An obligation to vote?

Everyone knows about the 2004 decision of the Massachusetts supreme court legalizing gay marriage, and everyone knows that laws banning gay marriage have been passed in many states and are in the pipeline in others, but out-of-staters may not be… Read More ›

The Rule of Four

I recently read The Rule of Four, a truly fascinating novel co-written by first-time authors Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Fascinating to me, at any rate — your mileage may vary. If you’re interested in Latin, linguistics, typography, academic mysteries,… Read More ›

Case of Lies

Catching up on posts about recent reading: I highly recommend Case of Lies, by Perri O’Shaughnessy, especially if you are interested in math or linguistics. If you’re not, it’s still a solid mystery, well above average for the genre even… Read More ›

George Bush, student of English

One of my students is having great difficulty understanding the abstract ideas of additive and multiplicative inverses and identities, especially in the context of matrix algebra. Finally he’s so frustrated that he exclaims, “I feel like George Bush in an… Read More ›


One of my precalculus students (or is it the hyphenated pre-calculus?) thought that he was studying calculus. He figured that precalculus was a kind of calculus, just as differential calculus is a kind of calculus. What does that prefix “pre-”… Read More ›

Identifying a language

I was excited to read about Xerox’s Language Guesser. If you can’t identify a sentence in a foreign language, just paste the sentence into their convenient type-in field, and the intelligent Xerox software will correctly guess the language. Sounds like… Read More ›

No bad puns

In this week’s New York Times Magazine, language expert William Safire observes that there are no bad puns: Remember, there are no “bad” puns — all plays on words are good, and the louder the groans they elicit, the better…. Read More ›


It has been so hot and muggy that the cats are just lounging around listlessly. Which means…well, the word seems to suggest that they don’t have any lists. I’ll admit that cats aren’t big list-makers (though they are otherwise fine… Read More ›