History

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 …”.

Abraham Lincoln and the Rule of Three

For the last two weeks, we have examined new and old ways to think about proportions. This time, we’ll look at an old method called the Rule of Three (both “single” and “double”), and how you might have learned to solve these problems 200 years ago without algebra. Be prepared for a deep dive!

How Real Are Negative Numbers?

This week we’ll look at some Ask Dr. Math questions like, “How can a number be less than zero?” and “Why do we need negative numbers?” We’ll see a number of examples of their use, and how negative numbers make life easier.

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 …

Cartesian Product of Sets Read More »

2020 and the Y0K Problem

The arrival of 2020 has brought to mind the various controversies at the start of the year 2000, also called Y2K. As a software engineer responsible for date-sensitive communications within large computer systems, I well recall being on call that Saturday, in case something went wrong. I also recall all the questions we got in …

2020 and the Y0K Problem Read More »

Fractions: What Are They, and Why?

We’ve looked at some specific ideas about fractions (their proper definition, their relationship to decimals, and how to divide them); it’s time to go through this topic from the beginning. Here we’ll look at how they are introduced to beginners, and how to keep them from hurting our brains! Parts of a whole Although, as …

Fractions: What Are They, and Why? Read More »