Monday, May 10, 2010

Are numbers really Easy as Pi?

Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day 
(Reading level 6th grade and up. Curious boys and girls with math and numbers would enjoy it around 4th-5th grade)
Brushing Up on Math is Easy as Pi
By Jamie Buchan,
Author of Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day
"World War II? I don't know much about it. You've lost me. I'm sorry, I was always terrible at history. I just don't have the brain for it!"

Few people would willingly admit to this level of ignorance about key events that shaped the world. But when it comes to math -- which shapes not only the world but the entire universe -- many otherwise highly intelligent and educated people will happily proclaim ignorance. In many cases, there's the implication that math is boring and difficult -- the exclusive domain of the severely geeky.

This may seem merely frustrating for mathematicians and scientists in social settings, but it has serious and wide-ranging consequences. On an everyday level, a lack of confidence about math makes it hard to split a bill, work on a spreadsheet, or help a child with homework (and this can easily become a vicious circle, since anxiety about math can be passed on to the next generation).

If you feel like you're math averse, be not afraid: the book Easy as Pi can help. Math itself is based on a limited number of very logical rules and, whether we like it or not, it surrounds us in everything we do. As Pythagoras (the guy behind the famous Theorem) remarked: "Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons." The head of a sunflower has evolved with mathematical precision into a double-spiral pattern that packs the most seeds into the smallest available space. The computer on which you're reading this, and every electronic device -- from cheap digital watches counting seconds and minutes to NASA's Columbia supercomputer, which simulates the collisions of entire galaxies -- is powered by a vastly complex system of ones and zeros, which only works at all because they can be interpreted mathematically.

Just like our explorations of science, humanity's understanding of math has advanced amazingly since we were counting how many mammoth hides it takes to wallpaper a cave. The concept of zero -- a number representing nothing -- is taken for granted today (apart from anything else, how could all that electronics work otherwise?). However, for centuries it was a thorny philosophical and mathematical question. Roman numerals stopped being used in Europe when medieval Italians learned the zero from the Arabs, who in turn had picked it up from India. The ancient Greeks gave us much of our understanding of geometry, and the Romans put it into practice with structural engineering. We've come a long way. The Pirahã tribe, a few hundred people living in a remote area of Brazil, reminds us just how far -- with almost no contact with outside cultures, their math is limited to counting "one, two, many."

Numbers have also slipped into our language and culture in various ways -- the third degree, the fourth estate, and fifth columnists spring to mind. And have you ever been asked to "deep six" something? Intelligence agencies use "numbers stations" -- radio stations broadcasting strings of numbers -- to communicate in code with spies in other countries. And they've gained a cult following of fascinated civilian listeners. The controversial conviction of the Cuban Five came after FBI agents found a decryption program for a Cuban numbers station on their computers.

The influence of numbers in our everyday life also seeps into our superstitions. The number 666 -- still feared by many people as the "number of the beast" -- is believed to be based on gematria, a form of numerically encoding Hebrew words, which is also at the root of claims about a "Bible code." Math anxiety and ignorance allows people who practice numerology and astrology to make a lot of money by claiming to imbue numbers with a spiritual and cosmic significance. Not only is this completely unproven, it masks the far greater beauty of a mathematically ordered universe.

To sum it all up, math and numbers are everywhere, and they are embedded in our lives in every respect. Anxiety about them is really worth trying to overcome. The benefits they bring us are countless.
© 2010 Jamie Buchan, author of Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day

My take on the book:
What a fun book to explore with your kids! When my little one was struggling with Math I told her to think of Math and numbers just as she does Reading and letters.  She is an awesome reader but numbers seem to send her brain out in left field.  Over the years she has relaxed her brain on the number challenge and has slowly embraced the saying "oh wow I love Math, it isn't as hard as I thought".  This of course is once she has master a concept.  The cycle repeats as we teach a new concept.  Her learning math reminds me of The Fibonacci Sequence that is mentioned in the book.  
One of the silly facts that I learned in this book was from the Numbers in Language Chapter.  Ever heard of Cloud Nine? It is explained that to be on cloud nine is to be elated or extremely happy.  Of course, we know this with love (love potion number nine) or some type of substance abuse.  The term is actually from the U.S. National Weather Service.  It is part of their classification for cloud formation.  There are nine, the highest and it towers up to 40,000 feet!
Pick up this book to read! I plan on using it in the fall when we start our new Homeschool year.  This is a fun book to get someone who has everything!  I'm planning on getting a copy for my Father-in-law.  
 
Author Bio
Jamie Buchan was educated at Westminster School and is completing a Master of Arts degree in Architectural Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Many of his family members are involved in books: his great-grandfather John Buchan is the prolific novelist famous for The Thirty-Nine Steps; his grandfather D.J. Enright is a well-known Movement poet; and his uncle James Buchan is an award-winning novelist and historical writer. Both of his parents work in publishing.

For more information, please visit www.rdtradepublishing.com.

Click to read another book similar in nature :  A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi," which tells the story of how many of these expressions came to be commonly used in English

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing the book and article for me to review.
The words in MY TAKE OF THE BOOK are my tasty words and opinion!

1 comment:

Jaleta Clegg said...

This sounds like a great book. I teach math to 6th graders. Math is so much fun, and an equation can be beautiful. If we could get more kids to love math and appreciate the beauty of it, we'd be so much better off.

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