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Sharpshooting an instructor

March 29, 2013

This is an excerpt from my second book, “Memory Harvest of a Sharecropper’s Son,” which is now available in Amazon Kindle format and in printed format. This story is about sharpshooting an instructor.

After becoming a technical writer, I attended a technical training class on a Ships Inertial Navigation System, so I could document the maintenance required for our technicians. The instructor was a highly-educated person with a master’s degree, but was not very good at explaining things to people.

Now and then he would skip over a topic briefly because he thought everyone should already know that subject. Then he could not field questions very well, because he did not realize what someone was not understanding. Sometimes I would make a comment to try to put him on the right track, which he did not appreciate.

Since we did not have access to the real equipment, he gave us some theoretical troubleshooting problems. One time on a test, he specified a certain problem and asked what the symptom would be. First glance at the diagram, I knew the answer he was looking for, but after a little further analysis I saw that the actual symptom should be another answer. I wrote a statement, “The answer you are looking for is …,” and then wrote “The actual symptom will be … because ….”

He checked the diagram thoroughly and then admitted I was right. But, he wanted to know how I knew what answer he was looking for. Most people had put down the answer he was expecting, but one or two others had also seen what I had seen and answered correctly. The instructor threw out that question, but was upset that I had anticipated what answer he expected to see.

On another multiple-choice exam, I really upset him. The exam was very easy. All of us were sitting around a large conference table taking the exam. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. I would then flip the silver dollar twice and mark an answer.  The instructor noticed what I was doing and came over. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was using the coin flip to determine my answers. He asked how and I told him I would flip once to choice either a,b or c,d and again to determine the correct answer. He pointed to a question and asked me to show him. I did and he pointed to another question. After three or four correct answers, he walked out of the room.

He did not realize or even consider that with larger coins and some practice, a person can control the flip. I would begin the flip with either heads or tails, as I needed up and then the flip would come down correctly. Having performed as a magician, I knew how to control the flip.

This instructor transferred from the training department to a job he was better suited for in math analysis. Now and then he would stop in and visit with me. Sometimes he would bring me a math problem from Scientific American. Sometimes the problems would stump me and other times I could come up with the answer when he could not. In those days we did not have the Internet, so could not just look up the answers.

One such question was how to use the number 4 twice (but no other numbers) and as many mathematical operators as you wish to write an expression that is equal to 64. I thought about it off and on during the day. That evening at home, I solved the problem after looking in the encyclopedia for how the mathematical operator factorial worked, which I could not remember.

The value of 64 is the numeral 4 cubed or raised to the 3rd power. The numeral 4! (factorial) is 1x2x3x4 or 24. Therefore, the numeral 4 raised to the 4! power would raise 4 to the 24th power. The square root of an exponent is half of the exponent. By taking the square root three times, it would reduce the exponent from 24th power to the 3rd power. The end result would be 64. If you have the Internet, you can look it up.

When I showed the friend the next day, he would not believe I was right. After the new Scientific American came out a month later, he admitted that I was right.

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