“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
— Albert Einstein
At the age of 30, I finally started learning Calculus. If that sounds crazy to you, you’re not alone. It sounded pretty crazy to me too. It still does, in fact. I was never much good at math in school, as my transcripts would show anyone who cared to look. I failed New York State’s Course II on geometry in tenth grade, and ended up taking it again the next year. I barely passed, even the second time around — with a 68, I believe. As for Course III in trigonometry, I failed outright. In short, I was not considered one of the bright mathematical lights at my high school.
It was some years later, in college, that I discovered computers. Up to that point, I’d used them mostly to write term papers for my classes, but as time went on, I became more interested in how they worked. In my travels on the web, I stumbled across a few message boards frequented by programmers, and discovered another world. It was amazing; there were people who actually just wrote computer programs all day long. In return, people paid them money. This seemed hard to believe at the time.
I soon found out what drove these people to do what they did: it was a whole lot of fun. Before long, I was writing my own little programs. There was something really neat about giving a computer a set of instructions and then standing back and seeing what happened. Sometimes, I could get it to do what I was imagining. Most of the time, I couldn’t. Slowly, I got better at talking to the computer in ways it could understand. In its own language.
There comes a point in the life of any programmer, however, when a lack of math skills starts to really hold her back. Once I reached that point, my historical disinterest in math disappeared. I couldn’t wait to get started. I bought a book from the local bookstore that promised to “demystify” trigonometry and worked on it almost every day after work, carefully reading through descriptions of terms like “vector” and “parallax,” all the while amazed that here I was, actually doing what I never thought I could: I was teaching myself the math I never learned in school, and what’s more, I began to look forward to those sessions as the best part of my day.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because I know that there are lots of kids out there like I was. They may think they aren’t any good at math, or that it’s boring. They may even believe that they hate it. What they’re lacking is a fun way to apply it. After all, memorizing trigonometric formulas is only fun if you have a reason.
That is exactly what I aim to do with this blog: give people a reason to care about math, and help them to understand that math isn’t just about some abstract notion of “intellectual enrichment,” but that it can help us do cool things, whether we’re interested in programming computers, experimenting with model rocketry, or building our own robots.
I don’t consider myself an expert in math or programming, of course. I’m just another PC hobbyist with an itch to scratch, and in many ways, I’ve spent the last few years learning just how little I really know. That doesn’t matter — if something I write here helps even one other person out there achieve their dream, I’ll consider the time well spent.
Bottom line: whatever this strange way of thinking that makes a computer programmer is, I’m determined to keep going until I master it. It doesn’t matter how long it takes me to get there, since I consider the journey itself to be a labor of love, and it’s something that I know I will enjoy for the rest of my life.
What activities can you say that about?