“You like algebra, right?”

Well! It's been a while since I've had a chance to do any blogging. We've had spring break this week, which means that I actually get to spend some quality time with my husband in the evenings when I would normally be blogging.

Speaking of husband, he did answer his five questions, but he posted them down here. By the way, I loved reading everyone's answers! I hope you'll follow the links and see what they wrote.

I was going to write about home birth but something infinitely more fascinating and fun came up. I have to tell you about this right away:

So, my dad calls me last night. His friend, a musicologist, had asked him whether he thought Bach and Handel might have learned about the golden section in school; or if not, where did my dad think they would have learned about it. Never mind why the musicologist thought my dad might have known the answer to this question. He didn't; but it got him thinking about the golden section.

If you already know what it is, skip this paragraph. I first learned about it in elementary school when they showed this movie; if you saw it, you might remember too. Basically, picture a line segment, AC. AC is divided at point B at a particular place so that AB is to BC as BC is to AC. This is called the golden section (or the divine proportion) because it's supposed to be so aesthetically pleasing. It's in classical architecture, you can find it in many paintings, it's in the human body, etc., etc., and it's in the music of Bach and Handel (and others). Now. If you know the length of the segment AB, there is a number you multiply it by to get BC. BC multiplied by the same number gives you the length of AC. This number, called Phi (Φ), is an irrational number, approximately 1.618..., and it shows up everywhere. Phi has many fascinating and spooky properties, including being related to the Fibonacci sequence.

So. Pops decides he wants to prove that the answer is Phi. He's at his office in the psych department, which happens to be next door to the math department. He wanders over next door and finds a math grad student to ask. The grad student sits him down in front of a blackboard and does the math. But she does it too fast for him to follow. So he calls me up and says, "Hey, Jules, you like algebra, right?" Um. Okay.

Over the phone, Pa and I figure out an equation. We start doing algebra. Somehow, we manage to arrive at a quadratic equation. Remember those?

ax2 + bx + c = 0

Once you have that, it's easy to solve (ha ha). There's a formula. Two days ago I would not have remembered that this formula existed, let alone its content. Nor would have my dad. But thanks to the math grad student, my dad was able to start me off. "Negative b," he said, "plus or minus the square root of . . ."

And it came flooding back to me. "Plus or minus the square root of b2 minus 4ac, all over 2a!" I shouted.

The feeling of this memory coming back was so cool. It was like that tickle in the back of your nose before you sneeze. Ah, ah, ah . . . b-squared minus four a c!!!

Anyway, Papa and I spent some hours separately and together over the phone trying to work out this problem. We encountered other obstacles. For example, do you remember this one? I sure didn't.

(a – b)2 = a2 – 2ab + b2

It was so fun. How the heck Dad knew I liked algebra, I have no idea. I didn't even know it myself until yesterday.


  • Julie,
    I didn't remember any of it...

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 11:22 AM  

  • I had never heard of the term "golden section" before, but I loved Albebra in school. I even tutored my brother-in-law when he was having trouble with it as a young lad. It can be fun!

    posted by Blogger Rhodent on 8:12 PM  

  • oooh. I always struggled with maths at high school, but I have a buddy who has a PhD in it. One day he explained something to me from the beginning, and I understood it, (for a minute or two). so I reckon the feeling of learning a new thing is similar to the feeling of recalling something you once knew....There is a book called "Goedel, Escher, Bach; The eternal golden braid" or some such by Douglas might amuse you, and remind you of some other stuff you know.

    Still looking forward to the homebirth post. Where I live, assisted homebirth no longer exists.

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 10:34 AM  

  • Oh, he sounds like such a cool dad. That's the dad I want. And that you call him 'papa'! Ultra cool. (All the fathers in our extended family are 'dad' but we stopped that convention in its tracks, and our children call their father 'papa'. My heart just swells every time I hear that word come out of the mouths. So much warmer and sweeter than 'dad', isn't it?)

    posted by Anonymous Linda on 8:48 PM