Category Archives: conics

Parabola, it’s scarily simple…

No distances, no circles, and you can easily derive an equation.

Just a right angled triangle.

First, the definition of a parabola from the focus and directrix.

Pick a line, the directrix, and a point (B) not on that line (the focus):

parabola 1

Find the line at right angles, passing through a point (C) on that line.

parabola 3

Now find the line from B to C, and the midpoint of BC, which will be D.

parabola 2

Find the line at right angles to BC from D, and the intersection of this line and the vertical line, E, is a point on the parabola.

parabola 4

As point C is moved the parabola is traced out.

parabola 5

The picture is completed with the line BE. Check it!




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Filed under bisecting, conic sections, conics, construction, definitions, Uncategorized

Linear transformations, geometrically


Following a recent blog post relating a transformation of points on a line to points on another line to the graph of the equation relating the input and output I thought it would be interesting to explore the linear and affine mappings of a plane to itself from a geometrical construction perspective.

It was ! (To me anyway)

These linear mappings  (rigid and not so rigid motions) are usually  approached in descriptive and manipulative  ways, but always very specifically. I wanted to go directly from the transformation as equations directly to the transformation as geometry.

Taking an example, (x,y) maps to (X,Y) with the linear equations

X = x + y + 1 and Y = -0.5x +y

it was necessary to construct a point on the x axis with the value of X, and likewise a point on the y axis with the value of Y. The transformed (x,y) is then the point (X,Y) on the plane.

The construction below shows the points and lines needed to establish the point(X,0), which is G in the picture, starting with the point D as the (x,y)


transform of x

The corresponding construction was done for Y, and the resulting point (X,Y) is point J. Point D was then forced to lie on a line, the sloping blue line, and as it is moved along the line the transformed point J moves on another line

gif for lin affine trans1

Now the (x,y) point (B in the picture below, don’t ask why!) is forced to move on the blue circle. What does the transformed point do? It moves on an ellipse, whose size and orientation are determined by the actual transformation. At this point matrix methods become very handy.(though the 2D matrix methods cannot deal with translations)

gif for lin affine trans2

All this was constructed with my geometrical construction program (APP if you like) called GEOSTRUCT and available as a free web based application from

The program produces a listing of all the actions requested, and these are listed below for this application:

Line bb moved to pass through Point A
New line cc created, through points B and C
New Point D
New line dd created, through Point D, at right angles to Line aa
New line ee created, through Point D, at right angles to Line bb
New line ff created, through Point D, parallel to Line cc
New point E created as the intersection of Line ff and Line aa
New line gg created, through Point E, at right angles to Line aa
New line hh created, through Point B, at right angles to Line bb
New point F created as the intersection of Line hh and Line gg
New line ii created, through Point F, parallel to Line cc
New point G created as the intersection of Line ii and Line aa

G is the X coordinate, from X = x + y + 1 (added by me)

New line jj created, through Point G, at right angles to Line aa
New line kk created, through Point D, at right angles to Line cc
New point H created as the intersection of Line kk and Line bb
New point I created, as midpoint of points H and B
New line ll created, through Point I, at right angles to Line bb
New point J created as the intersection of Line ll and Line jj

J is the Y coordinate, from Y = -x/2 + y  (added by me)
and K is the transformed point (X,Y) Point J chosen as the tracking point (added by me)

New Line mm
Point D moved and placed on Line mm


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Filed under algebra, conics, construction, geometrical, geometry app, geostruct, math, ordered pairs, rigid motion, teaching, transformations, Uncategorized

Vertex of a parabola – language in math again

Here are some definitions of the vertex of a parabola.

One is complete garbage, one is correct  though put rather chattily.

The rest are not definitions, though very popular (this is just a selection). But they are true statements

Mathwarehouse: The vertex of a parabola is the highest or lowest point, also known as the maximum or minimum of a
Mathopenref: A parabola is the shape defined by a quadratic equation. The vertex is the peak in the curve as shown on
the right. The peak will be pointing either downwards or upwards depending on the sign of the x2 term.
Virtualnerd: Each quadratic equation has either a maximum or minimum, but did you that this point has a special name?
In a quadratic equation, this point is called the vertex!
Mathwords: Vertex of a Parabola: The point at which a parabola makes its sharpest turn.
Purplemath: The point on this axis which is exactly midway between the focus and the directrix is the “vertex”; the vertex is the point where the parabola changes direction.
Wikibooks: One important point on the parabola itself is called the vertex, which is the point which has the smallest distance between both the focus and the directrix. Parabolas are symmetric, and their lines of symmetry pass through the vertex.
Hotmath: The vertex of a parabola is the point where the parabola crosses its axis of symmetry

Scoring is 10 points for finding the garbage definition and 5 points for the correctish definition !!!! Go for it!

When I studied parabolas, back in 1958 or so (!) the parabola had an apex. So I checked the meaning of vertex, and found that the word was frequently misused.

Here is a good account:

Basically a vertex of a curve is a point where the curvature is a maximum or a minimum (in non math terms, most or least curved).

Here are two fourth degree polynomials, one has three vertices and the other has five. The maximum curvature points are indicated. The minimum curvature points are at the origin for the first curve, and at the points of inflexion for the second curve (curvature = zero)


A hyperbola has two vertices, one on each branch; they are the closest of any two points lying on opposite branches of the hyperbola, and they lie on the principal axis. On a parabola, the sole vertex lies on the axis of symmetry. On an ellipse, two of the four vertices lie on the major axis and two lie on the minor axis.

For a circle, which has constant curvature, every point is a vertex.

The center of curvature at a (nice) point on a curve is the center of the closest matching circle at that point. This circle will usually lie “outside” the curve on one side of the point, and “inside” the curve on the other side. Look carefully at the picture. It is called the osculating or kissing circle (from the Latin).

The center of curvature can be estimated by taking two point close to the point of interest, finding the tangents at these points, and then the lines at right angles to them and through the points. the center of curvature is roughly at the point of intersection of these two lines

01center of curvature

The diagram below shows this estimate, for the blue parabola, at the vertex.

02center of curvature

Finally (this has gone on further than expected!) I found this delightful gif.



Filed under conic sections, conics, construction, geometry, language in math, teaching

Real problems with conic sections (ellipse, parabola)

So there is an oval hole in a metal casting. It’s supposed to be an elliptical hole. Is it ????? How can we find out ?????
A good start would be to find the line which would be the major axis if it was elliptical. This turns out to be an engineering problem, not a mathematical one (I cannot see a way!). If the oval curve has an axis of symmetry then the method below will find it:

Firstly, get a computer picture of the oval.
Take two circles, of different radii, and push them along until each one touches the oval in two places.


The line joining the two centers will be the axis of symmetry if there is one (this can be shown mathematically).



The equation of an ellipse uses the lengths of the major and minor axes. Do it !

The closeness to elliptic can be assessed in various ways. Think of one.

next…..finding the focus of a parabolic shape

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Filed under conic sections, conics, education, engineering, geometry, math, teaching