Trivial trivia

I recently turned 27, and I’m about to indulge in a curmudgeony “Damn kids! Get off my lawn!” moment.

The topic of the day is exercise books. Now, I’m more comfortable than most people with using a computer as a primary medium for reading and writing. Some people have to print out a document to be able to read it comfortably; I usually only do that if I’m going to make lots of annotations, or if I’m going to take it somewhere I won’t have a computer. But it’s also handy to have a book on hand in case I want to record something while I’m out, or if I’ve got a particular project mulling around in my mind and want to keep all the notes on it in one place. (Generally this doesn’t work, but that’s getting off-topic.)

Exercise books often have random collections of information on the back that someone thought would be a good reference for school students. Multiplication tables, imperial-to-metric conversions, that sort of thing. Cool. I remember that from my school days.

But quite a few exercise books I’ve seen lately have something that concerns me slightly.

Addition tables.

What… is the point of an addition table?

Multiplication is tricky. Most people learn their times tables, up to twelve, by rote, because it’s just a lot easier than working it out from scratch. To this day there’s a very sharp dropoff in my ability to multiply by numbers greater than or equal to thirteen. A multiplication table on the back of an exercise book is a good idea.

But I have no recollection of addition of numbers up to twelve being hard enough to need a table. Maybe I was too young to remember, or maybe I’m just being elitist, but I don’t remember a time when the easiest way to add two numbers together was to look them up in a table. For one thing, counting fingers is faster than flipping over an exercise book and finding a place in a table. And when the sum gets bigger than ten, you sort of learn to mentally carry the one.

Don’t you?

There’s an exercise book in front of me at the moment, and here’s what it has on the back:

Exercise book

Look how much space the addition table takes up. I have mixed feelings about the “Commonly Used Computer Terms”… I can see how someone has made the argument that “in this day and age” this sort of information is relevant, and I can sooooort of agree (I am a software engineer, after all), but… it seems like it made the cut over a lot of things that could have been more useful. (And the definition of DOS is a bit weird.)

So what would have been a better use of this space? Hmm. Keep the multiplication table, that’s useful. Here’s a random list of things off the top of my head that I’d like to see on the back of an exercise book:

  • Written and spoken English pitfalls. “they’re = they are; their = belonging to them; there = referring to a place”. “its = belonging to it; it’s = it is”. Different tenses of “is” and “has”. Apostrophe use for possesion and not for plural construction. Stuff like that.
  • A map of the world, with as many countries labeled as space permits. Or, a list of countries and their capital cities. Or a list of time zones.
  • I’m sure I used to have exercise books that listed a few basic formulæ – area of a triangle/circle/whatever; the quadratic formula; equations of motion; that sort of thing.
  • A timeline of major world events, on the scale of the last century, or the last 500 years, or 2000, or 10,000 (just to annoy the creationists). Obviously anything too recent has the potential to get out of date, but exercise books don’t last all that long anyway (if they’re in active use).

What else? Thoughts? Anyone?

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