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50 Shades of Number Madness

Updated on November 28, 2017


I earnestly believe that mathematics has taken over my life. It’s happening imperceptibly, with tentacles of numeracy numbing my resistance. It seems that every moment of my existence is now merely a stage for a potpourri of mathematics minutiae.

This is what I mean.

I ritually perform my ablutions. In particular, cleaning one’s teeth should be a straightforward process, but not for me. I’m brushing and the tap is running. The drain hole is partially blocked with hair and other unmentionable material, so the water level in the basin begins to rise. A classic inflow/outflow problem, I muse. And then I try to envisage what the differential equation would have to be that describes this rate of change of the water level.

To perpetuate the investigation, I change the parameters under my control daily. This is usually the amount of water coming out of the running tap, and adding or extricating a random amount of drain hole debris.

Driving compels me to question the laws of probability. For instance, a considerable distance ahead are traffic lights. The green/amber/red cycle is in the ratio 6:1:8. Does this mean that the chance I come to a red light is 8/15? Or is it ½, since either I will stop at the lights or I won’t?

With this going on in my mind, I enter a coffee shop. I hand over money for coffee and watch the cashier work the cash register. At this stage I ask her a question as she hands me the change.

“Which weighs more, a pound of potatoes or a pound of feathers?”

She smiles. “It depends on whether the potatoes are peeled or not.”

I smile back in appreciation of her insightful response.

Sitting near the window, my attention is drawn to the people on the busy street, especially to those that pass each other.

When this occurs I think, “What’s the probability that they have the same birthday?”

I see several men standing at a bus stop. They seem tired. I cheekily reflect that maybe if they stand on one leg they will not feel as tired, because then there will be less mass attracted to the ground by the gravitational force.

Turning to my coffee five minutes later, I realise that I have not had a sip. This gets me to thinking what its temperature might now be. Could I drink it all in one go without burning my mouth? Of course this steers me to Newton’s Law of cooling.

As I exit the shop and head towards my car, I habitually recite my catechism of mathematics.

“Maths is good, Maths is pure, It’s in your life, You must endure”.


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