Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gene Autry solves for x

I decided to skip another season of hibernation. Partly because Derick William Dalton vented his childhood issues onto you poor unsuspecting counselors. I Apologize and will prevent that in the future. Mostly, I chose to stay conscious thanks to a question from astute reader Trujilla Gila, a non-monstrous lizard who lives near the suburbs of Roswell, Nueva Mexico. She writes:

Dear Ms. TheBoxTurtle (sic. It's Madam Turtle, please),
My recent terrarium escape was motivated by your adventures. Emboldened by your revolutionary approach to physics instruction, I have taken it upon myself to bring an algebraic Renaissance to the reptilian masses of the Chihuahuan Desert. Problem is, I am algebraically inept. Can you get me started?
Venomous but slow,

Trujilla, you will be the Freeman Dyson of the Desert when I'm through with you. The first trick is eliminating the numbers and using analogies familiar to the student. Then you bring the numbers back after the concepts are understood. Given your situation, I would LOVE to a do a herpetology-themed introduction. Hibernation, ectothermic behavior, benefits of a combined rectum/urethra/reproductive tube, those would be fun. But I have to pander to a nearly all-mammal audience. Darn this economy and my pedicure bills.

You're in the Southwest. How about country music? Is that popular enough to cross taxonomic boundaries and interest hairy lactators and scaly egg-layers alike? I think so. Ready? Let the numbers float out of your head and feel the folksy twang!

The first thing to consider is the use of variables. This a symbol that represents an unknown quantity. By manipulating everything that is known, what's left is the value of the unknown. Or in the music analogy, everything that the lyricist has lost and is now lamenting.

Sort through the variables. Eliminate three sides of a rectangle from its perimeter, and you're left with the fourth side.

Side 1 + Side 2 + Side 3 + Side 4 = Perimeter
Side 4 = Perimeter– Side 1 – Side 2 – Side 3

Not following? Here's the country music parallel. Sift through those hurt most by repeated over-consumption of beer, and see who's most important as they leave.

(Beer Night)^hobby – Who's Most Important = Loneliness
(Beer Night)^hobby = Wife driving away in your truck

This brings up a new concept: exponents. That's the “hobby” part. As the value of “hobby” becomes greater than that of Non-Beer Night (365 - Beer Night), the Who's Most Important variable becomes an exponentially less attractive person.

Here's another key to algebra, combining of like terms. Variables of the same symbol indicate the same value, even if unknown. These can be combined to help with finding solutions.

x + x = 2x

Here our rustic music analogy breaks down as combinations of rhyme don't have to be all that close. Assonance is good enough, and I mean that in both a grammatical and an insulting sense.

Next let's discuss one of the basics of algebra. Order of Operations. In an equation like this, where does one start?

3(x+2) – (y/12)^0.03

There are plenty of websites where one can look up a list. You know, do the exponent first, then parenthetic operations, multiplication and division, finally addition and subtraction. I prefer that way, being cold blooded and analytically orthodox. But most people prefer a literary approach. A story.

Three kids gettin' out to do their chores
: |
: (
plus the two hound dogs layin' on the floor
makes me feel good inside, almost as much a Coors. But there's the monthly mortgage payment
the 3% penalty's a shame and... Makes me want to pull out my mustache.
: (

Speaking of stories, algebraic Story Problems are often difficult. Here, the Nashville approach is vital in developing a solution. A typical ballad involves an elaborate narrative at the outset to stage the oft-repeated but simplistic catch-phrase or aphorism. This is so similar to story problems leading to long division, I'm actually writing lyrics, but so far no one from the music OR textbook industries are interested. Makes me want to pull out my mustache.

One final pitfall to avoid. Mathematics is an excellent instrument for estimating, but such lack of precision is calculated. Purposeful. Here, poor habits can be learned if our country music analogy is carried too far. Algebra isn't particularly useful in glorifying mediocrity, and such glorification results in poor use of a numerical tool. Yet, this is exemplified in many songs. This is the case whether responsibilities are shirked to the boss or to Jesus. Not that there is anything wrong with relying on a deity. From what I hear Derick William Dalton teaching his kids, Jesus seems happy to help. But I imagine he's pretty busy.

I suspect someone crying into their beer while they wait for Him to fix all their problems (algebra, loneliness, money, etc.) makes Him want to pull out His mustache.

No comments:

Post a Comment