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Friday, February 03, 2006
 
This new math is whippin motherfuckers ass
You wanna know how to rhyme you better learn how to add
It's mathematics


Let me take you back to Mr. Morris's Algebra 2 class...circa 1992. It's the middle of the semester and I have been suddenly inspired to try and improve what promised to be yet another miserable grade in math. I spend a good solid week of reading, doing problems, trying to carve out a basic understanding of the subject matter in preparation for a make-up exam.

The day of the exam arrives and I move out to the hallway...Determined to make this one test count. In my mind, if I can just do good on this one test, I can move on and maybe pull a C out of this class.

I hit the test running, my pencil flies across the paper with confidence. Numbers and letters and all sorts of algebraic symbols fill the page. In 40 minutes or so I turn in the test feeling completely confident. I never needed to stop and think on any procedure...It just all seemed to flow. All signs pointed to a well deserved B (maybe even an A?!).

Mr Morris handed me the results of the test two days later, and they were astounding. Out of 25 possible points, I received zero.

No points.

Somehow I had managed to be 100% wrong.

I can't imagine what that test must have looked like to someone who knew better. I mean...That page was FULL of symbolic language that...Loosely translated into English...Would have read, "I am from planet-stupid".

So math and I have never been friends.

Despite our rocky past I have taken it upon myself to "start over" and once again try and set things right. This has been inspired by my desire to expand my software horizons and become more familiar with MEL...A scripting language (inspired by C++) that forms the basis for one of our primary software packages at work.

I've got a text book and everything.

One of the early chapters of the MEL textbook discusses the value of brushing up on some important mathematical concepts relating to trigonometry, and vector mathematics. Naturally this kinda stuff makes my brain want to seize up. But instead of conceeding I called my friend Dartemis ( a math teacher, and all-around super smart person ), and scheduled some tutoring time.

While I was preparing for this, I was goin through the aforementioned chapter and something struck me:

11%5=2.2

"2.2" I thought..."twoooo point twoooooo...wow...I can't remember how to do long division."

Undaunted I turned to the internet. I found plenty of websites to help. Many of them featuring banners, with crayon-fonts that say things like, "Math is FUN!!!"

Indeed.

My favorite source of knowledge was a Dr.Math. Dr.Math displays emails from troubled readers and attempts to answer their questions. Here is an example of an email sent in that related to a problem I myself was experiencing:

"Dear Dr.Math,
I am in fifth grade and am having trouble with third grade arithmetic.
My biggest problem is long division. "

Yes Dr. Math!!! Please help me and the 5th grader who is 2 grades behind the curve! I eagerly downloaded and printed many of Dr.Math's helpful solutions, and challenging worksheets.

Midway through the level 1 "long division worksheet" I came to another embarrassing revelation. There are some serious holes in my times tables. I had seriously reverted to a first grade math level. I have no problem with the numbers that have tricks to them...Your 2's, 5's, 10's, and 9's (thanks to that sweet trick you can do with your hands)

But your 6's, 7's, and 8's...To me that's pure memorization. So while I was doin my long division (complete with drawin the lil downward arrows) I kept stumbling into problems that I SHOULD know, but have long since forgotten.

Shameful.

Anyhow, I eventually had to get back to work and put the division problems away for a another time. Later that night I had to actually talk trig with another adult...Which promised to be totally embarrassing. Good 'ol 'D' happens to be a great teacher though and I found most of what she was explaining to me to be totally accessible. Which was nice.

I did get to showcase yet another one of my problems with math however. It's like this: When I come across a relatively simple piece of addition or subtraction and I'm by myself...I'm fine. I work it out (perhaps a bit slower than others....Or using my fingers), no big deal. If I am in the presence of others though I have an altogether different "technique".

basically my mind works like this: "dude...That's an easy problem...25 - 16? You should be able to spit that out instantly, and if you don't you will look foolish". So -- not wanting to look foolish -- I sorta glance at the problem and quickly determine what numbers might be CLOSE to the answer....Like 10 for example. Than I just sorta stab blindly for a number close by. I can usually judge the success of this technique by the reaction of the other person (or persons) around. Sometimes it works and the conversation just goes on as normal.

Other times...


...MOST other times...

...I get this sorta, "raise of the eyebrows" look.

"ha ha! Oops!" (stab other numbers till I get it right).

The point is this technique completely backfires 70% of the time.

It sounds stupid, but it's important to understand the panic my brain is in at these situations. My heart actually starts to race a lil.

After the tutoring last night I discussed a lot of this with my friends, and the Birdman asked me if I felt my lack of numerical dexterity was really an obstacle for me in my daily life.

To be honest it really isn't. But I do have an idea of myself and my intellectual capacity, and I don't feel like my math is up to par with the rest of it...I mean...Fuck I hope not. If the rest of me were as deficient I think I'd need a helmet and full time nursing care.

The moral of the story? All you kids who hate math...you best fight through that shit. It will haunt you for the rest of your life. :)

-B

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