Tag Archives: carpentry

Is Algebra Necessary? Yes!

From time to time an academic makes an argument about how math isn’t all that important. Like this one in the NYTimes:

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.

The article is a series of randomly thrown out and disconnected statements about how math might not be so important. The kind of non logical arguments you might expect from someone without a good grasp on math and logic. 🙂

It is true that I rarely use my math in my job as a software engineer. Where I use the math I learned in high school most often is on one of my hobbies, wood working. The moment you get beyond 90 degree angles on things, all that algebra and trig comes into play. A few years ago I created a set of built in shelves that had to deal with a 73 degree corner in my house, and have a sheet of pencil scribbles and trig functions to figure out all the cuts and sizes of pieces I’d need. I’ve got a host of custom built furniture in my house, all of which required algebra and trig to get right. And don’t even get me started on my deck.

The math you learn in high school is actually the math of carpenters and farmers. It’s a foundation for high math, but it’s real use is in much more concrete things. And that’s the reason why “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.”

So the next time someone starts going on about how math is unimportant, look them in the eye and say: you’ve never built anything with your hands, have you?

A Day of Service

When I got to the Poughkeepsie Farm Project at 6:40am on Wednesday, there were already two IBMers there ahead of me, eager to start the day. It was a crisp day, barely 55 degrees yet, but with few clouds in the sky we knew it would get hot by the time we were going to break for lunch at 11:30. It took me a few minutes to setup checkin station for the IBM crew, then I joined Ray and Duane just to chat about the day.

“That’s a lot of roof…”

They had both gone down and looked at the Roof of the Coop, 100′ long, 15′ wide, which we were going to tear off and replace today. While the Roof was only one of 3 projects for the day, it was the only one that would cause problems if it wasn’t done. The carpenters and gardeners had plenty of smaller logical stopping points, but a roof is a roof. And based on the experience the PFP had with taking off another section, the tear off might take a long time.

With some last minute drops and additions our volunteer count was going to be 12 on the roof, 12 in the gardens and fields, and 7 on carpentry projects. The crews were showing up at 7, 7:30, and 8 respectively. I had decided earlier in the week that we were going to just send all the carpenters up on the roof until Dave, our roofing foreman volunteer, felt like they had the tear off under control.

About 7:10 we had our roofers largely assembled, oriented, and sent on there way. As we checked in the gardeners and got them dispatched, it was an inspiring to see all those people up on the roof in the distance. 8am rolled around, and Ray, our carpentry lead, showed back up in the checkin area. I was seriously confused, and told Ray I was going to send any remaining carpenters up onto the roof.

“Oh, the roof is already off. It came up quick. Something like 12 minutes.”  We were going to do it. We’d get the roof done today.

Ray peeled off a few folks on carpentry work, and I hung out up front until I got the last of the stragglers checked in at 9am. Given that my day was going to continue to get interrupted by organizational tasks, I found the carpenters in the field working on the hoop house. As those projects were probably the ones I could most easily come and go on without disrupting their flow. We replaced the rotting wood braces on one side with metal ones, strapping together metal braces in sections of 3, then putting them up on the hoop house.

At 10:30 we were winding to completion on that project, and started moving tools to where the wood working tasks would take place. As it neared 11 I realized I needed to make the lunch area something we could actually get 35 volunteers in and seated. Susan Grove, PFP Executive Director, helped me with that.

Even though the lunch arrived a little late, everyone seemed to enjoy it. I’m sure most IBMers were fed pizza or Sam’s Club sandwiches, but not our crew. We had hummus, pita, greek salad, and sea salt fries from Kavos (a local greek restaurant), and tomales from Mole Mole (a local mexican restaurant). Lunch was the time for Susan to be able to introduce everyone there to what the PFP does, and what it means to create and just and sustainable food system. Eating great food from local restaurants help reinforce that, and help connect us to the food system that we were a part of. For the garden and farm crew, they were having a direct experience in that food system. For those of us on construction, we were doing things that had been on task lists for years, because there aren’t a lot of days off when it comes to running a 10 acre farm. We were helping by taking those tasks of that list so the farm team could focus on farming.

Once the volunteers were all back on task, I had about an hour breaking down the lunch area. Organizing a good event is about making everything look invisible, spaces being ready for volunteers when they get there, and being returned to their original form. It makes all the difference. And then, at 2, all my organizational tasks were done, and I could spend the rest of the day getting my hands dirty.

Dave felt like he had plenty of roofers, so I joined Ray, Warren, and Yukiko in building a locking cabinet for storing sprayers and other items in the building that was being re-roofed. Ray brought furniture grade skills to this project, and I got to pick up plenty of tips from him along the way. As the cabinet came together over the next two hours, I could see the excitement in Angela’s (head farm intern, and staff lead for the carpentry projects) eyes. She’s been with the farm a couple years now, and these had been on her wish list to get the coop organized.

The gardeners got to their logical stopping point around 3:30, and Wendy (co-farm manager) sent them home with words of thanks from the fields. Around 4 our cabinet was done, as were the hoop racks on casters, being built in parallel by other carpentry volunteers. And as we looked up to the roof, they were putting down the final row of shingles before the capping shingles. There were only about 6 people up on the roof now, as you were now at the time when things had to happen in series. I watched in awe, the orchestration that occurred with 4 volunteers on the roof with the capping shingles as they cruised to completion with the last nail leaving the gun at around 4:30.

And we were done. We’d accomplished most of the clean up as the projects were closing up, extra scraps stored in the coop, tools sorted and back to volunteers. The last of the roofers cleaned up their tools and ladders and I headed up to the PFP office to bask in the day, and check in with the staff up there about how it went for them. Leaving the farm at 5:30 I was pumped (I still am). I’d been there for 11 hours, but didn’t feel tired at all. I managed not to really get sun burned, and the soreness I’d feel the next day would feel really good.

It was a good day.

I feel a little sorry for the folks that didn’t participate in service projects the day before the centennial. Today is going to bring a town hall, and an on site BBQ in Poughkeepsie. But for speeches people may not attend, and a free lunch, it’s not much to walk away with. The experience we all had yesterday, showing what amazing people work at the company, that for me is our real centennial celebration. Our celebration of service.