Saturday silliness stupidity, only do airplane math in Roman numerals

This is rather far off-topic, but since it has national security implications, and since it’s outrageous, I’m sure readers will want to heed the lessons in this story before you board your next airplane.

The Washington Post and others appear to be reporting that “See Something, Say Something” applies to differential equations.  The net result was that the innumerate woman was allowed off the plane to take a safer flight, the plane was delayed several hours, and an award-winning Ivy League economist got some expansion room next to him.

Excerpts from Catherine Rampell’s Rampage column on economics, policy, and culture at the Washington Post:

That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he — Guido Menzio — is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he’s best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a tenured associate professorship at the University of Pennsylvania as well as stints at Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

They might even have discovered that last year he was awarded the prestigious Carlo Alberto Medal, given to the best Italian economist under 40. That’s right: He’s Italian, not Middle Eastern, or whatever heritage usually gets ethnically profiled on flights these days.

What was he working on?  Differential equations, in preparation for a talk at an economic conference in Canada.  He was probably using Arabic numerals too.

I assume he made it into Canada.  No word on what awaits him when returning to the USA.

The next time I have a math puzzle to work on during a flight, I’m going to do it in Roman numerals.


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And we know for sure that no economist could ever be also a terrorist.


Boy, you can’t fix stupid can you? Bet they vote too. Really think you can hijack a plane for a pen and paper?


I suspect the whole incident was twisted or propaganda purposes. Lots of PR value in such a xenophobia story these days, it seems to me.


I meant ~ twisted for propaganda …

Call A Spade

The scariest thing on the planet is an ignorant American

David Chappell

A note saying, “Take me to your pilot”?

Send him to Pilate.


CAS, that’s what you ignorant Europeans always say. Right up to the time when you need us to save your bacon again.


It seems they found a way to make saving that commodity unnecessary, Mark ; )

John Harmsworth

The average ( as opposed to mean) economist can do more harm with best intentions than a well armed terrorist can


In this true parable of 2016 I see another worrisome lesson, albeit one also possibly relevant to Trump’s appeal: That in America today, the only thing more terrifying than foreigners is…math.

The only things I fear more that global Islamic terrorism (and its compagnon, “terror rejecting” Islamism you have to accept to avoid terrorism) are Keynes theories and “contra-cyclic” keynesianism (you always have to spend more because you are always in the bad part of the cycle).
And stupid people aren’t all siding with Trump – the ideas that the government is “generous” and produces “free stuff” and the idea that spending causes growth… tend to seduce people from the “left”.
And of course, Trump may have said many crazy things, but not that math is terrorism, unless I missed something.


I knew a mean economist once. It got really bad when he was drunk.

george e. smith

Well the more you spend, the greater your savings. Why the hell else would we do what we are doing ??

Call A Spade

And if he did a math puzzle It would be singular and not a threat to anyone if it were maths then there is reason for mass hysteria by the scared US public

John Silver

“He was probably using Arabic numerals too.”
No, he used Hindi numerals and Greek letters.


Indeed, how true. It is like the Arabs trying to say they invented the camera obscura, because it is an Arabic word. It is actually Latin and means ‘Dark Room’, which is just what you need to make a large camera obscura.
The camera obscura was well known in ancient times, and used by the Magi (magicians) of the era to amaze the aristocracy (and keep the grants flowing). It is likely that Simon Magus was using a camera obscura when he made the spirit of a small boy appear and disappear.

Tom Jefferson

Your comment misses the point. Perhaps you should reread the blog. See something, say something….is a mindless phrase right out of George Orwell’s 1984.

george e. smith

Well Ric, when you find a humdinger, it really izza doozy.
I’ll have to remember not to take any Sudoku books on a plane with me.
Maybe the folding algorithm for an Origami Jumping frog, will get you tossed off the plane too.
I do hope the airline paid the good Italiprof a handsome sum of Euros.
I mean the guy’s an economist right; so cash would be good, I should think.

Well, Iranians and Italians do sorta look similar. . . 🙂


They do.
And all Austrians look like they’re carrying surfboards and listening to Skippy.


Isn’t Austria rather land-locked? 😛

The bushfire is in Canada, Skippy


I know you are being smart but while Australians might all carry surfboards nah they don’t listen to skippy ALL the time. Just now and then


Those damn Austrians, always going around impersonating Australians. It’s an outrage I tell you.


all Austrians: missed out the al(e)


All alians need to be watched whether they come from Austr or not.

george e. smith

No-one in their right mind would ever impersonate an Australian.
Who else would say a Bis’n is something you wash your fice in !

John Harmsworth

Italian economist is an oxymoron

Our survival is described in part by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s power law distribution of geophysical phenomena. Real bad stuff seldom happens, like Chicxulub, and real good stuff seldom happens, like the Creaton, but middling stuff happens all the time. The 80 – 20 Rule.
Be ware of accusations from ignorance.

gary turner

Hmmph, ‘economist’ is an oxymoron.

Claudius Denk

I’ve always been suspicious of the similarities between pizza and falafel.


Don’t you mean meatballs and falafel?

george e. smith

Pretty straight forward actually. The Italians just never could figure out how to fold it over and make a pocket out of it. The Mexicans got it half way, but couldn’t stop everything from falling out of it.
Neither one of them was ever much good at Origami.

Berényi Péter

[snip -ugly comment, policy – mod

[snip – ugly comment, policy -mod]

charles nelson

It’s taken 30 years of education cuts to create a generation stupid enough to believe in Global Warming, or not recognise algebra!

It’s not “education cuts” . It’s education State monopolization and centralization .


it’s more important how it makes someone feel. So if math scares someone, maybe we need to ban it.


It was rather insensitive of the good economist to be engaged in intellectual pursuits instead of posting selfies on Facebook. I’m sure his seatmates suffered from his microaggression and needed a safe space to recover. Expect an apology from both the professor and the school, tomorrow. No word yet as to whether the university’s president will be forced to retire because of this. The professor, however, must take sensitivity training before resuming his other duties.
(Sarc, of course, but it’s getting difficult to distinguish stories written by The Onion with real stories).


A ban on math is too broad, but given the kinds of psychological trauma caused by math, but some kind of preventive measures are in order; for now, a moratorium, not on math, but on teaching math, seems necessary.


They’re too busy “supporting” everyone’s impending “gender fluidity.”


Uh oh, do I sense microaggression here?

Mark Luhman

charles nelson Cuts BS, we spend more on education than we ever have. Maybe if we quite literally quit trying to educate the idiots and morons or even less in the class room, and not indoctrinate the rest we might get something for our money, It also might be helpful to allow boys to be boys and not drug them! Let us bring back recess, with that dodgeball, tag, and quit giving participation ribbons out and start keeping score we might start having and education system again, instead all we are paying for are indoctrination centers.


What we need is you and a few million more like you.

I was a Corporate Attorney for almost 30 years, then left the profession to teach at a public high school. 1. State, federal and local governments are spending more, in absolute terms and in dollars per pupil than ever before, and that is after adjusting for inflation. 2. Much of the money is wasted in maintaining bloated administrations and staff and keeping incompetent teachers. In my brief tenure I have seen grossly incompetent teachers and administrators who engaged in misconduct, merely shuffled off to other schools. 3. Too many young people are in academic schools, where they do not belong. They create discipline problems that make it more difficult for teachers to teach and serious students to learn. They are kept in the academic track because if there were two tracks (academic and trades) it would raise race and “equity” issues that no one wants to address. 4. The level of innumeracy is disgraceful. I have students carrying around A.P. Calculus books but they can not do the simplest (and I do mean SIMPLEST) math problem in their heads. They can recite complex formulae (which they will completely forget 1 month after graduation) but they totally lack a “sense” of mathematics. American education has become a disgrace, and it has nothing to do with money. It has to do with society forgetting what the purpose and priority of an educational system is supposed to be.

Michael Jankowski

College dropouts typically have problems far beyond algebra.
At least there wasn’t a complaint about boys doing better in algebra than girls and that therefore algebra is sexist. Of course,


‘Political scientist Andrew Hacker of Queens College in New York insists the difficulty of learning algebra is responsible for a higher dropout rate when students find they can’t grasp the discipline. The course should be excluded, Hacker says, because the math is just too hard for students today.’
Oh gawd gimme some strength. Yes, please use a special school for specially gifted and let the others learn algebra without the dropouts who will never want to do it.
Really, this is how you recognize a socialist. It is the person who wants to deny algebra from bright kids because there are dropouts around who are doing schoolwork difficult for everyone.


What is truly sad is the amount of money that the University of California and California State University systems spend on remedial classes to bring students up to basic university level in math, English and writing. I suspect that this situation repeats itself across the country.

george e. smith

Well Charles, you just have this old fashioned idea that if you do math right; or more accurately, correctly, you automatically get the correct answer.
Don’t you understand, how it can be bad for one’s self esteem to be expected to get the correct answer, rather than just show a good effort.
I often hand the cashier at a regular eating spot, a $20 bill, and 43 cents in change, for a sandwich that I know costs $5.43 including sales tax.
The cashier needs to use the computer screen to tell him(er) (s)he should give me back $15, either as a 10 and a 5 or as three 5s.
The trains don’t run often enough to slow down the growth rate of the bewitched individuals playing with their finger toys, instead of watching for traffic.

george e. smith

These edugeeks do not seem to understand that you can give a person (any person) ALL of the necessary numbers required to compute the correct answer to some problem; and it is still impossible for them to compute that correct answer (except by sheer luck).
Of course, I have given them the numbers; all of them, but I haven’t told them exactly WHAT each number is.
A distance, a mass, a voltage , a temperature ?? What the hell are these numbers.
Well for them to be able to solve the problem, I have to tell them, this 10.5 is a distance in km. This 85.7 is an average speed in kph.
This 1345 is a starting time in Zulu time. What I really want to know, is the Zulu time when I get there, at that place 10.5 km away.
You see the problem isn’t defined, until each and every numerical quantity that goes into it, is LABELLED as to exactly what it is, or what it is that I want to find out.
Hey !! whoever thought that texting is as old as the hills.
Instead of saying, Start time = 1345, I simply say t(0) =1345
Instead of saying Distance = 10.5 km, I simply say d = 10.5 (km)
Instead of saying average speed = 85.7 kph , I say , v =85.7
See how easy that is. I just algebrated a numerical problem, using nothing but texting language.
Now if I can just get the student to formulate the problem in terms of those texting labels, instead of the specific set of numbers I gave him(er), then (s)he will be able to solve every problem of that form, just by putting in the specific set of numbers.
You cannot formulate the method of solution of a problem, unless you understand the concept, of labeling everything with texted names, and describing the method of solution in those terms.
Algebra is absolutely essential, in order to be able to formulate how to solve a problem, regardless of the actual values of the quantities in the problem.
You cannot develop critical thinking skills, without understanding the basic concept of Algebra.
Some edugeeks think Algebra should be replaced by Statistics, as being more useful to a person in their everyday life.
That is about like saying that learning how to fold a piece of paper into a jumping frog, is more important, than being able to write an interesting story or poem on that same piece of paper.

Pamela Gray

And yet, 6th graders are introduced to pre-algebra. Charles speaks not from direct observation of public school scope and sequence but from baseless assumptions. Direct quote from the Common Core States Standards, 6th grade:
Expressions and Equations
Apply and extend previous understandings of arithmetic to algebraic expressions.
Reason about and solve one-variable equations and inequalities.
Represent and analyze quantitative relationships between dependent and independent variables.

Golly, we had intro 1 variable equations in 3rd grade, the rest in 4th… But what do you expect, it was a sort of experimental program a bit ahead for the time… Which was the 1950s is a 3000 person farm town. That’s right, we are talking the children of farmers and farm workers here, not college professors or lawyers. The place wasnot rich, either. It doesn’t take money to learn, just get rid of the State and Federal crap. By 5th grade we had factoring and factorials, “new math” and more. IIRC, easy quadratic equasions too.
But hey, it was 55 years ago I’m sure things have improved now…

Leo Smith

I got bored so my junior school headmaster taught me the basics of ‘The Calculus’ ….at age 11…

Pamela Gray

Yes, variables are introduced earlier in place of a square blank box. Please. Don’t even pretend to know what goes on in public schools unless you visit them every day. So much preconceived notions out there without a shred of investigative evidence. Burns my britches! Gets me riled! Ruffles my feathers! Second graders are writing fractions. First graders are identifying them.
If you haven’t been in the classroom in the past 5 years, do NOT trust your own comments!

Retired Engineer Jim

Algebra and differential equations do actually look different.

Only to the literate, otherwise it’s all Greek.

“It’s taken 30 years of education cuts to create a generation stupid enough to believe in Global Warming, or not recognise algebra!” EGADS! The quote of the year!

Pamela Gray

I nominate it for the stupid comment of the year. Right up there with “I saw a Sasquatch” news report.

Have you examined your tax bill recently for any evidence of education cuts? There are none in mine.
Read Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt’s *The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America* available at AmaXon for $40 or free on her website. The dumbing down may have started with John Dewey.


Bob’s right, we’re spending more on education than ever before. One theory is that the intrusive testing is interfering with education.
On the other hand, personal experience has shown that our upper ranked high school students are greatly advanced over our parent’s generation. We have advanced calculus and physics on the high school level. I entered college as a junior because of all my advanced classes. Also, our bottom ranked schools are likely advancing as well. Several of my grandparent’s classmates graduated while being functionally illiterate, something just not possible today.

Pamela Gray

Thank you. Finally a realistic comment. These days, students with low measured IQ’s are being taught how to read to at least the middle school level. I know. Because I teach them. Which also begs the question: What does measured IQ have to do with being able to learn how to read?


I wonder what would happen if I pulled out one of my survey meters at 30,000ft and turned it on.

I often use 2 mini geiger counters hooked together on international flights to measure cosmic radiation. The setup has only 1 small red flashing light on the LCD90 display which I am very careful to cover up when the apparatus is in my seat front pocket to hide it from flight staff and nearby passengers. (The higher you go the faster it flashes). So far so good!
Did you know that you get about 40x background radiation at cruise altitude? However, there is much less the closer you get to the equator (presumably due the earth magnetic field funneling charged particles to the poles and creating aurora). Obviously AGW is to blame! And it will make things worse as we will all have to flee to the poles to escape the coming inferno.


I recommend the Radiation Alert Inspector+, by S.E. International. It has a red flashing light, a digital display, makes lots of noise and has a timer so you can do a count down. It uses a pancake probe.


Alastair, I did that thirty years ago, with the results appearing in a radiation training text. Background radiation at ground level, drops off progressively with altitude, then climbs notably at cruising altitude. The Concord plane (France, England) had radiation monitors to give alarms to descend to lower altitudes in the event of a solar flare.

There should be less cosmic rays the closer to the poles. The reason is that the cross sectional areas of earth magnetic field increases. A good example is the bar magnet sprinkled with iron fillings. You can see where the lines of force are and how they converge at the poles. I thought perhaps that there is more atmosphere there and that absorbs more cosmic rays. That’s interesting anyway.
The other idea that magnetic fields don’t have much to do with high end energy fields. Starting with spectrum of energy, magnetic fields stop filtering in the infrared range. Light which is much lower in frequency than x rays or cosmic rays, magnetic fields have no effect at all. Communication companies love fiber. Magnetic fields have no effect at all. Neither do x rays, cosmic rays, and at the other end is microwave and radio waves.
Is there a grant in this somewhere?

re rishrac @ 9:04
My understanding is that most cosmic rays are not ‘rays’ at all but highly charged protons and electrons and a few other things. Thus they are very strongly affected by the earth’s magnetic field thus ending up towards the poles and away from the equator. Anyway, my experiment continues gathering data…much more fun than making a model!

Paul Westhaver

worse… you could have a lethal bioweapon etc on board and the knuckle draggers would be unwise to it so long as it had an APPLE logo on it. In fact, you could get it “stolen” and distributed if it had an i-phone 10 sticker on it displaying a picture of Taylor Swift.
But math symbols OMG. Call in HOMELAND security!

Ian H

Weapons of Math Instruction

re jsuther @4:33
Yes, I’ve been carrying small geiger counters for about 30 years on planes too but never got a chance on the Concorde. The best units I’ve found are Aware Electronics LCD -90Pro controllers for their little RM60 geiger counters. I now use two, one stacked directly on top of the other, and oriented so that they lie parallel to the surface of the earth. A coincidence box ensures that only signals coming from both superimposed geiger tubes at the same time get counted. This eliminates the background terrestrial radiation and leaves only the cosmic rays as you obviously know.
Background counts/min with one geiger tube are usually about 12 but this reduces to 1 or less with the two stacked tubes on the ground. At altitude both setups record about 40 -50 cpm showing that most of the radiation up there is from cosmic sources (or at least that’s my interpretation).
They geiger counters are each only about the size of a cigarette package so can easily be contained in the seat front pocket…all you have to do is ensure nobody gets alarmed at the flashing red light but you can turn this off if you want. I used to take my laptop up to the cockpit during the flight (back in the days when you were allowed access, that is) and show the flight crew the graph of radiation vs. altitude for the flight. They had no idea that there was such a big increase. I don’t worry for them except for the stewardesses who might just be a day or less pregnant…as a group I’m told they often have a high rate of miscarriages and it’s usually put down to irregular schedules, time zone changes, lack of sleep, etc. but I do wonder if cosmic ray hits on the very few embryonic cells might just pay a part.

bill johnston

I was always tempted to take my $5.00 aneroid altimeter on a flight. All solid-state and no batteries. But I quit flying before they got so persnickety over security.


That does not give the correct altitude, since the pressure in the cabin is kept at a comfortable level, while the outside air is considerably thin. You would have to mount it on the outside of the airplane window next to your seat, maybe the captain wouldn’t mind…

bill johnston

to StephanF: Sorry my explanation was not clearer. That was my purpose, to find out what altitude the cabin was pressurized to .

Steve Reddish

bill johnston May 7, 2016 at 7:25 pm
Bill, I carried a mechanical aneroid altimeter aboard flights back in the 70’s for the same reason. Altitude indicated was always less than actual altitude during flight, with 10,000 ft max. During a landing at Denver my altimeter indicated about 2700 ft at touchdown, changing to 5100 ft as cabin was equilized with exterior pressure.

Anyone wanting to do a check of altitude and radiation (or anything else) on a commercial flight might like to consider flights on the Airbus 380 (the double decker). This has altitude displayed on the on-screen flight path option that is updated about every minute or less (at least on Emirates). Other planes such as the 747 only update the altitude on a rotating cycle that can be as long as 3-5 minutes (at least on Qantas/BA).

Paul Westhaver

I am thinking of the killing or Archimedes right now.
Also the genocide of the intellectuals and teachers in Cambodia.. oh… way back in 1975 at the hands of Pol Pot, a Marxist.


heh- and i’m thinking about ‘quantitative easing’ (theft by inflation) and the witchdoctors (economists – award winning ones) who invented it and many other ‘rationalizations’ for their masters’ predation on human beings.
so, not terrorists- just the ayatollahs who preach that it’s the right thing to do.

Pamela Gray

Don’t blink. The vilification of school teachers is happening in the U.S.. Killing with words or weapons is on the same path.

Americans just seem to get more stupid each generations. Perhaps it is inevitable.


Hey now, not all ‘mericans are stoopid. I mean, look at me. I still have 2 brain cells left.

Ha ha, those aren’t brain cells.


Well, they’re what I think with so… they must be brain cells.


Hey man, it was them ’90s man, what did in your brain brains cells man, right?
After we got out of the ’80s, the ’90s made the ’60s look like the ’50s!


Menicholas, dude, I smoked it but I didn’t inhale.

NW sage

Perhaps it is a result of not ‘sequestering’ the dumbest ones! /sarc


nah- they first bankrupted the economy by inflation back in the 1780s.
It took no more than 3 years to do it.
By April 1779, George Washington wrote to John Jay, president of the Continental Congress, “In the last place, though first in importance, I shall ask, is there any thing doing, or that can be done, to restore the credit of our currency? The depreciation of it is got to so alarming a point that a wagon-load of money will scarcely purchase a wagon-load of provisions.”
stupid has always been – everywhere and in every age.
stupid is remorseless, relentless, and always in popular demand.

It is in the best interest of the government to keep the masses ignorant and incapable of original thinking. Best they just accept what they are told as “truth”


Unless Guido Menzio has a Nobel Prize like Dr. Michael Mann, nobody should pay any attention to him.


An imaginary Nobel for imaginary work. Al Gore got a real Nobel for imaginary work. Obama got a real Nobel for nothing. Can’t imagine what may be next.


Completely understandable.
On every campus in the country, liberal arts majors hate math. Nothing strikes terror into their hearts like the dreaded Calculus. Even still, they reserve their greatest loathing, hatred and fear for any who actually understand math. Eventually these liberal arts majors go out into the real world, bringing their hatreds and fears with them. There, they accumulate, year after year, utterly innumerate, full of hatred and fear of math, uncounted millions of them. All they accomplish is making life that much more difficult for the rest of us.
Ultimately, the inevitable must happen. The innumerates will be at the vanguard, spearheading the Zombie Apocalypse. (They are almost there now.)

Eugene WR Gallun

Hmmm…..The politically correct are the Zombie Apocalypse…..Brain dead and wanting to eat your face off…..Is there….is there a poem in that?????? Eugene WR Gallun


…uncounted millions of them
You are correct. It’d have been funnier if you’d decided to write, “trillions” instead, though.

Leonard Lane

Billions is bad enough.


and yet it’s the statistical geniuses with the supercomputers that brought this website into existence and who are on drum majors for the stupid parade that’s wrecking the whole world!
i think your comment is meritorious, nonetheless…lol – can u see why?


Why you gotta use all them complimicated wordz?


Them’s $5 words. Sighintits can use them because of all the goberment money they get.


Have you ever tried to do mathematics in Roman Numerals? Take it from me, don’t.


What’s so hard about that? 😛

Mark Luhman

I – I = ? What you answer on that one?

Well that was arithmetic. Care to try some math like differential equations? 🙂


Yeah, if it wasn’t for Roman Numerals, I wouldn’t know when some of those old movies were copyrighted.


What your answer to this? I – I =?


Try dividing by zero in Roman numerals!


Hey now, if I can’t solve a problem with precision percussion readjustment instrument, I hand it off to somebody else. 🙂

D. J. Hawkins

OK smarty pants, show us how you multiply.


And if it gets more complicated than that, I get out the precision percussion readjustment instrument. And if that doesn’t solve the problem, I hand it off to somebody with more than the 2 brain cells I have. 😛


now try long division
[Reply: No! -Ric]
[Just trying to figure how I’d come up with a test divisor boggles my mind.]


I’m not sure how to write long division on the computer so, you’ll have to accept this substitute:


Lack of a zero is the likely reason that the Romans did not begin the industrial revolution 18 centuries before James Watt.

They had the concept of’none’ just not the zero symbol. So…
I-I= nil
Yes, nil is nil in both English and Latin, though the pronunciation is different.
One doesn’t really need a zero to do math. Or pi eithrr… The Old Way was to use various fractions depending on the ultimate precision needed. 22/7 for two places, 333/106 for 5 places 355/113 for 6 places. Few folks need more than 6 places of precision… especially in 30 B.C. Rome…

Pamela Gray

Sumerians were using 0 to determine debt waaayyyy before 18 centuries ago.


>>Lack of a zero is the likely reason that the Romans did
>>not begin the industrial revolution 18 centuries before James Watt.
No. The reason was the Romans successfully employed slaves, and had a ready and continuing supply of them. However, in 18th century Britain we has cheapish labour, but no slaves. So mine and mill owners soon realised that it was much more economic and profitable to employ fossil fuels as our new slaves.
People seem to forget that civilisation depends on grunt – the hard work of somebody or something. And since each barrel of oil contains about 10,000 man-hours of hard labour, it was more efficient to use coal and then oil as our new slave labour. There is too much emphasis sometimes on the invention of a product, rather than the demand that allowed those inventions. Were it not for the depth of Cornish mines, and the difficulty of getting water out of those mines by manual (or slave) labour, the atmospheric engine would never have been built. And the steam engine that sprang from that invention would also not have been built.
But if we ditch our cheap fossil fuel ‘slave labour’, then we shall have to reinvent human slavery. Perhaps that is what the Green want….

Mark Luhman

First you have one huge problem. you don’t have a zero.

Juan Slayton

Any newbie programmer can demonstrate (usually by accident) that division by zero does not require a special character: i = n/(x-x);


Its fun doing maths in hexadecimal notation, much simpler and less prone to mistake than binary.

My favourite notation for doing math is decimal. I sometimes revert to chars as well.

@Ric Werme – “I miss my PDP-10”
The KL-10 emulator is what you are looking for.

If she new he’s an italian mathematicians
VIII+VIII=XVI would be ok.
Problem is when there’s a


Take one of the V, turn it upside down and stick it under the other. There is your answer. X


What have the Romans ever done for us?


What have the Romans ever done for us?
they consolidated stupidity, destroyed all competition and unified the narrative
First Council of Nicaea
but if you mean what did they do that we like?
they added the chewy sounding phonemes to our modern speech.
sine qua non top gigio.


May 7, 2016 at 4:06 pm
What have the Romans ever done for us?
they consolidated stupidity, destroyed all competition and unified the narrative”

gnomish –
I believe you have the Romans confused with the current US Administration.

Is humanity really so shit that we can’t remember history? Answer: YES
Darwinian evolution will switch into Lamarckian evolution soon (on a multi-hundred year time-scale) with CRISPR/Cas9 technology.
Kurzweilian Singularityism may come first though. Humanity will knock out the phony “stupid shit liberal genes” as soon as possible whichever. Don’t be despondent about the future. Darwin will triumph over Lysenko.
It’s kind of amazing that the climate fuckw!ts who come on here, and you know who you are, don’t even know what Lysenkoism is.

Javert Chip

What have the Romans ever done for us?
Sophie Lauren.
By the way I-I = II-II.

Javert Chip

Make that “Loren”


May as well make it “Sophia” while we are about it.

Javert Chip

Yea, that too.

Sunny Jim

Aren’t ‘Arabic’ numerals actually Indian in origin?


If I remember from grade school, they were called “Hindu-Arabic” numerals. Of course I’ve forgotten most of what they tried to teach me back then anyway, so I could be wrong. ;->

Mike McMillan

Maybe that’s why the Arabs don’t use Arabic numerals.

Pamela Gray

What came first, Sanskrit or Arabic? The world may never know.


I think the general point is missed, we now live in a time of denunciation to the authorities. I believe that was the way it was in Stalinist Russia, Hitler’s Germany and the likes of North Korea. Oh and back in England a long time ago when anyone could accuse you of being a witch and in all cases you were guilty unless you can prove your innocence, all at your inconvenience.
With the head of DHS appearing on screens in walmart with messages to make sure everyone spies on everyone.
It’s surreal folks, truly surreal.


I don’t think the point has been missed. There aren’t many ways to deal with this. Treating this incident with derisive humor, as is being done here, is probably the most peaceful and civilized way.


When it happens to you hen you deal with it, this is not dealing with it lol

And to prove you weren’t a witch, they’d tie you to a long pole, put you under water for 30 minutes or so, and if you didn’t die, you weren’t a witch!

As I understand it, if you drowned you were innocent. If you survived such an ordeal, then they executed you. Either way you ended up not alive. Definitely a lose/lose situation.

If you DID die, you weren’t a witch. You were then given the funeral of the innocent.

What! You mean it was a death sentence for the innocent? How would they kill a witch if it didn’t drown? And, ” there are witches”….
Ok…. but, but, I thought that if they were innocent that the grace of God would save them.


Prolly thought he was a Climate Siantist adjusting some data to terrorize the populace with . .
A hopeful climate story, and it didn’t cost you anything ; )

Catherine Rampell, the Washington Post writer and Guido Menzio have a rant against Trump supporters in the Washington Post article.
I am a Trump supporter and have been even before he announced his run for president.


The next time I have a math puzzle to work on during a flight, I’m going to do it in Roman numerals.

Different is bad …

Different is bad …
– with different you need a model + supercomputer.


Won’t be long now where someone writing in cursive will experience the same problem.


If I want to keep a written note secret from my kids, I write it in cursive. Of course, writing on a piece of paper is foreign to them, too.


I’m sure there is, or soon will be, an app for that. Initiate the app, take a photo of the cursive, and it will translate it to print or voice.


You use many strange werdz.
Are you sure you are not a terrorist?


Dude, I’m definitely not a terrorist. I work with radioactive materials, not bombs. If I decide to do something, they’ll call me a Conqueror.

Pamela Gray

Not if my students are in the room. I am teaching cursive to students with cognitive challenges. They write beautifully.


Did anyone mention long division in Roman Numerals? Just grateful that 2nd order DEs were the worst I had to deal with. Still baffled by divs, grads and fractals….


Who are these poets?

Margaret Smith

Very nice!

Mike McMillan

Didn’t know Cicero wrote poetry. Lyricist for the Sirens?

Bruce Cobb

You shouldn’t derive on a plane.


That’s what pi lots are for.


stick to plane geometry


Oh, Euclid -ers!

Pamela Gray

Only for those who can “see” the fourth plane.


If you derive, don’t drink.

Alan Ranger

Here is the paper he was actually working on/from
I couldn’t weed out a single differential equation from it. But there were lots of integral expressions of complex parameterized functions. Nor could I identify any Roman numerals but there were many Arabic numerals – probably all of the digits 0, 1, 2, …. , 8, 9 many times over.
I suggest that the basic math ignorance levels here extend well beyond the passenger, to the reporting journalist and all who failed to see the difference between integral calculus and differential equations, between Roman and Arabic numerals, and probably the most glaring – between Arabic symbols and Greek letters, the latter being the normal staple for many branches of mathematics.


I imagine you are correct. I mean, what good is math to a liberal arts major?


I was too lazy to do more than scan the paper but how about equation 9? The apostrophe (prime) in F'(s)s would usually indicate differentiation.

Alan Ranger

Yes, an expression for a derivative, but not a differential equation (by my interpretation). Eq (9) was derived from the original (known) function of Eq (8). My interpretation of a differential equation is the starting point from which you would determine a solution (function) such as Eq (8). I guess there’s a whole semantics argument possible here. But such would be way beyond the scope of the passenger and the journo anyway.


LXXXXVIII/C of economists agree. There it must be correct.

Michael Maddocks

Look, if he can hijack a plane by doing calculus then he can hijack a plane without doing calculus. In fact he can probably hijack a plane without a plane. I say we just let him do what he wants and try not to piss him off.


He could probably hijack the plane with only 4 parameters. It would take 5 to hijack a plane without a plane.


A passenger on Malaysia airlines flight MH370 was solving a topological problem of a klein bottle in seven dimensions when it disappeared.


So which of the seven should they be searching for the plane?


Or is it plain?


Definitely a real projective plane.


… and the lady next to him saw doing it, but wasn’t confident enuf to say anything.


TOO ⅃ATƎ, ᴤHE ᖉEᗄ⅂IZED, ƎHƧ ᗡ⅃UOHƧ ᴤᗄ⅄ ᴤOʍE⊥H…


Don’t airplanes have safe spaces? They should….


Ah yes, a nice echo chamber lounge where I can get a massage, cheese sandwich and converse with fellow professional victims about the inequity and inherent bigotry of the micro aggression of the moment.

Tom Judd

It’s called the landing runway.

Tom Judd

“That’s right: He’s Italian, not Middle Eastern, or whatever heritage usually gets ethnically profiled on flights these days.”
What!?! Middle Eastern gets profiled? Come again? The only ethnicity that is guaranteed not to be profiled is young, male, Middle Easterner. 85 year old Japanese man – search him! 90 year old Irish grandmother – search her. 10 year old girl – check her luggage. 28 year old male Saudi – can we expedite you through security sir?


Colleagues of mine and I were heading to a plasma physics conference and we were doing ‘shop’ talk while boarding the plane and were slowly moving through the isle. My colleague had just made a comment on ‘Coulomb explosions’ a topic in plasma physics and I saw some passengers taking notice, looking at us with raised eyebrows. I whispered to my colleague to watch what he was saying. He immediately recognized that this could spell trouble and switched the subject. The flight was NOT interrupted and we arrived at our destination without any incidence. Whew! Yes and writing differential equations during the flight certainly is Verboten! Just simple addition and subtraction is ok, but no formulas, whatsoever. LOL!


You must be on a long flight. You cannot arrive without the incidence of your flight path colliding with the runway


Oops, incident!

Nigel S

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.


I love it because that’s usually the kind of stupidity that flows from leftist intellectuals. Are we sure that the woman in the story wasn’t a professor of women’s studies at some Ivy League school?


From th3e linked article;
“Menzio for his part says he was “treated respectfully throughout,” though he remains baffled and frustrated by a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently.” He is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, as well as “A security protocol that is too rigid–in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks–and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless. ”
Rising xenophobia stoked by the presidential campaign, he suggested, may soon make things worse for people who happen to look a little other-ish.
“What might prevent an epidemic of paranoia? It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump’s voting base,” he wrote.”
Hmm . . an expert on US information collection . . and security protocol, and clueless people it relies upon for input . . and the ethos of Mr. Trump’s voting base . .which he apparently detected was influencing this passenger . . with his magical mathematical superpowers . .
Stinks to high heaven, in my nose ; )

Russell Klier

Assault with a deadly theorem…..A Federal criminal statute….

Pamela Gray

Only if you have a proof.


Doesn’t (XVI)(XVI)=CCLVI


Yep. Dang roman numerals. 🙂


algebra in college???
when did algebra become a college course?, wasn’t it taught in high school? how does one get into a 4-year college without algebra as a pre-requisite?


or did they mean abstract algebra or linear algebra, which are legit college courses.


Several of the posts above highlight the main difficulty with Roman numerals – fractions. This is why I believe that while they were competent *builders*, the Romans were technologically incapable of real engineering. When they needed engineers, they hired Greeks (Pythagoreans, no doubt).
Even the Egyptians had a better idea of the value of pi.

Tom in Florida

There’s pie?

Craig W

What is even more silly is what Professor Menzio wrote at the end of his tweet, “Trumps America is already here.”
Do the math genius … we are living in Obama’s America until he turns in his keys.


…IF he turns in his keys …

Read James Franklin’s *The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal* (JHU 2015). Pascal gave us frequentist statistics and inductive inference from which we have yet to recover. Beware The Black Swan of reality!

Pat Paulsen

I did not finish high school but even I can figure out the difference between differential equations and Arabic (or other) foreign scripts. The result of the modern educational system? Maybe I should be glad that I was unable to complete my education and so, filled in the holes by reading and learning, independently of the socialist curriculum?


I too have doubts WRT the modern education system. I found stamp collecting exposed one to many languages and scripts.


Sound airline security is not inconsistent with common sense. In fact, it’s not possible without it.


I myself have done math on a plane. I had no idea I was endangering the lives of my fellow passengers.

Javert Chip

Only the ones with weapons grade stupidity.

this was funny at first read – then… – who’s protocol led to the several hours delay – the airline’s or the fed’s – that’s where the most stupidity lies – the protocols should error on the side of caution – not paranoia
as for a passenger who didn’t recognize math – that’s a sad & unavoidable problem – but no doubt several other people viewed the paper – and still the plane was waylaid – why?


I would only advise doing this if you really like spending time with those nice DHS agents.