My Secret Love Affair

By Amy Miller

I’ve never written about my love affair before. Most people who cross my path – my boss, for instance, or my child’s math teacher – have no idea how I love numbers. After all, I am paid to write words, not add and subtract numbers.

Sometimes I talk about probability while hiking a mountainside. “What do you think are the odds we will bump into someone from our town compared to the odds we will bump into someone from New York?” I might ask fellow hikers. Once a year I try, for some strange reason, to figure out again the formula for rolling a particular number on a die a particular number of times.

So when I saw the artwork of Jordan LaChance I was enthralled. LaChance takes serious environmental information and turns it into serious art.

In “Caps Seurat” he uses 400,000 bottle caps to create a reproduction of a Seurat painting. Why? To show the average number of plastic bottles consumed in the US every minute. That makes 24 million bottles an hour and … oh skip it.

In another one of his pieces, called “Car Keys” he shows 260,000 keys, equal to the number of gallons of gasoline burned in motor vehicles every minute in the US. With an average gas mileage of 20 miles to the gallon that means 1.56 million gallons an hour for 30 million miles driven each hour. (Check my math, will ya?)

There are a host of books for people fascinated by the use and misuse of numbers in the media, courtrooms and government agencies, even. They can help us interpret statistics like the ones above in a more thoughtful way. My A-list includes: “The Drunkard’s Walk,” “The Numbers Game”, “The Invisible Gorilla” and The Panic Virus.

In another favorite, the “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” I learned there is no (known) formula for prime numbers and it takes ages for even a computer to find the next one. Researching this, I found new tidbits: the largest known prime number is nearly 13 million digits long. And Mersenne Primes are all 2 to some power minus 1. As in 2 to the power of 43,112,609, minus 1. And that, BTW, is the largest prime known.

When I told this to my lifelong best friend, she got bleary. Who thinks about prime numbers, she said, incredulous. Why is this relevant? I turned her on to my A List but I haven’t heard back yet.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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