Indelible Blue Pen

Jason C. McDonald (CodeMouse92)

November 10, 2012

It’s like hitting yourself with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop…

After spending hours trying to solve an especially difficult problem in programming, I decide to take a break and log onto a chatroom on a Christian radio station website, where I met a young man trying to solve an especially difficult math equation in his Algebra homework.

Half an hour later, 2/3 of the chatroom participants are trying to solve this equation, and we’re all getting confused. Ironically, one of the guys trying to solve this mathematical monstrosity was an engineer, who by self-admission was as rusty with algebra as I am. “An engineer and a programmer…and neither one of us is smarter than a fifth grader,” I quipped. (Anyway, the dude that had the math equation to begin with was a college freshman…)

One person logged into the chatroom, took one look at the math, and promptly left. She returned an hour and a half later, glad to see the numerical menace gone.

“Why are you people doing math?” asked another individual.

“For those of us who don’t have homework? Some sort of deep-rooted self-hatred, no doubt,” I replied in my usual snarky way. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out why I was even interesting in solving this equation, especially after the ordeal I had just had with my code. After all, I was the twit who said “Post the equation! Maybe I can solve it.”

In the midst of the math battle, one of the more creatively-inclined chatters said, “I solved your equation. It’s 248657239628.”

“Thank you for that. My computer just exploded,” I replied.

I went to fold laundry. The rest of the mob cornered the equation and beat it to within an inch of its square root sign.

When I returned, I asked the engineer if they had solved it. “Yeah, we got it.” He said.

“What did you have to do?”

“Square both sides of the equation.”

“…I’m not sure I follow you.” I took a sip of coffee.

“I’m not sure I do either,” he replied. I almost snorted my coffee out my nose.

The weirdest part of the whole thing, we already knew from the textbook that the answer was 1/2. We just didn’t know how to arrive at said answer. What exactly is it about us left-brainers that drives us to try and make the two ends of a proverbial steel pole meet?

Math inanities aside, that chatroom has been a welcome distraction as I muck through writing version 1.3 of the code that runs my company’s game. I’m beginning to gain an appreciation for what aerospace engineers go through – because of the nature of my code, I can’t test it out until the entire thing is written. I won’t know if it will even work until it lifts off the ground and avoids flying nose-first into the dirt…so to speak. That’s a scary thought when you’ve been writing thousands upon thousands of lines of complex code for days on end.

Truth of the matter be told, I have a love/hate relationship with math (and by extension, programming). I love the feeling of conquering a problem. I get excited when I know how to arrive at the answer. But I hate when I don’t know how to solve something…when it appears that the solution is impossible. THAT drives me crazy.

I suppose it comes down to lack of knowledge, at the end of the day, which would account for why I enjoy reading thick reference books on programming. I learn tons, and I get lots of scathingly brilliant ideas. I’m starting college this January for an Associates of Science Computer Sciences degree, so I’ll load up on math and programming then. From there on, I just have to keep my skills as sharp as my wit, by reason of use.

I do find it odd how I enjoy topics that, at the same time, drive me crazy. Scholastically, nothing excites me more than a discussion on the theoretical sciences – higher dimensions, quantum physics, string theory, relativity, the spacetime fabric.  Interestingly, those studies (especially higher dimensions) have direct implications in my three major career areas: programming, writing, and neuroscience. I won’t go into detail on WHY, but suffice it to say, both the Operation SpyRat storyline and the code that runs said game series involves the fourth and fifth dimensions.

And yet, if you want something that involves impossible problems with definitive answers, that field is the WORST offender. The human mind isn’t even built to fully grasp anything beyond the third dimension. Yet, that’s where you’ll find me half the time, grappling with concepts that I know I will never totally understand.

Which leads me back to my question of why. If I get frustrated when I need the answer to a problem I cannot solve, why exactly do I love fields of study that involve many problems beyond my solving capabilities? Why does anyone, for that matter?

I guess that’s another one of those impossible problems.



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