Afternoon Inquisition 3.14


Happy Pi Day, everyone! Hope you’re all having a good time reciting digits or throwing cream pies at each other or drawing circles or whatever you’ve decided to do in commemoration of this geeky high holiday.

Since we’re celebrating math-y things today, here is your assignment:

Tell me, public service announcement style, how math impacts your daily existence. What kind of math do you use in your everyday life or at work? Am I the only freak who invents new (and probably less efficient) ways of doing my job so I can use trig (hey–construction work gets boring, alright)? Bonus points if you actually make me a “The More You Know…” video.

*extra bonus points if you can tell me what’s wrong with the above picture.

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  1. I use math in my job, but not in any kind of exciting way.
    I just wanted the extra bonus points for pointing out what was wrong with the picture. The fourth digit after the decimal point is wrong. It should be 3.1415… not 3.1412. I suspect the pie crust “5” just got flipped over.
    Alas, it could happen to anyone.

  2. How could ANYTHING be wrong with a home-baked cherry pi? :-P

    As far as mathematics goes, I no longer use it much in my daily work. However, in the airline industry, I used it constantly. I used the “big four” (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), as well as graphing for aircraft weight and balance calculations. I also used the big four to calculate fares, percentages, cargo rates, dimensional weight, etc.

  3. I’m an engineering student. Math is my life. Differential equations, deformation equations and compatibility, vector calculus, fluid mechanics, matrix algebra and good ol fashioned multivariable calc with a healthy dose of trigonometry and probabilistic mechanics to boot.

  4. I don’t use anywhere near all the math I’ve learned. Just not much use for calculus running a jewelry business. However geometry, ratios, and anything else to do with measuring objects, I use those everyday along with as QuestionAuthority put it “the Big Four” is pretty important for all the bookkeeping I have to do.

  5. The 16th digit after the decimal point is also flipped: 3.1415926535897932, not 3.141[5]926535897935. And I didn’t even need to look that up. I don’t know whether I should be very proud or very embarrassed.

  6. I’m only minutes away from 1:59 with no pie in sight!! Aghh!

    My friend and I were just trying to think of ways to make this event even nerdier and decided that a square pie made of taro root would probably work well.

  7. Basic math is used daily in medicine . Pediatric doses are in mg/kg. Reading studies require an understanding of statistics. Adult risk reduction conversations require number substitution. And on and on and on. I don’t use trig or geometry at work and though calculus isn’t used perse, the concept of knowing an area under the curve is important when looking at some clinical data. Finally, when a patient reveals they are incontinent it’s a huge difference in knowing the difference between number one … and number two.

  8. as a power station worker I use math constantly but not in the nuts and bolts sense.
    I dont need to invoke differential equations to select a ramp-up setting for a generator, I simply leaf through the manual, but understanding what the pretty curves and graphs actually mean would be impossible without at least some education.

    Also, Actual work done by this electrician on night shift = diddly / squat.

  9. Bah… I slipped and hit ‘Submit’ instead of ‘Preview’.. So before anyone can call me on it, I know I have the wrong tense for ‘use’… It should have read, “I use some level of maths every day.”

    Obviously though, I don’t use my ability to spell nearly as often.

  10. *the following message may or not be paid for by religious zealots on the Discovery Channel* Hi, I’m Tim3P0. Some of you might recognize me from such great sites like Skepchick, Skepbitch, and Starstryder. As many of you know, America is in trouble as it still searches for it’s own identity. When this Country was founded by the British, George Washington came upon a burning cherry tree that gave him a simple message, “Denounce your metric system in the name of me and call my country The United States Of America,hugs and kisses, your Savior”. From that moment on, George changed his ways and now no one bats an eye that we buy gas by the gallon for our cars with speedometers in Miles Per Hour. God WANTS us to be confused when going to other (more logical) countries, as thru this confusion we WON’T question why He made the Great Depression and this latest Recession. So next time you see a petrol station where you pay by the litre, don’t scoff at those god-less people, as when you take away their funny accents and intelligence, they are just like you and me. Well, almost like you and me. *cue canned laugh track* I am Tim3P0 and thank you for your time. *We now bring you back to The Naked Archaeologist’s special “Uncovering the Carpentry of Jesus Christ”*

  11. @ QuestionAuthority,

    The company I work for is a pure engineering company. As in, all employees are engineers except the office manager and the accountant. There aren’t a lot of us yet, but we are still growing even in the current economic climate, (currently at about 20 people).

    As a company, we do mechanical design, electrical design, HMI implementation and programming, PLC programming, SCADA system design and implementation, custom software design, and full system integration works across several industries, (Mining, Food and Bev., Manufacturing, Power, and Water).

    My part in all this is as an engineering projects manager. I started off assisting with machine design, and acting as a HMI and PLC programmer though, (good HMI programmer, not so hot PLC programmer just because I didn’t do much of it).

    I like the work because even as a PM I have to keep pushing my technical knowledge to make sure I understand what everyone on my teams are doing and that I can make good decisions about what resources are needed for particular works.

    What about you, from your earlier comment I’m guessing you are an engineer also?

  12. @Steve: That is just evil and I love it!

    @MoltenHotMagma: I’m poking around with all my aviation experience and tech writing degree at the edges of the UAV industry, trying to find a niche. I think that might be the long term growth industry for aviation, so your comment that you were in automation caught my eye. For the moment, I write IT docs for Tri-Service medical logistics support. It sounds more impressive than it really is.

    Thanks – what you do sounds really interesting and covers a lot of industries. Sounds like you are well-positioned to do well with the stimulus.

  13. @ QuestionAuthority,

    hehe.. I’ll probably miss out on the stimulus. The company is Australian based, and most of our work is in Australia. About UAV’s though….. *brightens up*

    I did my undergrad thesis and started my graduate thesis on pathfinding and search behavior algorithms for unmanned vehicles. The intent was to implement them onto ether the UAV’s the university, (University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia), had or onto the Autonomous Helicopter another group in the faculty was working on. However we were still in the development and early testing phase for the the algorithms when I had to pull out of the graduate programs.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of UAV’s to the future of aviation. Not just militarily either. That’s really just a niche part of the UAV market. They are fantastically important in firefighting and fire detection in woodlands, they greatly improve the speed and success rates of emergency search situations, …

    Sorry.. I could go on about these for a while, but best of luck getting into that industry. It’s fascinating work and I can’t begin to describe what a major game changer autonomous vehicles will be to… well.. a great number of industries and situational types going into the future. It’s also completely relevant to this thread, (fortunately), since the algorithms that drive a lot of the search and pathfinding activities for Unmanned Vehicles are very heavily reliant on Bayesian statistical models.

    When I was working on those my days didn’t just involve me using maths, my days were entirely based upon maths.

  14. Statistics and Chemoinformatics and the occasional bit of modeling. I hardly use the calculus or trig any more and no “pure” maths at work.

  15. Massive math: statistics (stellar kinematics and structure), lots of calculus and linear algebra as well as some more esoteric toys like graph, category, topos and group theory (yes, I am an honorary geek). And I certainly try to do it on daily basis…;)

  16. Without math, our computers wouldn’t even be operating. I mean can you imagine, a world without computers? *shudder* Without math, there is no computer. Without computer, I kill myself. That is how vital math is.

  17. Um, I confess to using trig once to figure out and map the shady areas of my garden for each season.

    After that I thought I should really get a life..

  18. I use maths in my job all the time; I’m a science teacher. I suspect my colleagues in the maths department might use it occasionally too. I just wish the kids in my classes would use it properly sometimes. I’m tired of being told that 1 = 1, or worse, that 1 = 3 (although that is almost a Beatles song).

    I’m also in the habit of timing other cars on the road, just so I can work out their speed, thusly:
    1. When we’re at the same point (other car overtaking me, usually), time = 0 seconds
    2. Measure each of our times to a second static point (a tree or bridge or something).
    3. My velocity (km/h / 3.6 to get it in m/s; usually 33.33m/s, the maximum legal highway speed) x my time = distance from start point to end point.
    4. That distance x other car’s time = their velocity.

    It’s one way to pass the time on long drives, and for bonus points you can work out what speeding fines the other cars will get when they’re caught.

  19. oh and happy pi day skepeepz- represent represent… just don’t forget to round down a few orders of magnitude for the homiez who ain’t here no more to math it up wit us… when significant figures allow, that is…

  20. I teach Special Education. I have a one room school house of Emotionally Disturbed 7-9 grade students. I emphasize math to try to teach them basic problem solving skills. We stay at a functional level. Carpentry Math and Cooking Math. I will be teaching a 3-4-5 Triangle for squaring a corner after Spring break when we can go outside and put stakes in the ground.

    The problem with your Pie is that everyone knows that Pie are round; Pi are square.

  21. Um, high school math teacher. So work is a given.

    But at home I’m using all kinds of math while working on projects around the house. When I make wind chimes, do landscaping, repairs, redesigning rooms, remodeling furniture or fixtures. Even when I’m getting my exercise while biking

  22. I have a boring clerical job, but one of my tasks is putting number labels on files, so I do number theory with the numbers that I’m putting on the files.

  23. Senior high maths and physics. I’m also incurable curious, which, as an example, led me to contemplate string art while waiting for the minister to shut up at my nieces baptism (most of the godparents were atheists by the way), and discovering that I’d no idea what kind of curve you’d get. Eventually I discovered the explanation on wikipedia: but I’ve yet to figure out why it works.

  24. @moltenhotmagma

    Ya know, I work on the pointy end of the stick of the stuff you design (Power station control specialist). It would make for interesting conversation if we could find a place to do it without boring the masses with techno-babble…I’m kinda loathe to post my email on an open forum tho

  25. I’m a professional sound editor who does some photography on the side. I almost never use any math in my work, at least that I am consciously aware of, and thank god for that, because I am terrible at it and couldn’t stand doing it!

  26. I’ll tell you whats wrong with that, it suggests that Pi isn’t exactly 3, which means that it goes against the bibles teaching.

    “ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, . . . and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about” (I Kings 7:23).

    And as we all know every single word of the bible is factual. Why isn’t the Discovery Institute all over this? I mean not only are science classes teaching evolution, which doesn’t follow exactly the stories of the bible, but math classes are teaching that Pi doesn’t equal exactly 3.

  27. @MoltenHotMagma: I’m reading a book right now on the subject called “Wired for War” by P. Singer.

    I’m less interested in the warfare aspects than I am in the others, like you mentioned. Applications like Search & Rescue, emergency medical vehicles that can treat as the move the injured, hazardous environment work, and many more come to mind.

    I have a lot of questions about UAV warfare that aren’t answered by this book (at least, not so far).

    Obviously, totally autonomous vehicles are coming, but right now they are controlled via data links. What is to prevent an enemy from hacking those links and shutting down, taking over or feeding your vehicles wrong data, for example? What prevents jamming from stopping them? When a UAV loses its data link, it “goes home” for instructions. Not nice if it can be followed…or a smart missile can follow it…! :-o

    Also, long range UAVs are controlled by data links managed by satellites and navigate by GPS. Seems obvious to me the “weak link” is the communications chain. It’s pretty easy to degrade satellite signals or destroy the satellites…

  28. @Electro: My thought was that any First-World technological power might be able to pull these scenarios off. (Or a power with enough cash…)

    China, India, some parts of the former USSR, Japan, Iran, South Africa…not necessarily enemies, but very technologically capable.

  29. Having been a Sniper for a long time two items i carried at all times was a pocket calculator and a small protractor. I pretty much had to constantly do math in my head for ballistics. Wind, temperature, altitude and I talked about the Pythagorean theorem more than I ever did in math class. so when I hear some people say they will never use math in real life I chuckle to myself.

  30. I’m a uni student (Linguistics/Humanities), so I use math to figure out how well I have to do on my finals to pass my courses. :) Also, I play DnD, so I add up numbers on dice.

  31. @Bjornar:

    Definitely something vampirish about the pie.

    I used to develop financial products for banks (note the used to – I left in disgust) – so not much math needed there. Unless you count making up numbers for business cases based on erroneous assumptions?

  32. @TheSlat: Interesting, that…
    I would have thought being a sniper was more of a talent akin to ‘knowing’ how to throw and catch accurately than something that was consciously thought about. I’m more of a “Kentucky windage” shot, myself. Of course, I’ve never tried to hit something as far away as you probably did.

    @femmebieninformee: That says a lot about your skepticism, not to mention your ethics. I’m glad you were able to walk away from it, rather than knowingly profit from it.

    I see many of those erroneous assumptions in my current position, though I have no say or power to change them. I merely shake my head…Many IT ‘solutions’ and requirements I see are obviously flawed even to a non-IT person like me, because they are frequently impossible to implement, contradictory, badly concieved, already available on the commercial market, etc. My employer requires us to try to satisfy the customer and temper the worst of their decisions as best we can. And yes, as you might suspect, I work for a contractor to the US military.

    Sometimes, the project I work on is a platypus – lots of contradictory things that somehow manages to work, but could be designed a Hell of a lot simpler and better…but no one wants to be the little kid in the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”
    People wonder why I go around muttering, “But he’s still naked!” under my breath a lot…

  33. As a Visual effects artist everything I do to an image is math based. Thankfully though calculation it handled by the software and I know I have the right answer when the picture is pretty.

  34. I had an ex over last night, just to catch up on old times, and told her it was “pi-day” and I swear she nearly called the police. So, I guess, in my personal life, it has very little use.

    In fact, it would seem to be a big determent to acknowledge it. (She thought it was a gag from “the onion” at first, or I’d probably be under arrest, by now). I’m sure that my GF is on the same frequency as far as that goes, so I didn’t even try it.

    However, in my professional life, I find 6.28 far more useful than 3.14.

    I almost never do anything that wouldn’t involve 2*pi rather than pi itself. (Frequencies, corner freqs and noise reduction filters etc.).

    So, pi itself is next to useless to me, in my personal life. But times 2, it’s okay for my unprofessional life.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


  35. @carr2d2 said:

    it sort of reminded me of an oblivion gate from the elder scrolls iv….

    That’s it! I knew it was reminding of something, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Oblivion.

    And is it cherry, raspberry, or strawberry? If it’s cherry, then that is one more thing wrong with the picture.

    It should definitely be raspberry, or in a pinch perhaps strawberry.


  36. @Electro,

    I agree with you completely. I would love a sit-down and chat with one of the guys who runs the power station control systems. I suspect I’d learn a lot more than you would get from me though, (I haven’t been involved in any of the power station jobs dirrectly, and they tend to mostly use more DCS approaches to control than SCADA. Most of the work I’ve done is in SCADA based systems). Also, unfortunately, I agree with you about posting my e-mail to an open forum.

    *very big grin*… ooooooohhhh.. Such fascinating questions. The short version of the answer to your question about commo is that ‘You are right, those all represent very real vectors of attack on the functionality of current UAVs’. The longer answer, (strongly speculative but based upon relavant experience appropriate to the topic), is that this is a known problem not just for UAV’s but for all battlefield communications. A lot of money gets spent trying to address it, and some very slick equipment is the result.

    On another note thougth, thanks for the book link. I’ll try and find the time to read it and see if it has anything interesting in it. Hmmm.. I’ll also look around and see if I can find any non-registration sites with any of the academic papers on this topic for you. I’ll post them if I can find them. The communication question, in particular, is fascinating when you start looking at efforts to set up autonomous swarms.

    I have a friend who would get along with you. :) He got so tired of trying to explain to non-snipers what was actually involved in his work. He just quit and let everyone think he was a nutter like all the rest of the snipers. Hehe..

    Really though, @QuestionAuthority, I’ll back TheSlat up on this. Every sniper I ever knew could do basic balistic calculations in their head. The really good ones roughed out wind drift and deflections for shooting through light cover also. I’m sure that there are some good snipers out there who shoot more as an ‘art’ than a science, but I never met them. TheSlat can probably say more about this than I could though.

  37. @James K: lol. damn. now i’m gonna have to put down fallout 3 for awhile and go back to my oblivion game. the main quest is long since beaten, but you’ve reminded me of the depths i have yet to plumb.

  38. @MoltenHotLava: As a matter of fact, the next chapter I read after I posted that concerned autonomous swarms…both fascinating and chilling information.

  39. I’m an engineer, and I frequently deal with cost-to-manufacture questions, so I use multiplication, addition and division daily. I also perform and interpret research studies, and occasionally presenting them to marketing, so I also use statistics.

    About 6 months ago I was in a meeting and needed to do an accurate approximation of something. I did some calculus, and came out with a reasonable answer. I left the meeting and felt that it was the first time I ever “did engineering” in the real world.

  40. Girl : I had a recipie for a dessert for three people, and 7 were on the guest list. I didn’t know how to multiply by 2 1/3, so i rounded down…and my son was left with nothing…

    Guy : I was invited to a party 100 miles away. I drove 45 mph, but told them I’d be there in 2 hours….I was late.

    Announcer: Math effects everyone’s life. Having math skills could have saved these people some embarrassment.

  41. @QuestionAuthority
    @MoltenHotMagma: “Kentucky windage” or SWAGing it has its place for sure. Really though I thing any SWAG is based on past experience. Getting good results consistently with calculating methods helps you make a good guess when you need to because you know roughly what it should be in your mind. Muscle memory they like to say, or maybe like doing rough math in your head so you know if your calculator is giving you wazoo numbers. There are defiantly a few people out there that get this experience from hunting for food since the age of 7 (I’ve met one) but especially in this age of super markets and fast food its increasingly rare. so for the rest of us, practice^3 and make sure its good practice. (And that goes for everything, not just the highly unmarketable skills like sniping :)

    But like anything in the military you pre-plan as much as you can. Its been more than once I’ve been “hiding in a bush” as I like to say with a notepad, pen, and TI-89 doing calculations.

  42. I’m two days late, but I have a nasty cold, so deal.

    My job wouldn’t exist without a lot of math. I work in software development. More specifically, the software I work on is used in-house for automatically pulling in mind-bogglingly large quantities of numerical data, running them through some surprisingly complex statistical analysis routines, and spitting out the results in a form that can be used by our customers. Furthermore, the data in question is geographical in nature, so there’s geometry involved in a lot of the calculations we run.

    So yeah, math is cool.

  43. @QuestionAuthority,
    Good-timing with the chapter. :) *shakes head* I’ll say though, I really do miss working on those sorts of things. Don’t get me wrong, I like what I do now, but the intellectual challenge associated with my day to day work as a PM is nothing compared to spending weeks at a time wrestling with the challenges of autonomous behavior.

    Swarms, in particular, are fascinating, (and somewhat chilling as you said). Though now day’s I probably couldn’t do the math one needs to actually work on those problems. :/ It’s been a while.

    What are you doing to try and get into the UAV part of the industry? and what part of it are you trying to get into, (as in.. there is a big difference between working for Lockheed as a member of the design team for one and say.. being part of a University development team working on one. Then there are the issues with what one is doing in relation to it.. EG.. avionics, controls, mechanicals, sensing, autonomous behavior algorithms, overall system integration.) Where do you actually hope to get with it?

    It’s funny you should say that about practice. One of my old instructors used to say the most accurate thing regarding practice I’ve ever heard. He would say, “Perfect practice makes Perfect.” For those who didn’t get it he would follow with, “Anything else just builds bad habits.”

    Once you have that kind of practice under your belt, I think your right. You just get a real ‘sense’ of what you need to do without having to think about it. There aren’t that many people with that kind of practice shooting now days though. Also.. I love my TI-89. :)

  44. @HotMolten Magma: I’m an aviation technical writer…currently working on non-aviation IT projects…but UAVs have caught my attention in a big way since they have flown more missions over Iraq than the crewed aircraft…

    I thought the swarming behavior was strictly s/f until recently…tactically, that would be a horrifying weapon to try to defend against…

  45. @QuestionAuthority,
    For the moment, swarming behavior is still more s/f than reality. But not for a lot longer. As for it’s military applications… I actually think we will see it in Search and Rescue applications and in Exploration applications before we see it as a weapon, (data-gathering on the battlefield will see it first I believe).

    The main reason I believe this has to do with the dificulties of insuring appropriate decision making when it comes to automated ‘weapon’ behaviours. A good example of this currently is a fully autonomous gun-bot that they have developed. Basically, it is capable of assessing threat and targeting on it’s own but they have limited it to requiring a human ‘confirm’ before it can engage a target. This confirmation requirement can be turned off, but even the military doesn’t want to disengage it for the moment out of a concern that it would mis-identify non-combatants or friendlies as targets. In the modern world, the political fall out that would be associated with such an event could shut down the entire program. For swarms, their inhearant creepiness makes them even more of a PR risk. So I don’t think we will see autonomous killing swarms for at least another 60 years or so, even once we have sorted out all the technical challenges.

    We are, however, already starting to get cooperative UAV behaviours, cooperative search behaviours, and other ‘primitave’ swarming functionalities out of systems at several universities. If you really want to get excited and see where some of the bleeding edge of this is, look here :

    The DARPA challenge was aimed at fully autonomous ground vehicles, (in many ways, these are more challenging than air vehicles because of the obstical hazards). This is a peek into where autonomous vehicles are headed and though the Stanford Team is the leader in this part of it so far, there are universities around the world working on these projects.

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