Oberlin Blogs

# God Rest Ye Merry Ellipses...

December 3, 2009

Harris Lapiroff ’10

To most of you, math doesn’t seem like the most fun subject in the world (If it does, more power to you! As I’ve said before, though, I personally hated math through high school.), but in my experience, even if it’s not one of the most fun subjects (debatable) it’s certainly one of the most fun departments at Oberlin.

Even setting aside that every math professor I’ve had is enthusiastic and fun in their own unique ways—from the one who somehow manages every class to get chalk on his face while jumping up and down during lecture, to the one who shouts “Holy mackerel, that’s ridiculous!” in the midst of particularly wild proofs1—consider this: the math department has a pizza party every month.

Sure, this pizza party is usually accompanied by a mathematical lecture of some fashion. We hear a member of the faculty speak on, for instance, various ways to calculate the center of a triangle (as it happens, there are A LOT of different triangle centers2—like, over 3,000) or on such hilarious subjects as mathematical cranks. Often we have a guest mathematician tell us about such things as Tschokwe sand drawings and their mathematical properties. Sometimes students are doing work interesting enough to talk to the department about. Just last month my friends Sneha and Oliver gave a presentation (entitled “A Midsummer Knot’s Dream”) about summer research they had done in the fields of knot and game theory.

Today’s math luncheon was slightly different, though. There was no lecture. Instead, we were celebrating the holidays.

The lunch started off with a bit of story time. Professor Susan Colley read to us the book Math Curse (by the creators of such classics as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales) which I haven’t read since the sixth grade, but was just as funny this time around.

And then we sang math carols.

What in the heck are math carols?! you might demand. Math carols are like Christmas carols, but rather than recounting the birth of Christ those thousands of years ago, they recount the joys—and, let’s be fair, miseries—of mathematics. Reprinted here so that you can enjoy them (as Prof. Walsh always says, giving us a proof to do on our own time) in the privacy of your own room are my two favorite math carols from today.

The Conic Section Carol

To the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

God rest ye merry ellipses
And hyperbolas, too
Parabolas and circles
All curves of degree two.
Degenerate and involute, the mathematicians toy.
O sections of comfort and joy, etc.

O symmetry and focuses
And fun directrices.
Both smooth and sharply pointed curves
Can have some vertices
To prove this fact, derivatives are such a clever ploy.
O sections of comfort and joy, etc.

And also,

Oh Calculus, Oh Calculus

By Denis Gannon
To the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree”

Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
How tough are both your branches.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
To pass what are my chances?
Derivatives I cannot take,
At integrals my fingers shake.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
How tough are both your branches.

Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
Your theorems I can’t master.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
My Proofs are a disaster.
You pull a trick out of the air,
Or find a reason, God knows where.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
Your theorems I can’t master.

Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
Your problems do distress me.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
Related rates depress me.
I walk toward lampposts in my sleep,
And running water makes me weep.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
Your problems do distress me.

Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
My limit I am reaching.
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
For mercy I’m beseeching.
My grades do not approach a B,
They’re just an epsilon from D.3
Oh, Calculus; Oh, Calculus,
My limit I am reaching.

Days like this, I really love my department.

And just wait until the annual pi day (March 14, i.e., 3.14) celebration…

1. The same professor also once told us that “Linear Algebra means never having to say you’re sorry.”

2. Man, just check out the first paragraph of that website and tell me mathematicians aren’t fun:

Long ago, someone drew a triangle and three segments across it. Each segment started at a vertex and stopped at the midpoint of the opposite side. The segments met in a point. The person was impressed and repeated the experiment on a different shape of triangle. Again the segments met in a point. The person drew yet a third triangle, very carefully, with the same result. He told his friends. To their surprise and delight, the coincidence worked for them, too. Word spread, and the magic of the three segments was regarded as the work of a higher power.

3. If I don’t do some studying tonight, my grade will be within some ε of D as well. Eek!

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