Scientific Pet Peeves #2: To paraphrase Dr. Seuss…

…a fraction’s a fraction, no matter how small. It’s mildly irritating that many people seem unaware of this.

To fill the silent void of an empty house during this stint of unemployment, I’ve been rotating through the options that YouTube, NetFlix, Hulu, and various network sites have to offer. Nothing too heavy; it’s generally just background noise as I work on job applications, knit, write this blog, etc. You may recall that I’m a huge fan of game shows and cooking shows, and Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen fills both of those niches nicely.

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, four contestants each have $25,000 to bid on opportunities to sabotage their opponents. After each round of cooking, one contestant is eliminated until the last chef standing wins the amount of money he/she has remaining. To add a bit of dramatic flair (and likely a bit of a psychological element), the contestants are issued their auction money in the form of 250 hundred-dollar bills.

Naturally, many of the contestants are giddy at the opportunity to hold that amount of cash: “I’ve never held this much money before, not even a fraction of it!”

Um, yes, you have. Have you held a one dollar bill? Then you have held a fraction of 25,000 dollars: 1/25,000. A fraction is just any portion of a whole, regardless of how small. (It can even be more than the whole, if you’re willing to get into improper fractions.)

A child holding his or her first penny still has a fraction of 25,000 dollars, even if it’s a little trickier to convey. A penny is generally expressed as .01 of a dollar, so we could write the fraction as .01/25,000. However, fractions are more intuitive when there are no decimals within them; .5/2 is equivalent to 1/4, but the latter is much easier to picture. To get rid of the decimal in that case, we multiplied the top and the bottom by 2. (Recall that 2/2, 3/3, 42/42, etc., are all equal to one, so multiplying by them does not change the value of the fraction.) Since .01 x 100 = 1, we can multiply the top and bottom of .01/25,000 by 100 to get 1/2,500,000. It’s a small fraction, but a fraction nonetheless.

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Happy Birthday, SiS!

A year ago today I made the first two posts to Science in Suburbia. I know that, due to work/distractions, I haven’t posted consistently for the entire year, but it’s still my first blogiversary and I’m happy that I’ve turned up the posting frequency over the last couple of months.

Something else I’ve seen with increasing frequency over the last couple of months? “Jokes” about how taking algebra was stupid and useless because you never use any of it after high school.

Besides an annoyed grumble, my reaction to this type of statement is twofold:

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Scientific Pet Peeve #1: Mass vs. Weight

Everyone has their pet peeves; unsurprisingly, at least a few of mine are science related.

Most people wouldn’t give a second thought to hearing someone say that something “weighs” twenty kilograms. I physically shudder whenever I hear or read such phrasing- and when I was a textbook editor, said shuddering was usually channeled straight into my red pen. Some of the first things you learn or teach in an intro physics class are the facts that mass is measured in kilograms, weight is measured in Newtons (or pounds), and mass and weight are not the same thing.

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