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iSchool January 16, 2009

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The Russian’s got an iPhone. I can’t remember if it was for Christmas or just for occasionless extravagance. Probably the latter, knowing the Russian, who loves nothing more than a bit of occasionless extravagance and only thinks a day has been well spent if cash has been parted with to acquire something needless and luxurious. Or on a night out. Or on flights somewhere. Which perhaps bespeaks a much better attitude to life and money than my own, which consists of never leaving the house and, the second a penny ever arrives, doing something sensible with it, like paying tax, or paying bills, or paying off debts, or going out and blowing it on booze.

Still, the Russian has an iPhone. And I can quite see the point of it now that I’ve worked out how to win the tennis game. And then it has that clever Shazam music-recognising programme which Herr Engelsk alerted me to last summer which I then thought – and might still, at a push – was the best technological invention since the fax. But now we’ve discovered the even funner midomi, which is a programme that lets you sing into the phone and then it tries to tell you what it is you’ve sung. Unfortunately, it almost always tries to tell you you’ve sung something by Avril Lavigne, when I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song by her (except I do know Complicated, having just looked at a list of her songs) (I’ve got a feeling I might have gone head-to-head in karaoke against my niece in that one) (I bet I won) (though not via iPhone), but we have managed to make it recognise us singing something by Abba, Eternal Flame (on the Russian’s recommendation, as he said, belittling his singing abilities, the programme had even recognised his rendition) (though he thought it was originally by Atomic Kitten) and Hava Nagila.

But anyway, apart from improving our tennis and singing skills, the iPhone is even refreshing our education. I think it’s just as well I’m a whoopsy as I’d be much too thick to help my children with their homework but we did have cause to resort to mathematics the other day. Technology can make even the utterly mundane interesting for half a second and the Russian and I whooped with wide-eyed amazement when the device told us that it was 360m to our nearest tram-stop and 460m to our nearest U-Bahnhof whereas, I must admit, trudging those unquantified distances in real life has never aroused my excitement once.

“Hm, so it’s 100m from the tram-stop to the Underground,” I said to the Russian as we were bored of discussing the essence of being yet again.

“Da, I sink so… Oi, nyet, ze distance maast be as ze byurd fly.”

“Oh, well maybe I’d better go and stand at the tram-stop and ask the phone how far it is to the Underground then, otherwise we’ll only have to move on to, ‘Whither the Russian soul?’ or, ‘Something happened on the way to the smetana queue/chip-shop’.”

“No, use myeths,” suggested the Russian, as if I was 14.

Anyway, thinking it was good for my personal redevelopment, I’ve been out to buy a set-square, a protractor, a compass, an exercise book with squares in it, logarithm tables and a slide-rule and got down to business. But to spread the fun, I’d like your help or, rather, I’d like to test your skills too and see whom, based on IQ, to foster and whom to delete from my circle of acquaintance.

“Hmm, but which maths to use? Well, I’ve got two distances and one unknown distance. Two known lines and an unknown line. Ooh, a triangle. Oh bugger. Is this trigonometry? I don’t know my sin from my cotan. Or is that something else? Oh, hang on, it’s a perfectly straight line from here to the tram-stop. And then a 90° turn from there to the Underground. Oh my god. It’s a right-angled triangle!”

Darlings, Pythagoras it is.

Frau Schmidt has a gammy hip. Frau Schmidt has an appointment with a specialist to see about getting a hip replacement. Frau Schmidt needs to get to the U-Bahnhof which she knows is 460m as the crow flies, because every time she needs to get to the station, she waits for an obliging flock – or is it parliament? – of crows to sweep her off her balcony and deposit her there and they announce the distance like a taxi-driver might announce his fare. But today the crows refused to deposit Frau Schmidt at the U-Bahn as they were on the go-slow and said they wouldn’t fly a flap further than the tram-stop. “360m, that’s our limit today, Frau Schmidt,” they squawked. Frau Schmidt says it hurts if she has to walk more than about 200m. Will Frau Schmidt make it to the U-Bahnhof without too much trouble or will it be effing and blinding all the way?

Right, we’ve got the hypotenuse, i.e. the distance from here to the U-Bahnhof. 460m. And we know that from here to the tram-stop is 360m. So, how far is it from the tram-stop to the U-Bahnhof? Please show your workings.

All correct(ish) answers will receive a one-man standing ovation.