Well, it was pretty darn big. But before I go further, I better start at the beginning.
In the beginning, I was born with no aptitude whatsoever for mathematics. I got good grades in elementary school except in two subjects: handwriting and mathematics. My parents could do something about my bad handwriting – “When you start junior high school, you will take typing,” my father thundered at me. And they bought me Royal typewriter for 6th grade graduation.
However, they couldn't do anything about my problems with math, and they just about went nuts trying to help me. Later when I was in high school, they even hired a tutor for a while, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I got really good grades in all of the other subjects I took through junior high, and when I started high school I was immediately shunted into the “college prep” track, which meant I got to take some serious math classes – no “dumbbell math” for me, no sirree.
I’ll spare the stories of my struggles with algebra 1 and 2 (one of which I had to take over in summer school) and geometry 1 and 2, and finally, trigonometry.
My high school counselor was a math teacher, and I think she was very disappointed that she couldn’t persuade me into calculus, but the hands writing on the report cards by this point were pretty conclusive, and I had had ENOUGH. Enough, I say.
I started college with the intent of becoming a biologist in the footsteps of my beloved Aunt Betty, but my ineptitude in math scuttled those plans, and so I studied history and American culture, which prepared me very well for being a teacher, but that plan got changed as well and so I ended up working at a newspaper and editing manuscripts.
But back to how big it was. One of the manuscripts I worked on this week was by authors who have made use of innovations in software to develop a technique where they can create 3D models of lung tumors from 2D imaging studies. For certain kinds of cancer, putting the patient through an operation is futile if the tumor is a certain size, which is sometimes hard to tell from the 2D images.
They reported tumor volumes of various sizes, including 500 and 450 cubic centimeters, etc.
Then I started thinking about it, which nearly got me into trouble. Just as a linear measurement, 500 cm seemed rather large: 500 cm is a little over 16 feet, so then extrapolating that out, 500 cubic centimeters would be the equivalent of 16 cubic feet, which is the size of a refrigerator.
Obviously, one cannot have a tumor the size of a refrigerator in their chest. Ridiculous.
Then I got to thinking some more and realized I almost certainly had misunderstood something. The minister of our church has taught math at the college level, so I figured she could help, and indeed she did. She explained what was wrong with my logic in such a kind and gentle way. Bless her. She suggested I calculate the volume of one of my books, which I did, and it all became clear.
But the worst thing that almost happened is that I had put a query in the manuscript to the authors pointing all this out (ie, 500 cubic centimeters was the equivalent size of a refrigerator). I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had not removed that query before I sent the manuscript back.
No, that’s not true – I can imagine very well what might have happened… and it isn’t pretty.