The Crutch, Part II

Let me begin this by saying I am not a stupid person. I score well on IQ tests, am eligible for admission to Mensa, and have posted very respectable scores on the SAT and GRE. In fact, I'm usually the guy that screws up the curve for everyone else in class.

In statistics, however, I'm the dumb kid. I'm the guy who asks questions that are almost relevant. I hold up progress, and say stupid things like, "Wait - the null hypothesis does what now? And what does sigma stand for?" (Despite my thickness where statistics are concerned, I pride myself on never asking that most annoying of all dumb kid question; "Is this going to be on the test?" Damn, I want to hit that kid... but I digress.)

Where was I? Oh, right - I'm stat disabled. I'm the kid that wears a helmet but is in your class anyway because the administration thought he should "mainstreamed." Out of courtesy, I sit right up front. That way the instructor can see the confused look on my face before I even raise my hand, and the other students can glare at me without having to crane their necks around. I try to stay quiet and not drool too much.

So, as you can imagine, stats is pretty much like a semester-long root canal for me. Carrying that metaphor as far as it will go, test days are those special times when the anesthesia has worn off. Last Friday was one such day.

But Friday was different. On Friday, I was no longer stats disabled. On Friday I became stats handi-capable!

Actually, Friday was just the culmination of a process I began a few weeks ago, when this stats class was ramping up into a never ending gobstopper of shite. I decided that I had to figure out how to use the stats package in my calculator.

Yes - THAT calculator. The Cursed Calculator of Sorrow.

As I mentioned earlier, the manual is less than helpful. The great irony of these machines is that only those who have a very solid grasp of the mathematical principles involved - i.e., not me - can actually use them. The vaguely titled functions hang in the menus like the grapes above Tantalus, while actual understanding of the concepts recedes below me like his pool. (The big rock overhead is my grade in the class, just to round out the image...) But enough Bullfinching - how did I become handi-capable?

I shifted metaphors, moving from one neighborhood in Tartarus to another. I left Tantalus, and went to hang with Sisyphus. Deciphering the TI-83 became my rock, and like the Sisyphus that Camus imagined, I tried to embrace the task. "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." I doubt that even Camus believed that ALL the time, but it was enough to get me by.

Over the course of several weeks and many dozens of Google searches and dead-ends, I discovered enough pages offering TI-83 tutorials that I was able to assemble a set of instructions that actually work for the material I am studying. Why no one has compiled this all in one place is a mystery to me, but I finally found what I needed on about 8 or 9 different sites. Now, with a few strokes of the keys I can give you a binomial probability, create a one variable statistical array, or any of several other perviously time-consuming and onerous tasks regularly required of stats wonks.

Although I don't claim to understand the underlying principles very well, I can get by now. Instead of being a cursed hunk of circuits collecting dust on my bookshelf, the TI-83 has finally become useful. It's a crutch, and I am a one-legged man who is immobilized without it. Together we hobble toward a decent grade.

I like to think that the failed engineer's demons are being put to rest like so many unwanted math thetans. Each successful quiz, every completed homework problem, shakes a few more bad vibes from behind its LCD. Some day soon I'll be done with stats, and I think it will then be clear of all the taint of failure. On that day, I'm sure I'll be tempted to walk up to some kid in the labs and say, "You want this?"


Flynn said...

From one mathematically disabled person to another... what were those web pages? ;)

Congrats on doing well in the stats class eh

Post a Comment