Class 1 – Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I thought it was a good first class (I hope the class did too).

I asked each group of three to estimate the number of daily US google searches – just from what they knew/thought, no web access. I took attendance in the meanwhile, warning prospective science students that this might not be the right course for them.

When done I collected up the estimates. The range surprised me – 96 million to 3 billion. We discussed the assumptions behind each estimate. For the first time thinking about this problem the existence of other search engines came up as an issue – until today “google search” was assumed synonymous with “internet search”.

The range of estimates allowed me to talk about order-of-magnitude, a.k.a. ballpark estimate or number of zeroes.  The U.S. population (~300 million) came up and will be remembered.

Interesting point worth following up: when we asked google (and other engines) about the number of daily US google searches we got the same range of answers: hundreds of million to  billions. I wonder how hard it would be to find out how each of those estimates came about, in order to compare assumptions.

Proceeded to the carbon footprint example from the text. Everyone had heard of global warming / climate change. Many knew it had something to do with the greenhouse effect, and what a greenhouse was. But hardly any knew about the connection between carbon consumption and greenhouse effect.

In talking about why a google search had a carbon footprint someone asked if the carbon footprint of manufacturing the local computer should be taken into account. Good question. I thought not, and said so. (If you wanted to count it you’d have to count only that part of it you could reasonably allocate to the searches, since the computer has other uses. I didn’t say that then. ) One student cleverly analogized that in estimating the carbon footprint of the cheeseburger you were surely counting its “manufacture”.

All along the way I made all my usual comments about how this math course will differ from most

I wonder (as usual) if anyone will read this blog, and, if they do, whether they will have any useful/interesting comments to make.

Until Thursday …

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