Definitions

Prime Numbers: What About Negatives?

We’ve looked at the basic idea of primes, then at where 0 and 1 fit in. But what about negative integers? Can they be prime? If so, how does that affect the definition? And can you factorize a negative number if you don’t have negative primes?

Prime Numbers: What About 0 and 1?

Last week we looked at the definitions of prime and composite numbers, and saw that 1 is neither. The same is true of 0. What, then, are they? That raises some deep questions that we’ll look at here.

Prime Numbers: What and Why

I’ll begin a short series of posts on prime numbers with several questions on the basics: What are prime (and composite) numbers, and why do they matter?

How Imaginary Numbers Became “Real”

Last week we started a series on complex numbers, looking at how we introduce the concept. This time I want to look more at the actual history of the idea, leading to how mathematicians were able to define complex numbers without saying “Just suppose …”.

Fine Points on Polygons and Polyhedra

Last time, looking at degenerate polygons, I mentioned some other issues pertaining to the definition of a polygon. Let’s take the opportunity to look at them. This post supplements what was said previously in What is a Polyhedron … Really?

Degenerate Polygons

We’ve been looking at degenerate figures, starting with the most interesting case, degenerate conic sections. But other things can also be degenerate, so we should take a look at some of these, which perhaps arise even more often. We’ll examine triangles that aren’t triangles, rectangles that aren’t rectangles, and bigger polygons – or smaller polygons! …

Degenerate Polygons Read More »

Degenerate Conics I: Mystery of the Missing Case

Degenerate cases are instances of a concept that are just on the edge of fitting its definition. They occur when we stretch a definition to its limits, at which point some of the original properties remain, but others break. We’ll start here with common instances of the phenomenon, in conic sections, pursuing the elusive case …

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Two Tricky Questions on Tangent Lines

(A new question of the week) Sometimes we have lots of quick questions and a number of long discussions, neither of which seems suitable for a post. This time I’ve chosen to combine two distantly related questions, one recent and one from several months ago, both involving tangent lines to functions.