Recently I found some writing on a math topic I had worked on some years ago. In the course of teaching an Arithmetic class I had stumbled onto a test for divisibility which could be generalized to any prime and for any target number. The test, by the way, generalized the commonly used one for seeing whether a number is divisible by three (add the digits together, if the sum is divisible by three, so is the number, e.g. 11825 is not divisible by three, but 11826 is), But what the test was, or any of the details, are not so important here. What is relevant here is that, so far as I knew or know, the discovery was new, and the result significant, I wrote it up carefully and sent it to several old friends from the math department at UCD.

I don’t recall exactly how it went thereafter, but either I was not taken seriously enough to be read, or the old friends were too busy, or divisibility tests did not interest those I approached, or something, but nothing ever came of it.

Anyway, what is important for this piece begins with the discovery of my earlier correspondence. I could make no sense of it. Or, at least I was not at all interested in investing the time that would be required to make sense of it.

Truth be told, I had a very similar experience right after retiring. I decided to review some of the math I had studied in graduate school by looking back at my favorite books from that era. I gave up the attempt. It was just too hard. Now, when you leave graduate school in math and spend the next twenty-plus years teaching lower division math and below, it really is not surprising that most of your math skills fall by the wayside. But you would think you would be able, still, to follow that which you wrote yourself.

Maybe I’ve just gotten old. I’m sure it was not gibberish when it was written. It may not have been nearly as revolutionary as I thought at the time, but it was a very good test and certainly not gibberish. So it was of some value, at least, especially to a cryptologist. I had taken care to write it up in such a way that anyone well-versed in basic number theory would be able to follow it easily. So what is going on?

I know I’ve lost whatever fire I used to have in my gut for mathematics. Have known that for a long time. But this was a good result: and not entirely useless. I have very little use for learning the new technology, either. You know, like how my phone works, for instance. Its not that I don’t think Siri or texting has advantages. I see it all the time. It’s just that I couldn’t care less.

I think I might be dying here. All that seems important to me now is trying to get people to support the terraforming of someplace to move earth-life to. But I’m failing every-which way in that endeavor. No one, anywhere, seems ready for that message.

Nonetheless.We’re not going to make it. None of us. Not even the cockroaches. We’ve got to get off before nature makes earth uninhabitable. Some of us. Getting any of us off at all is going to be up to humans.

I’m having the same problem with algebra these days!