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Professor tells math jokes, proves geek cred

September 22, 2014

  • Peter Drake, associate professor of computer science
    Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

Associate Professor of Computer Science Peter Drake recently sat down with the Portland Tribune to talk about juggling fire, Lady Gaga parodies, and telling jokes in class.

When asked if there was anything funny in math or computer science classes, Drake responded with a quip.

“This dairy farmer is trying to increase production,” Drake said. “They call up a local university and ask to have an expert sent out. They send out an engineer, a psychologist, and a physicist. The engineer goes out to the barn with a tape measure, draws some diagrams, and says, ‘If you rearrange the stalls you can fit two more cows in.’ The psychologist interviews the cows and says, ‘The problem is, your cows are depressed. If you play music and paint a mural on the barn door they’ll be happier and more productive.’ The physicist walks over to the blackboard and says, ‘Assume a special cow with a uniform distribution of udders.’”

As Drake explained, the punchline is that “in low-level physics and math classes you are using an oversimplified model. The spherical cow is a very simplified model.”

A favorite on Twitter, Drake often shares thoughts on technology, pop culture, and gaming, in particular the game of Go. Developed thousands of years ago in China, Go is a strategy game that artificial intelligence has so far been unable to master, though Drake is working with students on a program to conquer this “grand challenge.”

Our team’s work has been cited internationally by other computer Go researchers,” Drake said. “Go stands as a model for complex decision making. Techniques developed in creating strong Go players could be applied to a wide variety of other problems, including designing transportation networks, power plants, and microprocessors.”

Portland Tribune Mathematical Sciences

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