What shape are the golden arches?

Every day for lunch I eat salad (made with vegetables from our local farmers’ market or from our college’s organic farm) and homemade yogurt and granola. The only time I ever eat fast food is on long car trips. So why, I ask you, did the question “What shape are the golden arches?” pop into…

Neat facts from Euler 2010

I had the wonderful honor of being the keynote speaker at the 9th annual meeting of the Euler Society. I spoke today about my book. It is now the end of the second day of this 2.5 day conference. I thought I’d post a few of the many interesting things that I learned. 1. Larry…

Parabolas and focal points II

Yesterday I wrote about parabolic mirrors. I pointed out that parallel rays hitting a parabola typically do not reflect back to a focal point. That happens only when the rays are parallel to the axis of the parabola. Then my friend Dan sent me an email encouraging me to look at the envelope of the…

Parabolas and focal points

A colleague from another department stopped by my office this morning with a question about parabolas and parabolic mirrors. In the simplest terms, his question was the following: When parallel rays reflect off a parabola, do they always converge to a focal point? As we can see in the diagram below, rays that are parallel…

Flashlights and conic sections

Recently, Ξ over at the 360 blog wrote about hyperbolic light (which was inspired by the article, “The Shape of Lamp Shade Shadows” by Kenneth E. Horst, The Physics Teacher, Volume 39, March 2001). They were looking at the pattern of light on the wall emitted by a desk lamp with a cylindrical lampshade. They observed that the…