So I'm taking some assessment tests for my return to college. English and math. I have no problem with the English portion of it. I know good grammar. I can write. I can spell, and I can comprehend what I read and spit it back out at you.

No one ever told me when young that I'd better learn my English because I'd be using it in everyday life.

That's what "they" said about math. I was convinced that I'd be using the quadratic equation every day. Applying trigonometry to everyday problems like how to avoid rush hour and things like that.


Something that's always annoyed me, and maybe this doesn't happen to the geeks of today, but when I tell people I've made a career out of working with computers, sooner or later the statement, "Wow. I bet you're really good at math." is uttered. I used to just shrug it off and accept the compliment for what it was.


I was confronted with my utter cluelessness about math during my assessment test this week. I tested into pre-college math. Pre-college! After I stopped feeling sorry for myself it hit me. People, a lot of them, still associate computers with, like, complex mathematics. I asked a few of my less-than-geeky friends what they thought of when they thought about computers, and most of them responded by trying to describe the electronic components of the hardware, or the mathematical concepts behind computer programs. If asked to define a computer in one word, some form of the word "calculate" was used very frequently.

This is never what I've used computers for. For me, they've always been a means of artistic expression. First it was ascii art hammered out by a teletype on canary yellow paper. Then there were the amazing, Spirograph-like vector graphics of Control Data's PLATO system. Then Tron. For me, I've always imagined computers in terms of their visual output, and if that output made something pleasing to the eye, then so much the better. I find myself buying the most difficult of tactical strategy games these days not to play but to look at all the pretty colors. I loved the demoscene. I've made computer graphics and animation a hobby.

If log2(x)=3 then x=8

I've also used computers to express myself via writing, and long before I discovered this place. Besides providing a way for me to express and appreciate the visual, I also use these fantastic tools to weave worlds, to relate my experiences to others, to communicate with those far away. I've made friends, lost loves, and been given joy via computers, and the words flowing across the screen. These words are so far separated from the binary that the connection is very difficult for me to make.


I realize that it all boils down to ones and zeroes. At their hearts, computers really are just cold, calculating machines. But they hide it well, and moreso every day. I will no longer accept the compliment when people assume that I'm "really good at math" just because I'm more proficient with a computer than the average bear. I'll instead try to fire the creativity that computers inspire in me in others. Help people realize that computers are more than just spreadsheets, or Linux, or e-mail. They can be used to create art or literature or music. A computer truly is a universal tool.

One doesn't have to be a geek to understand that. And a geek doesn't have to know how to complete the square, either.

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