Mathochism: Brain nudge

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

When taking pre-calculus, we were told that that would be the last course that reviewed any of the old material. In other words, if we hadn’t learned WTF absolute value was, we were absolutely effed.

This appears to have been a lie. My first week in calculus (I’ve been a calculus student for a week now. Yay!) was all about intermediate algebra and trigonometry. The actual calculus begins next week (Eek?).

I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s barely been two months, but my brain needed a nudge on things like identifying zeroes in a root function and trig identities such as 1 + tan^2x = sec^2x. I hadn’t forgotten, exactly, but these concepts were likely obscured by holiday food and “Ghost Hunters” marathons.

The Calc Professor (nope, no clever moniker yet) has been rather heavy-handed in pointing out that fresh pre-calc skills are required to do well in his class. Anything over a semester away from sines, in his opinion, just won’t do. (He even put this in two different places on the syllabus.)

I can see his point, though, because I think one reason I failed my first pre-calc test in the dropped summer class was that it had been more than a year since intermediate algebra. I was rusty! And tired, since the class started before 8 a.m. And let’s not even mention the Brofessor… Oops, I guess I just did.

Off-topic, I may have discovered the reason why he is once again teaching the class he clearly despised. The math department has a new chair! This new chair may not have been aware of Brofessor’s sins while making the schedule. Or Brofessor has dirt on this new person.

But back to calculus. I wound up buying a book at the illicit store across the street from the college and canceling on Amazon. It only cost me a bit more for this book, and the price I paid is 60 percent less than for a new copy. My used copy has all its pages, has not been scribbled on, and doesn’t smell like vomit. It does, however, look like it’s been run over a couple of times and then left out in the rain.

It still cost almost $100! As blog is my witness, I plan to find out why in hell math books are so expensive. And will we ever see them on an e-reader?

All right, time to tweak my grey matter with a few trig equations. It might help to have “Ghost Hunters” on in the background.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.


  • Calc Professor isn’t kidding. I have a number of students in my calc class who don’t have the pre-calc fundamentals down, and while I try to briefly review the topics that are stump most people, I can’t possibly cover enough to catch them up. And there’s no writing a good calculus problem without referring to at least a bit of more basic math.

    The difficulty of writing a good math problem is also part of why your textbook is so expensive. It turns out that most calculus problems either aren’t solvable using what you’ve learned or are too long, and so it takes a while to create reasonable problems. Even accounting for that, though, you’re right; math books cost too much!

  • Well, the book is the thickest one so far, and the heaviest. And they also use it in Calc 2 and 3. Too bad I’m not taking those classes, but I have to end this project sometime!

  • Quite frankly, while I agree with Antonia that the difficulty of writing a good calc problem contributes to the expense of the textbook, it is also just a huge part of the textbook industry. There are absolutely wonderful calculus textbooks available new for <$25 which aren't used simply because no big publisher is pushing them (why would they, when they can charge $180 for a copy of Stewart's). See, for example, Morris Kline's "Calculus: an Intuitive and Physical Approach" (imo the best Calc I and II textbook available).