Today is not just the second day of Rachel Maddow's Geek Week. No, brainy friends, today is actually Geek Pride Day, when under-sunned types declare their right to stay that way and USA Today wants to know how you're going to celebrate.
Here's how I am going to celebrate, and I invite you to sing along. I'm going to tell you the first thing I ever learned that made me believe I could be a geek. It was this: How to balance a simple algebraic equation.
When you're facing "4 + X = 9," you balance it by subtracting four from each side, so you're left with "X = 5." That example is easy enough that even a very young pre-algebra kid can understand it. But how about "3Y + 34 = 2Y + 89"?
Whatever else I was doing when my regular math teacher explained that, it didn't include paying attention. Enter Mr. Duck, the substitute who stood six-foot-five -- at least -- and who'd spent a life time listening to punks like us calling, "Mister, duck!" The first miracle was that Mr. Duck kept going anyway. The second is that because he didn't know what we didn't know, he returned to the first chapter and taught us what it meant to do the same thing to each side of an equation.
The trick with "3Y + 34 = 2Y + 89" is to isolate the "Y". Start by subtracting 2Y from the left and the right side of the equal sign. You get "Y + 34 = 89," and you're almost home. Subtract 34 from the left and right sides and you've got "Y = 55." Thanks to Mr. Duck and his accidental remedial lesson, I caught up, got into the faster math class with a great teacher, Pat Mowdy Luscomb, and still buy math textbooks at stoop sales.