Math Story 1
The other day, Ken and I were having a discussion about the newest educational fad: Growth Mindset. This is fancy term, based on “brain research”, that people can learn to do things if they BELIEVE they can do them. So you can see why it’s so fancy and all—pretty complex stuff. And you can also see why Boards of Education are spending money like crazy to teach people how to implement it in the classroom. I’m sure there’s nothing more motivating to a struggling student than yelling at them “If you can see it, you can be it!” (Growth Mindset sounds suspiciously like the lyrics to an R. Kelly song. He believed he could fly, although I don’t think that worked out too well for him). I wish my high school math teacher had quoted Boyz to Men to me—for sure, I’d be a quantum physicist now, instead of a smartass who can’t figure out what half of ¾ of a cup of flour is (I just eyeball it). Anyway, I was like, “So after years of NOT being able to do complicated math, if I only BELIEVE hard enough that I can do it, I’ll be able to learn it?” Ken assured me that it was true. But that night I had a nightmare where I was trying to do math, and f*cking it up royally. Then suddenly, the numbers all turned into little roasting chickens in their own casserole dishes, and instead of doing math, I was basting them with a red wine sauce that I had made and worrying that they were going to dry out in the oven. Even my subconscious knows where my strengths are. But maybe that’s all changing, because on the weekend, Kate was doing her math homework:
K: Math, math, blah, blah, dividing by zero.
Me: Oh, that’s easy. Whenever you divide by zero, you end up with the same number you started with. Like 15 divided by zero is 15.
K: No, it’s not! You can’t divide by zero.
Me: Sure you can. I have 15 things. There’s zero things that go into it, so I still have 15 things.
K: That’s NOT how it works. It’s impossible. See, if I put 15 divided by zero into my calculator, it says “Error”.
Me: I paid good money for that calculator—what’s wrong with it?
K: Nothing! You just can’t divide by zero.
Me: But I just did.
K: But you’re wrong. Zero would go into 15 an infinite number of times, so it can’t be calculated.
Me: But I just calculated it.
K: NO, YOU DIDN’T.
Me: Look. If you have 15 slices of bacon, and you try to divide them by zero, how many slices of bacon do you have left? 15! Because you have eaten zero of them!
K: 15 is the REMAINDER. IS there bacon?
Me: Sure. Do you want 15 slices or zero?
Math Story 2
I have a Chuck Norris desk calendar that Ken gave me last Christmas. I love it. I don’t know what it is about Chuck Norris jokes that always make me laugh, but there are several people in the office who appreciate them too. If I have one that’s specific to a particular person, I give it to them at the end of the day just for fun. For example, in February there was a page that said, “Once Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked an exclamation point. That’s how question marks came into existence”, so I gave it to one of our editors. She thought it was really funny and pinned it up on her cubicle. Most people have embraced the Chuck Norris calendar, so when I got a page the other day that said, “Chuck Norris is the last digit of pi”, I knew exactly who it should go to—one of the new women in the office who specializes in math-type things. The problem was that in the picture, Chuck wasn’t wearing a shirt, and personally, I think that in a professional office, we probably shouldn’t be putting up pictures of half-naked men. Or women. (Funny story—I used to work with another math-type person who put up an 8 x 10 glossy picture of a very good-looking young man in her cubicle. He was naked from the waist up. I mentioned it to someone, as in “I don’t know if that’s very appropriate” and the person responded, “Oh, it’s OK—that’s her son.” I’ll leave it to you to consider whether that’s actually a funny story or just super-creepy.). So anyway, I very carefully took a sticky note, traced Chuck’s torso, coloured it in with black marker, and then cut it out and taped it on. It looked just like a very stylish T-shirt. I took it over to her, and said, “I thought you might appreciate this”, but she just looked at it with a weirdly dubious expression.
Me: It’s Chuck Norris.
Me: It’s a joke about math.
Me: I thought you might like it. I made him a shirt.
So I left it on her table and walked away. Later, I went by, and it was still there, but the tiny T-shirt I’d made had been carefully peeled away.
Math Story 3
So this is technically not a math story, but it has numbers in it. If you remember, I joined a hockey pool a couple of weeks ago. I made my picks based on some pretty random factors—I now have a Mr. Smith and a Mr. Anderson in keeping with my Matrix theme, and I picked up a guy called Kailer Yamamoto, because I thought it was a cool name and someone had scooped up Yanni Gourde right before my turn. At any rate, I am currently in first place out of 16 teams with quite a healthy points lead, which led to some subtle accusations that I might be a ringer:
Co-Worker: So. You’re in first place. Guess you know a bit more about hockey than you let on.
Me: Uh, no—I mean, I understand hockey, but I don’t follow statistics or anything. I don’t even know who won the thingy last year.
Co-Worker: If you’re referring to the Stanley Cup, it was the Washington Capitals, as I’m sure you’re aware.
Me: No, I…I’m sure I’ll be in last place by the end of the season and you’ll win the $560 dollars.
Co-Worker: $320. There are 16 of us, remember?
Of course, he was only pretending to give me a hard time, because he’s a pretty decent guy, but that still hasn’t stopped me from calling out, “I’m number 1!” every time I go by his office. Because 1 is the best number.