09 April 2008

You mean there are people who *don't* write everywhere?

Harnessing Biology, and Avoiding Oil, for Chemical Goods, today's New York Times. I studied a fair bit of chemistry as an undergrad, so this is of interest to me academically. Basically, a lot of synthetic goods are made out of compounds with lots of carbon, which can eventually be traced back to petroleum; as you may have noticed, petroleum and its derivatives have gotten more expensive recently. So even if you were never a chemist you should still care.

The photo at the top of the article, though, is what got my attention. It's captioned "The scientists use the glass shield as a board on which to write chemical formulas", and I feel like there's the implication that they're doing this to conserve scarce resources (coming from the captions on the other photos). No! It's just that scientists of any sort write things everywhere -- every chemistry lab I was ever in had this property. I wonder what they'd think of mathematics departments. (One professor that I know often has about four different calculations going on simultaneously on the whiteboard of his office; they overlap each other, but they're in different colors, so he can tell them apart. I can't do that.)

In the hall of the dormitory floor I lived on as an undergrad we had several blackboards. They were often filled with mathematics of one sort of another. Of course, they were also often filled with transcriptions of the silly or obscene things some of us had said. I kind of wish I'd written them down... but let's face it, they were probably pretty embarrassing and are best left where posterity can't see them.

It might be interesting to see pictures of well-known mathematicians' blackboards...


Anonymous said...

I am not so well known, but have blackboard images available from cell phone photos. email me, and I will send you a couple.

Scott Carter

Anonymous said...

My office-mate and I haven't erased our whiteboard for almost a year now. We just write over it in a different color. Most people give it a strange look or two. *shrug*


Anonymous said...

I know quite a few professors (both math and engineering) who simply write over the previous stuff on their whiteboards (doesn't work quite so well with blackboards). Sometimes they don't even bother to switch colors. One of them swears he hasn't cleaned the board in years--I'm tempted to buy him a very small whiteboard eraser that he can use to write over the mass of ink.

Anonymous said...

Flat surfaces that are eraseable or replaceable are for writing on. My office door is covered with notes and fliers, which are covered with calculations (about half mine, half kids').

It's a school, so we cover bulletin boards with colored paper, and then post on it. That colored paper? Calculations all over it.

And we discovered that the foot-square off-white tiles on the floor - pencil erases - and we use it.

Not the professorial unerased white board, but still anecdotal evidence in your favor.