Master Your Finances Kurt Baker with Josh Faber – Transcript

Written by on August 9, 2022

0:00:00.0 : ANNOUNCER.
0:00:46.4 Kurt Baker: Are you part of the majority of the population who believes that mathematics can only be useful for fields related to mathematics, such as engineering, programming and economics? Did you know that mathematics can be utilized for things more than that? If you ever wondered how mathematics can be applied to our real life problems? Josh Faber, a pure mathematics PhD graduate from UIC, and the co-founder of bizbumps, will show you the importance of mathematics to real world problems and how mathematics can present to us our solutions as it helps to limit our postulates. Get ready to no longer be intimidated by mathematics and to be inspired by the solutions it will bring to your everyday life challenges. Alright, Josh. This is awesome. We’re gonna make math fun and productive, right?
0:01:40.5 Josh Faber: It’s always been fun and productive for me.
0:01:41.5 Kurt Baker: Absolutely. For those that may not… They may run when they hear the word math and all their eyes glaze over and they have a panic attack…
0:01:50.8 Josh Faber: That’s right.
0:01:51.4 Kurt Baker: We’re gonna help those people as well as those who like math, right?
0:01:53.9 Josh Faber: That’s correct. And I think there’s always a thing with mathematics, where I think most people think of mathematics being in school and then having someone look over their shoulder and say, “Well, you’re doing it incorrectly.” And I always think about it in terms of art. You don’t learn art by painting a fence gray. You learn art by being creative with it, and it’s the same thing with mathematics. You have to have an idea of what you wanna do with it, so that you can go ahead and do it. And it’s amazing that, what you can do with mathematics, and I found that, especially, in my life.
0:02:27.7 Kurt Baker: Well, I read that once, mathematics is the basis of everything. Everything is based on math at some level. Once you get down to the very, very bottom of the how it all works and gets together, there’s some math in there somewhere, right? [laughter]
0:02:38.7 Josh Faber: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s true. I prefer to look at it as a way to observe everything. It’s a language.
0:02:46.5 Kurt Baker: Okay. Right. Correct.
0:02:47.1 Josh Faber: And when I think about it, I always like to… So a lot of the things I’ve done in the past is I’ve taught all ages, college, middle school, gifted kids, non-gifted kids, people from diverse backgrounds, and I always tell them, when you look at the Pythagorean theorem, for instance, something that usually can scare most people, what it really says is how to relate two edges of a right triangle to the third one, and that doesn’t sound that impressive. People go, “Oh, so what? Who cares?” Until you’re thinking about when you’re trying to build something that deals with triangles, and now you’ve cut out a third of the time, because you can write your observations down on paper and then calculate the third angle or the third edge without a measuring tape. It saves time that way.
0:03:31.3 Kurt Baker: Sure.
0:03:31.8 Josh Faber: You can make your lab experiments on paper and not in the actual physical world where it takes actual energy. And that’s really the power of mathematics, is it turns things into a language, and that language is what’s useful for us.
0:03:48.1 Kurt Baker: Wow. Okay. So we’re gonna learn a new language today, mathematics. So this is gonna be fun.
0:03:52.2 Josh Faber: That’s right, I think it’s gonna be fun. [chuckle]
0:03:55.0 Kurt Baker: Okay. So how do we put this into action so it can help us with our everyday challenges that we may have?
0:04:01.4 Josh Faber: Excellent. So let me talk at least, a story that got our business started, or one of the first projects we went into. A friend of mine in Chicago is a wine expert, a sommelier. And he was telling me about how difficult it is to really understand new wines when you’re talking to people around a table. There’s a couple of things that happen; one, you have to talk to everyone, and number two, as you taste the wine, the alcohol hits your tongue, and it changes how you look at it. And I was talking to him one day, and he showed me that a bunch of the information for wine is located on the technical sheets that companies put out about the wine. The problem is, is that the technical sheets are on PDFs, and PDFs are incredibly difficult to parse when you put it through a computer. It’s unformatted. It’s not an Excel document. So when we see images of text next to each other and you try to read it, it doesn’t know that the space in between it is not text, and it puts everything together. The thing is, is I don’t see the PDF in terms of the output.
0:05:06.8 Josh Faber: I see it as a geometric object, that has height, it has width. And in that way, what you’re actually trying to look for is different rectangles that you can understand when you squint at any piece of paper and you go, “Where are the paragraphs?” Well, they’re within those fuzzy rectangles that you’re looking for. And now, instead of looking for paragraphs, you’re looking for rectangles first, and then from there, extracting the text from the rectangles, therefore turning the problem into something that is geometric first, and then taking different geometric objects and taking the text out of it. From there, we were able to take all that information, put it into a database, for our friend, so that he could access it with all sorts of ease. We tested that on over 400 different wine tech sheets, and were able to compare it for him, and it was something that he never could even believe that was possible before we started talking about it, because he didn’t understand what you were able to do with basic geometry, or at least basic, once you understand it.
0:06:07.2 Kurt Baker: Right. So what you’re saying is, when you saw these sheets, they were in a traditional paragraph format, which is a rectangle essentially.
0:06:13.6 Josh Faber: Right, exactly.
0:06:14.0 Kurt Baker: And you could just pluck these out and then you could process those by themselves without whatever else was around it, right?
0:06:20.4 Josh Faber: Exactly, and the problem…
0:06:21.2 Kurt Baker: Like getting the clutter out of there?
0:06:22.9 Josh Faber: Right. And so the problem is sometimes there is a header, that header was one rectangle and then you would have two different tables of information and those are two different rectangles. And so instead of everything getting conjoined together and messing up the syntax that the reader and you and I would see by going, “Oh, there’s a space there. That’s obviously not between words, that’s between paragraphs.” You instead just say, “Oh, okay, where is the text and where is the text not?” If the computer says, “Well, there’s nothing there,” and you have a big enough space to understand that, well, then you’re separating it into rectangles, my friend.
0:06:55.6 Kurt Baker: Okay. So now you were able to solve that issue and you convert it into the text so then he could read it, so now it’s readable at that point?
0:07:02.5 Josh Faber: Well, not only that, we were… It’s not only readable, we were able to then program and create a database for him. An actual usable database that then he could select ideas from and then he could ask out of all the wines that we looked at, which ones had the tasting notes of blackberry? So if he had a client that wanted to have blackberry-tasting notes and have the production of the wine be under 2000 cases, he could say, “These are the wines that were produced in these years with those types of ideas.”
0:07:32.3 Kurt Baker: Oh, wow, all that from a PDF, huh?
0:07:34.1 Josh Faber: All of that from a PDF, ’cause you can’t see that with just one, but when you analyze multiple PDFs, and as we did, over 400, then you can start playing with the data in a very nuanced way, in a way that you couldn’t before, ’cause you don’t have to spend the time cleaning it.
0:07:48.9 Kurt Baker: Wow, that’s fascinating. Definitely, above my head. So what gave you the idea to start this business, to start doing it? Was this your friend with the wine business, that got your idea to start this, or how did you decide to start doing this?
0:08:00.0 Josh Faber: Well, what happened was, I’ve always been a person that just steamrolls ahead and goes and does things, I love to get my hands dirty. Some people with mathematics, they like to read books and they research that way. I like to get my hands dirty with the symbols. I always have been that way. And when I was working on my thesis, I had to start looking at postdocs and COVID happened, and as happened to many people, my life changed, and I did not like going to conferences on Zoom calls. That was no fun. And I talked to a friend of mine who I actually also knew from undergraduate, and he was also a math guy with me in our graduate careers, and we decided, “Hey, why don’t we see what we can do together?” He had a different area of mathematics, he had some expertise in the business world, and he said, “You know, I think we can do something here.” So I went out to all my friends and I started to see which people had problems that we could talk to, one of them was a wine taster, another one worked in theater, and we just started to see the different projects that were available to us until one stuck, and so we did that. And fortunately enough, it was impressive enough that I got to talk at it at NJIT Campus at the Big Data Association this year, and that brought us into different ideas and different ideas, and so you do a project here, you do a project there, and you see where it leads you.
0:09:18.0 Kurt Baker: So after you did the wine project for your friend, so what kinda went next? Had you formed the company at that point, or was that prior to the company being formed?
0:09:24.8 Josh Faber: We had. We had formed the company at that point. And after the wine project, we are now currently with a client that owns a out-of-home advertisement company. So when you go out of your house and you see a smart billboard, you see the names underneath the smart billboard, and those are the companies that own the billboard. So say you’re a company that wants to advertise, you contact them and you go from there. And what we’re doing with them is we’re helping to automate their RFP process. So they have an Excel document and that has all the information of all their different types of billboards throughout the country, and then someone goes, “Hey, I want the information from these billboards and I wanna know how much it costs.” And usually, someone has to go in and fill it all in, and there’s no standards in that company. So maybe one company calls it “unit number” and another company calls it “unit num.” Well, a computer thinks those are completely different phrases, and so you have to find a way around that to automate the process. So we started talking to people, and we started talking to each other, and we started finding ways to solve that problem, and we’re in the midst of doing that right now. And it’s always so interesting when people go, “Well, where’s the math in that?”
0:10:35.0 Josh Faber: Well, the math is in the fact of how you locate and you parse and you tackle the problem, by able to go into different steps. When you think about solving a problem in algebra, you’re trying to think of the different steps you need to do to solve the problem. And as I told students, and I will always tell students, not only about solving the problem, you also wanna do it quickly, you don’t wanna sit there all night solving a problem, you wanna find the most efficient way to do that. And in the business world, the most efficient way means that it’s worth the most money, because computers are off of electricity and our electricity is still off of coal, so therefore, if you can do something quicker, it’s gonna save everyone time and money.
0:11:12.8 Kurt Baker: Okay. So you’re still in the middle of that project. How long does something like that take? There’s gotta has to be many thousands of billboards around the country, right?
0:11:19.0 Josh Faber: Right. So we’re working on it right now. The prototype got us into the door, so we’re working on perfecting that just for this company. And if things go well, then we’ll bring it to market within the next couple of years and see if other people would like to use it as well.
0:11:33.0 Kurt Baker: Okay. So this will be something other billboard advertiser purchasers would maybe get interested in…
0:11:38.7 Josh Faber: Exactly. Because…
0:11:39.6 Kurt Baker: So they can then figure out how to place their ads based on what they wanna do. So I say, “Well, I wanna go down Route One and go every so often.” And then you could figure out well what that actually means, because it might be different owners. Right?
0:11:50.8 Josh Faber: Not only that, but say you wanted to then buy space on a billboard, then when you send the sheet to the company, you don’t need a human to spend a couple of hours sometimes to fill it out. It still takes, even for these very technical, smart billboard companies, it can take up to an hour to fill out one order for them.
0:12:11.0 Kurt Baker: Really?
0:12:11.7 Josh Faber: Yeah.
0:12:11.8 Kurt Baker: I had no idea.
0:12:13.1 Josh Faber: Yeah, I had no idea either before I started this project.
0:12:16.1 Kurt Baker: Oh, so you’re basically gonna automate all that together?
0:12:18.9 Josh Faber: Right, and finding novel ways to do that, because right now, it’s all these different parts that they have to take from.
0:12:24.7 Kurt Baker: That’s just awesome. We’re gonna take a quick break. You’re listening to Master Your Finances.
0:12:28.9 : ANNOUNCER.
0:12:57.8 Kurt Baker: Welcome back, you’re listening to Master Your Finances, and I’m here with Josh Faber, of pure mathematics, he’s a PhD. And he is one of the co-founders of bizbumps, and we were talking about math and how it solves problems out there, and in some unique ways. So first you did it with the wine, and then we were talking about how to solve the problem for the billboard companies, how they’re all different, and they categorize them differently. So now you have to somehow solve that problem, like all the different billboard companies, right?
0:13:28.5 Josh Faber: That’s right.
0:13:28.7 Kurt Baker: That sounds pretty complicated to me. And you said it could take a while for somebody… Right now if I wanna… If I get a billboard somewhere out there [0:13:34.0] ____, and it’s gonna take them a long time to fill this out. And you said that’s efficiency ’cause now you can kind of standardize this stuff, correct?
0:13:40.0 Josh Faber: That’s right. Or make it so that it doesn’t need to be standardized. The thing that’s good about computers is they’re… Computers might be very, very on… And I don’t like using the word dumb, but computers aren’t that bright, they’re not actually alive, they do only what you tell them to. But the good thing is they do that very, very quickly, so if you understand that a process works, well, the computer will do it much quicker than you and I, so you can get it to do a bunch of things all at once, and that’s what’s really useful about it.
0:14:12.6 Kurt Baker: Yeah, that’s just awesome. So what are some other ways that you’ve seen that we can use math to help to solve some of these issues out there? Well, I like that non-standardization, not only do you not have to deal with it, you don’t have to standardize them is what it sounds like, right, so you can let the system work the way it is. So if a new billboard company comes in and has their own coding, you can just… You’ll be able to plug that right in, is what it sounds like. That’s, that’s…
0:14:33.9 Josh Faber: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
0:14:35.2 Kurt Baker: That’s very unique, ’cause usually we’re doing mappings and we’re doing all this stuff to try to make it match, but you don’t have to do that in this case, you’re using the math to figure it out for you.
0:14:44.4 Josh Faber: Right. And I think you’ve actually keyed on to the exact reason why we’re so excited about this project is it’s really hard to get a bunch of people together to agree on something and give up the things that they use, it messes up their entire thing, this allows them to come in and be a part of it.
0:15:02.0 Kurt Baker: That is unique. That’s awesome. Okay, so now the billboard companies, through all this wanna buy billboards, now, this will make it a little bit easier once this project is completed, it sounds like. So what are some other things out there that you’re working on to help us… Make things efficient.
0:15:15.1 Josh Faber: The one thing I’ve always, always been very interested in is, I might be from New Jersey, but I’m also a very avid biker, I love cycling. I cycle all the time right now, living in Chicago. Chicago is very, very flat, so it’s very easy to cycle around and there’s a big initiative right now to bring in new bike lanes, and it’s a very exciting time to be a biker in Chicago. But that being said, that doesn’t mean that new ideas don’t have problems that are not seen at first. For instance, if you have concrete barriers in a bike lane, well, what happens when weather comes in and you don’t have specific things from the city that are wide enough or narrow enough to actually go through the bike lanes, then the bike lanes will just accumulate snow, ice, and trash in different seasons and… Well, they can’t become usable and then as a biker, we have to go back into the road.
0:16:08.5 Josh Faber: So, one of the things that I’ve done is, by looking at different city data for traffic accidents, you can actually see where are the highest accident rates for cyclists, and you can start to chart that. And now getting this data, we’re starting… Me and some friends are actually looking at what bike lanes are better than others. Can we actually see in the data that less accidents are occurring in what type of bike lanes and in what parts of the city? So hopefully, we can bring these to different city planners and say, “Hey, you got this initiative going on, that’s great, here are the areas that need help, and by the way, these bike lanes work better here.”
0:16:46.0 Kurt Baker: That’s amazing. So have you just started that, or do you know the answer to that yet, or you just still working on that one?
0:16:50.6 Josh Faber: We have some ideas, I’ve talked… We’ve gotten a number of people together to talk about it in Chicago, I’ve been talking to some people actually in Princeton township to talk about it as well. They’ve had some issues trying to get good bike lanes off and on. There’s always an opinion about what you should do in Princeton, and it’s, sometimes it seems to be hard to push things through.
0:17:09.9 Kurt Baker: Princeton definitely has an opinion, so…
0:17:11.5 Josh Faber: They have an opinion. [laughter]
0:17:13.0 Kurt Baker: [laughter] They definitely do. So just curious, I don’t know, if in your preliminary data, I know oftentimes when we go and do these studies, a lot of times we’re surprised. Like, intuitively you think, “Oh, this type of bike lane might work better than another one.” Has the math told us something maybe different than what we intuitively, what we might have thought? Or is it lining up with what you might have thought worked?
0:17:30.8 Josh Faber: It’s a little too early to tell that, I have some guesses, but that’s just because I bike a lot and I’ve talked, and I like talking to people. One of the things that I’ve seen work extremely well is taking a wide one-way street within a neighborhood and turning it into a two-way bike lane. And what they do that’s really, really amazing, is they’ll actually paint pictures of the bikes on the bike lane, so that it implies which way is forward on each direction. And what I find amazing biking in those areas is the cars respect it, because the signage is there. Now, if you saw a biker on Route One, you’d go, “That person’s crazy.” There’s nothing to indicate that the biker should be there, but when you put in common sense measures such as signs and indicators that people should be there, people go, “Oh, okay, that makes sense.” And it seems that that is really the key that a lot of people haven’t really caught on to that they’re just in the beginnings of. You see that some in Hopewell, as well, actually. You see good signs there where they say, “Remember bikers have four feet away from cars, so they don’t get doored.”
0:18:41.0 Kurt Baker: So it’s all designated on the road, right? So yeah, that’s key, ’cause I’ve known friends of mine that… It’s a pretty… And I’ve biked a little bit by myself. And it’s a little scary out there, especially places like New Jersey where the roads tend be older where it’s not large shoulders necessarily…
0:18:52.8 Josh Faber: Oh definitely.
0:18:53.5 Kurt Baker: And you truly are sharing the road with the vehicles and everyone, so like a big dump truck drives by and you feel like you’ve got to off the road. [chuckle] And you’re like “Oh my goodness.”
0:19:01.3 Josh Faber: And it feels like a lot of… With the bike directions on Google Maps, it feels very much so like back in the day with the old internet directions. Where all of a sudden they would give you down a one way and it would be incorrect. So I’ve used bike directions in New Jersey, and all of a sudden I’m going over Quaker Bridge Road, and I’m forced to go in the middle of the median across Rowan or you’ll be going down Princeton Pike, there’s all those on ramps on the highway, so you have to now go through the on-ramps and let people know you’re coming through, and it’s a real mess, so even though the map said this is the best bike route, the infrastructure is not there to actually support it safely, and so of course, who’s gonna then continue to use it.
0:19:41.9 Kurt Baker: Right. So the math, so to speak. And we’re gonna get back to that and we’re gonna decide what’s the best policies as far as how to build these things, how to designate them, how to identify them and so forth. And then you go and build it, so it makes a lot more sense to design it and prove it out ahead of time right? Test small roll out big, so to speak the old saying?
0:20:03.1 Josh Faber: Yes.
0:20:03.6 Kurt Baker: So this is a way to do that, taking existing data that you already have, like whether it be Chicago or Princeton. Other places have kind of adopted these and one-way shape or forfeit what’s working best. And then adopt that when you start expanding on larger and you can monitor that going forward right? So you don’t stop there, you just keep going.
0:20:19.0 Josh Faber: Exactly.
0:20:20.3 Kurt Baker: So you just keep monitoring as you grow it, ’cause things may change it. What we do now, 10 years, 20 years from now, may be different.
0:20:27.4 Josh Faber: Exactly.
0:20:28.9 Kurt Baker: The best, policies may be different going forward, so this is something that can be an ongoing project… Right?
0:20:31.7 Josh Faber: 100%. And I think…
0:20:32.1 Kurt Baker: If they want us to get out and exercise. They want us to bike right? Save gas and you’re healthier.
0:20:34.7 Josh Faber: And you feel great doing it… I mean it’s amazing how much when you start biking more often or any sort of exercise, like I know I and anyone who does exercises. You feel good doing it.
0:20:47.1 Kurt Baker: Absolutely.
0:20:48.7 Josh Faber: And you’re absolutely right. I mean, right now, a lot of the towns in New Jersey are extremely bike-able.
0:20:54.3 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:20:55.0 Josh Faber: The problem is that the towns are not connected.
0:20:57.9 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:20:58.7 Josh Faber: So it seems to me that the first thing you do is you make the two towns that you want to connect, you make the towns bike-able first, and then you connect them as a second step.
0:21:07.2 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:21:07.3 Josh Faber: Almost as a fourth dimensional type of project, as it progresses as you said in time, and then as we do that, we can see what works in other areas of the world, one thing that we have looked at is in certain parts of South Korea, they have bike lanes underneath solar panels, so that the bikers get shade.
0:21:21.7 Kurt Baker: Underneath?
0:21:22.0 Josh Faber: Oh yeah.
0:21:22.2 Kurt Baker: Oh interesting.
0:21:23.3 Josh Faber: So instead of medians, they have solar panels and the bikers have bike lanes underneath and the solar panels are there to go for the cities and the street lights and different parts of Holland you have parking lots outside of the towns and cities where you parked your car and then bike lanes that bring you inside the city.
0:21:38.8 Kurt Baker: Okay.
0:21:44.2 Josh Faber: So it’s an additional part of public transportation in that sense, it’s separate from the cars in some places, and then of course where different hubs of transportation meet… Well, that’s good for businesses.
0:21:50.3 Kurt Baker: No, I agree, and as you… Kind of touching a little bit, most of the world uses bikes far more than we do. As a way to get around and go to work. It’s just much more common.
0:21:58.3 Josh Faber: Right.
0:22:00.9 Kurt Baker: Out of necessity or just the way they’ve set it up. So they’re probably ahead of us as far as some of the techniques that they’re using. But so we need to learn…
0:22:06.9 Josh Faber: We need to learn.
0:22:08.5 Kurt Baker: Learn from other people as well. So that’s another route, so bike lanes and identifying this. So any other projects you’re working on as far as the Math, what it’s gonna solve.
0:22:15.4 Josh Faber: Those right now are the main projects we’re looking on the bike lanes are a part of a bigger project of architecture. A lot of this is inspired by an architect who we lost just last year or the year before, by the name of Christopher Alexander, he was really, really interesting because what he did was he took the process of design and put it into an idea of graphs. He then said, by taking the ego gout of the aesthetic and just looking at what you need, then you really are caring about how people will interact with it, and it’s really changed my mind and how we look at it, because when you go down… For instance, route 1 between New Brunswick and here, you see all of this empty space, and now you see all this dead grass, it’s completely unusable to most people, it’s not doing anything aesthetically, it’s not doing much of anything it seems, and we could be using this in such a greater way, if we had bike lanes, if we had more trees, more shade, it would bring the temperature down… It just seems to me to be common sense initiatives that would be good for everyone, including business.
0:23:18.2 Kurt Baker: Absolutely, absolutely. Wow, that’s fantastic. We’re gonna take another quick break. You’re listening to Master Your Finances.
0:23:25.6 : ANNOUNCER.
0:23:54.4 Kurt Baker: Welcome back, you’re listening to Master Your Finances. I am here with Josh Faber, and we’ve been talking math and how it can help us solve some everyday problems, which is just awesome. And so you start off in your project with the billboards, which is ongoing, solving so you can incorporate non-standardized entities, so they don’t have to change the way they’re doing business and the way they’re identifying everything and make it so that a third party can come in and kind of roll this together and in a way that makes sense and to slow… And to speed up the time it takes to actually put an ad online, so if I wanted an ad, makes it much easier and you’re gonna save everybody a little bit of money, and so overall cost of the system goes down. And of course, the bike thing… So how did you get started? It’s just kind of interesting how you get it all the way down here, so how did this all start for you as far as the Math side goes?
0:24:46.1 Josh Faber: Well, I’ve always enjoyed Mathematics, but I think when you say that, it’s more that you enjoy basic problem solving skills with what the notation does for you. When I got myself into college, I actually didn’t start with the math, I started with political science, and then later on with physics, and the more I played around with physics, I was amazed with what the equations could predict. I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “Well goodness gracious, if you put a ball on a ramp, you can predict where the ball will land.” And so when I started talking to my professors about other areas to study… They pointed out, “Well, Josh, you don’t seem to care about the physics, you care about the math, maybe you should check out the math department.”
0:25:32.5 Kurt Baker: Interesting.
0:25:34.2 Josh Faber: And when I went there, I realized that some of my observations were shared by other people, a common observation is when you think about an object flying in the motion, if you draw that out, well, that looks like a graph, so if you can figure out the equation that mimics the graph, that equation can now predict what that object will do, so if you have the right variables, you can actually predict real things about life, things about weather, things about where things might be things to protect us, and big cases with asteroids, things about what drugs will do for you, things about population, all sorts of things, how things are connected. When people talk about, for instance, the extinction rate of animals… Well, what they don’t talk about is how that will affect everything down the line, the rate at which it will affect… And if you understand some basics of the mathematics and you can put that information together, it starts to paint a picture for you so you can understand it better, because it’s able to give you real world benefits even though the ideas are abstract in nature.
0:26:41.5 Kurt Baker: So math can predict things literally through the numbers as far as what’s likely then, based on what you know today, right?
0:26:47.6 Josh Faber: That’s right.
0:26:48.3 Kurt Baker: The trajectory of what’s happening and how it’s likely to perform going forward, which is an awesome thing to have out there because it would be nice to know and then if you change variables, you can change the trajectory of what you might be concerned about as far as things go, whether it’s extinction or anything else, or asteroids coming at the planet. That’s a biggie, right?
0:27:08.7 Josh Faber: That’s a biggie.
0:27:09.3 Kurt Baker: ‘Cause we all know at some point some day there’s gonna be a big one that’s gonna hit the Earth, we just could be millions of years from now, or it could be next week.
0:27:15.9 Josh Faber: That’s right.
0:27:16.4 Kurt Baker: Hopefully not next week.
0:27:16.9 Josh Faber: And it’s always so… Oh hopefully not next week. And it’s always so interesting because with the math then, and I always like to pull it back, the math can always be right, but you have to make sure you’re modeling the correct reality.
0:27:32.2 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:27:32.4 Josh Faber: That was something that also blew me away when I was studying physics in undergrad, because at the beginning of one of the physics textbooks, they were introducing the Maxwell equations for electro-statics, the equations that tell you how magnets interact with each other and how to predict the rate at which they’ll come together, and before Maxwell and his equations came into the known, before he proved them, they thought that in the air was a bunch of unseen gears and wires, and they had these horribly long equations that predicted things… The math was correct, but it modeled the wrong reality, and that is always a problem with data science and data analysis, is you have to make sure your models are sound and correct. It’s easy to say, “Oh, this is a math and it’s going to work and predict things about the economy or about stocks.” But if you’re not modeling actual reality, the math might not give you the correct results of what you want, it might be telling you something completely different.
0:28:35.4 Kurt Baker: So the old garbage in, garbage out. It sounds like to me.
0:28:39.0 Josh Faber: It can be. That can be… I mean you always have to watch out for people that promise you too much… You’ll always have to watch out for that.
0:28:47.2 Kurt Baker: Right. Right. So even with the math, you’ve gotta have the right parameters in place, otherwise it’s not gonna function the way you expect it to.
0:28:54.2 Josh Faber: That’s right you always have to have some basic common sense.
0:28:57.2 Kurt Baker: Okay, so now you went to the Math Department right? And so you started studying math, so what happened from there?
0:29:00.7 Josh Faber: Well, I was studying there and I was in a class called combinatorics big word. It’s just the math essentially, of counting and putting things together, com binatorics, binary numbers and numbers, and the professor at the time, he was putting up a problem on the board that he had used in his thesis at Harvard. And after class, I went up to him, I said, “Well, isn’t it like this this and the other thing?” He just looked at me and he said, “I have never thought about that.” And there was a couple of moments like that that let me know that I was doing stuff in a way that other people were not, and a couple of professors him included, then pushed me into doing more of the mathematics and physics professors too. One of my physics professors who actually taught me quantum mechanics and wrote one of my recommendations for grad school was Brian Green, and he was very, very… He was very… He was very good at pushing me into the correct direction saying, “No, no, never give up on this, keep doing the math. Of course, I support you doing this.” And some professors were not as happy to see me leave the physics department, but a lot of people understood that you have to go do what you wanna do.
0:30:10.7 Kurt Baker: Right. Okay, so now you got through there, and now what happened?
0:30:14.7 Josh Faber: And then I applied to a bunch of different schools, and I got into the University of Illinois, in Chicago, and that was a wonderful place to go. A very, very diverse campus very good professors, and yeah, I really found love of an area called geometric group theory, which is a very fancy sounding term, but it uses geometry to understand things that are algebraic in nature, and I thought that was fascinating, that you have this bridge in mathematics, you have one side, the geometry, the pictures that you and I can draw, and then you have the algebra, and that’s the notation, and the thing that’s so fascinating is they’re not always the same, sometimes you can learn more about the geometry and then pull that back and understand things about the algebra that you might have not been able to see in just the notation and vice versa. When I teach students, I talk about this bridge all the time when teaching about calculus, when you think about what a derivative is, the rate of change… And we use that all the time. You’re talking about profits, you’re talking about something, you wanna know how quickly are you accumulating that money, so you’re calculating in the derivative there, that’s the rate of change, the velocity of a car is the derivative of the motion, but when you’re thinking about how to show it and how to teach it.
0:31:32.6 Josh Faber: Well, the easiest way to do is get a graph and then draw the tangent line on it, that’s a geometric picture that then implies the algebra. You get the equations from the geometry, and I don’t know how else to teach or have a student who is first coming to Mathematics without explaining it visually first, and then having them from there, understand the language of the algebra.
0:31:58.0 Kurt Baker: Well, that makes a lot of sense because as I’m sure you’re aware a lot of teachers don’t start off that way. They’ll just give you a whole bunch of equations, memorize these… All these equations and good luck.
0:32:08.1 Josh Faber: Right. And it doesn’t seem to work that way.
0:32:09.3 Kurt Baker: And it’s kinda choosing like a couple of pages worth of equations.
0:32:13.1 Josh Faber: Oh my goodness. And that goes back to painting… Learning art by painting a fence gray, how is memorizing a bunch of equations and not relating it to the real world gonna make anyone excited about it? And I think that’s such a shame because we count money and numbers, so the better you are with math, the better you are with numbers, the better you are with manipulating your money, so how is it that we have failed so much to get people so afraid of mathematics when it seems to be so crucial in almost every area…
0:32:48.1 Kurt Baker: Well, I hope they start teaching more math that way, so that’s not the way I was taught things, it was definitely the equation situation where you had to memorize all these things and you applied them and you knew what you were supposed to get and that was it.
0:32:58.7 Josh Faber: Yeah, no same same. I think that’s one of the reasons why for me, I started off in the physics because the Physics was very hands on. You go to a lab. You actually get to do stuff in the lab right?
0:33:10.4 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:33:11.2 Josh Faber: And then later on, I realized that underneath all of the physics were the math that proves it.
0:33:19.6 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:33:19.6 Josh Faber: And then that was what I found so fascinating is that you could then push the equations, when you talk about people figuring out how quick sound travels, they didn’t have the instruments to record that, they did that mathematically the Babylonians way back in the day were able to calculate the circumference of the world by looking at how shadows changed and seeing that obviously the earth was around. I mean we’ve known that way back in the day, and then from there, calculating a pretty accurate understanding of the circumference of the world. That’s amazing. When you think about the fact that light hits our eyes and then we understand our minds put together how the world looks, so that means we’re always in the shadow somewhat of reality, and from there we can write down these equations on paper and understand the circumference and how large the world is, and we can understand stand things about the stars and galaxies when we’re just seeing reflected light. That’s crazy.
0:34:19.3 Kurt Baker: No, I agree, 100%. 100% That’s just awesome and we’re gonna take another quick break. You’re listening to Master Your Finances.
0:34:28.7 : ANNOUNCER.
0:34:57.5 Kurt Baker: Welcome back, you’re listening to Master Your Finances, I’m here with Josh Faber, and we’re talking math and we’re making it fun. So he’s talked a lot about how it can be used to solve everyday problems, which he’s working on he is doing an awesome job there, cutting edge stuff. But what we’re talking about, and just beforehand, we touched a little bit on how you’re teaching and how maybe the way we’ve historically been taught math, especially things like calculus, which everybody are like they cringe, and are like “Oh my gosh, I don’t wanna learn calculus, I gotta memorize all these formulas and I don’t understand it.” And et cetera, et cetera, right? So walk us through like what you think is the best way you talked about doing it as far as visual first. You start it with a visual, and then you support it with the math…
0:35:38.4 Josh Faber: Right, right. Well, a lot of people, they can understand visuals, a lot of people grew up looking at cartoons, playing video games, and they have… They already have a certain nature with understanding the visuals, and so when you’re sitting there with a piece of paper and you draw and you get them to draw, they become invested in the drawing, it’s the art, and so calculus is something that I think, unfortunately, people are afraid of… Because we use it in bad college movies as a way to say, “Oh, this person has to learn calculus in the night or else they’re gonna fail college.” And we put this big emphasis on it, and a lot of people don’t go ahead and go, “Well, what’s it doing for us, how do we understand it? What are the little bits behind the scenes that are making it work?” Right, and so what is Calculus calculus is the study of a curve, a line and space, how much area is underneath that curve and how the curve itself is changing. What the fundamental theorem of calculus tells us is that the way in which the curve is changing is fundamentally intertwined with the area that’s underneath it, so that gives us a bridge between how the arc is curving the derivative and the area underneath which we call the integral, and then we use symbols and the symbols scare people and it’s…
0:37:02.0 Josh Faber: “Uh-oh, there’s a symbol, I don’t know it.” But you know, if you have a symbol in business, if you have a symbol on the billboard, as long as it’s a drawing, people aren’t afraid of it, but I think that with math people go, “Oh, if I don’t know this, I might not be as good as the person next to me.” And that impostor syndrome really scares a person into thinking that some types of people are good at math and some people are not, we’ve been doing math since the inception of the human species. Everyone is good at math. Everyone has forgotten that we didn’t know how to walk for the first four years of our life, we had to learn how to walk, we had to learn how to crawl, and from there, you know, we learned how to run. And so I think people forget that we’re so good at learning new skills if we just sit down and here’s the key point, have the time to do it. And so I think a lot of people, and maybe this is my biased opinion towards it, simply just don’t take the time and to really asking themselves what don’t they get?
0:38:04.0 Josh Faber: And why don’t they get it right, and I’m not saying it’s for, you know, everyone needs to cloud and learn mathematics, that’s the great thing about how we learn, right. I don’t need to go off and learn the Russian language to understand Russian poetry, I can get a translation of it, and then if there’s something more nuanced and I wanna understand, I can talk to one of my friends that might know Russian, right? I can learn it from other people, there’s a communication there. Math is just a language. It’s notation, it seems ridiculous to me that people are scared of a notation… That’s all it is. You mentioned earlier about the… Joking about how maybe an asteroid might hit the Earth in the future, and there’s a lot of theories of this day is that the moon was actually a part of the Earth and an asteroid hit us. And the moon is left over from an asteroid, and I only say that to say we’ll be fine, maybe not all of us, but we will be fine as a planet right?
0:39:01.0 Kurt Baker: Elon will take us to Mars by then.
0:39:03.4 Josh Faber: That’s right. That’s right. So the thing is that we seem to be afraid of the wrong things, right, we know that we’re in the midst of a horrible heat wave throughout the world, right. And somehow people are just going through their day to day, let’s just turn the AC up and then they’re afraid of math. That seems ridiculous to me. And so I think there’s a lot to how we learn and then how the positive reinforcement might not be there, and I think there’s a lot of people that are trying really hard, and there’s a lot of people that don’t understand why the math is useful when you’re teaching children, a lot of parents really care, well, “How will my kids do on the SAT, is this gonna get them here as this will get them there?” A lot of people don’t like funding the arts, but if a kid doesn’t care about how well they paint a picture, well, that’s self-worth, that’s where you learn self-worth and the same thing with mathematics, at least for me it was, the more that you put your time into the equations and see how to model different aspects of reality, it teaches you how your mind thinks, that’s what I love about programming, that’s what I love about doing stuff for my company is that you get to really have a conversation with yourself.
0:40:22.6 Josh Faber: When I was talking to you earlier about how to understand the PDF, the way that I cracked that was, I thought to myself, “Well, how am I understanding the PDF? What am I seeing that the computer is not.” And then I realize that the spaces in between the letters of the words, which is called Kerning is a smaller size and spaces between different paragraphs, because if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to see visually the difference, if you look at any sign, that space between the letters is smaller than the spaces between the words, that’s how we visually understand it, and so you have to understand that type of nuance first before you solve the problem, the math, all of that really allows me to do is understand how to slowly and patiently go step by step and not get frustrated. One thing I always tell my students when they feel like they should give up on an equation is it’s always worth it to spend a couple hours figuring out an equation, then giving up and having a lifetime of not knowing how to do it. That’s more time. More time, more time freaking out, other than just sitting down and figuring out what am I doing wrong, and then the part where you feel so frustrated ask for help…
0:41:36.3 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:41:39.4 Josh Faber: We have this amazing thing called the internet. There’s all of these forums out there of people that are willing to help you, all these YouTube videos, a lot of people can learn so much of mathematics by just going on to open courses on MIT, going on to different people teaching online. It’s a wonderful time to learn about everything in the world.
0:41:55.2 Kurt Baker: Wow, that’s just awesome. So we shouldn’t be afraid of math… That’s what you’re telling us, right?
0:41:58.3 Josh Faber: I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone should be afraid of knowledge they can’t… People might be able to take your money, but they can’t take away what you know.
0:42:07.0 Kurt Baker: That is very true.
0:42:09.2 Josh Faber: Right?
0:42:09.7 Kurt Baker: So you think doing this graphically, we can teach kids. Kids younger are understanding this as opposed to needing to wait until college level for things to…
0:42:18.9 Josh Faber: Definitely. I 100% believe that. And the reason why is because kids are humans, they’re smart.
0:42:27.0 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:42:28.9 Josh Faber: Just because they don’t have the language of understanding doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on, you get a kid invested in anything they like. I mean you’re telling me that kid that can understand a complex video game with every single nuance in there, or can memorize every single superhero can’t understand an equation that’s been there for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, that’s what I mean, people need to give more credit to people in what we’ve done. We are an amazing species, and we always will be.
0:42:57.2 Kurt Baker: That’s incredible. So we need to change the way we’re teaching math a little bit, it sounds like… Right. So you’re beginning that process where you are using the visualization first and adding in the equation later, so how do we make sure that more kids are taught this way, now that we know…
0:43:10.3 Josh Faber: Well, I think the obvious elephant in the room is the funding.
0:43:17.3 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:43:17.8 Josh Faber: I mean that’s the thing, is that when you have a situation where teachers are not getting paid what they’re worth, and they’re not celebrated, I mean, how many people… Okay, we all know Elon Musk, who’s the best teacher in the university that we’re in right now. Why aren’t we celebrating them?
0:43:34.8 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:43:35.0 Josh Faber: Right. That’s the issue. The issue is that we’re celebrating the wrong people, we’re celebrating the people on the billboards, but we’re forgetting about the people that strengthen our communities, the teachers, they’re there teaching our kids how to be successful, and the successful kids are gonna come back and bring it all back they’re the people that are gonna open up the businesses, those businesses will make the connections with the old businesses, that’s how a town flourishes. A town is an ecosystem.
0:43:57.1 Kurt Baker: Right? Absolutely, absolutely. Wow, this is just amazing. So now we got all these problems that we’re solving, right? We got the promo. The mathematics, right? So what else can we do with math you think… Where else can we use it?
0:44:14.9 Josh Faber: The thing is that math is used to solve problems, so whenever you have a problem on hand, the first thing you try to do is you understand the problem by translating a problem into the language of mathematics, you’re able to then play around with the problem on paper, for instance, the world is a sphere, right… So if you have a certain weather pattern on one side of the globe, the math says that you have to have a certain type of weather pattern elsewhere, we would have different types of weather if the Earth was a different type of shape… Now, that sounds like it’s just big pie in the sky type physics and weather patterns, until you realize that the way the shipping industry uses currents and water to get through from across the Atlantic and through the Pacific. Right, so understanding problems help us by bringing things from point A to point B, and that solves logistics problems, we talk about going to other planets, how are we gonna understand how to get there if not for the math, the most expensive part of a rocket is the fuel.
0:45:20.6 Kurt Baker: Right.
0:45:21.2 Josh Faber: Once you understand that, you realize that we need to prove to the investors the best way to get there, if we can prove that this is the best way and it’s gonna cost this much, then they’ll allow people to say, “Okay, yes, let’s give this money to do it.” But without that, who is ever going to invest if I can’t say that right? And yeah, that’s some big, big type notion, it’s solving these horrible equations, the fact of the matter is we can do it… That’s what’s amazing. We can model these aspect of reality and use it, I mean, just look at what we’ve been able to just see now at the start of the pictures of the James Webb Telescope, just at the start of it. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to first see images of the Hubble and how far we’ve come in our lifetime… That’s insane.
0:46:14.5 Kurt Baker: It is.
0:46:14.9 Josh Faber: Right? And the Math that was behind all those people that got that to work and all the people they had to go to all the money people and convince them to invest, you need the proof and the math gives you the proof.
0:46:23.9 Kurt Baker: Absolutely, Josh, this has been an amazing conversation. I like math, I love it even more now. This is fantastic, so I hope we get the kids teaching and get people to be not so quite… So afraid of calculus.
0:46:35.6 Josh Faber: That’s right.
0:46:36.8 Kurt Baker: Again, we’ve been listening to Master Your Finances. Have a great day.
0:46:39.7 : ANNOUNCER.

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