29 December 2018

You Don't Need Math To Do This

A few years after graduating from college, I bumped into a classmate in the Columbus Circle subway station.  Working for a then-new technology company, she said she liked the work and it paid decently but "nothing is what I expected it to be."

She explained that she got into the work she was doing after being a lawyer for a couple of years and "hating it even more than I thought I would."

"So you went to law school even though you didn't think you'd like practicing law?"

She nodded.  "Why?," I wondered.

"Because I didn't know what else to do.  And I can't do math."

That, for a time, was a running joke:  You got your undergraduate degree in whatever and you can't figure out what to do with it.  You may not know what you can or want to do, but at least if you can't do math, there's always law school.

I considered law school for about 15 minutes, but of course never went.  I must say, though, that some of my other choices have been influenced by my numerical ineptitude:  majoring in English literature and history as an undergraduate, working in publishing and public relations, writing and, of course, teaching.   None of the work I've done has required more computational skill than balancing a checkbook.

Now I'm going to make a confession:  One of the reasons I'm such a dedicated cyclist is that it, too, does not require any math.

All right, that's not really true.  But whether you are an astrophysicist or someone who uses a calculator to figure out how much your lunch cost, you can enjoy cycling. Just ask Nick Charalambous.

Nick Charalambous.  Photo by Ken Ruinard for the Anderson Independent Mail

The Anderson, South Carolina native undertook around his home state.  Yes, literally around it:  His route zigged and zagged along its Atlantic coastline, Savannah River banks and the border with North Carolina.  He'd been battling a rare form of lymphoma, and his ride was a way to celebrate his recovery and raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphoma Society.

He completed the ride.  But two mathematical calculations made it even more of a success than he'd anticipated.

First of all, he calculated that his 14-day ride would span 820 miles.  But, at the end of his ride, he realized his tabulations were erroneous:  When he looked at his maps and other information, he found out he'd actually pedaled 930 miles.

His second numerical mistake had to do with the money he raised.  His original goal was around $1000, and his pledges, he thought, would bring him to that amount.  But he underestimated his sponsors' generosity:  In the end, he raised $5250.

Nick Charlambous may not be very good at math.  But he makes up for that with his determination, which is how he completed his trip, even though he had never before taken a bike ride approaching its length or scope.  He also credits his faith which, he said, showed him that he was given "a body new" after his illness.

What he didn't gain, of course, was mathematical ability.  But he doesn't need it:  After all, who said you have to be any good at it to ride your bike?


  1. I find the only math I use with bikes is working out gear ranges and calculating how long it will take me to afford the bits I wish to buy...

    Happy new rides Justine.

  2. Hi Coline--I use math in the same ways. I think the gear ranges are easier than the budgets!

    I'm going to fix the security on this blog. Happy New Year!