The Hyperbole of Elliptic Geometry (and 14 Other Math Cartoons)

These cartoons appeared on Twitter and Facebook throughout February 2018, and are preserved here, museum-like, for posterity and/or people who are too cool for social media.

Funny vs. Trying To Be Funny

2018.2.1 Neil deGrasse Tyson

It has since been pointed out to me that Emily Dickinson is, in fact, hilarious. I stand by this cartoon otherwise.


“Charter” Thoughts

2018.2.2 charters

I spent four years teaching at a charter school. That experience makes it hard to see the charter movement either as demon or panacea. More than a new type of school, I see them mostly as individual new schools – liable to make the same sorts of ambitious moves and avoidable mistakes as any new institution.


Multivariable Woes

2018.2.6 multivariable explanation

Sometimes the pursuit of a punch line leads you to throw more weight into the blow than your victim actually deserves.

This is probably not one of those times.


What to Name Your Math-y Band

2018.2.7 math band names

Folks on Twitter and Facebook chimed in with their own suggestions. My favorite comes from @SpinVector: a cover band called “Partial Derivative.” If that band name isn’t taken by the end of the week, then cover bands aren’t nearly as much fun as I thought.


Statistics Education

2018.2.8 stats is useful

When it comes to statistics education, I find there’s a sad mismatch between possibility and practice. I indict myself here too – I’ve at times brought too much of a “pure math” mindset (let’s prove some theorems, kids!) to a discipline with its own characteristic style of thought.


The Angel of Death

2018.2.9 angel of death

The Angel of Death comes for us all. There is no escape.

Also, my boss replied to this cartoon: “THIS IS YOU. YOU DID THIS ALL THE TIME,” which is absolutely going on my business cards now.


A Romantic Proposal

2018.2.14 hilbert's basis theorem

As you can perhaps tell from the old-school whiteboard photo, this dates from the early days of this blog. I revived it here because (A) It’s Valentine-themed, and (B) Hannah Fry said she liked it, and there’s no better way to take the piss out of my British friends than pretending that I am best pals with Hannah Fry.


Hyperbole and Ellipsis

2018.2.15 hyperbolic and elliptic.jpg

Not depicted: flat statements on Euclidean geometry (e.g., “Euclidean geometry is a form of geometry that draws its name from Euclid”).


“Linear Algebra”

2018.2.16 linear algebra

I shall take this opportunity to plug 3Blue1Brown’s excellent series of videos giving geometric visualizations of Linear Algebra.

I could watch 3Blue1Brown all day.

And by “could,” I mean some combination of “have done” and “shall do again.”


The Fog of Confusion

2018.2.19 fog of confusion

Fog is really hard to draw, okay?

This cartoon is the equivalent of those SNL sketches where the character’s first line has to be, “Hello, it’s me! Robert Mueller!” because you couldn’t follow the joke if it was any less explicit.


Bayesian on Trial

2018.2.20 bayesian arrest

Once people know me well enough, they don’t even wait for the punch-line; instead, they sigh with resignation as soon as the set-up begins.


The Super-Additive Dessert

2018.2.22 ice cream sandwich

I am on a perpetual search for super-addictive combinations of food. One of my favorites: to the traditional quesadilla combination of tortilla + melted cheddar, add tumeric + chopped celery. Unaccountably good.


Epistemology is Hard

2018.2.23 epistemology

I have conflicted feelings about the rationalist philosophers (Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, kind of Hobbes). On the one hand, I love the aesthetic of the arguments: the clear, axiomatic development modeled on mathematics.

On the other hand, this seems like a very stupid way to try to understand the world. The universe is very confusing and is never what you would have guessed. “Certain knowledge” is so elusive it’s basically an oxymoron.

I find that I’m a rationalist by inclination, but my rationalism leads to the conclusion that empiricism is the only sensible way to go.


The Trivial Case

2018.2.26 the trivial case

Look forward to my graphic novel “The Life and Times of the Trivial Case,” which will be 400 pages of that green elf with different text on each page, like Dinosaur Comics.


Club Obvi

2018.2.27 club of obvious truths

“Obviousness” is in the eye of the beholder, right?

WRONG. If it’s in the eye of the beholder, then it’s not sufficiently obvious!

Finally, a quick announcement of the results from the Know-Nothing Oscar Pool!

  • 219 people filled out ballots.
  • The Ultimate Visionary, a math(s) teacher named Kin, scored 33.1 (of a possible 47.1) across all categories. Kin mostly stuck with the favorites, with one masterstroke exception: picking “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” which was the night’s biggest underdog winner.
  • The Lazy Visionary scored 15.9 (of a possible 15.9) on the high-profile categories.
  • The Obscure Visionary, the self-effacing Colin Thomas, scored 22.3 (of a possible 31.2) on the technical categories. He writes: “I must confess that I chose several at random (having looked at, and not entirely understood, the odds page.)” But he also had this key insight: “‘good’ films tend to do well in these categories even if they don’t deserve to.”
  • My own ballot lost narrowly to my Oscar arch-nemesis Ryan’s, 27.4 to 27.0. Sigh.


7 thoughts on “The Hyperbole of Elliptic Geometry (and 14 Other Math Cartoons)

  1. Regarding rational determinism, doesn’t chaos theory pretty much kick that one over the precipice. (Along with quantum mechanics).

    Regarding the pedagogy of statistics. I thought that all of those formula make a heck of a lot more sense once I knew some calculus and some linear algebra. And without that theoretical grounding, the equations on the board were a matter of plug and chug, with only a sketchy understanding of why and wherefore. Of course, most students don’t take calculus and linear algebra.

    My solution — there is no point to study statistics without computers. Computers exist to crunch data. It is what they are good at. There is no need to calculate standard deviations by hand. Might as well describe the concepts leaving aside anything regarding calculation, and use computers for the exercises.

  2. There are a lot of non-generalizing examples around 2 and 4, of which 4² = 2⁴ is the simplest (but does not prove the commutativity of exponentiation). Along the same lines: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is experimental error, ….

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