Comics about mathematics, science, and the student life.

Light Cone

A spacetime diagram with space on the horizontal axis and time on the vertical axis. A large dot in the middle is the moment a new result enters the literature. The light cone shows the maximum speed at which the result can diffuse through the community. But underneath the light cone is where some people assume others heard of a result.

“You haven’t heard of this new result?!”

“No, could you tell me where to look for it?”

“Yeah…oh wait, it’s not published yet.”


A line starting at 0 (left) and increasing (to the right), labeled "Times we ask 'Why?'". Regular people are to the left, curious people are in the middle, and the best researchers are at the far right.

The best researchers are the most patient askers of “Why?”, and because of this often exasperate others.


Two scientists peering at a blackboard. Scientist 1: "You're off by a factor." Scientist 2: "Oh no, it's just a definition." Scientist 1: "I don't think you can-" Scientist 2: "Hey, I'm the one wielding the math!" Caption: How I correct my mistakes.

The trick is to be so confident that the other person figures you must be right.


Scientist 1: "I liked your paper. When is the next one coming?" Scientist 2, throwing their hands in the air: "I just published it, and it took months to finish!" Scientist 1: " a few weeks?"

“You know, I don’t have an army of students to do the work for me. I’m a one-woman group.”

“Okay, that’s fair. I’ll give you a month. That should be enough!”


A graph of how important you think a paper is versus the time you spend reading it. The graph is linear, and at the far-right, the label is "This better not be a waste of time."

The classic sunk cost fallacy.


Top left panel: Teacher to the student, holding a box labeled "Year One": "Here's your first set of math tools." "Thanks." Top right panel: New teacher, holding a box labeled "Year Two": "Here's the next set." "Uh, thanks?" The first box is already at the student's feet. Bottom left panel: The boxes are now piled on top of each other, and the student wonders, "Uh, will we start learning how to use these-" The next teacher cuts in, "More tools!" She carries a new box. Bottom right panel, after a few more years: Another teacher arrives with more tools, saying, "Don't you love new tools?" The student, buried under a pile of boxes with too many tools, says, "Help!"

Professors always say that learning mathematics is all about, “adding new tools to your toolbox”. The problem is that they may be a little too enthusiastic about it. I sometimes need a teacher to come in and say, “Let’s take some time to organize and understand your tools.” If only!


Left panel (Undergraduate): A seesaw with a rock on each end, labeled "Math Skills" and "Coding Skills". The "Math Skills" rock is heavier. Right panel (Graduate): The "Coding Skills" rock is heavier here.

In my case, it feels like this relationship really is a zero-sum game.


A man and a woman near the man's library. The woman asks, "Wow, you have so many science books! Have you read them all?" The man says, "No." (Pause) "But I *could*". Caption: I can't resist acquiring new books.

I’ve got more knowledge bottled up here than the great libraries of history!


Left panel (How it happened): Two points connected by a twisting journey that is messy. Right panel (What we show): Two points connected by a curve which only goes up and down a bit. Tangle-free.

We aren’t photons, so we do like to give a story that isn’t a straight line.


A student complaining to their teacher. Student: "Give me one example of when I'll use this!" Teacher: "Your test next week?" Student: "Damn it, good point."

The teacher: “If you think about it, we’re giving you the most topical information you could ever want for success in your career as a student.”