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BY COLUMNISTS

| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Patricia Price | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


February 26, 2014

What Time Is It?

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I have always been horrible in math. Still am. To add 7 + 5, I place my hand by my side and count on my fingers. Subtraction is the same way. The multiplication tables had been memorized years ago, so I have no problem with them.

 

To teach complex calculations when I taught chemistry, each example was written out in my notes before I wrote them on the blackboard. Most of my students had passed Algebra 2, something I had never done, and I would say: "Does everyone understand this step?" They would all nod. Everyone understood it but me.

 

Tests would be given with the statement: "Now write out each step so I can at least give you partial credit if you make a mistake." I had dozens and dozens of workbooks and other texts where I had copied examples for each chemical concept: i.e. heat, where each step was shown along with the answer. Over a few years I had a library of these examples but never understood any of the mechanics of solving the problems. I never got caught.

 

It's not that I didn't try. I took self- course after self- course but nothing would stick. I hired tutors to help me out. They gave up as nothing would stay number wise. I understood the theory and could teach it; but applying theory using calculations was another matter.

 

These problems with numbers have continued until now. The 24-hour clock or military time, used extensively overseas especially in airline timetables, floors me. When the time is 1600 hours, I use my fingers knowing 1300 is 1 p.m. to get to 4 P.M. 1600 hours means nothing to me. It's as if someone said a Martian word. And this is after six years of being overseas and working with these numbers!

 

In the States, the airlines use A.M. and P.M. instead of 0600 or 1800 hours. The States time is much easier, probably because I grew up with it. With international time I have missed airline flights or had to run through an airport because I neglected counting a finger to be where I was supposed to be at a certain time. Now, my wife double checks me.

 

For time zones, especially the Eastern Time Zone in the United States where my youngest daughter lives, I have no problem. That's because for six months I am exactly 12 hours ahead. For example, if it's 6 A.M. here it is 6 P.M. last night in Washington, D.C. However, for the rest of the year, daylight savings goes into effect.

 

In Malaysia, we don't have or need such a concept because we are so close to the equator that our days are usually always around 12 hours long, so the clocks do not move when they do in the States. I can never remember whether the clocks went ahead an hour or behind in America.

 

I have made a real go at trying to remember, but I am always off by an hour. Similarly, when I finally get the time zone down in Montana, (MTS) it shifts to daylight and I am lost again. Then, when I think I’ve got it, they shift back to standard time. My daughter is very understanding when I Skype on either side of the hour I am supposed to.

 

At 63, I sometimes think I will give Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus another go. I look up the many self-help lessons on the Internet, start the first page and then go back to researching history, political science and critters of the jungle for my publications. Numbers don't mean much in those fields.

 

I don't think I am going to try math again after innumerable attempts. The subject will remain as one of the wondrous mysterious of nature, like String Theory, that I am not meant to understand. And that's okay.

 

...Life is good. . . . .

 



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