# 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.

## Is {0} Closed Under Division? Thoughts, and Second Thoughts

(A new question of the week) A set is closed under an operation if, whenever that operation is applied to two elements of the set, the result is still an element of the set. It’s straightforward … until you look closely at some details! In the course of the discussion, we’ll dig into different definitions …

## Distances on Earth 3: Planar Approximation

We’ve looked at two formulas for the distance between points given their latitude and longitude; here we’ll examine one more formula, which is valid only for small distances. This is a “flat-earth approximation” to distance.

## Average Rate of Change of a Function

(A new question of the week) Average rate of change is a topic taught in pre-calculus and calculus courses, primarily as preparation for the derivative, though it has more immediate applications. A recent question asked about when the concept is valid, which I found interesting.

## Distances on Earth 2: The Haversine Formula

Last week we started a series about finding distances on a sphere (which approximates the shape of the earth), using a straightforward formula from spherical geometry. But in practice, that formula turns out not to be ideal, so a different formula is used when accuracy in all circumstances matters. That is this week’s topic: first …

## Help with Factoring: Trinomials

(A new question of the week) I recently had a pleasant discussion of factoring, with the kind of student for whom I returned to teaching: one who has been away from math for a while, and with greater maturity has the determination to succeed. We’ll see several examples of the “ac-grouping” method of factoring a …

## Distances on Earth 1: The Cosine Formula

Many students study trigonometry, but few get to spherical trigonometry, the study of angles and distances on a sphere. This is particularly useful in dealing with measurements on the earth (though it is not a perfect sphere). In this series, we will derive and use three different formulas for the distance between points identified by …

## Un-piecing and Inverting a Piecewise Function

(A new question of the week) Though students often think piecewise-defined functions are unnatural, they are actually quite common in real life – after all, the world is not all once piece! In particular, they show up in various financial situations, such as taxes and pay rates. Inverses, likewise, are commonly needed in real life, …

## Implicit Differentiation: Explanation, Examples, and a Surprise

In response to a recent request for information about implicit differentiation (hi, Brian!), let’s take a look at that topic. It happens to be distantly related to Friday’s topic, which was about implicitly defined curves. We’ll start with a thorough explanation, and then look at several specific examples, capping it off with a weird one.

## Tangents of an Algebraic Curve

(A new question of the week) Some topics are hard to find information about at a basic level, because they are usually dealt with in advanced math courses, and yet the basic ideas can be understood without all the trappings. That is the case for the Affine Tangent Cone, which involves tangents to an algebraic …

## Fibonacci, Pascal, and Induction

A couple weeks ago, while looking at word problems involving the Fibonacci sequence, we saw two answers to the same problem, one involving Fibonacci and the other using combinations that formed an interesting pattern in Pascal’s Triangle. I promised a proof of the relationship, and it’s time to do that. And while we’re there, since …