During my son’s math lesson today we got on the subject of , which I prefer to write as . We made a table of a few obvious values and limits:
So the values rise from , peak somewhere in , and asymptotically drop to 1 after that. So the maximum is probably between 2 and 4, and I asked my son how we could find it. And he suggested we find where the curve is flat and the derivative is zero. And that’s when I realized I’d forgotten know how to find . My son is only 11 and we’ve only touched on calculus, so he couldn’t help. I figure the first step is to express it as , but I don’t know where to go from there. So we turn to the internet, and I read Wikipedia’s entry for the nth root algorithm, which doesn’t answer my question but is nice to read because it’s a little gem. And then we get to WolframAlpha, which tells us everything we want to know. See for yourself, the WolframAlpha page for , which says the derivative is , which is zero when or or . So the maximum of is . Not very surprising, but nice to have it confirmed. (When I described this problem to my neighbor he said the max would be at as soon as he heard it was between 2 and 4.) But I still don’t know how to calculate that derivative, except by asking WolframAlpha. Which brings up the question, is the internet making me stupid by making things easy? Or is it making me smarter by taking care of drudgery? I’d like to say it makes me smarter, but I know that, once in a while, what appears to be drudgery at first turns out to be important, providing unexpected insight.
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