More Math Woes

Things have been chugging along quite well in Algebra-Land. Even the dreaded, evil, hateful story problems haven’t been so bad.

Until Chapter 4.2 – Finding Equations of Straight Lines. I understand the principles underlying it all, really I do: y = mx + b (slope-intercept form) and (y1 – y2) = m(x1 – x2) (point-slope form.)

But the story problems. These story problems befuddle and vex me. Two examples, if I may:

“According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, there were 24 million homes with computers in 1991. The average rate of growth in computers in homes was expected to increase by 2.4 million homes per year through 2005. Write a linear equation for the number of computers in homes in terms of the year. Let x = 90 represent 1990. Use your equation to find the number of computers expected to be in homes in 2004.”

I get that the slope is 2.4 million. After much exasperated explanation by my charming tablemate, I get that “Let x = 90 represent 1990” is just an off-handed way of saying “let x = 91 represent 1991” and “let x = 104 represent 2004.” I would probably, eventually have figured that out on my own. The rest? Not so much. I now know that (91, 24) is a point. I have a point, I have the slope, thus point-slope blah blah blah. I would never have figured that out. Probably ever.

Here’s one that I haven’t tackled yet. For my own edification, I want to write down my thoughts processes as I’m attacking the problem (perhaps “tentatively poking at” is a better word than “attacking,” which implies more confidence.) Here’s the question:

“Whales, dolphins and porpoises communicate using high-pitched sounds that travel through the water. The speed at which the sound travels depends on many factors, one of which is the depth of the water. At approximately 1000 meters below sea level, the speed of sound is 1480 meters per second. Below 1000 meters, the speed of sound increases at a constant rate of 0.017 meters per second for each additional meter below 1000 meters. Write a linear equation for the speed of sound in terms of the number of meters below sea level. Use your equation to approximate the speed of sound 2500 meters below seal level. Round to the nearest meter per second.”

First thought is, obviously, “oh shit.” Second is, “Clearly, the answer is, ‘I think I’ll shoot myself in the head,'” with all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson via Rigger.

I see that my slope is + .017. I think I have a pair of (1480, 1000), but it might be the other way around, and I have no idea which one I should put in the x position and which in the y. But ok, running with this setup, y – 1000 = .017(x – 1480). Therefore, y = .017x + 1025.16. Plugging in 2500 for x, we get: 1067.66. Ok, but 1067.66 of what? Meters per second. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, because for each meter below 1000, the speed increases, not decreases. So perhaps I got my x and y backwards after all. Let’s try it the other way ’round. That gives us an equation of y = .017x + 1463, yielding 1505.5 meters per second, which rounds to 1506 meters per second. That seems right. Yup, the book agrees.

Couldn’t I have just gotten that by doing this: 2500 – 1000 = 1500. 1500 x .017 = 25.5. 25.5 + 1480 = 1505.5 = 1506?

How do I determine which is the x value and which is the y? GAH!

I don’t plan to do terribly well next exam.

On the plus side, I accidentally made everyone in class giggle today. We’d moved on to Linear Inequalities in Two Variables, and our instructor, the intrepid Kary, carefully explained that one needs to shade the area above or below the line to indicate that the answer could be any real number in that range. She mentioned being careful to shade the area in meticulously, and not to be silly about it. “Rats,” I said quietly as I made the universal ‘rats!’ gesture; “I was going to fill it in with puppies.” Evidently, I didn’t speak as quietly as I’d thought. 🙂

One of the student volunteers at the hospital is a math major. He is a senior. He’s freaking out because in one of his current classes, they have begun moving imaginary objects in more than three dimensions. WHAT?! How is that even possible?! Naturally, I had to think of therrin when I heard this, and postulated that such things might be useful in astronomy… maybe… but I can envision story problems from hell, such as:

“The planet Flox, orbiting a dual-sun system in an alternate universe, wants to produce more gleibules. The only way they can increase production without violating the laws of physics is to move their production into the seventh dimension, which, as we all know, subverts the law of gravity. However, operations in the seventh dimension cause an exponential increase in Gesundheit particle emissions, which eventually leak through the trans-dimensional barrier, causing uncontrollable sneezing on Flox.

“The trans-dimensional barrier is represented by the equation, 653 – 456,094,345,001.002353 / 43,980,653xy(z) (insert the rest of a really complicated equation here, involving square roots and exponents and the speed of light.) Assume that Flox experiences time in the same manner as our Earth (this one, right here, where this exam that you are reading right now is located.) Let q = Pelicans. How many gleibules can Flox safely produce in the seventh dimension without necessitating an increase in allergy medications? Should they be concerned about pollutants leaking into the eighth dimension? If so, do their politicians care? Describe the eco-political environment on Flox using only numbers and the word, ‘pants.’ You have 15 minutes.”

“Pushing Daisies”

This ABC show may just be the most inventive, creative, surprising thing of the year. It’s shot in a way that reminds me of the Coen brothers, often my favorite directors, and the show especially reminds me of “Raising Arizona.”

The premise is oddball – a guy whose touch brings the dead back to life. There is, however, a catch. If he touches the person again, they’re immediately back to being dead. If, after the intial, reanimating touch, he doesn’t touch the recently-deceased person again within one minute, they’ll stay alive… but someone else in the immediate vicinity will die.

Bizarre premise, to say the least.

But the writing! The writing soars. It is inspiring and grammatically correct. The narrator is a prim, British, grandfatherly voice whose face we never see. The sets are colorful and very Little Shop of Horrors in their kitsch factor. The lead character, the reanimator, is also a piemaker, who owns a pie shop. It is very, very quaint.

The dialogue is sometimes deliberately flowery or stilted, and in tonight’s episode, the female lead said, “we could be unorthodox urban honey pioneers!”

I’d bet my last dollar that had never been uttered on television until that moment. 🙂

If you have the means, catch up on “Pushing Daisies.” It is absolutely endearing. Intellectual without being snobby. And it has Chi McBride. We like Chi McBride. Especially because he’s a private detective… who knits. “Big Daddy needs some yarn,” he says about the payoff for their next big case.

Girl

June 21, 2000

There are few things in this life of which I am truly terrified. I can dress wounds and apply first aid without the slightest touch of queasiness. I witnessed a boyfriend’s vasectomy and held his hand through the procedure. I have mucked out some nasty animal stalls in my day. I owned an albino burmese python which I loved to play with. I usually fed it live mice. I ride motorcycles, do a lot of my own maintenance, and compete in some pretty serious endurance events. I love to camp and hike, and I know how to shit in the woods.

There is one thing, though, that has the absolute ability to turn me into a shrieking girl – a spider.

The idea of touching a spider, or of having it crawl on me (god forbid in my sleep,) utterly Freaks Me Out. Completely. Up until a couple of years ago, if I saw a creature with more than 6 legs in my domicile, in my car, or in my place of work, I relentlessly (but gently) hunted that sucker down, caught it in some kind of container, and deposited it Outside Where It Belonged. Then, when I moved into the Allen Drive house, I reached a kind of peace with the many spiders there – we had two rules:

You are not allowed in the bedroom.
You are not allowed any egg sacks.
First violation, they got a warning, and were either removed from the bedroom, or had their egg sack taken outside. Second violation, out they went. This was a huge step for me. I actually spent time watching them, trying to figure out what it is about them that so utterly creeps me. I think it’s having been bitten by spiders as a little girl. Plus, they’re just so….alien…everything about them screams it; they way the move, the way the look, the way they … well, just the whole way they are bothers me. I think they are very cool, and some of them are even beautiful, in a sinister kind of way. But I do not want any of them touching me. Not even little ones.

A few weeks ago, my friend Beau and I were going to lunch. He was driving. I looked over at him and saw [gasp] a spider crawling on his hair. Resisting the urge to dive headlong out of the truck, I managed to say in a very civilized voice, barely shrieking at all, “YOU HAVE A SPIDER ON YOUR HEAD!!!!!!” Beau, in an act of superhuman strength of will, managed to not drive us off the road and into a tree in an attempt to dislodge the creature from his coif. Instead, he simply said, “What? Get it off.” I paused for a split second. Here I was, trapped in a suddenly very small truck cab with a spider that was visibly quite active. Not only was I to endure this, but … actually wrangle the thing? I steeled my nerves, took a deep breath, and slowly reached for it.

After some aborted attempts and many girl noises, I was finally able to pick it up and fling it out the window (probably with more force than really necessary, but I was terrified it would silk me and crawl back or blow into my face or some other fate-worse-than-death.) Beau was chuckling at me for turning into such a girl. Bah.

The reason I bring this up now is because there is a huge spider in my bedroom at this very moment. I realize “huge” is a relative term. In all cases relating to spiders, “huge” is to mean “any spider with a legs-included diameter of more than half and inch.”

I can hear you sniggering out there.

I tried to scoop it into a glass with a popsicle stick, but it was having none of it. It scurried sideways, it scuttled backwards, seemingly without moving its legs. And then….oh god, then….it jumped!!! Jumping spiders are the absolute worst….I screeched something really butch like “AG!!” and scrabbled instinctively backwards across my bed in an especially graceful maneuver. The spider thumbed the arachnid equivalent of its nose at me, and scurried down into the near-darkness behind my nightstand. Yeah. Like I’m going to poke around where I can’t see anything, and where I know there’s a spider present? Pah. The spider wins this time. But so help me, if I catch it crawling on me, it could sustain injury.

[deep breath]

I feel better now, having shared this. Thank you so much for listening to me. Confessing one’s weaknesses is part of the path to better self-knowledge…right?