Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Geekiness, divisibility rules and fractals

Most of my old friends know, from Nicole, Larisa, Susan and Lauri to Doug, Tom and Lauren. My current friends suspect it, but they don't know the depth...

Hi, my name is Irim and I'm a geek.

I was gutted when the UK got new registration plates. Why? Because there are no longer 3-digit numbers. (They used to go M345 KLW; now it's VK07 MMJ - 07=the car was bought in the first part of 2007)

So, you ask, looking at me like I've gone mad (which is not untrue), why do those 3 digit numbers matter?

Because I run divisibility rules on them as I'm walking into work.

Ja. Now you KNOW I'm crazy.

Look, I love numbers. I grew up playing with numbers the way I now play with words - I had to be able to figure out the total and the tax on purchases we were making at the supermarket before we ended up at the cashier. I recited my multiplication tables in front of my father more times than I care to count - and I remember that 3s were particularly difficult, because for the longest time, I'd only recite those to my father in order. And yes, I can do long division and find square roots by hand.

Numbers were at first familiar, then they became friends. Unlike many people today, I never found them scary or indecipherable. As one should with friends, I try to understand their limits as well as their strengths.

I fell in love with algebra. Solving for an unknown, the elegance of the dance towards a solution, quadratic equations...bliss. Geometry grew on me, and now I love the concept of angles, right triangles and shapes almost as much as I love quadratic equations. Almost, but not quite.

So, back to registration plates. Why divisibility rules?

Because what do you do with your friends? You PLAY.

So here are the divisibility rules:

2 The last digit is even (0,2,4,6,8)
3 The sum of the digits is divisible by 3
4 The last 2 digits are divisible by 4
5 The last digit is 0 or 5
6 The number is divisible by both 2 and 3 114 (it is even, and 1+1+4=6 and 6÷3 = 2) Yes
7 If you double the last digit and subtract it from the rest of the number and the answer is:
* 0, or
* divisible by 7
Repeat as necessary until you GET to a number that you know is or isn't divisible by 7.
8 The last three digits are divisible by 8
9 The sum of the digits is divisible by 9
10 The number ends in 0
11 If you sum every second digit and then subtract all other digits and the answer is:
* 0, or
* divisible by 11

See? Simple and doable in 5 min or less. And just plain old cool. My favourite discoveries are numbers divisible by 7 and 11. Make of that what you will.

I also find factoring quadratic equations step by step fun. I can usually do it in my head quickly, by working out what factors of a*c will sum up to b (ax^2+bx+c), but I love just writing it out and watching it unfold. I think it has something to do with the fact that I'm an associative, lateral thinker, and being forced to do things sequentially is relaxing, making me slow down and unwind.

I was actually geeky enough to be cross that I hadn't started the Fibonacci sequence on Brendan's exam status.

But these small pleasures are offshoots of the large one - patterns. I LOVE patterns - finding them, dissecting them, putting them together, watching them in motion, what happens when they're disrupted.

If I love sport, it's because I love the patterns in it: a rugby team running down the pitch, the pleasure of a cricket field being set, the angles on a snooker table.

And yes, that is the biggest pleasure of the 11am mass when it goes well. A good friend couldn't help ribbing me about how I was just as bad as the altar servers I complain about, noting the *littlest* thing that went wrong up there. I couldn't get cross because he's absolutely right. I notice because when it works up there, it's a true liturgical dance (sorry, guys, couldn't resist :P!) - a pleasure to watch. However, when the choir goes on and breaks the flow, or when the collect isn't at the priest the moment he's ready to read, I notice. It's a disruption in the pattern.

And that's why I note MCs so closely. I once told Ben Earl he was an amazing MC, and he commented that he had failed because I had noticed him. Whilst I agree with his sentiment that an MC shouldn't be noticed, he certainly didn't fail. I deliberately watch MCs to see how they set patterns in motion, how they keep them there and how they deal with disruptions in the pattern. Ben's timing and direction were near perfect. Interestingly, the people that you often think would be the best MCs because of their attention to detail and perfectionism aren't, because they're too rigid and a problem can throw them off, creating bigger problems. The friend mentioned above is superb - his relaxed vigilance means he'll see problems arising and nip them in the bud and be able to deal with change on the fly.

But my favourite patterns to watch? Interpersonal dynamics. I LOVE people watching and making connections in everything from their stories to their relationships. And that means from the microcosm of individual story and relationship to the macrocosm of world history, created by the interlocking patterns of a world of individual relationships.

So, do I love patterns because I love discerning order in a world that often seems to have none? Maybe.

But the explanation that resonates most with me is the explanation offered by Sarayu, the Holy Spirit, in "The Shack", when explaining an apparently chaotic garden to Mack:

"From above, it's a fractal," Sarayu said.
"A what?"
"A fractal...something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infinitely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere."
"Looks like a mess to me."
"Mack! Thank you! What a wonderful compliment! That is exactly what this is - a mess. But it's still a fractal too."

Order and chaos; complexity and simplicity, hand in hand. Mmmm.

Oh, and the garden? Mack's soul.

*That* is the heart of my love for patterns - I love catching glimpses of the divine fractals scattered everywhere, from divisibility rules to people's souls.

For a fleeting instant, I feel the movement of the cosmic dance and understand the words of Senex in Madeleine L'Engle's "Swiftly Tilting Planet":

"Now I may move anywhere in the universe. I sing with the stars. I dance with the galaxies. I share in the joy--and in the grief."

And I am home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have always loved numbers, for as long as I can remember. Car number plates changing bother me less, as I am (alas?) uninterested in cars on the whole...but I do admit it is annoying to be stripped down to a 2-digit number. Watching patterns of reaction in people - so-so...knitting and crochet patterns...Definitely. So when people wearing woven/knitted/crocheted garments see me staring in their direction, I have had to quickly apologise to them, saying that it was the pattern I was interested in. And that really is (strange, but) true - coming from someone who has regularly failed the Irim Five Second Test, you know exactly what I mean!