Exit March

An old saying has it that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” That was certainly the case for us this year. February and early March were full-on old-fashioned winter, yet when baseball season started (in the USA) this past Thursday, the snow was mostly gone, and temps were in the 50s. (That’s the thing about winter: spring is pretty sweet.)

The end of March means the official end of the Mathness, but it’s not exactly the end of the math. The whole point of the rotation study was trying to understand 4D rotation, and I haven’t explored that, yet. I plan to, and soon.

But today, as an exit March, I want to talk about math phobia.

I have two minds on this. They co-exist a little uncomfortably.

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On the one hand, math is generally taught very, very poorly.

So poorly, in fact, that it has essentially terrorized some young into regarding it like some pets regard going to the vet. This is entirely the result of bad teaching (and bad vet visits).

Further, it is often taught as a rote skill, somewhat like lifting weights, with no view to its value or usefulness (let alone its beauty).

“Here’s how you lift this particular math weight. Now go do twenty reps.”

No wonder people can’t stand math.

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On the other hand, the phobia is all in your head.

Blame the education system, but it is all in your head. If you can walk and talk, you can do math. Period.

That may not help with the anxiety, fear, or outright loathing, but it should give you hope. It simply is not the case that you “can’t do math.”

Actually, you do it constantly.

When you look at the clock and figure out how much time you have before you have to leave, you do math.

When you check your available cash and figure out if you can afford to order lunch and dessert, you do math.

When you drive somewhere and think about how many miles are left to go, you do math.

I think the truth is that we all do simple math all the time. The lesson should be that there’s nothing to fear about numbers, they’re already deeply a part of our life.

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The problem I perceive for people is exactly the same one I have trying to learn Spanish: no faith in my ability to learn the words and how to use them usefully.

I have an abiding belief that I “don’t do languages.” (Exactly as many have an abiding belief they “don’t do math.”)

I was completely at sea taking junior high school Spanish.

I took four years of German in high school (thinking I could read technical papers by German scientists, was my logic). It never took. I barely remember a few words.

A while back, a South American friend tried to help me learn some basic Spanish to no avail. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it, and my complete lack of confidence in my ability made me too embarrassed to even try to speak to her.

Those who hate math seem to have a similar experience, so I appreciate the pain.

It really is all in our head. I speak English reasonably fluently, so of course I could learn Spanish if I really set my mind to it (and had the right teaching).

But where’s the incentive?

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For one thing, people now rely on technology to “do the math.”

Ask Alexa how many minutes remain before you have to go or let your phone send you a notification.

Check your banking or driving app, or use a calculator to go “old school.”

That’s all fine… until technology fails you (or lies or just gets it wrong).

A friend told me about a time she was in a store that had lost power. The cashiers and customers were at a loss to figure out how to pay with cash. (Assuming one even carries it anymore.)

My friend said she had to help a cashier figure out how to calculate sales tax just so that people (with cash) could pay.

In contrast, I recall how, way back in my first job (my only retail experience), I disdained the [Amount Tendered] key on my cash register. Seemed lazy to me to have a machine tell me the correct change.

(As I’ve mentioned, people can’t even count change “correctly” any more.)

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That’s a pretty good argument right there for not letting math defeat you.

It’s a bit like knowing a few basic things about your car. You many never need them, but in those cases where you’re unexpectedly stuck, possessing a clue or two can make life so much easier.

Cars, math,… it’s kind of a general principle. Clues are good!

(Buy one today!)

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It’s a strange thing to me that people can seem proud that they “don’t do math.” As if it made them more human, because only weird, geeky, not-quite-human people do math.

To me it’s like being proud of being illiterate.

Not something to be proud of; quite the opposite. Think of it as being proud of having a fear of heights, clowns, or public speaking. It’s something, ideally, you’d want to overcome.

And that starts with understanding the phobia isn’t based on anything real.

There’s no need to treat it as an enemy is all I’m saying (and a little basic familiarity might come in handy).

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Many people don’t use math in any substantial way, so there’s no real incentive to learn much about it, true enough.

I think it’s a shame, though, because math is so beautiful and so useful.

Being able to “do the math” helps one avoid being fooled by all sorts of charlatans and schemes.

My hopeful message is this: Anyone can do math!

You just need a good teacher.

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March 2: The Lion

March 30: The Lamb

Idle March Thoughts

March marches in. A rare month name that’s a regular word (a verb and a noun). There’s only one other that is definitely a regular word, plus at least one more that’s arguable.

Some month names are proper names, April, May, June, given, typically, to women. (I’ve even known a January and a September.) The month names came first, so these don’t count.

Happy Birthday to various people with various birthdays (born in quite various years)!

I’d hoped to talk more about the Mandelbrot in March (because math), but I just couldn’t fit it in. I’ve posted about it before; perhaps I will again.

Baseball started on March 28, and I saw something I’ve only seen once since 2010: The Twins won their opening game (played at home, to boot). Nice! Might be a decent season.

Daylight Saving Time (no “s”!) sucks. I hate “springing forward.” Current thinking is we should just stay on DST. Day-wise, that seems a good idea. Astronomically it bugs me, because solar noon would be closer to 1:00 pm than 12:00 pm. Makes the sunlight through my skylight confusing.

Pizza and sandwiches are perfect foods. A hot dog is also a perfect food, but it is not a sandwich.

Pluto is a planet, damn it.

Another old saying is: “When March blows its horn, your barn will be filled with hay and corn.” (What if you don’t have a barn?)

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Stay marchin’, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

9 responses to “Exit March

  • David Davis

    Last year I made an animated movie. I used more math than in the previous 40 years. Google Drawings is a good animation tool. You can draw (or import) an image, save it as a jpeg, move (or resize or rotate or just change an x or y coordinate) a few hundreds of an inch, and take another jpeg, etc.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Heh, yeah, rendering images is where a lot of my math over the years took place. Especially if you get into 3D!

      Google Drawings, eh? Never had any experience with it. I’ve still got Windows 10 3DPaint to explore. (Plus POV-Ray, which is a tool I’ve used for many years, so know it pretty well.) I’ll have to add Drawings to my TODO list…

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I’m not great at math, but I think the only time I actually feared it was when I had to take tests on it. But that was more fear of being tested on a subject I struggled with. (By the time I was done, I also feared being tested on consolidated financial statements in my advanced accounting course.)

    I think the bigger issue for me is that I see math as a tool. I can understand that others see beauty in it, but I’ve just never been bitten by that particular bug. I’ve always been more interested in what the math represents or reveals rather than in it itself.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, taking a test is a whole other thing, isn’t it. Even if you feel comfortable with a subject, the test can really throw you for a loop. (I especially hate blood tests. 😀 )

      As I mentioned in our other thread, exposure to hard SF during grade school set me up as an avid science and math fan by the time I left grade school. I was actively pursuing science as well as SF in my reading. (So I liked all of Asimov’s work!)

      I wasn’t “into” math back then, but did have a grasp of its value and utility. (Various SF characters always doing math to solve some problem.) It was more the early interest in CGI and 3D modeling that put math in my path after school. (Used to crack me up that, here I was, using trig, the stuff people canonically say they’ll never use!)

      The beauty comes, I think, as you get into it. Euler’s Identity requires understanding the complex plane to really appreciate.

      Or the Mandelbrot, which is easy to appreciate visually without knowing anything, but if you do, it’s really quite one of the most astonishing things ever. I need to talk to an expert about this, but I believe the main “lake” and all the satellite mini-brots are connected by mathematical singularities.

      (That is, there is some precise complex number, lying on the connecting thread, that is in the M-set, but other than adjacent precise numbers along the thread, no other number is, no matter how close. If that’s true, it’s mind-blowing! It means the connecting threads are one-dimensional lines. They have zero thickness.)

      ((A mind-blower I know to be true is that, no matter how deep you zoom in, and no matter how twisted and complex the M-brot boundary gets, there is always a path leading to the outside (it’s called an “external ray”). That makes watching those zooms people do much more interesting, because — due to the threads being singularities (I believe) — you never see them, you just get closer and closer. The paths the external rays follow are obvious and easy. You can see them.))

    • Wyrd Smythe

      p.s.
      You might not be interested in the math, but at the end of the last post are some charts showing Lorentz shift at different values of c that you might find slightly interesting. (I don’t know if you’ll ever have occasion to make a spacetime diagram, but if so the matrix transform stuff is very useful. Wish I’d known about it back when I did all those diagrams for the SR series.)

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