Category Archives: calculus

A surprise parabola and more garden

Idly wondering about the tangents from a point to a circle I constructed the figure below. The point A is on a circle and can be moved round the circle. The chord CD then moves around. The interesting thing is to see the envelope of this chord as the point A is moved. ..

parabola surprise constructio

Circles and hyperbolas galore, but when the big circle passes through the centre of the smaller circle the envelope is the surprise parabola. The question is “How do I find the equation of such a parabola? Sensible choice of origin and axes is the first thing. the y-axis is best as the line joining the centres of the two circles. Then you need an equation for the line CD, with a suitable parameter. Then a little bit of calculus………..Nice one for calculus students

parabola surpriseConstructions done with my web based program. Try it yourself: GEOSTRUCT

And now for January in Puerto Rico. I don’t know the name of the pink and white flowering tree, but I do know that without my machete the whole garden would be infested with babies from the first one.


This one below is a yellow eleconia, also spreading madly.


And this is a cute little tree with probably poisonous berries.


And what the hell have they done to the post editor. It only works in BOLD

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Filed under calculus, caribbean, envelope, geometry, high school, math, Uncategorized

Halving a triangle, follow-up number two, pursuing the hyperbola

Halving the triangle, any triangle, led to the equation XY = 2 as the condition on the points on two sides of the triangle, distant X and Y from the vertex.
The envelope of this set of lines turned out to be a hyperbola.
But XY = 2 defines a hyperbola – what is the connection ?

I took xy = 1 for the condition, on a standard xy grid, and wrote it as representing a function x —-> y, namely y = 1/x
The two points of interest are then (x,0) on the x-axis and (0,1/x) on the y-axis.
We need the equation of the line joining these two points, so first of all we have to see that our x, above, is telling us which line we are talking about, and so it is a parameter for the line.
We had better give it a different name, say p.
Now we can find the equation of the line in x,y form, using (p,0) and (0,1/p) for the two points:
(y – 0)/(1/p – 0) = (x – p)/(0 – p)
which is easier to read as yp = -x/p + 1, and easier to process as yp2 = -x + p

Now comes the fun bit !
To find the envelope of a set of straight lines we have to find the points of intersection of adjacent lines (really? adjacent?). To do this we have to find the partial derivative (derivative treating almost everything as constant) of the line equation with respect to the parameter p. A later post will reveal all about this mystifying procedure).
So do it and get  2yp = 1

And then eliminate p from the two equations, the line one and the derived one:
From the derived equation we get p = 1/(2y), so substituting in the line equation gives 1 = 2xy
This is the equation of the envelope, and written in functional form it is
y = 1/(2x), or (1/2)(1/x)
Yes ! Another rectangular hyperbola, with the same asymptotes.
(write it as xy = 1/2 if you like)

Now I thought “What will this process do with y = x2 ?”
So off I go, and to cut a long story short I found the following:
For y = x2 the envelope was y = (-1/4)x2, also a multiple of the original, with factor -1/4
parabola by axa track point
parabola by axa track point and line

Some surprise at this point, so I did it for 1/x2 and for x3
Similar results: Same function, with different factors.
Try it yourself ! ! ! ! ! ! !

This was too much ! No stopping ! Must find the general case ! (y = xk)
Skipping the now familiar details (left to the reader, in time honoured fashion) I found the following:

Original equation: y = xk

Equation of envelope: y = xk multiplied by -(k-1)k-1/kk

which I did think was quite neat.
The next post will be the last follow-up to the triangle halving.

Constructions made with GEOSTRUCT, an online browser application:

To get geostruct from the net click

and to download the .doc instructions file basics.doc


Filed under algebra, calculus, construction, envelope, geometrical

Calculus without limits 5: log and exp

The derivative of the log function can be investigated informally, as log(x) is seen as the inverse of the exponential function, written here as exp(x). The exponential function appears naturally from numbers raised to varying powers, but formal definitions of the exponential function are difficult to achieve. For example, what exactly is the meaning of exp(pi) or exp(root(2)).
So we look at the log function:-
calculus5 text
calculus5 pic

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Calculus without limits 4: trignometric functions, cosine and sine

calculus4 pic
calculus4 text
It would be slightly more satisfying to set theta = f(t), where t is the time variable, but since dtheta/dt cancels out it doesn’t matter.

besides, this would require the dy/dx form of the derivative, and this seems to have gone out of fashion – poor Leibniz

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Calculus without limits 3

So you tried, or you didn’t, now here is the derivative of 1/sqr(x)


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George, to his teacher:

I have now integrated my preconceived ideas and the enlightenments engendered by yourself, but I still have trouble differentiating between “the limit of” and “the limits of”.

George’s teacher, aside:

I think George would be better off writing a novel. he could call it “The Limits of Continuity”.

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“I did my best to pass the test”

I did the sums, no hesitation.
But then it asked for explanation.
“I know it’s right”, I wrote down fast,
“I understood from first to last!”.
“I’m going to be a mathematician,
“Not a fingernail technician!”.

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Filed under algebra, arithmetic, calculus, education, fractions, geometry, humor, verse

Calculus without limits 2

As h approaches zero
I quietly despair.
It really is the limit.
Please don’t take me there.

The funny thing about the calculus is that it was brought into existence by Isaac Newton in 1666 or earlier, and was developed and used without the idea of limits for over 150 years. The first attempt to get rid of the troublesome infinitesimals was by Cauchy in 1821, where he introduced the chord slope (f(x + h) – f(x))/h. The whole business of finding a satisfactory definition of the derivative was finally achieved by Weierstrass in the mid 19th century.

So here we go with cubics, and the same approach can be used for any whole number power of x, even negative ones. You should try it.


Next time  sin(x) and cos(x), so no more  sin(h)/h stuff.

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Calculus without tears (that is, without limits)

“As h approached zero I reached the limit of my understanding.”

So it seemed to me that calculus without limits would be a good idea.

Not just for powers of x, but also for trig, exp and log functions.

This is the first of several posts on this subject.

calculus1 pic


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