Decoding Geeky T-Shirts, Episode 1

Decoding Geeky T-Shirts, episode 1

We’ve all seen them. Mathy t-shirts, mugs and social media graphics that offer a fun phrase for those who can decode the message. But have these ever made you feel a little, well, not so mathy? Me too. So let’s unlock the mysteries of these inside jokes.

I’ve gathered a few of the most common t-shirts featuring math symbols. One by one, I’ll interpret them for you. Of course if you have any ideas to share, feel free. And if you disagree with my analysis, by all means, let me know!

Here’s to feeling much smarter.

Math is fun!

We’ll start with a doozy and break it down bit by bit.

Math is fun

M = M     One of the shortcuts that these t-shirts take is simply inserting letters as variables. Or you could make an argument that the M in this example stands for mass.

PT solved for aThis one took me a few moments to figure out. It’s based on the Pythagorean Theorem — solving for a. Here’s a quick rundown:

solving PT

Ideal Gas LawThis is the Ideal Gas Law, which I know nothing about. But there’s some algebra to get from the law itself to this representation.


HH  Seems to me that this is simply the variable H, which could stand for just about anything. (If you have another suggestion, let me know in the comments section.)

imaginary numberI love this one! You may remember that you cannot take the square root of a negative number. And then you may remember that there is a very special number for the square root of -1. That number is the imaginary number — or i. It’s crazy to think that we can have imaginary numbers, but there you have it. It was important enough to create a whole new system of numbers so that we could deal with the square root of -1. (And yet, we still can’t divide by zero!)

SummationIf you were a Greek during college or remember a little bit of your Algebra II class, you’ll remember that this symbol is the Greek letter sigma. It’s used to denote summations — not the legal kind; the math kind. When you want to find the sum of a set of numbers, you can indicate it by using the letter sigma.

fun2The last clue is a little bit of a fudge, I think. First the f and parentheses. In math-speak this represents a function, and you probably remember seeing it written like this: f(x). In this form, it means a function in terms of x. But — and here comes the not-so-accurate part, in my opinion — u raised to the nth power is not something you would see in function notation. And u raised to the nth power doesn’t really translate to -un.

And that’s how you get “math is fun” from all of those symbols. Not too bad, eh? Next time, we’ll have some pie!

Adam the Solar Energy Meteorologist


This week I had the privilege of interviewing Adam Kankiewicz who has been a solar energy meteorologist for 16 years!  Some occupations use math more than others, and meteorology is one of those that relies heavily up on it.  Not only does Adam know his math skills but also seems to enjoy it.  Let’s learn more about what he does…

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I work with numerical weather prediction models and satellite data to estimate the energy output of PV (photovoltaic) solar systems. These estimates are used to plan projects ranging in size from home rooftop panels to large plants that cover several square miles. I also develop forecasts used by existing solar plants to predict energy production.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use statistics when estimating long-term solar energy output. I analyze 15+ years of solar energy data to calculate an average year’s energy output based on the statistical mean. We also factor in year-to-year variability using more advanced statistical methods, such as correlation.

We use simple addition to calculate an annual sum of energy produced. The “annual sum” is a common way to report solar energy output.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math? Why or why not?

Yes, we use sophisticated computer algorithms to make our calculations. We also use Excel sheets when computing annual sums. Because we make hundreds of calculations a year, it wouldn’t be practical to work by hand. Also, using computers significantly reduces the margin for human error. This doesn’t mean we just push a button and get a finished result. We physically review all data and results for consistency and to make sure they’re within expected range. We also write reports interpreting the numerical results.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I couldn’t imagine doing my job without math. My job is very math-intensive and wouldn’t exist without math. Meteorology, in general, relies heavily on math.

How comfortable with math do you feel? Does this math feel different to you?

I feel very comfortable with all aspects of math and especially enjoy applied math (as opposed to theoretical). I look forward to the daily challenge of working with solar energy data.

What kind of math did you take in high school? Did you like it/feel like you were good at it?

I took algebra, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry. Yes, I liked all my math classes and felt math was my best area.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job? Or was it something that you could pick up using the skills you learned in school?

I did not have to learn new skills to do the math I use at work. My college math classes were intense and were enough preparation for the math aspects of my job.

Anything else you want to mention?

Thank you for interviewing me!

Interested in learning more?  Adam has written a blog post for SolarToday magazine.  You can find that here. And you can also see maps of monthly PV energy generation here. I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy learning more about these not-so-traditional professions.

Photo Credit: Lauren Manning via Compfight cc

There’s More than One Way to Skin a Math Problem (Video)

I never was fond of the step-by-step process many of my math teachers favored. But by the time I reached high school, I figured out that math is pretty darned flexible. And in college, that lesson really took hold.

You may think that math is black and white, but honestly? There are many different ways to solve simple and complex math problems. And that’s what I explain in my latest video. Check out how you can be creative with your math solutions — and still arrive at the correct answer!

More videos are coming, so please subscribe to my YouTube channel: mathforgrownups.  Also, I hope you’ll share this video on Twitter, using #flexiblemath and post it on your Facebook page. Share the Math for Grownups love!

As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Ask your questions or share your feedback in the comments section. Were you surprised by anything in the video (like how you solved the problem I propose)? Do you have your own stories to share about how you learned to find your own way to answers? Share in the comments section!


A Gift Guide for Math Geeks (and Wannabes)

gifts for math geeks


It’s gift-giving season for most of us. In honor of the winter holidays, I’ve pulled together a little list of ideas for your math geek. Or perhaps you want to encourage someone to step a little deeper into the math pool. I’ve got ideas for those folks, too. Enjoy!

  • Math Operations Coasters
    Who knew PEMDAS could keep a table ring-free?
  • Pi Bottle Opener
    With a quick flick of the wrist and a very special number, your math geek is on her way to quenching her thirst!
  • Special Number Whiskey Glasses
    Give your favorite Scotch drinker something to really pontificate about!
  • Computation Dish Towel
    Smart clean up for the mathy kitchenista.
  • Pi Cuff
    What's more elegant than the most famous irrational number?
  • Fibonacci Spiral Necklace
    There's no denying the beauty of math's most mysterious discovery.
  • Mobius Cowl
    Whether you make your own or purchase this gift, the one-sided, 3D marvel is perfect for warding against the cold.
  • Math Club T-shirt
    It's finally hip to be a geek!
  • This one-of-a-kind book features a poem dedicated to pi, by Wislawa Szymborska. Gorgeous!
  • This picture book is a funny take on the everyday appearance of math
  • For the carpenter in your life.
  • Sneak in some geometry into your kids' art kit collections.
  • My favorite recommendation for parents who want to challenge their kids. This is a deceptively fun game for the whole family!
  • Practice logic to break the code.
  • With more geometry, Perfection tests players' ability to spot like figures before the buzzer goes off. (A blast from my past!)
  • Origami is a great way application of geometry on the sly.

Main Photo Credit: peddhapati via Compfight cc. All other photos from product websites.

What’s your favorite geeky holiday gift? Share your ideas in the comments section.

Let Me Interview You for a Math at Work Monday Post!

Math at Work Monday

Since launching this website in 2011, Math at Work Monday has been an extremely popular feature. Teachers let me know that they love sharing insight from these interviews with their students. (What better way to answer the question, “When am I ever going to use this stuff?”) Other grownups have told me that the interviews help them identify when they’re using math in their everyday lives.

Over the years, I’ve interviewed a variety of different people — from an astronaut to a fish hatchery technician to a glass artist. All jobs are terrific fits — because as we all know, Everyone Does Math.

(Did you catch my Everyone Does Math video? Check it out!)

In fact, the series has been so successful, I’m launching a special printed option for teachers and homeschoolers, including unique student-directed questions. I’ll start with one set of my favorite interviews, which can be downloaded as printable worksheets for use in the classroom or at home. Stay tuned for the details, coming in two weeks!

Now I need your help! I’m looking for new people to interview in the next month. If you or someone you know is up for it, let me know. You can email me at [email protected] (include their names and email addresses). If you’ve been around for a while, you know that the process is simple. My wonderful assistant, Kelly emails a list of questions — yes, everyone gets the same questions! — you respond to the questions and email them back to Kelly. That’s all. Painless.

So what kind of folks am I looking for? You name it!

  • dentist, orthodontist, dental hygienist
  • pet groomer, dog walker
  • EMT
  • chiropractor
  • divorce attorney
  • security officer, military personnel, state trooper
  • archeologist
  • chef, pastry chef, caterer, butcher
  • makeup artist
  • interior designer
  • surgical nurse
  • prosthetic engineer
  • truck driver, tow truck owner
  • actuary

But you can probably come up with even more great ideas. If you have suggestions (but don’t have someone to recommend), go ahead and post them in the comments section.

I’m so proud of the Math at Work Monday series, and I thank you for making it so popular and for making it possible. I look forward to receiving your recommendations. Remember, email me with potential interviewee’s names and email addresses at [email protected].

Photo Credit: stefanweihs via Compfight cc