Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lower Mathematics

Different people are good at different things. Agnes, for instance, is very good at crafts of all kinds...she can make beautiful things out of stained glass, knit sweaters, sew elegant dresses, mat and frame pictures, cook, teach ballroom dancing, and live with me without resorting to murder. If you gave her 500 pounds of steel wool, she could probably knit you a suit of armor.

I, on the other hand, have different talents. I write reasonably well, am a fairly good public speaker, tell great shaggy dog stories (well, I think they're great, anyhow), take good pictures, and plant a mean herb garden.

Just don't ask me to do anything with numbers.

I admit it - I've never been much good with math of any sort. Arithmetic in grade school, okay. Algebra, plane geometry and trigonometry in high school, not so good. Differential and integral calculus in college ... well, that's why I majored in Linguistics instead of Chemical Engineering. Count in other than base ten? My brain starts to smoke and melt and run out my ears.

Numbers and I just don't get along. I can count to ten with no problem, twenty when I'm in bare feet, and twenty-one with my fly open. But manipulating those numbers gets a bit problematic. Long division, short division, multiplication tables, matrix algebra, the Pythagorean Theorem, and all that stuff - forget it. Perversely enough, the only higher mathematical concept I ever found a use for was imaginary numbers - government accounting is all based on imaginary numbers anyhow, so they're fairly useful as long as you forget all that stuff about i being equal to the square root of -1 or some such nonsense.

Numbers are important in traveling, because you need to know how much your dollar is worth in the local currency...if you find yourself on Yap Island, for instance, it's useful to be able to calculate how many tons of stone money you can get for your poor, battered dollar. It's also helpful to aid in calculating how many truckloads of dollars you'll have to exchange for Euros for that European vacation this year. This website can help. And humorist Robert Benchley once offered a way of calculating the value of the French Franc based on the day of the week: Monday: 1 franc = 45 cents; Tuesday: 1 pound of chestnuts; Wednesday, 2-1/2 yards of linoleum; and so on.

One of the reasons I enjoy dancing Waltz is that I only have to be able to count to three. Paint-by-numbers; forget it. If my checkbook balances to within $10 of what I think it ought to be, I'm happy. And Pat the nice lady from H&R Block helps keep me out of jail by calculating my taxes for me.

Numbers. Don't leave home without them. But please don't bring them to me unless they're in very large quantities (for instance, in the form of a Power Ball or MegaMillions lottery jackpot).

Have a good day. By the numbers. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

Just returned from a ski vacation in Switzerland, where daily we encountered the mind-numbing combination of trying to calculate the exchange rate, and how bloody expensive everything is (personal pizza about $20 even the kids realized was outrageous). Now, I'm normally pretty good with numbers, but was totally amazed by my 12-yr old nephew, who is a budding math genius. He sat on a chair lift one day and calculated (in his head, mind you) the way to convert celsius/farenheit by figuring the SLOPE, using two known equivalent points. I can't possibly share the same gene pool with him!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I'm horrid at anything above basic math. X = F in my book and anything above Algebra is terrifying to me.

zero_zero_one said...

As soon as my thesis is submitted I'm going to respond to this over on CB (about three weeks away)... :)

Good post!

Amanda said...

I like numbers. I didn't grow up thinking that I did but I like them more each day now. There is just something very peaceful and meditative about them. I wonder if anybody else knows what I mean....

John said...

Amanda, I'm sure that our old friend from Numeric Life would agree with you. (I hope she's doing well.)

Personally, I don't mind numbers or math or number puzzles. What I don't do is work on my car or fix thinks around the house. My philosophy is: They pay me well to do the job that I know how to do; I ought to be willing to pay somebody else well to do the job that they know how to do.

Mike said...

Bilbo, if your ever stuck going in a 3.141592653589793..., try latching on to 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144... etc to get yourself out.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Algebra and trigonometry...horrifying!