… and I recently stumbled upon a blog with this very tagline — the Math Encounters Blog by Mark Biegert.
It’s full of stories of everyday math – such as “Magic Number Analysis – ‘Money Factor’ in Auto Leasing” or “Designing a stairway for my cabin” – and many of them involve Mathcad.
Of course, I immediately thought of pulling him into my own blogging plans. So I left a comment on his blog asking him to contact me and we arranged a phone call. The call turned out to be rather short, but not because he didn’t have much to say… on the contrary, he came up with so much good storytelling, I actually had to cut him short or this blog post would have turned too long to be pleasant for the readers.
So, where to start? Of course, with Mathcad
Mark is an electrical engineer working in the telecommunications industry. He has been using Mathcad since 1993. He was then working in the defense sector, and using a different calculation software.
His project was giving him a hard time and he was struggling with his calculations until a colleague introduced him to Mathcad, which turned out to be so comfortable to use that he finally managed to successfully complete his project.
Mark tells me he has been using other software products all along in his career, but Mathcad quickly turned out to be his favorite and has stayed it ever since for its strong documentation capabilities.
He says “doing your calculations is one thing, but they are worth nothing when you can’t convey your results to others. With Mathcad, I can document everything and easily print out a PDF – this is awesome.”
From reading his blog, you instantly learn that he loves math. I asked him if he was good at it at school:
“I actually wasn’t a good student and mathematics was my worst subject. I even failed math once. But when I was a kid we had a neighbor who came over to our house quite often to visit my father. He was a professor of electrical engineering who had a contract with NASA to analyze Earth resources from space. He had those great photographs of the Earth from space – which was really something special back in the 60s. He told me that when I wanted to achieve something in life and be able to do the same work as he was doing, I would need to be a good student. It worked!”
Mark told me that his own children are grown up now, and so he has started tutoring kids and volunteers to help them with their homework. My question then was “Do you introduce them to Mathcad, too?”
“Yes I do. One of the reasons I did not like math as a kid was because of the tedium of routine calculation. Even drawing a graph is painful by hand. I use Mathcad for everything. I speak at local schools about engineering to math and science classes, and many kids think that engineers spend all day grinding through routine calculations. I am able to show them that I never do that.”
The other question I asked him was how he gets the ideas for his blog. He says he actually has drawers filled with all these stories and the blog is his way of getting it all organized – a digital file cabinet, so to speak. He says he and the guys he works with spend their breaks together — they discuss their stories over lunch and he writes them down.
As he mentioned he has a ton of stories yet to be written down. I asked of course for one to share with us here today.
Here it is!
“As an engineer, I frequently find dimensional analysis a useful tool. John Barrow of Gresham College has put together a excellent ‘Everyday Math’ lecture on dimensional analysis that used Olympic rowing as an example.
Using dimensional arguments, he has argued that the speed of a coxed rowboat was proportional to the 9th root of the number of rowers, as shown by the following equation.
where v is the velocity of the coxless rowboat, k is the constant of proportionality and n is the number of rowers.
Professor Barrow used the 1980 Olympic results as his example. I decided to use Mathcad to fit his equation to results from the 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympic Games to verify his results for myself.
The Mathcad calculations are shown below.
The graphical results are shown below. The 9th root curve fit comes reasonably close to the fitting the real data.”
Thanks to Mark Biegert for taking the time to share “his” Mathcad story – I enjoyed working with you a lot.
To our readers: If you liked this story, let us know and leave a comment below. Also, I recommend you to take a look at his blog – this is “real math” for everyone!