A Letter to the County Executive of Dutchess County, New York

The event I described happened in mid-July, and on that day I told the people I was with that I would write the sheriff and the county executive. They laughed. On a different day on that same stretch of road, my young horse spooked at a speeding garbage truck, dumped one of the barn’s professionals on the ground, and took off galloping back to the barn. He stopped and we were able to catch him.
Recent events all across the United States involving police remind me to encourage you, dear readers, to write letters to your local law enforcement and their bosses if you have an opinion about what you see them do. 

Out Hacking
Marcus J. Molinaro
County Executive
County of Dutchess
22 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Dear Mr. Molinaro:
Thank you for your kind letter welcoming me as a newly registered voter in Dutchess County. I look forward to participating in elections in my new rural community.
Recently, on a July weekday in the mid-afternoon on State Route XX in XXXXXX, I was out riding my horse on the road’s shoulder along with two other younger staff members of the barn where I ride. We were each wearing a helmet and riding a calm, older horse belonging to a private owner. An unmarked police vehicle approached and turned on its brightly colored lights and passed us, at an alarming speed. Because we are all experienced riders, we were able to calm our horses and continue; however, almost immediately the unmarked black police vehicle was joined by a marked Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff’s car, and passed us from the other direction at even greater speed.  Once again, we had to calm our horses and continue, which we did without further incident.
I have mulled over the encounter during the last couple of months and taken the time to confirm for myself that under Article 26 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, Section 1146 a., “Every driver of a vehicle shall approach a horse being ridden or led along a public highway at a reasonable and prudent speed so as to avoid frightening such horse and shall pass the horse at a reasonable distance.”
I believe that the drivers of both police vehicles, though they may have been responding to an emergency, failed to obey this law, endangering the lives of three people and three horses.
Should any staff members of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s office be interested in learning about basic horse safety, the barn where I ride is a British Horse Society Certified facility, with highly educated and experienced instructors who would be able to provide basic lessons in horsemanship. I would think these skills would be useful throughout much of Dutchess County.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Why you should love logarithms

A problem involving factoring and logarithms

I was recently in the midst of a pitched battle, waging war against the forces of ignorance  with the weapon of algebra, when The Battlefield (who is 14), opened his unenthusiastic eyes and asked me why he needs to know how to factor polynomials.
I have taught algebra in the high school and college setting. I have tutored people in middle school and helped people study for the GRE. I have fielded the question of “Why do we need to know this?” hundreds of times. The answer always falls into three categories: because it’s on the test, because it’s good for you, because if you learn it you can go learn calculus.
When you are The Battlefield, and as determined to never need much math in adulthood as a landmass could be, being able to recognize the difference of two squares is not your problem. It is an age-old conflict between the forces of chaos and the forces of order. In my endless engagement with the dark morass of ignorance, I foolishly persist in adding another reason to the three listed above: because it’s cool. Obviously, I am an over-educated idiot.
Some educated adults feel free to express disdain for topics in math that they once found baffling, and logarithms is a common enemy for these folks. The logarithm is actually a very handy thing, invented at a time before people understood exponents, back when long division had to be done by hand.  The history of logarithms is a very interesting story, which I will have to tell another day.
I have in my repertoire a story I tell whenever the existence of logarithms requires justification (beyond the four reasons already mentioned).  
Imagine you are a marine biologist, I say,  And you have been asked to survey all the animals you find living in a specific cubic kilometer of  Hudson Bay and record their population size on a graph. What might you find? A pod of 9 Beluga whales,  perhaps a few more arctic cod and sculpin fleeing the hungry whales, but what if there was a bunch of zooplankton, where individuals are millimeters long but there are millions of individuals, or a single Bowhead whale, eating zooplankton? How would you record the numbers in a graph?
Even if you made things simple, such as whales 10, fish 100, zooplankton 100,000,000, you are going to have trouble showing that on a graph. The scale is going to be a problem, even if you have a really, really big piece of paper.
Common log, which is base 10, is a good way to show the magnitude of numbers, and in our example, the log of our population numbers yields whales 1, fish 2, and zooplankton 8. Yes, common log counts the number of zeros, and gives us data we can easily fit onto a small graph. Our only further responsibility is to ensure that we identify the scale as logarithmic. Hopefully our audience understands.