Vol. 5, Number 3
February 2004
A Web Newsletter of the Plattsburgh State University Mathematics Departm
Welcome to Prime Time!

220996001-1, with over 6 million digits, is currently the largest known prime number and was discovered by Michael Shafer, a 26 year-old volunteer in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS). Shafer used a Michigan State University lab PC and free software offered by the GIMPS project. For more information on GIMPS (and if you want to join in!) see                  : 

For more information on prime numbers, see  

 It’s good to study groups in groups

This is what Education major Elizabeth Mattern has to say about studying in groups for the courses in her mathematics concentration:

    “Studying in groups helps me get through most of my classes. In Abstract Algebra I formed a group with Jim Owens, Tanya Lackey, and Gordon Douglas.   Everyone helps out each other when they form a group.  We make time outside of class to get together and go through proofs and anything we did in class that we did not understand.  I don't think I could have gotten through this class without a group.  If one person did not know something, the chances were that someone else in our group did.  We filled in each others blanks.  If not everyone in our group could meet we made plans to study with other people in the class.  We all helped each other.  No one is always confident in knowing everything, so being a group made us feel a little more knowledgeable”. 

A Math Joke

A mathematician wanted to triple his salary and, after some study and practice, became a plumber.   Things went great until the Plumbing Board decided that all plumbers must go to evening classes in 8th grade math.  Our man attended the first class and was asked for the area of circle.   He forgot!   He knew how to work it out though and  proceeded to fill the white board with integrals, differentials and other advanced formulas to finally get "minus pi times r squared".

He didn't like the minus, so he started all over again. He got the minus again. No matter how many times he tried, he always got a minus. He was frustrated. He looked nervously at the class and saw all the plumbers whisper:

 "Switch the limits of the integral!!"


Math club news

Pizza ‘n’ Pearls (of Wisdom)   The Mathematics Club will be having its first meeting on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 at 7 pm.   Free pizza and soda will be available.  Senior math majors come share the wisdom you’ve gained over the years;  newer math majors, here’s your chance to ask the survivors to tell it all.  ABSOLUTELY NO FACULTY OR STAFF can attend.   We’re putting it all on the table.  All math students are invited.  Please sign up on the list inside the Math Commons (Hawkins 242) by Monday, February 23, 2004 to ensure yourself some pizza and for information pertaining to the location of the meeting.   We wish to thank Dr. Margaret Morrow for doing a fantastic job with the Math Club and departmental websites!

What team was sent packing?

Correct for $1!   The answer is … “the Department of Hotel , Restaurant, and Tourism Management”  which lost to us in Jeopardy, Feb. 12.   The math department team (Diana LeBarron, Amanda McNeil, and professors Kenoyer and Northshield) successfully retained their undefeated status in a dramatic neck-and-neck race finally winning by $1. 

Kudo's to . . .

     Our math club co-chairs, Anna Gadway and Marvelle Roberts for refreshing the faculty photo board, and the decorations in the math commons (Hawkins 242.)

     Math Majors Marvelle Roberts and Julie Hegman for shining on the forensics team! 

     Prof. Robert Hofer for 40 years membership in the Mathematical Association of America


Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference

The eleventh annual HRUMC will be held April 3, 2004 at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.  For the past few years, students and faculty have traveled to these conferences to listen to (and be listened to by) other students and faculty.   You get a veritable smorgasbord of several hundred talks as well as a free lunch.   Besides ‘Math Jeopardy’,  presentations by Plattsburghers have included ‘Stars and Stripes’, Applications via video’, ‘A neat proof of the Schroeder-Bernstein Theorem’, and ‘The 2,3, and maybe 4 Color Theorems’.  If you would like to present a talk or just attend, please see Prof.’s Bodenrader or Northshield.  The deadline for submitting an abstract for a talk is Friday, February 27.

What has calculus to do with politics?

An interchange between Howard Dean and Senator John Kerry in one of the democratic debates is causing some stir amongst mathematics cognoscenti –

Paraphrasing, Kerry said to Dean:  “Would you reduce the rate of growth of Medicare? Yes or no? 'Cause that's a cut.”  Dean responded by saying that he wouldn't cut Medicare.  OK Calculus students:  is slowing growth the same as a cut?

     This follows in the tradition of Nixon, who in his 1972 reelection campaign claimed that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing … which derivative was he referring to?  For more like this, check out the web page

    Top ten excuses for not doing math homework

  1. I accidentally divided by zero and my paper burst into flames.
  2. Isaac Newton’s birthday
  3. I could only get arbitrarily close to my textbook.   I couldn’t actually reach it.
  4. I have the proof, but there isn’t room to write it in the margin.
  5. I was watching the World Series and got tied up trying to prove that it converged.
  6. I have a solar powered calculator and it was cloudy.
  7. I locked the paper in my trunk but a four-dimensional dog got in and ate it.
  8. I couldn’t figure out whether i am the square root of negative one or i is the square root of negative one.
  9. I took time out to snack on a doughnut and a cup of coffee.  I spent the rest of the night trying to figure which one to dunk.
  10. I could have sworn I put the homework inside a Klein bottle, but this morning I couldn’t find it.


Alumni News

Kristen Carmichael writes “I just finished my first semester at Plattsburgh State as a graduate student with a 4.0.  I’m in the MST program and so far I’m liking it, but it is completely different from math.  I had a five week field experience at NCCS as part of my coursework.  It was nice to be in a real classroom to get a feel for teaching.  I taught about five lessons over that time to a sixth grade math class.  I hope to substitute teach in the Peru school district”.



Last issue’s problem, from “Car Talk” on National Public Radio, was “You, who are blindfolded, are given a deck of 52 playing cards with exactly 13 cards facing up.  Find a way to divide the cards into two piles such that each of the two piles has exactly the same number of cards facing up.”    

 Matt Holland came up with the correct solution:  count out 13 cards and turn them upside down (!). Good work!

 Here’s a new problem:  you are the referee in a football game and, at the beginning of the game, you must decide  which team will kick off.   In your pocket are two coins; one is known to be fair and the other is known to be unfair.  You pull both coins from your pocket with the intention of picking the fair coin and then tossing it.  Unfortunately, you can’t tell the coins apart.  How do you use the coins to fairly decide who kicks off?

 Please submit your solution to Prof. Northshield.  The first and/or best solution will permit you to choose a prize from the ‘big box’o’prizes’ in Northshield’s office. 

Closing Credits:
Editor: Sam Northshield
Assistant Editor: Margaret Morrow
Web Editor: Don West

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