Monthly Archives: August 2008

Algebra – It’s Everywhere

A good read from the San Francisco Chronicle:  Algebra – it’s everywhere by Jill Tucker.

Algebra, says Devlin, is a language, a very precise language written in symbols, and it’s everywhere: in nearly all electronic devices, every statistic and each Internet search engine – and, indeed, in every train leaving Boston.

"You can store information using it. You can communicate information using it," Devlin said. "Google has made billions capitalizing on algebra."

Yet our schools don’t always do a very good job teaching it, Devlin said. Instead of showing students the possibilities and beauty algebra offers, they ultimately steer frustrated and bored students away from math and the 21st century careers that use it – the opposite of the intended result.

Algebra, by the dictionary’s definition, is essentially abstract arithmetic, letters and symbols representing relationships between groups, sets, matrices or fields. It’s a way to find a piece to a puzzle using the pieces you already have in place.

It comes in very handy for engineers, financial analysts and sociologists, not to mention World of Warcraft video game players, some of whom use algebraic formulas to decide which weapon is more effective under certain circumstances – perhaps another hook to lure unsuspecting teens into seeing the useful side of algebra.

Laptop computer. The computer is just an implementation in electrical circuits of a special form of algebra (called Boolean algebra) invented in the 19th century. Ordinary algebra is used to design and manufacture computers, and is at the heart of how to program them.

Cell phone. A cell phone is a particular kind of computer. An important feature of cell phones is that your phone receives all the signals sent to every cell phone in the region, but only responds to signals sent to your phone. This is achieved by using signal coding systems built on algebra.

Parking cop. Today’s parking enforcement officers may carry equipment connecting them directly to a central vehicle database that registers your parking fine before you get back to the car and see the ticket on the windshield. Without algebra, such a system could not exist.

Hybrid car. Modern cars often come equipped with GPS, a highly sophisticated system that is designed using enormous amounts of mathematics that builds on algebra.

Delivery truck. Large retail chains use mathematical methods to determine the routing and scheduling of their delivery trucks; algebra is fundamental to those methods.

Stoplight. These days, stoplights are centrally controlled by computers, so there is even algebra involved in turning the light from red to green.

IPod. This is a math device in your hand. The iPod stores music using sophisticated mathematics built on algebra. And the iPod shuffle mechanism uses regular school algebra to order your songs randomly.

Even though it is a very pro-algebra article, my favorite quote was by an unknown source:

"Algebra … the intensive study of the last three letters of the alphabet."

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Install a Network Printer for All Users

Ben Franklin - printing press I had to solve two problems for myself today.  I am posting my solutions here, mainly for my own reference but maybe somebody out there might have the same issues to be solved.

The first problem I faced was installing a network printer so that it would be available to all users on that machine.  This is probably a minor problem for seasoned IT pros, but since I am not one, it took some investigating.  I learned that local printers are installed automatically for all users, while network printers are associated with user profiles.  This means that when you install a network printer it is only available to the user profile that you used when installing.

The solution is to install the network printer as a local printer.  In other words, go to Control Panel .. Printers.  Click "Add a printer".  Select that you want to install a local printer.  At this point you will create a new port, using a Standard TCP/IP port.  You’ll need to have the IP address of the printer to do this and you’ll also want to have the drivers handy.

Since it is installed as a local printer it will now be available to all users when they log in.  The bug I still haven’t worked out, though some of you may have an idea, is that even though I have selected it to be the default printer in my profile, it is not necessarily the default printer for other users.  If is the first printer installed, no problem, but otherwise it is not the default for other users.