Monday, November 20, 2006


I suspect all mathematicians are incredibly pedantic. Alice once asked me whether I had to be incredibly picky on details that really don't matter. My answer? Well yes, yes I do. It's probably a habit picked up from attempting to be rigorous in our solutions to the questions, where one has to be very accurate in what one says. Admittedly this admirable goal is rarely acheived, but we usually KNOW when we are doing it, and are fudging it because we are unable to give a better solution.

As a habit I imagine it is an annoying one, as my family will attest to. I would say my friends would attest to it too, and they probably would, but at university at least, most of my friends ARE mathematicians, and will quite happily jump on the inaccuracies in my statements as I will pick on the innacuracies in theirs. I dunno, it's NICE to be correct.... but it can earn you some rather unfortunate looks.

Two quick jokes-

A fire starts in a hotel, where an engineer, a physicist and a mathematician are staying. The engineer, smelling smoke, dashes out, fills a bucket to the brim, losing time as he does so, but manages to put the fire out.

Unfortunately the fire starts again, and this time the physicist comes out. He glances at the fire, sees a glass nearby, does some quick calculations, fills the glass full of water and puts out the fire.

Yet again the fire starts, and this time the mathematician comes out. He sees the fire, and sees a thimble. Quick as a flash, he begins writing complicated equations on a blackboard, filling it up and erasing it several times. Smiling, he says "Yes, I CLOULD put out the fire with that" and goes back to bed.

A fire starts in a room where an engineer, a physicist and a statistician are saying.

"Quick, pour water on it!" Cries the engineer

"No deprive it of oxygen!" Says the physicist.

In response the statistician starts feverishly running around the room and creating more fires

"What the hell are you doing?" The other two ask

"Creating a decent sample size!"


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