Numbers and mailing out cards

A week ago last Saturday, I opened the Independent Newspaper to the Opinion (editorial) page to find the statement: “Here’s an oddity: The number 243 is a prime number, divisible by three.”

It made me wonder if one of my 11,000+ former pupils would write in to explain that 243 is not a prime number, but rather is a composite number being a product of more than two counting numbers, each greater than 1. For example, 4 is a product of 2×2. If there is only one counting number greater than 1, then the number is a prime. So, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11 are primes (being evenly divisible by only 1 and itself), whereas 4 = 2×2, 6 = 2×3, 8 = 2x2x2, 9 = 3×3, 10 = 2×5 are all composite.

One of the mathematicians from over 2,300 years ago, Euclid, recorded a proof of what has come to be called The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic that states that every integer greater than 1 is either a prime number or can be represented as the product of prime numbers in a unique way. 243 can be written as 3x3x3x3x3 (3 to the power of 5). That is 243 is evenly divisible by 3, 9, 27, 81, and 243.

Furthermore, Euclid showed that there are an infinite number of primes even though they seem to be scarcer when we get to larger numbers. For example, the first ten prime numbers are: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, a span of 28; whereas the ten prime numbers greater than 200 are; 211, 223, 227, 233, 239, 241, 251, 257, 263, 269, a span of 58.

Not a lot is known about Euclid, neither his exact dates of birth and death or even anything more than that he was called Euclid and that he lived in Alexandria (a Greek city now part of Egypt), hence he was labeled Euclid of Alexandria living there from about 323 BCE to 283 BCE. BCE means Before the Common Era, also thought of as BC, Before Christ. CE refers to the Common Era also thought of as AD, Anno Domini, year of the Lord.

One of the interesting things about counting is that the years of about 2020 years ago are currently numbered: …3BCE, 2BCE, 1BCE, 1CE, 2CE, 3CE… Note that there is no “zero” year.


Going back a bit, the quote I started with was written to emphasize the primacy of what happened 243 years ago: The writing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence. To me, the Declaration of Independence is a document so much more important than the U.S. Constitution which was written some 13 years later (1789) with the Bill of Rights added two years after that. The Declaration inspired our forefathers to secure independence from our oppressors at the time.


As I did in the first part of this column, I get to thinking about what I read somewhere and feel compelled to jot something down on paper. Then at other times, I get these sometimes weird ideas and wonder if someone has researched what I am thinking about and knows whether it is true or not. That happened to me several days ago.

I have a list of birthdays and anniversaries of both relatives and other folks whom I know and happen to have come upon those important dates related to them. Coming from a very small family and living so far from my closest relatives like siblings, nieces, nephews, even children and grandchildren, I do try to at least keep up with communications by snail mail.

It has seemed like cheating if I sit down at the computer and use email (or, heaven forbid, Facebook) to do that communicating.

I come by some of that naturally, learned from my parents. My normal Saturday is to write each of the three kids (and families) a snail mail, getting it to the Marshall Post Office around noon or so – in time that it goes out on Saturday rather than its not getting out of town until Monday.

For almost forty years, I bought the Christmas stamps early enough and mailed the season’s greetings so that the envelopes got postmarked with what is known as a First Day of Issue Cancellation. That often meant getting the greetings written and mailed by October. I did give that up about five years ago, but I do try to get birthday and anniversary messages out to arrive just before the appropriate day.

The other day I noticed that I was low on both some birthday cards as well as some anniversary cards — so off to get some. It was so easy to find lots of clever birthday cards – yes I prefer they be a little humorous – maybe they would bring a smile. But I was not so lucky on the anniversary cards. I did find some, BUT…

It made me wonder if maybe not many anniversary cards get sent anymore. I think I remember them being more plentiful. And here comes my weird thoughts:

Are fewer cards needed because so many couples seem to just be together rather than being married? Are some people afraid to send anniversary cards thinking that maybe so-and-so has gotten divorced since last heard from? Is longevity in a marriage a bit passé?

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!