Scribbles
By Bob Curtis, Local Secretary
March 2014

This month on Sunday, the Ninth, our clocks "spring ahead" an hour for daylight savings time, and on Thursday, the Twentieth at 12:57 EDT we should experience the vernal equinox! I am writing this on February 15th, anticipating another few inches of snow this evening. So thinking about green grass is probably a form of escapism for me. Now for something completely different:

What is a trapezoid?
When I was teaching a remedial mathematics course a number of years ago at Hackensack High School, I learned that the answer to this question depends on where you are! Several of my students had grown up on the island of Jamaica. They could not believe that our textbook and I could be so mistaken. I was interested in their difficulty and discovered that on Jamaica (and in most of the English speaking world) what I grew up calling a trapezoid, "a quadrilateral with two and only two sides parallel," is called a trapezium and what we in the United States call a trapezium, "a quadrilateral with no sides parallel," is called a trapezoid in these other places. A third definition of a trapezoid, "a quadrilateral with two sides parallel," is used in Korea and some European countries. (With this definition a parallelogram is a trapezoid.) This is all something like the fact that a billion in the U.S., is equal to a thousand million (1,000,000,000 or 109) and a billion in England is equal to a million million (1,000,000,000,000 or 1012). The point here is that definition is all important. Geico's recent advertising campaign asks us if a tree falling in a forest with no one there to hear it, makes a noise. To some this appears to be a deep philosophical investigation, but it really depends on the definition of a noise. The traditional definition of noise as something heard gives one answer while the idea that noise is the rarefaction and compression of air which can stimulate hearing gives the other answer. In law, legislatures often change the definitions of words in their statutes. In particular, I think of the common law definition of burglary, viz., the breaking into and entering of a dwelling place at night with the intention of committing a felony therein. Scribble is what scribes do. But Webster's 1913 dictionary suggests \Scrib"ble\, n. Hasty or careless writing; a writing of little value; a scrawl; as, a hasty scribble. --Boyle.