Content-Type: text/shitpost


Subject: Calculate the Taylor expansion… OR DIE
Path: you​!your-host​!ultron​!uunet​!asr33​!hardees​!triffid​!mechanical-turk​!skynet​!m5​!plovergw​!shitpost​!mjd
Date: 2018-02-19T05:17:27
Newsgroup: sci.math.math.maclaurin-or-die
Message-ID: <522cb385c1b1032b@shitpost.plover.com>
Content-Type: text/shitpost

The following story appears in George Gamow's memoir My World Line:

Here is a story told to me by one of my friends who was at that time a young professor of physics in Odessa. His name was Igor Tamm (Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, 1958). Once when he arrived in a neighboring village, at that period when Odessa was occupied by the Reds, and was negotiating with a villager as to how many chickens he could get for half a dozen silver spoons, the village was captured by one of the Makhno bands, who were roaming the country, harassing the Reds. Seeing his city clothes (or what was left of them), the capturers brought him to the Ataman, a bearded fellow in a tall black fur hat with machine-gun cartridge ribbons crossed on his broad chest and a couple of hand grenades hanging on the belt.

‘You son-of-a-bitch, you Communist agitator, undermining our Mother Ukraine! The punishment is death.’

‘But no,’ answered Tamm, ‘I am a professor at the University of Odessa and have come here only to get some food.’

‘Rubbish!’ retorted the leader. ‘What kind of professor are you ?’

‘I teach mathematics.’

‘Mathematics?’ said the Ataman. ‘All right! Then give me an estimate of the error one makes by cutting off Maclaurin's series at the !!n!!th term. Do this, and you will go free. Fail, and you will be shot!’

Tamm could not believe his ears, since this problem belongs to a rather special branch of higher mathematics. With a shaking hand, and under the muzzle of the gun, he managed to work out the solution and handed it to the Ataman.

‘Correct!’ said the Ataman. ‘Now I see that you really are a professor. Go home!’

(However, Dam Thanh Son has found and translated a more reliable version of the same story, from the memoirs of Tamm's grandson, L.I. Vernsky.)

Once when I was telling this story to some friends, I got to the part where the Ataman issues his challenge: “‘Calculate the error when the Maclaurin series is truncated at the !!n!!th term… OR DIE!’” This caught the attention of Katara, who was with us, then around fifteen months old. She perked up and proclaimed “AWW DIE!!!”

For the next few weeks she would startle us by interrupting whatever else was going with “AW DIE!”

This is why you need to be careful what you say around an impressionable child.