Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember, Math is Your Friend, or Math Ain't Everything

When I was a kid, I didn't have an affinity for Math. In fact, I satisfied my college math requirements by taking this series of Philosophy courses:

1. Logic. IF, there is an Option to Take Philosposhy instead of Math, THEN, I will not take math.

2. Ethics. Is it indeed ethical to allow students to take Philosophy instead of Math?


3. Philosophy of Sex and Love. Does Love exist? Does Sex Actually Exist? Does the existence of either have anything to do with math?

 And as a Communications and English Major, I was no worse for wear. I can, however, calculate "30% off", and feel fairly competent at basic computations, especially when It's some form of a riddle.  So when my cousin Cindy, whose emails I always enjoy, sent me an email entitled, "Remember, Math is Your Friend", I was up for the Challenge. Here is what the email said:

 Are you smarter than a 5th grader?


5th Grade Math Problem 
Good luck! 
This is a 5th grade math problem.  If you can open the spreadsheet, you'll see it's a very small list of people who have gotten the correct number. This is not a trick question. This is a real math problem so don't say that a bus has no legs.

There are 7 girls in a bus. 
Each girl has 7 backpacks. 
In each backpack, there are 7 big cats. 
For every big cat there are 7 little cats. 

Question: How many legs are there in the bus? 
(The number of legs is the password to unlock the Excel sheet.  If you open it, add your name and send it on.) 

Simple Enough. I got out a freshly sharpened no.2 pencil and Got to work. Here is how I went about it:

7 Girls x 7 Backpacks= 49 Total Back Packs

14 cats in each back pack(7 big,7 small) 14x49=686 total cats

each cat has 4 legs. 686 x 4=2744 cat legs

the seven girls each have two legs=14

2664 cat legs +14 girl legs=2758 legs all together, Right?


I recalculated it again. Nothin Doin! That Excel Spread Sheet aint openin' No Way, No How!

I decide there must be some form of hidden trick embedded deep within this 5th grade conundrum.

I shoot a reply email to My cousin that goes Like this:

Dear Cindy,

Ok ,That wasted an awful lot of time for this English Major, An awful lot, and no I did not get the pleasure of passing it on With a proud grin on my face.

 Did you count the bus driver too? Do cats have only two legs, but also two arms?

Has the World Gone Mad? Is there a Bus Driver indeed on the bus? Are  there indeed 49 back packs, each  with 14 terrified cats inside, ready to scratch the living daylights out of your eyes for keeping them in a backpack?

 Is 7x7 actually 49?

I think the Bus Driver is Drunk….

He’d have to be to let 7 screaming girls on the bus with a ridiculous quantity of  cat-laden backpacks, wouldn’t ya say?

 And, I’d like to add to that question, How many pieces of Cat crap does each back pack now hold, and do you really think teenage girls would be willing to clean it up?

Love, Glo

When My Daughter Avery comes home that night she happens to tell me that she was the only one in her math class who got a certain Math Challenge Problem Right. I'm Noticeably proud. I have three Children, and they are all Math Capable. I'm So Glad I married an Engineer! As you might expect, I really Do want to know how many legs are on that Bus. In fact, I've redone the problem so many times, that even my dog's head is spinning like a backpack full of angry cats trying desperately to get off a school bus. So I  march her to the Computer to show her the problem, which she eagerly tackles.

 Now, Dear Reader, use your 5th grade reading skills and predict what happens next.

Do you think that  Avery, math capable child that she is, got a spot on that coveted Excel Spread Sheet? .....

Good Question, Dear Reader. Good Question. The Answer is no, not on the first go 'round. She did, however, quickly see the error of her ways, and took her rightful spot on that hallowed Excel  spread Sheet of yore.

But, how did she do it? What is the Key? 

This is the answer as Best as I can Figure:

*First of All, She Quickly saw the error of her ways. Quickly. She didn't waste any time recalculating the problem in the same way as she did when she got the problem wrong.

 *Then, immediately she shifted gears, as kids are so capable of doing, and addressed the problem in a different way. 

Elementary My Dear Watson, Elementary! 

*The other thing she did was Simplify the Problem

Yes, she made it simpler. Simpler than I did.

She solved it as if there was just one girl with seven backpacks, and 14 cats per bag. She broke it down to its most simplistic form, and took it from there. And she got the problem right. 

She showed me what I  did wrong numerous times so I could write this little tale, but I still don't understand. Terrence and Lindsey have tried to teach me too. They get a real kick out of it. Any way, as I learned in college Logic class, If I had gotten it right, and told you the answer, then I would have robbed you of an opportunity to 

*See the Error of your Ways  *Shift Gears  and  *Simplify the Problem

And that just Wouldn't be Ethical.

So once again, my kids teach me something new: A Life Lesson about Problem Solving. And Me? What have I taught them this time? 

As long as Iphones have calculators, math ain't everything. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chanting Om

One of my favorite parts of Yoga class is chanting Om....
in lotus position, hands calmly resting on our knees
thumb and forefingers together.

Sometimes class will begin this way, and sometimes it's how it ends
Some Yoga teachers don't dare tread there.
It's too "Out there"
Some go there whole-heartedly
with full and resonant "Ah-oh-mmm..."

But Why Chant Om in the first place?
The answer is simple.

It unites us.

Om is believed to be
the sound of the Universe
made up of three principle sounds

And Generally it is chanted 3 times,
each a full breath's worth

And when you gather up your courage,
and close your eyes if you must
take a deep, courageous, preparatory breath
open your mouth and trust--
a sound will indeed come out
and if you can suspend judgement of how you sound
or if it sounds "right"
or how you look
or if you look "right"
You'll notice something very interesting:

Even though each participant may not start on cue
when all are exhaling the three part sound together
each at his or her own pacing
and breath rate

The sound does indeed become one sound
and it couldn't sound more

and this 3 part sound of the mantra Om
can be felt as a resonance within each One
at the heart center
and all around the body
For the Oms have joined hands
And the Oms have joined hands with all of the Oms
chanted before we were even born
since the sound itself is energy
which is neither created nor destroyed
It just exists

but together
we are bringing it forth

And the truth is
It keeps resonating
It keeps traveling forth
And when our Oms are exhaled
They are neither created
nor destroyed
-but brought together-
and in so doing
We utter audible evidence
of our
One Voice

Monday, November 3, 2008

Over-Steering, Buoys and Debris

Yogi Berra, once said
“ You can see a lot by observing.”

Cruising the Chesapeake Bay in the Autumn months is a blessing.
As a passenger, I am feeling the scenery
as we are present
this first day of November
In what feels like the peak of the Fall foliage.
The water's lull marries
the freshly-raked
leaf-fragrant air,
the specially chosen sound track
weaves this experience into my being
Its resonance carried aloft
absorbed into the air
absorbed into the brackish
Chesapeake Brown-Green-Gold

I am Grateful for this opportunity
to appreciate this day
in this ever apparent
tailor made way.

But Soon I am asked to take to the helm, as my husband needs to attend to the engine momentarily. It is a large vessel, and I am fairly comfortable with navigating in the wide open, but the Chesapeake is dotted with Crab Traps and unfortunate slabs of wood and other floating debris.
I must sharpen my awareness, and shift my focus, scanning the expanse both to prevent damage to our props, and to spy the upcoming red and green buoys in order to keep on course.
It is a large Stainless steering wheel beneath my hands, and as soon as I spy the buoy I am to aim for, I cross hand over hand, and begin towards my course. I shift my gaze from the water to the GPS to see how far off the next focal point will be. I see the small boat-like figure that represents our vessel on the screen, and quickly note that It looks as if it's intending to spin on it's axis.

I've over steered.

Steering a boat is nothing like steering a Car. It's Much more subtle.
I correct my over-zealous attempt at capable navigation, and try to steer less.
It takes some thought.(or possibly less thought) I decide to focus more on the expanse ahead, and strain to find the next red buoy which I am to keep on my right.

I am finding that less is more when it comes to steering a course with no obstacles to avoid. Sharp Turns are reserved for Avoiding collisions with undesirable debris.
Just Keeping a course actually requires much less severity, and much more trust.

Steering the Vessel that is my Life is the same.
It's subtle.
Only there's no external GPS to follow.
It's a combination of internal GPS
And trial and error.
Sometimes, I just narrowly miss the debris
and sometimes I hit an unfortunate slab
dead on,
and my "props" get bent
I am left dry dock, nursing my wounds.
When I have repaired,
My propulsion is fresh
As if I never took that bum steer
And hand over hand
I begin again
with the knowledge that
indeed debris
are to be expected
and if I need to take a sharp turn to avoid a collision at the last minute
than so be it
But it will take sharpened Awareness
and a shift in focus

But Cruising is a Blessing,
if not an Adventure
And if I am intent on Feeling the Scenery
then I must scan the expanse
for both debris and buoys
if I'm to stay on course,
And it's not always the course I originally charted

"One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again."

Abraham Maslow
1908-1970, Psychologist