Additional Math Pages & Resources

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How do you measure a life? Part IV

Today, as part of this short series on math and our lives, I will list some of the items of an obituary that are math-related.

An obituary is a short review of a person's life, normally published in a newspaper or other public document. Writing them is a real art. In the past newspapers would keep obituary files or even pre-written statements for famous people and government figures. Nowadays they often done in a rush shortly after death, and/or strongly influenced by the family.

In this interview with Walter Cronkite, he talks about the art of the obituary.

If you write one, use a respectful tone of voice throughout, although it's permissible to include random outrageous or unexpected acts that the person might have performed.

An obituary should contain these items involving math:
  • Birth and Death Dates (but don't expect the reader to any do calculations)
  • Age at death
  • Locations of living and traveling
  • Schools attended and/or notable degrees held by the deceased person
  • Employment including the number of years worked at major jobs
  • Involvement in global events such as wars, scientific discoveries, sports, etc.
  • Mention of wealth if a person was very rich or famously poor
  • Name and/or number of siblings and descendents
Here's an entertaining math-packed obituary I found today:

Dr. B died in January in San Diego at 84. He was a physics professor for four decades, a director of the Kitt Peak Observatory, and ran the Palomar and Mt. Wilson telescopes. In 1957 in a pivotal discovery of 20th-century astrophysics, he proposed that everything around us is made of star dust. B was born in 1925 in England, half-way between Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon, the only child of a builder and a milliner. He married in 1948 and received his first PhD in 1951. The family was invited to UCSD in 1962 after his discovery involving quasars, radio galaxies and black hole gravity. B called a friend of his 3 times a week for 40 years to debate creation theories, and edited the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics for more than 30 years. In 1990 he published a paper arguing against the Big Bang theory, insisting instead on a steady-state universe with mini-bangs every 20 billion years. His wife, an astronomer in her own right, has survived him, along with one daughter and a grandson.

Here's a rich man's obituary, with lots of numbers:

Mr P died Monday in Sydney. He became the richest man in the country, turning his inheritance worth millions into an empire worth billions. He was 68 when he died and had been ill for decades. He controlled television networks and magazines, as well as many casinos. He was the first to cover cricket matches on satellite television, transforming the global cricket scene. P sold his TV network for $500 million, then bought it back 3 years later for $100 million. He suffered from polio and dyslexia as a child, and lost a kidney to cancer at the age of 40. He later had a heart attack in 1990 and a kidney transplant in 2000. A friend of 20 years gave him the kidney. Pwas reported to be the "rudest and most frightening man ever" but also known for his generosity; taking care of poor working families and supporting hospitals across the country. His only son James succeeded him in the family business in 2000.