Tag Archives: superstition

The Lighter Side of Innumeracy

Scanning a QR Code may still work!
Scanning a QR Code may still work! From: Scott Stratten’s “QR Codes Kill Kittens

Most of us may not admit it, but we’ve all fallen victim to the lure of innumeracy—the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy—consciously or unconsciously. Here are twenty of my favorite innumerate events I often witness among my numerate and semi-numerate friends, colleagues, and relatives.

• Taking a 45-minute train journey to save a few dollars at Carrefour or Walmart.

• Lining up for hours (or even days, if you’re in China?) to buy an iPhone or iPad.

• Paying a numerologist or geomancy crank to divine your “lucky” and “unlucky” days.

The Largest Four-Digit Number
What is the smallest and the largest four-digit number?

• Visiting a feng-shui master to offer advice how best to arrange your furniture at home, or in your office, to ward off negative or “unwanted energies.”

• Buying similar items in bulk at discounted prices, which you don’t need but because they’re cheap.

• Offering foods to idols [aka gods and goddesses] in the hope that they’ll bring you good luck and prosperity in return.

• Offering gifts to hungry [angry?] ghosts to appease them lest they come back to harm you and your loved ones.

• Buying insurance policies against alien abduction, meteorites, biological warfare, or the enslavement of the apocalyptic Beast.

• Filling up lucky draw vouchers, by providing your personal particulars for future pests-marketeers and time-sharing consultants.

The Hello Kitty Syndrome in Singapore
The Hello Kitty Syndrome in Singapore—Purchase of no more than four sets per customer will start past midnight!

• Betting on horses, football, stocks, and the like—any get-rich activities that may cut short a 30-year working life, slaving for your mean or half-ethical bosses 9-to-6 every day.

• Buying lottery tickets to short-circuiting hard work, or to retiring prematurely.

• Going on annual pilgrimages to seeking blessing from some deities, prophets, saints, or animal spirits.

• Outsourcing your thinking to self-help gurus or motivational coaches.

• Going for prices that end in 99 cents, or acquiring auctioned items that are priced at $88 or $888—the number 8 is deemed auspicious among superstitious Chinese.

Always give more than 100%!
An NIE motto to innumerate undergrads: “Always give more than 100%!”

• Replying to spam mails from conmen and “widows” from Nigeria, Russia, or China, who are exceedingly generous to transfer half of their inherited money to your bank account.

• Taking a half-day leave from work, or faking sickness to visit the doctor, to line up for hours to buy McDonald Hello Kitties.

• Lining up overnight to buy the latest model of a game console, or to secure an apartment unit of a newly built condominium. 

• Enrolling for courses that cost over a thousand bucks to learn “Effective Study Habits of Highly Successful Students.”

• Postponing all important meetings, or avoiding air traveling, on a Friday the thirteenth

• Canceling all major business dealings, weddings, or product launches during the Ghost (or Seventh) Month.

Now is your turn to share with the mathematical brethren at least half a dozen of your pet innumerate activities—those numerical idiocies or idiosyncrasies— that you (or your loved ones) were indulged in at some not-too-distant point in the past.

© Yan Kow Cheong, November 10, 2014.

Big numbers do lie!
Big numbers tend to lie better! (© Scott Stratten)

Hungry ghosts don’t do Singapore math

In Singapore, every year around this time, folks who believe in hungry ghosts celebrate the one-month-long “Hungry Ghost Festival” (also known as the “Seventh Month”). The Seventh Month is like an Asian equivalent of Halloween, extended to one month—just spookier.

If you think that these spiritual vagabonds encircling the island are mere fictions or imaginations of some superstitious or irrational local folks who have put their blind faith in them, you’re in for a shock. These evil spirits can drive the hell out of ghosts agnostics, including those who deny the existence of such spiritual beings.

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Hell money superstitious [or innumerate] folks can buy for a few bucks to pacify the “hungry ghosts.”

During the fearful Seventh Month, devotees would put on hold major life decisions, be it about getting married, purchasing a house, or signing a business deal. If you belong to the rational type, there’s no better time in Singapore to tie the knot (albeit there’s no guarantee that all your guests would show up on your D-Day); in fact, you can get the best deal of the year if your wedding day also happens to fall on a Friday 13—an “unlucky date” in an “unlucky month.”

Problem solving in the Seventh Month

I have no statistical data of the number of math teachers, who are hardcore Seventh Month disciples, who would play it safe, by going on some “mathematical fast” or diet during this fearful “inaupicious month.” As for the rest of us, let’s not allow fear, irrationality, or superstition to paralyze us from indulging into some creative mathematical problem solving.

Let’s see how the following “ghost” word problem may be solved using the Stack Method, a commonly used problem-solving strategy, slowing gaining popularity among math educators outside Singapore (which has often proved to be as good as, if not better than, the bar method in a number of problem-situations).

During the annual one-month-long Hungry Ghost Festival, a devotee used 1/4 and $45 of the amount in his PayHell account to buy an e-book entitled That Place Called Hades. He then donated 1/3 and $3 of the remaining amount to an on-line mortuary, whose members help to intercede for long-lost wicked souls. In the end, his PayHell account showed that he only had $55 left. How much money did he have at first?

Try solving this, using the Singapore model, or bar, method, before peeking at the quick-and-dirty stack-method solutions below.

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From the stack drawing,
2 units = 55 + 13 + 15 + 15 = 98
4 units = 2 × 98 = 196

He had $196 in his PayHell account at first.

Alternatively, we may represent the stack drawing as follows:

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From the model drawing,
2 units = 15 + 15 + 13 + 55 = 98
4 units = 2 × 98 = 196

The devotee had $196 in his account at first.

Another way of solving the “ghost question” is depicted below.

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From the stack drawing,
6u = 55 + 13 + 15 + 15 = 98
12u = 2 × 98 = 196

He had $196 in his PayHell account at first.

A prayerful exercise for the lost souls

Let me end with a “wicked problem” I initially included in Aha! Math, a recreational math title I wrote for elementary math students. My challenge to you is to solve this rate question, using the Singapore bar method; better still, what about using the stack method? Happy problem solving!

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How would you use the model, or bar, method to solve this “wicked problem”?
Reference
Yan, K. C. (2006). Aha! math! Singapore: SNP Panpac Education. 
© Yan Kow Cheong, August 28, 2013.

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A businessman won this “lucky” urn with a $488,888 bid at a recent Hungry Ghost Festival auction.