Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What's Your Problem?

TigerBlog has a problem.

Literally. Here it is:

lim [ln(4+h)-ln(4)]/h =
A) 0, B) 1/4, C) 1, D) 3, E) nonexistent.

Actually, he's full of problems. Here's another one:

The function f is defined by f(x)=x/(x+2). What points (x,y) on the graph of f have the property that the line tangent to f at (x,y) has slope 1/2?
A) (0,0) only; B) 1/2; 1/5 only; C) 0,0 and -4, 2; D) 0,0 and 4, 2/3; E) there are no such points

These were practice questions from Miss TigerBlog's AP calculus final. Had TigerBlog taken the test, he's reasonably sure he would have gotten a zero (she got an A, for the record).

Actually, if they were multiple choice questions, he'd have guessed "B" on all of them and gotten at least some correct, but that's not the issue.

At some point, the graph of the knowledge of math retained by TigerBlog and the math problems themselves intersected at a pretty high place. As time has gone by, the point of the intersection continued to drop, going past trigonometry to geometry and algebra.

Today? TB has no idea where he stands, but he's guessing that he would still do okay in algebra, which of course is taught in middle schools.

The funny part is that TigerBlog, too, got an A in AP calculus, though that was a long time ago. A long, long, long time ago.

Still, there was a time when TB looked at those problems and said "yeah, easy." Now? He wouldn't even begin to know where to start.

It's interesting to TigerBlog because he has such a good memory for numbers. Phone numbers. Birthdays. Stats. Lots of stats. And a bunch of other stuff, most of it useless. They're stuck in his mind, seemingly forever.

It begs the question of why he can remember some trivial stuff but not others. How does the mind decide what to remember? How does the mind shape memory in the first place? 

Have you told the same funny story about something that happened to you years and years ago over and over? What are the odds it happened exactly the way your story says it did? Is that how you remember it, or do you just know the story so well by now?

Oh, and why can he remember all of those numbers but cannot remember how to solve calculus problems?

One, he supposes, is sheer memory. In that respect, it's not that much different than remembering where a few decades of Princeton athletes went to high school. Chris Marquardt? Clearwater Central Catholic. Jesse Hubbard? St. Alban's. Theresa Sherry? Bryn Mawr, in Baltimore. John Mack? New Haven, Mich.

The other is much more complex, with pretty specific and minute formulas and such. Still, he can't imagine that he once knew exactly how to solve those problems and now can't do anything other than laugh.

Maybe one day he won't remember games and details, but he's still good these days.

The long road down the path that led him to the basement of Jadwin Gym began when he got a job in the newspaper business 35 years ago. He had a work study job at Penn in the basement of the psychology department, where he and another person would mostly make copies of reading assignments for professors on a copy machine that could neither collate nor staple. Who was that person? Fran McCaffery, who is now the head men's basketball coach at Iowa.

Fran's brother Jack was a sportswriter for the Trenton Times at the time, and Jack was the one who got TB his start, covering high school football. The interview went something like this:
"Have you ever written a story before?"
"Doesn't matter."

With that, TB was sent out to cover his first game, between Pennington Prep and Academy of the New Church. The next day he covered Bordentown-Maple Shade, and then the next week it was Hun-George and Council Rock-Abington. He's pretty sure the final scores were 22-0 Pennington, 36-0 Maple Shade, 10-0 Hun and 28-21 Council Rock. If not, then they were pretty close.

Why can he remember that but not how to solve for functions and graphs?

This season is the 20th anniversary of the men's lacrosse team's unbeaten run to the second of three straight NCAA titles and fourth of six NCAA titles overall. Can TB remember the entire 15-0 season in order, with the scores? Here's his take, without looking it up:

Princeton 9, Johns Hopkins 8 in OT (Josh Sims had the game-winner; TB was on the phone giving former manager Nate Ewell the play-by-play of the OT)
* Princeton 14, Virginia 13 in OT (Todd Eichelberger had the game-winner)
* Princeton 10, North Carolina 9
* Princeton 18, Penn State 6
Princeton 19, Penn 4
Princeton 17, Yale 5
* Princeton 8, Brown 5
Princeton 19, Rutgers 6
Princeton 19, Harvard 8
Princeton 19, Cornell 6
Princeton 19, Dartmouth 3
Princeton 18, Hobart 6
Princeton 14, UMass 6
* Princeton 10, Duke 9
* Princeton 19, Maryland 7

How'd he do?

Well, he had all the teams. And most of the scores were pretty close, with six of them (the ones with an *) actually right on the nose. The games weren't exactly in the right order. Rutgers was actually after Harvard, and Penn was actually after Dartmouth.

Not a terrible effort.

Today, being Feb. 1, is the start of practice for spring sports teams, by the way.

Oh, and back in the winter, the women's hockey team won at Quinnipiac yesterday in what was a huge game in the ECAC standings, as it pushes the Tigers two points ahead of the Bobcats for fourth place - which brings first-round playoff home ice.

Final score? Princeton, 3-0.

Ask TigerBlog in 2037. He'll probably still remember the score.

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