof. Antonio Rangel

He was explaining how something or other would increase our understanding of economics and he punctuated the word “understanding” by pointing at his head with two fingers. I don’t know what this gesture means in Spain, or if it means anything at all. Probably he knows what it means in America, but as I said, he’s passionate about the material and I think he loses himself in what he’s saying.

He’s also one of the only two people I know who pronounce the word “subsequent” as sub-SEEK-went, the other being one of my work colleagues, who’s actually from this country and therefore has no excuse . . .

“Keep it Simple,” Nobel Prize Winner Advises

22 Jan 2012 /
English: Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, C...

Image via Wikipedia

I soon was taught that [Linus] Pauling’s accomplishment was a product of common sense, not the result of complicated mathematical reasoning. Equations occasionally crept into his argument, but in most cases words would have sufficed. The key to Linus’ success was his reliance on the simple laws of structural chemistry. The \alpha-helix had not been found by only staring at X-ray pictures; the essential trick, instead, was to ask which atoms like to sit next to each other. In place of pencil and paper, the main working tools were a set of molecular models superficially resembling the toys of preschool children.

We could thus see no reason why we should not solve DNA in the same way. All we had to do was to construct a set of molecular models and begin to play — with luck, the structure would be a helix. Any other type of configuration would be much more complicated. Worrying about complications before ruling out the possibility that the answer was simple would have been damned foolishness. Pauling never got anywhere by seeking out messes.

Tips for Test Takers

3 Mar 2010 /
Boy doing math problems

My son has a math test today. He was up till 3 a.m. studying for it.

In my experience, a positive mindset is essential to successful test-taking, so on the drive to school, I give him a piece of advice.

“Walk into the classroom,” I say, “look at the teacher and lay down a challenge, like ‘Let’s do it.'”

“It’s not her test,” the boy says.

“What does that mean?”

“It means every class takes the same test — Schneider, D’Antonio . . .”

“THAT DOESN’T MATTER,” I say. “The important thing is to lay down the challenge. ‘Stop bitin’ on my styles.’ Granted, that one doesn’t make any sense, but it gives you the positive mental framework that you need for mathematical success.”

Things I Love to Do on a Hot Summer Evening

2 Sep 2009 /

My son’s going into 11th grade next week. He’s got a couple of honors classes, a couple of AP classes, Spanish 3 and a music class.

It looks like a very tough schedule to me — he’s also got college entrance exams this year — but that’s where his academic history has brought him and he says he wants to do it.

One thing I didn’t know about AP classes is that they start giving kids assignments during summer vacation. He’s working on ’em right now!

He asked me for a little help on the physics assignment so I get to do two things I love to do on a hot summer evening: sip premium tequila on ice with a lime, and solve problems like this:

A kangaroo jumps to a vertical height of 2.7m. How long is it in the air before returning to Earth?

Oh I’m in heaven!

Americans are Mathematically Illiterate

2 Mar 2009 /
Boy doing math problems

If anyone ever told you there’s no reason to learn math in school, they are absolutely right!

Americans are so mathematically illiterate that you’re better off learning to speak Klingon if you want anyone to understand you.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve walked through a mathematical demonstration of some concept and gotten back a reply like “Well I don’t see any reason why . . .” or “Let’s have a meeting to discuss that.”

God, it’s painful.

If you’re still in school, don’t bother learning any more math than you absolutely have to. It’ll just come back to haunt you.

Homework Follies

30 Sep 2008 /
Boy doing math problems

My son just came downstairs for a visit . . .

“‘What’s due tomorrow?'” he says in his Dopey Dad voice.

Then back in his normal voice: “Math and Spanish. (Dopey Dad voice) ‘Are they done yet?’ (Normal voice) Spanish is done. I still have a little bit of math. (Dopey Dad voice) ‘Do you need me to check anything?’ (Normal voice) No.”

Now he’s waiting for a reaction from me, which he’s not going to get.

“I just did your job for you,” he says.


Dinner Conversation

19 Feb 2008 /

“The boy I started tutoring in algebra a couple weeks ago,” I say, “his mom told me he got a C on his last test.”

“You’re fired,” my son says.

My wife stares at me in disbelief for a few seconds.

Finally she says, “That’s not your fault. You can only do so much in one hour a week.”

“Actually,” I say, “she thought that was great. It all depends on your expectations.”

Mrs. Bryant Throws the Gyroball

26 Apr 2007 /
Boy doing math problems

My son’s having some trouble with 8th grade Algebra. When I work with him on it, I can see that he knows the material and he can do the calculations . . . his biggest problem is a fatalistic, let’s-get-it-over-with, I’m-no-good-at-math attitude, which leads to careless errors, and frustration if his first approach to a problem doesn’t work.

I encourage him to take a more positive attitude, to go into the next test saying positive things to himself, like “I know this material” and “I can handle these questions.”

“But I don’t know it,” he says. “Mrs. Bryant [his math teacher] throws the gyroball every pitch! And sometimes she hits me with it!”

What we have here is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy . . .

The Geometry of Politics

6 Apr 2007 /

On the heels of my kid’s discovery that his tour group will not be break dancing their way across our nation’s capital, comes another disappointment — his tyrannical math teacher has been added to the list of chaperones.

“She’ll probably say, ‘Oh, Casey, I’m glad you’re here. Why don’t you calculate the volume of the White House?'”

Homework Follies

8 Oct 2006 /

“This is racist,” my son says.

I look over to see what he’s talking about. He’s sitting on the sofa doing math homework.

Boy doing math problems

“What’s racist?” I ask. “The math book?”

“Yeah. They have answers in the back for problem 9 and problem 13, but not problem 11. Because I’m a Mexican.”

“You’re a Mexican?!

“I’m a mixed kid,” he corrects me. His mom is Asian.

“You think the white kids’ book has the answer to number 11?”

“Yup. The Asian kids’ book has got all the answers.”


“Dude, check this out. Jackson collected s seashells. Petra and Tyrone collected 13 less than twice s. Now here’s the stupid part: I have to figure out how many seashells each person collected! COME ON! And the racist book doesn’t have the answers!”

I say, “Jackson’s pretty lame if a girl collected more than he did.”

“He’s pathetic!

A Lesson in Procrastination

10 Sep 2006 /

My son’s supposed to be finishing up his first 8th grade assignment — a math collage for his Algebra class — but instead he’s bouncing a basketball around the house.

Boy bouncing basketball

“Finsh the assignment!” my wife says. “No more procrastinating!”

“I’m not PRO-CRAS-TI-NA-TING!” the boy yells, punctuating each syllable by slamming the ball on the floor.

“You are procrastinating,” I say.

“Stay out of it,” my wife says.

“You see how long it took him just to say ‘procrastinating’? That’s procrastinating.”

Homework Follies

12 Jun 2006 /
Boy doing math problems

My son asks for help with a homework problem in math. The main point of contention with math homework is that when he asks for help, he’d like me to just do the problem for him, while I prefer to try and steer his thinking in the right direction, even though it takes a lot longer.

“This is like the problem you helped me with last night,” he says. “Let’s try not to have a one-hour conversation about it this time.”

Homework Follies

12 Mar 2005 /

“How did you multiply this times 2.5 and get this?” I ask.

Boy doing math problems

He looks at the problem for a while.

“I multiplied it a different way,” he says.


ME: Shouldn’t this answer be 41 instead of 71?

HIM: No, Alex.

ME: Why are you calling me Alex?

HIM: What is “no”?


He’s reading a word problem aloud:

“Maggie was traveling with her family on the Oregon Trail. The first day, they traveled 11 miles, the second day they traveled 9 miles, and the third day they traveled 14 miles.”


“Now that was a good story!”