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Numerical Op-Ed

A Mathematical Model Makes Predictions. That’s it.

It bugs me no end when I hear “the model shows…”  In science evidence is the only thing that “shows” anything.  The only thing worse is “the model proves…”  That’s like asking for directions then turning to your passenger and saying “that proves it: the only way to get from here to there is that way.”

I first heard of Solomon Wolf Golomb (1932- 2016) a few years ago. He was a mathematician, engineer, and professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California.  He invented polyominoes, the game that inspired Tetris, among other things.  Here are four quotes from Dr. Golomb that I think are very useful when thinking about models, mathematical and otherwise.


  • Don’t apply a model until you understand the simplifying assumptions on which it is based and can test their applicability.


  • The purpose of notation and terminology should be to enhance insight and facilitate computation – not to impress or confuse the uninitiated.


  • Don’t expect that by having named a demon you have destroyed him.


  • Distinguish at all times between the model and the real world.  You will never strike oil by drilling through the map!

Image from:   https://mathmunch.org/2016/05/05/solomon-golomb-rulers-and-52-master-pieces/

Check out the man himself at:



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Birth of the Blog

This blog, like the book Lab Math from which it springs (incompletely formed), will be about numbers. I will endeavor to:

1. showcase the basic and the practical, not the challenging or even the advanced;

2.. provide straightforward guidance for the unenthusiastic (“just do it exactly this way”);

3.. provide refreshers for those needing refreshment (whether they know it or not.)