Twice a week I head over to Utah Valley Community College and subject myself to 2 1/2 hours of pure torture.
I'm taking a beginning algebra class.My teacher, Karl Golding, doesn't know it, but he has a real challenge on his hands: me.
I know numbers are important. I know that thanks to mathematical wizards, we have computers, can send rockets on fly-by missions to other planets, understand quantum physics and chaos and so on.
I try to keep that in mind when I'm puzzling over things like this: Solve: A
2qsrt3x + 2qsrh for h.
Why should I? I'm pretty sure I'll never see something like that in my checkbook.
The thing about mathematics is it is never simple. For instance, stretch your gray matter with this actual tidbit of crucial information from a textbook: "0 divided by any non-zero number `n' is 0 because 0 divided by `n' equals 0 if and only if 0 times `n' equals 0 and 0 times `n' equals 0 for every number `n.'
"Dividing a non-zero number such as 4 by 0 cannot be defined as a number `n' because 4 divided by 0 equals `n' if and only if `n' times 0 equals 4."
Gives you a headache, doesn't it? Last week, my teacher explained percentages. At the end of the lecture, he said: "Now when you own your own store and want to mark something up 25 percent you can find 25 percent."
To which one of my classmates replied: "It's easier just to mark it up 50 percent."
I'm with you, pal.
Why bother with all this stuff? Why not just say 0 is 0 and nothing but 0 no matter what you do to it.
Math is hard enough for people like me without the horror of - I'm not kidding - TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS in the textbooks.
The authors of math books have no idea what havoc they wreak by leaving out a number here, a negative sign there, not to mention a whole step in the solution to a problem.
Real people stay up all night, figuring and refiguring misprinted problems, worrying themselves silly because they don't get it.
Maybe it's the author's idea of a good practical joke.
Of course, some kind authors put nice little notes in the margins of their books, like this one from my beginning algebra workbook: "It may be necessary to read each problem a number of times before step 2 can be done correctly. That's the way it is sometimes . . . If you are having trouble getting step 2 done right away, it doesn't mean that something is wrong with you."
That's a relief.
Well, I can take it. I refuse to be deterred. I want to know what all the fuss is over mathematics. I'm in this for the long haul, come math practical jokes or high water.
Golding, go ahead, make my day. Throw those quadratic equations at me. Give me your best irrational numbers, your most convoluted word problems. Let me try dividing a polynomial by a monomial, graphing a parabola and deciphering inequalities. I can take it.
I want to. It's the only way I'll ever find out what my odds of winning the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstake really are.
(Brooke Adams, Orem, is Utah County bureau chief for the Deseret News.)