Two Down … 509 To Go!

“Euler calculated without apparent effort, as men breathe, or as eagles sustain themselves in the wind.” ~ François Arago

The only sound apparent was the silvery, creek-like trickle of the fish tank.

And of course the scratch of graphite on paper, the rubbery pass of the eraser, the occasional puff of breath clearing the work area, and the rapid tap of keyboard keys.

I began again.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…

Do you recognize this sequence of numbers?

Your eye knows and loves them well, even if your brain is drawing a blank.

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The Dirtiest Word

Will you permit me to digress? According to my last post “The Gap”, this post is supposed to be about the Pre Work that I am required to accomplish before camp starts in March.

Before I get to that, likely in my next post, I would like to play a little game with you. Do you like games? This one is a guessing game of sorts. I would like you to think of the dirtiest word you know. Got your word? Great. Now, no matter what word you are thinking of, I am certain the word that I have in mind is dirtier. Can you guess my word? Perhaps some clues will aid you in your quest.

My word is four letters long. I have seen my word make grown men cry when they encounter it. I have personally witnessed my word transform otherwise brilliant women into embarrassed, mumbling messes. Have you guessed my word yet? No? A few more clues then.

My word has unspeakable power, but it is often only whispered about in polite conversation. Parents shake in their boots when their children innocently inquire about this word. My word, to the dissatisfaction of many, is taught in schools. Do you give up?

I am taking of course about….MATH! (Hey what did you think? This blog is G rated.)

Numbers are beautiful. The universe is painted with them. My love affair with mathematics has been life long. This led me to major in physics in college and today I am a high school math teacher.

However, the general public mostly abhors this subject that I love. Every time I tell someone what I do for a living, the response I get the most often is “Oh, I’m not a math person….. I hate math.” Math is American society’s red-haired stepchild, ignored at all cost. It has become a dirty word that no one wants to discuss after they graduate from high school and begin flushing as much algebra from their brains as possible.

In light of this, I want to mention that I just saw the move The Imitation Game. It is the true story of mathematician Alan Turning’s attempts to decipher the German Enigma code during World War II. I highly recommend going to see this movie.

In honor of mathematics and of Alan Turning, I would like to pick out some of the numbers from this movie that made it so meaningful. In doing so, I hope I can help show in some small way that mathematics isn’t evil, but a wonderful tool to understand the world. Further it can do good. Real and true good. (Spoiler Alert: If you plan to see the movie, don’t read beyond this point.)

 

2.  Alan Turning and his team were estimated to have shortened World War II by two years with his pioneering work in computing. This helped to save many lives.  How many lives you ask?

14 million. That is the estimated number of lives that professor Turning likely saved by using mathematics and his nascent computer to crack the German Enigma code.

41.  Alan Turning was 41 years old when he committed suicide. This brilliant soul took his life because the British government convicted him of indecency because of his homosexuality. He had to choose between prison and chemical castration. He chose the latter which destroyed his body and mind. When he could take the suffering no more, he killed himself.

2013.  This is the year that the British government pardoned Alan Turning and thanked him for his invaluable contribution to the war effort.

For someone like me just getting started with computing, this movie was hugely inspirational. I recommend it to everyone though because it is a stark and painful reminder that greatness can be found like a flash in a dark pan inside of anyone. Greatness makes no mention of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other category or class. Alan Turning was great, but he did not get the praise he deserved because of bigotry. Perhaps the dirtiest word is really that: bigotry.