Monthly Archives: June 2010


I like to synthesize ideas by taking disparate concepts, putting them in a bag and shaking it up. One difficulty that often arises is that in order for me to communicate these synthesized ideas, you need to be up to speed on the underlying concepts.

One big concept bouncing around in my head is the notion of what motivates us. I’m not talking about carrot-and-stick here, I’m talking about things that electrify our souls: things that bounce us out of bed in the morning, engage us joyfully all day and then keep up at night wondering about what the next day will bring.

Dan Pink has a pretty good insight into this. This animation is excellent, but incomplete; if you like it go to YouTube and watch the full version of his talk.

Math Joke 3

Until last week I only knew 2 good math jokes. But then I heard this one! Without further ado, I hereby inflict it upon you:

An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician are chatting over lunch when the engineer says, “I just don’t get problems in higher dimensions. I mean, stuff in 3 dimensions I can visualize quite easily, but how do you visualize something with more?”

The physicist shrugs and says “You just have to imagine integrating. For example, if you have an object in three dimensions and integrate it over time, you have added a fourth dimension, time. It’s like taking an object’s position and integrating it to get the object’s velocity. You can do it again with time, to get the object’s acceleration, or with another dimension; each integration changes the units appropriately.”

The engineer thinks for a minute and says, “That’s okay for a few dimensions, but what about some of the really wacky stuff like 17 dimensions?”

The mathematician looks up and says, “Oh, that’s really easy, actually. Just imagine an n-dimensional space and set n=17.”

Math Joke 2

Until last week I knew exactly 2 funny math jokes. Now I know three. I’ll post the third one tomorrow. Here’s the second one.

An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are asleep in a hotel when the curtains in each of their rooms catch fire. (Inexplicably, and all at the same time. Don’t ask why, it’s not important.)

The engineer wakes up and sees the fire, runs into the bathroom, fills the wastebasket with water, comes back and throws it on the fire. The fire goes out immediately, but there’s quite a bit of water damage.

The physicist wakes up and sees the fire, and pauses to estimate the rate at which the curtains are being consumed. He runs into the bathroom, fills the wastebasket with exactly 1.7 liters of water, comes back and carefully pours it on the fire. There’s a bit more fire and smoke damage due to the delay, but not a drop of water is spilled unnecessarily.

The mathematician wakes up and sees the fire, and pauses to contemplate the problem. Then he calmly walks into the bathroom. He turns on the faucet and strikes a match, then douses the match under the running water. He examines the match closely for a minute, then says, “Ah yes, this problem has a solution.” And then he goes back to bed.