The Journey Continues…

“Assume 1 exists.  Now prove 2 exists.”–Thomas D. Hedden’s cynical concept of mathematics

Numbers always fascinated me.  I remember going down to the Rogue River bed to construct numbers out of stones.  I liked particularly the shape of 4.  In fact, when I turn the TV off, I always leave it on channel 4.  4 has seemed to me the “perfect” number.  And when I was a child, I wanted to see 4 and feel the stones that formed it.  3 has been a troublesome number; I had difficulty forming 3s in my writing and the oddness of the number disturbed me.  The mirror twins of 6 and 9 were also troubling.  I enjoyed looking at 1, but felt I didn’t understand it.  0 was a special number, but my multiplication cards somehow excluded it.  I did my times tables from 1×1 to 12×12.  There was no 13.  I’ve felt there is something malevolent about 13, and perhaps the makers of the multiplication tables did as well.  To this day, I mark all my checks that end in 13 VOID!, and shred them.  My accountant doesn’t like the way I handle checks, but how can you deal with such an irrational person as I?

The cabins at Diamond Lake fascinated me.  I would follow one cabin marked 12, and try to construct the whole number sequence.  I remember looking through bushes, circling trees and hills, in an effort to complete the sequence.  78 record albums were also a source for numbers.  In my grandparents’ home at Amesbury near Griffith Park, I recall seeing records of South Pacific on the floor.  I saw 5, 9, 10, 4, but the others were missing.  I was quite disappointed.  However, I made up for the loss when Grandma bought me the complete Columbia album of South Pacific many years later.  Motels, of course, often proved an exercise in futility, because some would start with 100 or some other number.  Still, I considered the number of the motel I stayed at quite special and have the key with its number to one of them!

Multiplication by 0 was intriguing;  What is President Obama x 0?  But division by 0 was even more bewildering.  Common sense tells us that if we divide an object by nothing, we are not dividing, so the result should be the object unchanged.  Look!  I will divide this chocolate cake by nothing.  See this knife!  I will hold it up in the air.  Now everyone, dig in!  But in mathematics, if 5/0=5, then through cross multiplication, 5×0 should equal 5, but that contradicts the way we originally defined multiplication by 0.  What can we do?  Simple! We’ll take the easy way out and say that division by 0 is undefined.  I must admit that multiplying a chocolate cake by 0 is something I cannot fathom!

Xs and Ys hurt my eyes.  Ys and Zs no more please!– childhood verse about algebra

I remember algebra only too well.  The subject inspired my first story, The Tale of the Brilliant Xaquenta Qualzifaz Xitg and the Birth of Algebra.  Xaqenta falls in love with Yakshwe Reginald Yorkes and they meet at a special place called the origin.  At that point, they decide to form a family.  There was a communicative law, so that all members could recognize one another better and an associative law to improve family relations.  The eternal optimist, a small man on stilts called absolute value, was never far away.  But the story faded into fractal dust, and so it has remained.  At the time, I decided there were other worlds to explore. And so, armed with my protractor and a straight edge, I was ready for whatever shapes and symbols I might encounter.

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

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