Monday, September 15, 2014

In which I do math

I am abominably pleased with myself right now.

I was reading an article about black holes, quantum tunneling, Hawking radiation, etc., and in one of the comments someone explained that the thing which made black holes special was density, not mass.

This got me to thinking: Well, what IS mass, and how is it substantially different from weight?  I mean, weight only exists in a gravity field, but mass doesn't have that limitation.* So I retired to the Porcelain Throne of Philosophy and had a good think over it.

I came to the conclusion, on my own, that mass had to be a function of both density and volume. I'm not entirely sure if I can explain how I came to that conclusion, but it had to do with feathers and lead and varying volumes of same.

After leaving the Chair of Contemplation, I googled my phrase and found a link to Wikipedia where it explains that density is defined, mathematically, as mass divided by volume.

Even my rudimentary math skills allows me to solve 
"If D=M/V, then M=DV."

I worked it out on my own and I was right! This is noteworthy because while I can do arithmetic and some very light algebra, usually in forms of balancing equations, after that I'm essentially innumerate.... which is odd because I get concepts just fine, but they need to be explained to me in English instead of with numbers. 

You can't explain things to me with math. You just can't. My eyes glaze over, everything turns beige, my brain makes a noise similar to a 250 Hz Sine wave, and I start to drool slightly at the corners of my mouth. 

This is why math was such a struggle for me in school:  I never fully understood why things were the way they were. It would often take 10-15 minutes to get me to understand a concept, and the class would get restless so the teacher would basically just go "It's this way because it's this way. Next!"

So when it came to math more advanced than arithmetic, I just black-boxed it all from rote, and then promptly forgot it once I graduated because I never fully grokked the reasoning behind it.

And yet here I am, having figured out a math problem using logic instead of numbers. I'm so pleased with myself. 

Meanwhile, all the engineers are looking at me as if I finally managed to tie my own shoes....

* This led to a perhaps amusing discussion on Facebook which can be summarized thusly:
  1. Pounds measure weight, not mass. 
  2. Kilograms measure mass, not weight. The proper SI unit for measuring weight would be Newtons. 
  3. However, the entire freaking world uses kg to measure weight because it's a nice round number. 
  4. If we used Newtons to measure weight, it would result in un-round numbers, (because the force of gravity is 9.81 meters per second squared) and a 1 kg mass would weigh 9.81 Newtons. Heresy! Blasphemy! Everything in SI must be measured in tens!
  5. Clearly, someone needs to invent Metric Time and calibrate it such that 1 G of acceleration is 10.0 meters per metric second squared. 

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