kitchen table math, the sequel: Math on a farm

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Math on a farm

Jane wrote:
I suspect that the data that say the vast majority of people don't use math is inaccurate. I suspect that every small business owner is constantly using basic algebra. We have a family farm and constantly, daily use algebra. My contractor calculated angles, areas, amount of paint, flooring, labor and materials necessary to remodel our house. Our banker uses a calculator, but easily and obviously has the mathematical fluency to have a real time conversation about prices, quantities, exchange rates and whether certain data sources are reliable. The sales people we deal with calibrate machinery to determine how much material we need to use on a field. Of course, I check their calibration calculations as well. Yes, we all use tools, but without the understanding of how the math fits together, the tools would be black boxes and we wouldn't know when a number didn't make sense. And we are constantly figuring out, how much seed to put on a field, if a chemical needs to be applied at a certain flow rate and dilution, how fast does the tractor move. If we can x crop and it costs z to grow and we might sell it for a range of y1 - y2, Which crop should we plant.
My dad was a farmer. He always had a slide rule handy on his desk. I was fascinated by it.

I don't know why he had it, and I can't guess because I've never learned to use a slide rule.

I'd like to.


Paul B said...

You might say the slide rule was a two function calculator without batteries.

He used it for arithmetic :>}

Anonymous said...

Do you want to learn $14.95 worth?

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

Hey Mark - Thanks for the link!

I do plan to buy one.

And learn how to use it.

What are the two functions?

Paul B said...

Multiply and divide.

I had two in college, one aluminum, one plastic coated bamboo. Aluminum was for summer and high humidity (bamboo one gets sticky when humid). Bamboo was better in winter (aluminum shrinks and gets too slippery in the cold).

I went to school in Potsdam (which might be the Indian name for damn cold or possibly damn sticky)

VickyS said...

I bought my kids the ThinkGeek slide rule for Christmas! And when I picked it up, my hands automatically remembered how to use it. Mr. Lund taught us how in high school physics in 1974. He also taught us how to read National Weather Service weather maps. One exam was to look at 4 days worth of weather (including an hurricane) and predict what the 5th day's would look like. I loved Mr. Lund.

One of only two childhood Christmas presents I haven't forgotten was the lovely, silky smooth slide rule given to me by my grandpa, an accomplished immigrant engineer and businessman whose only degree was from the School of H & K, as he put it (hard knocks). And if that weren't enough, when I lifted it lovingly out of its box, underneath was a pint size baby slide rule--just right for carrying anywhere! So like Paul, I had two.

Okay--what a nerd--no wonder I've found such a happy home on KTM.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder if 'slide rule fascination' is a core trait of ktm folks?

I'm the same way: I have vivid memories of my dad's slide rule.

Peter Warner said...

It's said that 'three generations removed from the farm also removes common sense', or something like that.

After graduating high school, my friends went off to college and I chose to become a hired hand on a large (60 head) dairy farm. My employer admonished me for not knowing my tables of 12's (for calculating board feet) and ran circles around me figuring things like paint and fertilizer coverage.

By chance one of my math teachers was also renting part of his land, and this mere 'farmer' had the advantage in math AND common sense. I had no idea at the time how embarrassed my former teacher must have been to have me witness it.

As it turned out, I never did continue on to higher institutionalized learning, and I'm actually thankful for that good fortune.

Best regards, Peter Warner.