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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Pi Day and other thoughts from the middle of March
March 15, 2012 - 6:09pm

I often laugh at the politics of taking coffee from a shared coffee maker. The person who takes the last cup needs to make a new pot, so no one wants to be the person to take that last serving. To avoid this, people often take only half of a cup, leaving a half of a cup for the next (and presumably last) person. This can go on for a while, and could, in theory, go on indefinitely, as dividing by two with each thirsty but lazy person will never actually result in an empty coffee maker. This goes on until someone who really wants more coffee than is left in the bottom of the coffee maker comes by and is forced to start a new pot. I thought of this for two reasons this past week. First, I am hopefully watching my sister’s “tumor markers” descend by what appears to be a factor of two with each month of chemotherapy, providing hope for those of us who have been told that it is likely that chemotherapy will not do much for her particularly aggressive bile duct cancer. Knowing that this cannot actually bring the levels down to zero, we are hoping that they reflect that fact that the chemotherapy is actually working for her, despite the dire predictions she received when she was diagnosed five months ago. I also thought of this because this past week was the middle of March, meaning that we are half way through the month on the way to the month of April, when we can finally believe that spring has arrived in Northeast Ohio.

Unseasonably warm weather in Ohio these past few days have helped to begin to lift the cloud of unspeakable sadness that settled over the area in the wake of the killing of three teenagers at the end of February. Spring sports began, and in our house that involves track and field. My role seems to involve making sure that my daughter makes it to her practices and making sure that my daughter has access to a water bottle at all times. I am impressed with the team, some of whom were quite young, but just as enthusiastic as the older runners. On their first practice on the track, they all ran the equivalent of a total of two miles. I don’t know if this will be “her” sport, but she seems to be enjoying it so far.

This past week was our spring break, and allowed me an opportunity to catch my breath, work on my classes, and make some progress with some research. My daughter asked me when her spring break falls. Alas; it does not happen for a few weeks. I promised her that should my spring break and hers ever fall on the same week, we would all go somewhere special.

This weekend brings us St. Patrick’s Day, always a celebration in Cleveland and in our family, as my husband is part Irish. My daughter had an outfit in mind to wear for the celebration, and sent me out searching for green tights to wear with it. I stopped into about four stores searching for them before I realized that my line “my daughter is looking for green tights” was not entirely accurate. In reality, it was I who was off looking for them, not her! We never found them, and so she modified her look for the day.

I was also amused by the occurrence of “Pi Day” this past week. The irrational number “Pi” is a decimal that goes on forever, but is often estimated by the number 3.14. This past Wednesday was March fourteenth (3.14), so it is often called “Pi Day.” One colleague pointed out to me, that, when written with a particularly round number 4, the number 3.14 can be seen as the word “pie” spelled backwards. Of course, my daughter pointed out to me that the number Pi and the word pie are spelled differently.

That got me thinking of the many jokes I use in my class about the number Pi. For example, what is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a Jack O’ Lantern called? Pumpkin Pie! Along those same lines I recall the time my calculus class submitted a pumpkin into the campus pumpkin decorating contest. They simply write the Greek letter for Pi on a blank pumpkin. Although they did not win, one judge, a psychologist who has a definite math geek side to him, thought it was really funny. And then there is the comment about the formula for the area of a circle, where r represents the circle’s radius; Pi *r squared. “Pie are square? No, pie are round. Cake are square!”

Wishing everyone a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and a quick arrival of spring!

 

 

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