Where Do Logarithms Come From?

Having answered many questions recently about logarithms, I realized we haven’t yet covered the basics of that topic. Here we’ll introduce the concept by way of its history, and subsequently we’ll explore how they work.

Arithmetic with Roman Numerals

Have you ever wondered how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide using Roman numerals? On one hand, we’ll give the simple answer that the Romans didn’t actually do what you think; on the other hand, we’ll consider what they actually did.

How Roman Numerals Work

Roman numerals are very different from the “Arabic” system we use; there is no “place value”. And yet, as we’ll see, the two systems have more in common than you might think.

Inverse Trig Notation: What Do sin^-1 and arcsin Mean?

Since we’ve been looking at an example of ambiguity in notation, let’s look at a very different one. There is a lot to be confused by in inverse trigonometry! We’ll try to untangle the notations of \(\sin^{-1}\) and \(\arcsin\).

Clarifying Definitions: Triangle, Rectangle, Circle

(A new question of the week) Several recent questions involved details about definitions of geometrical objects, so I thought I’d group them together, because each is relatively short. We’ll be looking at the definitions of triangles (do we need to say “exactly three sides”?), rectangles (did Euclid use an exclusive definition?), and circles (can the …

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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.