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.

Cartesian Product of Sets

(A new question of the week) I had a long discussion recently about the Cartesian product of sets, answering questions like, “How is it Cartesian?” and “How is it a product?” I like discussions about the relationships between different concepts, and people who ask these little-but-big questions. We’ll be looking at about a quarter of …

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Why Does a² + b² = c² in a Hyperbola?

(A new question of the week) In an ellipse, \(\frac{x^2}{a^2}+\frac{y^2}{b^2}=1\) with focal distance c, parameters a, b, and c all make natural sense, and it is easy enough to see why \(a^2 = b^2 + c^2\). But in the hyperbola, \(\frac{x^2}{a^2}-\frac{y^2}{b^2}=1\), the equivalent relationship, \(a^2 + b^2 = c^2\), is not nearly as natural, nor …

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What is a Set … Really?

Sometimes the more basic an idea is, the harder it is to define it. It is also very hard to understand a definition in English when you are not a native speaker! We have had some interesting discussions of such issues recently with a student who asks very basic and yet very challenging questions of …

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Trying to Solve a Strange Log Equation

(A new question of the week) We’ll look at a very complicated logarithmic equation, which leads to quartic equations and some very interesting graphs. We won’t find a fully satisfying solution method, but we’ll have some fun trying – and reveal the fallibility of at least one Math Doctor!