Tag Archives: math

1/5 is one fifth of the length of a line segment of one unit – but how?

This comes from the Common Core

Develop understanding of fractions as numbers.
1. ……
2. Understand a fraction as a number on the number line; represent
fractions on a number line diagram.
a. Represent a fraction 1/b on a number line diagram by defining the
interval from 0 to 1 as the whole and partitioning it into b equal
parts. Recognize that each part has size 1/b and that the endpoint
of the part based at 0 locates the number 1/b on the number line.
b. Represent a fraction a/b on a number line diagram by marking off
a lengths 1/b from 0. …….

….but how do you do it ?????

The mystery is solved…….

Here is the line, with 0 and 1 marked. /You chose it already !


Here is a numbered line, any size, equally spaced, at intervals of one unit.

It only has to start from zero.


Now construct the line from point 5 to the “fraction” line at point 1, and a parallel line from point 1 on the numbered line.


The point of intersection of the parallel line and the “fraction” line is then 1/5 of the distance from 0 to 1 on the “fraction” line.


1/5, 2/5, 3/5, 4/5 and 1 are equally spaced on the fraction line.

L cannot be moved in the static picture.



Filed under fractions, geometry, math, Uncategorized

A minus times a minus is a plus -Are you sure you know why?

What exactly are negative numbers?
A reference , from Wikipedia:
In A.D. 1759, Francis Maseres, an English mathematician, wrote that negative numbers “darken the very whole doctrines of the equations and make dark of the things which are in their nature excessively obvious and simple”.
He came to the conclusion that negative numbers were nonsensical.[25]

A minus times a minus is a plus
Two minuses make a plus
Dividing by a negative, especially a negative fraction !!!!
(10 – 2) x (7 – 3) = 10 x 7 – 2 x 7 + 10 x -3 + 2 x 3, really? How do we know?
Or we use “the area model”, or some hand waving with the number line.

It’s time for some clear thinking about this stuff.

Mathematically speaking, the only place that requires troublesome calculations with negative numbers is in algebra, either in evaluation or in rearrangement, but what about the real world ?
Where in the real world does one encounter negative x negative ?
I found two situations, in electricity and in mechanics:

1: “volts x amps = watts”, as it it popularly remembered really means “voltage drop x current flowing = power”
It is sensible to choose a measurement system (scale) for each of these so that a current flowing from a higher to a lower potential point is treated as positive, as is the voltage drop.

Part of simple circuit A———–[resistors etc in here]————–B
Choosing point A, at potential a, as the reference, and point B, at potential b, as the “other” point, then the potential drop from A to B is a – b
If b<a then a current flows from A to B, and its value is positive, just as a – b is positive
If b>a then a current flows from B to A, and its value is negative, just as a – b is negative

In each case the formula for power, voltage drop x current flowing = power, must yield an unsigned number, as negative power is a nonsense. Power is an “amount”.
So when dealing with reality minus times minus is plus (in this case nosign at all).

The mechanics example is about the formula “force times distance = work done”
You can fill in the details.

Now let’s do multiplication on the number line, or to be more precise, two number lines:
Draw two number lines, different directions, starting together at the zero. The scales do not have to be the same.
To multiply 2 by three (3 times 2):
1: Draw a line from the 1 on line A to the 2 on line B
2: Draw a line from the 3 on line A parallel to the first line.
3: It meets line B at the point 6
4: Done: 3 times 2 is 6
numberlines mult pospos
Number line A holds the multipliers, number line B holds the numbers being multiplied.

To multiply a negative number by a positive number we need a pair of signed number lines, crossing at their zero points.

So to multiply -2 by 3 (3 times -2) we do the same as above, but the number being multiplied is now -2, so 1 on line A is joined to -2 on line B

numberlines mult posneg
The diagram below is for -2 times 3. Wow, it ends in the same place.
numberlines mult posneg

Finally, and you can see where this is going, we do -2 times -3.

Join the 1 on line A to the -3 on line B, and then the parallel to this line passing through the -2 on line A:

numberlines mult negneg

and as hoped for, this line passes through the point 6 on the number line B.

Does this “prove” the general case? Only in the proverbial sense. The reason is that we do not have a proper definition of signed numbers. (There is one).

Incidentally, the numbering on the scales above is very poor. The positive numbers are NOT NOT NOT the same things as the unsigned numbers 1, 1.986, 234.5 etc

Each of them should have a + in front, but mathematicians are Lazy. More on this another day.

Problem for you: Show that (a-b)(c-d) = ac – bc – ad + bd without using anything to do with “negative numbers”


Reference direction for current
Since the current in a wire or component can flow in either direction, when a variable I is defined to represent
that current, the direction representing positive current must be specified, usually by an arrow on the circuit
schematic diagram. This is called the reference direction of current I. If the current flows in the opposite
direction, the variable I has a negative value.

Yahoo Answers: Reference direction for potential difference
Best Answer: Potential difference can be negative. It depends on which direction you measure the voltage – e.g.
which way round you connect a voltmeter. (if this is the best answer, I hate to think of what the worst answer is)


Filed under algebra, arithmetic, definitions, education, geometrical, math, meaning, negative numbers, Number systems, operations, subtraction, teaching, Uncategorized

Time Series and Discrete Processes, continued

A simple function has an input, call it x, and an output, f(x). Sometimes the input is t, for time, and the output is the value f(t), observed at time t. With such a function, or process, we can look at what happened in the past, but we cannot know for certain what will happen in the future. Of course, we may have a (mathematical) model of the process, which allows us to make predictions about the future. These processes are “simple”, insofar as the future behaviour depends only on the value of the time variable.

An example is the height of a projectile, s(t) = ut – 0.5gt2

will it hit the hoop dydan
Borrowed from dy/dan “Will it hit the hoop?”

Far more interesting are what I shall call “dynamic” processes, in which the future behaviour depends on how the process output got to its current value (at time now!). This implies that in the simplest case the rate of change of the process output is involved.

watt steam engine
This is an early industrial static steam engine, designed by James Watt. The input is steam flow, the output is the rotational speed of the flywheel.

An example is a DC (direct current) electric motor driving a load. The way its speed changes over time depends not only on the voltage applied, but also on the speed at the moment (now).

This setup can be modeled by a simple first order differential equation,  but since computers came along it became clear that a simpler model using difference equations would do the job as well.

Let time be seen as equally spaced points, labeled …n-1, n, n+1, … and the speed of the motor at time n be vn.

Then the model of the process  is vn+1 = avn + kun, where un is the  voltage input at time n. The values of a and k are to be determined from theoretical or observed behaviour of the motor.This model is very good if we choose to keep the input voltage constant for the duration of the time interval.

Now for the amusing bit. I had taught business students about exponentially weighted averages numerous times previous to my sabbatical year studying control systems, and when I finally became happy with the discrete models as described above I realized in one of those moments that don’t happen very often that the equations were THE SAME in both cases. A bit of rewriting needed !

ewma(n) = (1-k)*ewma(n-1) + k*x(n)
vn+1 = avn + kun

Next post will look at feedback and computer control of dynamic systems.


Filed under discrete model, dynamic systems, engineering, forecasting, math, math apps, time series, Uncategorized

Time Series and Discrete Processes, or Calculus Takes a Back Seat


In the business and manufacturing world data keeps on coming in. What is it telling me? What is it telling me about the past? Can it tell me something believable about the future. These streams of data form the food for “time series analysis”, procedures for condensing
the data into manageable amounts.

Here is a plot of quarterly Apple I-phone sales. (ignore the obvious error, this is common)


I see several things, one is a pronounced and fairly regular variation according to the quarter, another is an apparent tendency for the sales to be increasing over time, and the third is what I will call the jiggling up and down, more formally called the unpredictable or random behaviour.
The quarterly variation can be removed from the data by “seasonal analysis”, a standard method which I am not going to deal wirh (look it up. Here’s a link:

The gradual increase, if real, can be found by fitting a straight line to the data using linear regression, and then subtracting the line value from the observed value for each data point. This gives the “residuals”, which are the unpredictable bits.

Some time series have no pattern, and can be viewed as entirely residuals.
We cannot presume that the residuals are just “random”, so we need a process of smoothing the data to a) reveal any short term drifting, and b) some help with prediction.
The simple way is that of “moving average”, the average of the last k residuals. Let’s take k = 5, why not !
Then symbolically, with the most recent five data items now as x(n), x(n-1),..,x(n-4), the moving average is

ma = (x(n)+x(n-1)+x(n-2)+x(n-3)+x(n-4))/5

If we write it as ma = x(n)/5 + x(n-1)/5 + x(n-2)/5 + x(n-3)/5 + x(n-4)/5 we can see that this is a weighted sum of the last five items, each with a weight of 1/5 (the weights add up to 1).
This is fine for smoothing the data, but not very good for finding out anything about future short term behaviour.
It was figured out around 60 years ago that if the weights got smaller as the data points became further back in time then things might be better.

Consider taking the first weight, that applied to x(n) as 1/5, or 0.2 so the next one back is 0.2 squared and so on. These won’t add up to 1 which is needed for an average, so we fix it.
0.2 + 0.2^2 + 0.2^3 + … is equal to 0.2/(1-0.2) or 0.2/0.8 so the initial weights all need to be divided by the 0.8, and we get the “exponentially weighted moving average” ewma.

ewma(n) =
x(n)*0.8+x(n-1)*0.8*0.2+x(n-2)*0.8*0.04+x(n-3)*0.8*0.008+x(n-)*0.8*0.0016 + …… where n is the time variable, in the form 1, 2, 3, 4, …

A quick look at this shows that ewma(n-1) is buried in the right hand side, and we can see that ewma(n) = 0.2*ewma(n-1) + 0.8*x(n),
which makes the progressive calculations very simple.
In words, the next value of the ewma is a weighted average of the previous value of the ewma and the new data value. (0.2 + 0.8 = 1)

The weighting we have just worked out is not very useful, as it pays too much attention to the new data, and the ewma will therefore be almost as jumpy as the data. Better values are in the range 0.2 to 0.05 as you can see in the following pictures, in which the k value is the weighting of the data value x, and the weighting of the ewma value is then (1-k):

So the general form is ewma(n) = (1-k)*ewma(n-1) + k*x(n)


With k=0.5 we do not get a very good idea of the general level of the sequence, as the ewma value is halfway between the data and the previous ewma value, so we try k=0.1


Much better, in spite of my having increased the random range from 4 to 10.

Going back to random=4, but giving the data an upward drift the ewma picks up the direction of the drift, but fails to provide a good estimate of current data value. This can be fixed by modifying the ewma formula. A similar situation arises when the data values rise at first and then start to fall (second picture)


Common sense says that to reduce the tracking error for a drifting sequence it is enough to increase the value of k. But that does not get rid of the error. We need a measure of error which gets bigger and bigger as long as the error persists. Well, one thing certainly gets bigger is the total error, so let us use it and see what happens.

Writing the error at time n as err(n), and the sum of errors to date as totalerr(n) we have

err(n) = x(n) – ewma(n), and totalerr(n) = totalerr(n-1) + err(n)

Then we can incorporate the accumulated error into the ewma formula by adding a small multiple of totalerr(n) to get

ewma(n) =  ewma(n) = (1-k)*ewma(n-1) + k*x(n) + h*totalerr(n)

In the first example below h = 0.05, and in the second h = 0.03, as things were too lively with h=0.05.


A good article on moving averages is:

In my next post I will show how the exponentially weighted moving average can be described in the language of discrete time feedback systems models, as used in modern control systems, and with luck I will get as far as the z-transfer function idea.


Filed under algebra, computer, discrete model, engineering, errors, forecasting, math, statistics, time series, 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

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

UK math – the National Curriculum

I was on the virtually powerless governing body of the local primary school in the UK when the first National Curriculum came out, some time in the early 80’s. Very “New Math”y. Reworked a few years later. Here is some stuff from the UK Dept for Education about the latest rewrite. The old “Back to Basics” brigade are in the ascendant, but at least the UK is not drowning under High Stakes Testing. Have a look:

Key stage 1 and 2 (ages 5 to 10)
Key stage 3  (11 to 13)
key stage 4 (14,15)
ans about assessment

Only the dedicated study math in the last 2 years.

You might find this interesting as well, just look at how little time is spent taking tests, and then only in three of the years.


Then I found this. Looks familiar !

Why the big curriculum change?

The main aim is to raise standards, particularly as the UK is slipping down international student assessment league tables. Inspired by what is taught in the world’s most successful school systems, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Finland, as well as in the best UK schools, it’s designed to produce productive, creative and well educated students. 

Although the new curriculum is intended to be more challenging, the content is actually slimmer than the current curriculum, focusing on essential core subject knowledge and skills such as essay writing and computer programming.

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Filed under education, INTERNATIONAL, math

A change from math – my garden in Puerto Rico

Ten years ago I came to Puerto Rico, to Mayaguez on the west coast, to a house with the usual vast expanse of nicely trimmed grass. Now I have the controlled jungle I always wanted. More time spent cutting things back or down than spent trying to get things to grow.
annual leaf
One leaf like this each year. A less successful part of the jungle.
My flamboyan tree. Best year ever for flowers.
flamboyan from below
And here from underneath.
monster plant
The monster plant. From 1 foot to 6 feet in 8 years, and prickly.
Ginger. Later the flower grows baby plants and more flowers.
baby apple bananas
Small apple bananas. Guineo manzano. Up to 300 on one stalk.
name unknown by me
I don’t know the name of this one, but it is 6 feet high and growing.
not weed
Definitely not weed.
voyager palm 2
Voyager palm, it flowered three times this year.
fancy bromelia
A fancy bromelia.weird fern tree
This is a fern, tree sized, with its annual one foot high flower.

There’s more, but I have to go out and cut some strays.

I am quite sure that there is math growing here, waiting to be spotted.


Filed under caribbean, Puerto Rico, retirado, tropical garden

Duality, fundamental and profound, but here’s a starter for you.

Duality, how things are connected in unexpected ways. The simplest case is that of the five regular Platonic solids, the tetrahedron, the cube, the octahedron, the dodecahedron and the icosahedron. They all look rather different, BUT…..

take any one of them and find the mid point of each of the faces, join these points up, and you get one of the five regular Platonic solids. Do it to this new one and you get back to the original one. Calling the operation “Doit” we get

tetrahedron –Doit–> tetrahedron –Doit–> tetrahedron
cube –Doit–> octahedron –Doit–> cube
dodecahedron –Doit–> icosahedron –Doit–> dodecahedron

The sizes may change, but we are only interested in the shapes.

This is called a Duality relationship, in which the tetrahedron is the dual of itself, the cube and octahedron are duals of each other, and the dodecahedron and icosahedron are also duals of each other.

Now we will look at lines and points in the x-y plane.

3x – 2y = 4 and y = (3/2)x + 2 and 3x – 2y – 4 = 0 are different ways of describing the same line, but there are many more. We can multiply every coefficient, including the constant, by any number not 0 and the result describes the same line, for example 6x – 4y = 8, or 0.75x – 0.5y = 1, or -0.75x + 0.5y + 1 = 0

This means that a line can be described entirely by two numbers, the x and the y coefficients found when the line equation is written in the last of the forms given above. Generally this is ax + by + 1 = 0

Now any point in the plane needs two numbers to specify it, the x and the y coordinates, for example (2,3)

So if a line needs two numbers and a point needs two numbers then given two numbers p and q I can choose to use then to describe a point or a line. So the numbers p and q can be the point (p,q) or the line px + qy + 1 = 0

The word “dual” is used in this situation. The point (p,q) is the dual of the line px + qy + 1 = 0, and vice versa.

dual of a rotating line cleaned up1

The line joining the points C and D is dual to the point K, in red.  The line equation is 2x + y = 3, and we rewrite it in the “standard” form as  -0.67x – 0.33y +1 = 0  so we get  (-0.67, -0.33) for the coordinates of the dual point K.

A quick calculation (using the well known formula) shows that the distance of the line from the origin multiplied by the distance of the point from the origin is a constant (in this case 1).

The second picture shows the construction of the dual point.

dual of a rotating line construction1

What happens as we move the line about ? Parallel to itself, the dual point moves out and in.

More interesting is what happens when we rotate the line around a fixed point on the line:

gif duality rotating line

The line passes through the fixed point C.  The dual point traces out a straight line, shown in green.

This can be interpreted as “A point can be seen as a set of concurrent lines”, just as a line can be seen as a set of collinear points (we have fewer problems with the latter).

It gets more interesting when we consider a curve. There are two ways of looking at a curve, one as a (fairly nicely) organized set of points ( a locus), and the other as a set of (fairly nicely) arranged lines (an envelope).

A circle is a set of points equidistant from a central point, but it is also the envelope of a set of lines equidistant from a central point (the tangent lines).

So what happens when we look for the dual of a circle? We can either find the line dual to each point on the circle, or find the point dual to each tangent line to the circle. Here’s both:

dual of a circle4

In this case the circle being dualled is the one with center C, and the result is a hyperbola, shown in green.  The result can be deduced analytically, but it is a pain to do so.

dual of a circle3

The hyperbola again.  It doesn’t look quite perfect, probably due to rounding errors.

The question remains – If I do the dualling operation on the hyperbola, will I get back to the circle ?

Also, why a hyperbola and not an ellipse ? Looking at what is going on suggests that if the circle to be dualled has the origin inside then we will get an ellipse. This argument can be made more believable with a little care !

If you get this far and want more, try this very heavy article:



Filed under geometry, math, teaching