## Mathochism: Sick days

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

It’s been a week since I updated Mathochism. I don’t usually go that long, but there’s a reason; I haven’t been feeling well.

All last week, I was exhausted and my muscles ached. I went to class, I tried to follow along, but it wasn’t easy. I did homework, and things that normally made sense felt very very difficult. This was not good, since we were scheduled to have a quiz on Thursday. Speed makes all the difference between passing and failing, so taking 20 minutes on one problem was simply not going to cut it.

I hoped against hope that I would feel better by quiz day, but when I awoke Thursday, it was 10 times worse. I’d sent an e-mail to a friend over breakfast, only to realize later that I had left out entire sentences. I stood by the shower for several minutes, getting more and more annoyed by the lack of heat and water pressure, when I realized I had never turned on the hot faucet. Read more

## Mathochism: A simple kind of life

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

We’re deep into graphing equations now, and it’s very cool to see how all the permutations, be they polynomials, root functions or rational functions, look on the Cartesian plane.

Back in Intermediate Algebra and Pre-Calculus, we were shown how to guess what something might look like based on what the ends would do. A cubic polynomial, for example, always had one leg going up and the other going down. What was going on in the middle, though, was still a mystery.

Now, we can solve that mystery, using the magic of first and second derivatives. This is totes awesome. Read more

## Mathochism: Random mathy thoughts

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

We’re still working on ways to use the derivative to graph functions, and have moved on to the Mean Value Theorem. Both it and Rolle’s theorem seem very straightforward to me, but I am wary. Let’s see how I do with the nastier expressions, full of roots and absolute values.

At any rate, I’ve been having some random mathy (mathesque? math-related?) thoughts. I number them below:

1) Happy Ada Lovelace Day! I raise a derivative to her, and women in STEM everywhere, past and present. And that includes the amazing women I have already had the pleasure of interviewing for the book, as well as the ones I still hope to interview. And more than that, here’s to scholarly women in general. Sadly, we live in a world where a 14-year-old can be shot in the head for daring to demand an education. Her struggles make me grateful for the privilege of being allowed to study safely, and at all. May we fight for a global society where every woman (and man) gets that privilege. Read more

## Mathochism: For the record

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

Back when I was working full-time in the newsroom, we occasionally had to print corrections. These corrections always went under the heading “For the record”.

I always prided myself on my low correction rate (amazingly low, considering there were times when I filed five stories a day), and felt embarrassed when I had to do it. But it had to be done.

Therefore, I am embarrassed to report I need to do a correction. We got our exams back today, and it turns out that the implicit differentiation/linear approximation problem I thought was unsolvable was actually solvable. And the reason for that was because I misapplied a y. That misapplied y made all the difference! Read more

## Mathochism: Acceptance

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

Ever since that eye-opening (or, more accurately, denial-ending) conversation with my classmates on Thursday, I’ve been grieving.

I’ve been grieving for the calculus experience I had hoped I would have, one where those classmates and I got the support we needed to master the material. I’ve been grieving for an experience where we weren’t treated like a commodity not worth investing in, or a sucker parted quickly from his tuition money.

I’ve gone through the Kübler-Ross stages — denial, anger, bargaining. I’m still kind of in depression, which made me consider dropping the class, because failing repeatedly even after working hard and understanding things is a huge drag on the psyche.

But I’m determined to see this through this time. Even if I don’t pass a single test. Even if I am always a pace behind. Read more

## Mathochism: Thrown to the wolves

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 I started taking math classes at the college, I was usually one of the older students, but not necessarily the oldest. This semester, pretty much every student is young enough to be my child. I think the professor is about my age, but she may actually be a few years younger.

Considering the obvious age difference, and the fact that I am not their peer, I’ve been flattered by how several young students, both men and women, have been friendly and welcoming.

I’ve built a particular rapport with one young man named Phil. Phil is not only taking Calc, but also Physics and Philosophy. He has already taken Calc I and Calc II, and passed both classes, but because of the vagaries of the academic bureaucracy, and switching schools, he is being forced to take Calc I again. (He’s also had the Calc Dementor for a class, and we bonded over CD’s less than congenial mien.) Read more

## Mathochism: Annoyance and dismay (Update)

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

My initial faith in the calculus professor has disappeared. We took our second test today, and two of the nine questions were in bad faith.

One involved linear approximation and implicit differentiation. That was not the issue — I could do that. But the y value was zero. And the x value, 2, when plugged into 3x², yielded 12. Which would have worked if it hadn’t been for the fact that the constant in the polynomial was -12. So the f(a) went to zero. The derivative was undefined, since Y prime became 0/0. So it was 0 + undefined times an increment of x. So it didn’t work out.

Was it a good way to show we could do implicit differentiation? No. I wound up just doing it, then leaving it as f(a) + f'(a) (increment), just to show I know how to handle the process. But what a waste of fucking time.

Then, we had to differentiate (sin2x-cos2x)½, with x at π/4, and find the equations of the tangent and normal lines. Sine and cosine at π/4 is √2/2. So that meant it was 2√2/2 – 2√2/2, which was the square root of 0. So, y was 0. When I differentiated, the result was an equation with zero in the denominator, so that didn’t work. I left it to show I could differentiate, but again, a waste of time.

That wasted time cost me on the related rates problem, which I rushed through and probably didn’t get right. So, that’s 3 out of 6 wrong. I made a genuine mistake on a trig limit problem, so that’s four.

Another failing grade! I’m not dropping this time, though, because I am learning calculus, in spite of the tests failing to show it. This format is clearly not working for me, and sadly, the teacher has let me down.

Update: I fear I may have been unfair on the second problem. It occurred to me that sin 2π/4 is actually π/2, as is cos 2π/4. Which means the problem was solvable, and y=1. Live and learn. I’m still pissed about the linear approximation thing. And the format still doesn’t work for me.

Live and learn.

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

## Mathochism: Simple, explicit and normal

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

I may have had a hell of a time recognizing disguised absolute values in limits, but I’m actually doing okay on derivatives.

I suppose that is because the calculus part is actually very brief — it’s mostly algebra and trig, and I’m quite solid on those. It’s also wonderfully fiddly, as long as I stay organized.

Then again, aren’t derivatives a huge part of calculus? I mean, instantaneous rate of change, acceleration, etc.? You can’t calculate that in plain algebra or geometry, right? So I am doing actual calculus? *Bounces up and down excitedly* Read more

## Mathochism: Hitting the test wall

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

On Thursday, my spouse and I went away for a long weekend. We drove to a lovely inn in a small town by the ocean.

All my calculus books went with me, and while my husband was reading a book by the fire, or at the beach, I was sitting near him boning up on limits and derivatives.

I spent about 16 hours total studying. I now know how to spot an indeterminate form, and why a limit at negative infinity makes a huge difference over a positive one when dealing with, say 5 + √x+1. I know how to prove the power rule, product rules and quotient rules. Read more