Right, Wrong, and Reasonable

Sometimes I’ll put my kids on the spot at lunchtime or some such and give them a math problem like, “What’s 5000 plus 2000?” Usually, I’ll get a real answer. However, if the kids don’t want to be bothered, I’ll get something like, “Oh, 2 million. Mommy, leave me alone!”.

I can’t say that I was completely innocent of this as a child, and it was something that drove my mom up a wall. In an easy scenario like this, I would have been expected, of course, to have the right answer.

However, when it came to doing assignments, my mom was also really big on having us understand what was reasonable even before having the right answer. It drove her crazy to no end when people didn’t seem to understand this principle. For example, I remember being at a store in about 1985 and my mom picked out a bunch of corduroy pants for me and my sister that had previously been reduced by 20% and now were on sale for 40% off. When we got to the register, despite the fact that they had been in a bin that said “All corduroy pants 40% off”, they still rang up as 20% off because the prices hadn’t been updated in the system. My mom noticed this right away, and mentioned it to the cashier.

Now, the cashier was probably barely out of high school and seemed completely confused. After all, there was a discount being applied, so why was my mom complaining? I remember my mom trying to patiently explain to the cashier that because the discount was 40%, the total had to be closer to half off. (Still not understanding, a manager had to be called over, who, in turn tried to argue with my mom that the items – despite being in a display that clearly marked them as 40% off – were not actually 40% off, which prompted my mom to bring the whole sign over to the register to prove she was right.)

And, more math. When the manager finally agreed that these items should be 40% off, the first impulse was to just tack another 20% discount on the items. Of course, this will not get you a 40% discount, but rather 36% off the original price. Had the items originally rung up for 36% off rather than 40% off, even my mom may not have noticed because the total would have probably still been in the realm of “reasonable”. Instead, because my mom was so annoyed at their attitude and lack of math skills, she made them change the price back to the original on each item and then apply the full 40% discount. As a little kid, I just remember being impatient because we were probably standing at the register for 25 minutes!

But here’s the thing: If the pants had been full-price, the total would have come to something like $50. Half of that is $25. At 40% off, the total should be closer to $25 than to $50, which is the logic my mom was trying to use with the cashier, since 20% off only brings the total down to $40. The actual total should have been right around $30 and that was what my mom was expecting to pay. At an “additional 20% off”, the total would have been around $32, which, with the crazy sales tax of our state, probably wouldn’t have been noticed unless my mom went over the receipt later. What drove my mom nuts, though, is that the cashier seemed incapable of following the logic behind what was reasonable.

Understanding the principle of “reasonable” isn’t necessarily something that is taught in school, whether in math or in other subjects. However, it’s the first line of defense, say, in protecting one’s self from getting ripped off – an announced 30% increase in a monthly bill shouldn’t result in the amount being charged doubling. And so, it drove my mom absolutely crazy when she would ask us math questions and we’d come up with something way out there, because she expected that before we’d open our mouths to answer questions, we’d take a moment to think about whether the answer would make sense. In math, this is somewhat related to estimation skills, but the principle is more a function of logic, not just preventing an answer of 1,000,000 to “What is 5,000 plus 2,000?” but also things like the thought that George Washington was President when Jesus spent his time on earth! 🙂


A Million Kisses

Even for adults, it’s very hard to have much perspective on very large numbers. A million, a billion, a trillion… At some point, our brains just relegate these to “very big numbers” without understanding very well what the order of magnitude is which separates them.

This kind of started as a bit of a joke, Asher getting to the age where he still wants some of the “little kid” type of attention, but he wants to be discrete about it, half the time squirming away from attempts to hug or kiss him. I teased him a little, saying that I think what he’s really looking for is a million kisses.

Of course, his “geek” mom had to sit down and figure out what that actually would entail, say, if he were to receive 100 kisses a day from me.

Any guesses? The answer even surprised me, because it’s so easy to forget exactly how large 1,000,000 is. At the rate of 100 kisses a day, it would take over 27 years for him to get a million kisses from me.

If you want to think of it another way, at the rate of 100 kisses a day, it would take 10,000 days to get a million kisses. However, since there are only 365 (or 366) days in a year, it takes awhile to get to 10,000. Looking at it this way – because 10,000 is a much easier number to comprehend – makes the answer less surprising.

To give you a little bit more perspective here, I’m going to link to a video by Lily Hevesh “Hevesh5” on YouTube, a professional domino artist. She has a video here where she “counts” all her dominoes (which take up significant space in a room).

Rather than counting every one individually, she goes through calculations based on weight (and this video shows her work). I won’t give you the answer here since I don’t want to spoil her video, but the answer is significantly less than 100,000. Again, this is surprising because we’re just so conditioned to think that really large numbers tend to near one million.

Teaching the things most important

Last week, I was driving the kids from a sports lesson, and as we were heading down a fairly well travelled road, we came to a wide “T” intersection which leads into a subdivision. Sitting in the intersection was a car with the emergency flashers turned on. The car was out of the main street and lane of traffic, though one would have to maneuver around it if one wanted to turn right into the subdivision. Getting closer, it became clear why the car was there – the front driver’s side wheel was no longer correctly on the axle, and the wheel-well was actually resting on the tire.

I thought I saw an older woman in the car, which was one of the reasons that I, with kids in the car and no experience with cars pulled over as soon as it was safe. Cell phone in hand, I walked back to the disabled car, and the driver opened the window to talk to me. The driver was actually a man, probably around 60, with the type of hairstyle Paul McCartney wore in the 1980’s. By his speech, I could tell that he probably grew up somewhere in Eastern Europe.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“Yes, yes. I’m okay,” he said

“Do you need a phone?” I asked.

“No, I’ve called already. I think the ball joint broke,” indicating that at this point, he was merely waiting for whomever was going to come tow the car.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes, thank you.” he replied.

It didn’t take more than a couple minutes, but when I got back to our car, Tabitha asked why I had stopped for this person.

I explained, as best I could, that I was just trying to do what people ought to do; that this is the type of thing that is the glue that keeps societies together, but somehow impress upon her that God calls us to care for and take care of others.

Sure, there are a lot of times when we can do nothing; a couple of weeks before, we passed an accident that had only happened a couple of minutes prior, but it would have been more of a nuisance for us to stop because there was nothing we could offer, and there were already four other people standing out there talking on cell phones. (Once we drove another mile or so, we got passed by a fire truck, ambulance, and police car all racing toward the scene.)

However, here, in this case, there was no indication that someone had stopped before or anything, and although it was drizzling, there was no indication that there was anything “creepy” about the scene. And so I figured that it was the least I could do to check. Everything is okay, I go back to the car, and we keep going.

My parents were never the type to do that type of thing. Then, when I was in college, I was driving northwest on I-94 coming into Fargo, North Dakota, about 10 miles left on the Minnesota side. It was November, I believe, and there wasn’t much traffic around because it was almost 10pm. There was a car on the side of the road, hazard lights flashing, and my passenger insisted that I pull over. I was kind of bewildered, but his insistence made me do it. He trotted back to the car, and after a couple of minutes, a lady and two small children, perhaps about 1 and 3 years old, emerged out of the stricken vehicle. She had been on her way to pick up her husband from work when the car stopped working. Being the days before cell phones, she put the hazard lights on and waited. And waited. Luckily they’d only been stuck there for about 10 minutes when we stopped. She and the children piled into the back seat, and we headed to her husband’s place of employment. We offered to give them all a ride back to their house, but she declined, knowing that if they could make it to where he worked in Fargo, they’d be okay.

So I don’t wonder about stopping now.

It just drives home the point, though, that if we want our children to learn our values – which, after all, are more important than all the book-learning we can stuff in their heads – we’ve got to live that ourselves and make sure our children see it and understand why we do this.

Ramona Quimby is older than my mother

Recently, the kids and I have been reading a number of Beverly Cleary books. It’s remarkable – Mrs. Cleary is now 102 years old. Making it to that age is no small feat in itself. The first book that mentions Ramona is Henry Huggins, I believe, which was published in 1950.

The book Beezus and Ramona, published in 1955, is the first “Ramona” book, Ramona’s World, published 44 years later, is the last. I remember having read these books as a child, being a kid, I wouldn’t have noticed so much the thirty-odd year span between the books because, while childhood before 1950 or so was a good bit different, I believe, there was probably a small space in time for those born, say, between 1950 and the late 1970s, where life was a lot different before, a lot different after.

Reading the Ramona books as a child in the 1980s, Ramona seemed current. Ramona was popular enough at the time that a television series based on the books (starring a very young Sarah Polley) ran for a short period of time.

And now there is reading these books with my kids. Quite by accident, we ended up reading both the first and the last of the series. For me, now, it’s different, I suppose. Ramona’s World, published in 1999, was still a world where kids take the bus to each other’s houses after school, a place where the biological parents of children live in homes together, where kids are still interested in things like the thickness of calluses on their hands at the end of the summer. The most high-tech gadget in the whole book is the television.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and it was done purposely so that the corpus of the Ramona series is consistent throughout. However, in some ways, it seems so odd now as well. 1999 was a year where computer technology was everywhere; there was already a generation which had grown up on video games, and the internet had made its way into the daily lives of at least half of all Americans.

In the 1980s, it wasn’t all that odd to find people who didn’t have a whole lot of “technology” in their lives. Since then, technology has invaded so many aspects of our lives, it now seems incredibly odd to read about not just one family, but a whole community where these things seem foreign. Maybe it’s just striking because as a kid these books seemed to reflect a state of normalcy, and now they seem to belong to a time long ago. Then again, I also now have to consider that Ramona herself would be a senior citizen older than my mother!

More on the Presidents (Height)

Kind of fascinating. Graphics aren’t perfect, but it’s not horrible either. One of the interesting things to point out is that as health in this country has improved, people have gotten taller. Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions to this, but considering that our tallest President, Abraham Lincoln was 6′ 4″ tall at a time when the average man was a couple inches shorter than now – and 6′ 4″ is still considered quite tall. However, one can say that there certainly is a trend here.

Presidential Elections, 1789-2016

This is a video with almost too much information and is best seen on a large monitor or a television with one’s finger ready to hit the pause button often. However, it’s also fascinating, not just to see who ran for president, but how every state and county voted as well as seeing the way population shifts have changed the number of electors that states have.

US Geological Survey Earthquake Map

Unfortunately, this map does not allow for embedding, but it’s a neat one and can be found here: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/.

The subject came up because the kids asked what a tsunami is. Of course, even if it’s not “time for school”, I ended up explaining to them what a tsunami is and how it is related to earthquakes, and refreshed them a bit on tectonic plates and the different types of earthquakes there are, explaining then about the Pacific “Ring of Fire” when they wanted to know why there really aren’t tsunamis in the Atlantic.

In any case, I told them if they were interested in seeing a little bit about how there is always movement between the plates and such, I’d show them this map. The crazy thing is that I found the map after experiencing a very strange sensation in the middle of the night, and I wanted to confirm, indeed, that it was an earthquake. And yes, it was one of the rare upper Midwest earthquakes that happen from time to time. (Magnitude 3.5 or so)