Calculator

June 9th 2016

Today I struggled to add two numbers together. Which is worrying, because I have a Maths degree. I served a table of five at work (waiter, restaurant) and they asked to have their bill split five ways – easy enough, the order processing system can do that for us. So they each got a bill with what they each had. But then when it came to payment time, one of the boys wanted to pay for his and his mates, so I had to add them together. 

17.50+18.80

For the longest time I just stood there, trying to work it out. And I couldn’t do it. Usually my brain can work it out quicker than the time it takes for someone to get their phone out, find the calculator app, and add them together. But today I had to wait for him to find his calculator app. And it both worried and annoyed me. 

I can (usually) look at a less than four digit number and tell you if it’s prime. I can multiply sets of three digit numbers in my head. I know every power of Pi up to 4 (including 0.5) to 10 decimal places. 

Mental maths is my thing. I genuinely once spent an entire pre-drinks at University standing with a couple of girls  answering any multiplication problems they posed to me. Every time I got one right they drank, every time I got one wrong I drank. Possibly the nerdiest drinking game to have ever occurred, yes, but they were impressed, and I stayed sober. 

Since graduating Uni I’ve not exactly “used” my Maths degree. Hell, I’ve barely used my brain. Maths at Uni wasn’t my maths. It wasn’t answering questions and solving questions. It was finding out why the questions were asked, and proving and deriving the formula I used to solve the question. (And the proof is infrequently “well, it gave the right answer – didn’t it?”) But I was always good at it, and that’s why I did it. 

And now I’m a Maths graduate with no interest in Maths, who wants to pursue a career in creative writing with absolutely no commercial experience in the industry. Great. 

Eventually the guy found out that the answer to 17.50+18.80 is 36.30. I would’ve got there eventually, I’d just forgotten to carry the one and kept getting 35.30 but knew it wasn’t right. 

So I stood there in shock as I realised that the talent for numbers I once possessed has faded due to lack of practice, and I was ashamed. And that’s a weird thing to feel ashamed about, but if you hadn’t already picked up on this: I am a massive nerd. 

Until tomorrow, and proud of it. 

Jacn

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3 thoughts on “Calculator

  1. dkmathstats says:

    It seems that there is an expectation of math majors/graduates to do mental math/arithmetic fast and be “human calculators”. Even I feel pressure from time to time. It is not a good experience to be exposed just because you can’t do mental math fast.

    However, mathematics is more than multiplying, subtraction, addition, division. The higher level mathematics contain abstract concepts and a lots of symbols in the form of greek letters.

    Don’t be ashamed, even us math majors can’t be perfect all the time. We just want to be “real”.

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