I’ve been interested in math all my life but I’m not what is commonly understood as being a mathematician. I like numbers but mainly for their entertainment and useful benefits.

As a child, I once computed all possible fractional values from 1 to 154 to four or more places; I don’t remember exactly. These included such fractions as ½, 1/3, 1/4, etc., to 1/154; also 2/3, 2/4, 2/5, etc., to 2/154, etc. There were perhaps about 12,000 calculations needed and I spread the work over a long period of time. In doing this I observed that there are many shortcuts that could be used; for example, 1/2 has the same value as 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, etc., and 1/3 has the same value as 2/6, 3/9, 4/12, etc.

I don’t know why I did this; it seemed like a good idea at the time. When I became a computer programmer, I was able to write a very short program that accomplished the same task in only a few minutes.

At a time when I should have known better, I wrote a letter to a local TV station that said, “Concerning your decision to show movies on your channel, 1,000,000 thanks.” Then I had the computer print the letter including one million “thank you”s automatically printed. I had no idea that this would require a lot of paper. I stopped the printout when I saw a stack of paper that was getting larger and larger by the second. A quick calculation showed that I would have needed over 1500 sheets of paper to print all these thanks. I changed the letter to say, “many thanks” and printed a single sheet of them.

When teaching computers, I enjoyed telling the story of the kid who got rich. He convinced his parents that they should pay him for doing chores in June for one cent the first day, two cents the second, four cents the next, etc., doubling the number of cents paid until he had worked under this arrangement on June 30th. The amount he needed to be paid came as a monumental surprise to the parents.

I’m dismayed that these days, many persons can’t do simple arithmetic for everyday living when al that is really necessary is knowing how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, understand fractions, decimals, and percentages.