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?

Under the compass of Damocles 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.

It is also very time-consuming! I find myself easily spending 20 minutes on one problem, between deriving, simplifying and plugging and chugging. It’s not hard, exactly, but you have to be very careful at every step. And the deeper you go into the rabbit hole, the more often you have to look over your shoulder to remind yourself there is light above.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to remind myself that stuff like domain, vertical and horizontal asymptotes and x and y intercepts comes from the original equation! Yes, I know it’s obvious, but it’s so stuffy and dark in here!

I’m still struggling with simplifying derivatives, especially when it comes to root functions. I rock at factoring, and have developed a good sense for when something works or needs the quadratic formula. But roots still flummox me at times, which slows down the whole process if I’m graphing something like x²(x²+4)⅓.

By the time you take the second derivative of something like that, it feels like an unraveled mess!

At least I’m not alone in my misery. She may take half the time I do when graphing, but my professor clearly finds these a chore too. In class today, we barely got through four examples.


It’s so tempting to just say “the hell with it” and pull out the graphing software.

Anything for a simpler kind of life.

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

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