Dave Peterson

(Doctor Peterson) A former software engineer with degrees in math, I found my experience as a Math Doctor starting in 1998 so stimulating that in 2004 I took a new job teaching math at a community college in order to help the same sorts of people face to face. I have three adult children, and live near Rochester, N.Y. I am the author and instigator of anything on the site that is not attributed to someone else.

Tangents Without Calculus

I always like solving advanced problems with basic methods. For example, many problems that we usually think of as “algebra problems” can be solved by creative thinking without algebra; and some “calculus problems” can be solved using only algebra or geometry. Using simple tools for a big job requires more thought than using “the right …

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Zero Divided By Zero: Undefined and Indeterminate

Back in January, I discussed the issue of division by zero. There is a special case of that that causes even more trouble, in every field from arithmetic to calculus: zero divided by zero. I’ll look at several typical questions that we answered at different levels. Conflicting rules for division? Let’s start here: Zero Laws …

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How Many Different Meals Are Possible?

(An archive question of the week) While gathering combinatorics questions, there were several that stood out. This one will serve well to summarize the topic, showing multiple methods for counting, and contrasting other kinds of problems. The problem The question, from 2007, relates to an Arby’s promotion: How Many Different Dinners Can Be Ordered? I …

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Stars and Bars: Counting Ways to Distribute Items

We have been looking at ways to count possibilities (combinatorics), including a couple ways to model a problem using blanks to fill in. Today, we’ll consider a special model called Stars and Bars, which can be particularly useful in certain problems, and yields a couple useful formulas. (I only remember the method, not the formulas.) …

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Permutations and Combinations: Undercounts and Overcounts

(A new question of the week) We have been looking at some combinatorics questions, both easy and challenging. Some questions have come to us in recent weeks that can illustrate how to think your way through relatively difficult problems, including catching errors and interpreting a textbook’s solutions. We’ll see yet again that there are usually …

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Six Distinguishable People in Four Distinguishable Rooms

(An archive question of the week) Last time we looked at some elementary problems in combinatorics, where we counted the number of ways to choose or arrange elements of a set. Let’s look at a somewhat more complicated problem, which will demonstrate issues that come up in interpreting such a problem and in choosing a …

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Permutations and Combinations: An Introduction

We have seen a number of questions recently about combinatorics: the study of methods for counting possibilities. These topics are studied at all levels of mathematical education, from elementary (where they might just be called counting) to high school (where they are often learned along with probability) to college (where they are part of “discrete …

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