Real life

Law of Sines vs Law of Cosines: Which is Better?

Last month, four students from the same class wrote to us with the same question: Which is more accurate, the Law of Sines or the Law of Cosines? Those led to a couple deeper discussions, as we explored the context.

Probability of Consecutive Numbers in a Lottery

A recent question about lottery numbers reveals that a seemingly special event is in fact surprisingly common: namely, the presence of consecutive numbers in a lottery drawing. The calculation is an interesting one, and we’ll also see a way to check our answer, then compare it to reality.

Diluting a Solution: Math vs. Reality

Here is a little question about making a formula to dilute a solution; we’ll see how to do the algebra, and also how what we teach in math classes isn’t quite real.

The Book Stacking Problem

(An archive question of the week) A recent question asked about a well-known problem about stacking books (or cards, or dominoes) so that the top one extends beyond the base, giving a link to one of many explanations of it – but one, like many, that doesn’t quite fill in all the details. Doctor Rick …

The Book Stacking Problem Read More »

How Risks Add Up

(A new question of the week) Real life questions of probability often require information that we don’t have – they become a job for statistics instead. But sometimes just trying some plausible numbers, as in a Fermi problem, can yield interesting results. Here we consider the probability of an injury when kids play near a …

How Risks Add Up Read More »

A Tunnel Through the Earth

I have a very short problem this week: How deep will you go if you dig a straight tunnel through the earth, how long will it be, and what angle do you have to start at?

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.

How Much Does the Earth Curve?

We’ve looked at how to find the circumference of the earth, and how far we can see over the horizon. Another kind of question we’ve had about the curvature of the earth is, how much does it curve over a given distance? That has been asked in several different ways, which lead to some intriguing …

How Much Does the Earth Curve? Read More »