September 2005 Archives

Still on Assignment Here...


Update on the situation regarding the professor. Today I was handed a copy of his "final report". It was his previous report with one short chapter appended, containing his results from the most recent series of tests. He neglected to add this additional chapter to the table of contents, alas. Sloppy work.

This is the report that contains the equation derived from expressions that are true only in the limit as the Mach number approaches infinity, an equation which is therefore true only in the limit of infinitely strong shocks, in which case his equation is true by virtue of both sides of the equation being equal to infinity. In mathematics we call this a meaningless result. This is the equation which he then applies to shocks of Mach number, say, 2.

After confidently stating in the meeting described here that "the data supports this", alas, he has included no supporting data in this final chapter. Why? Because far from supporting him, the data proves him wrong. Is he likely to admit this? Never. He's something like seventy years old, and this may be the first time in his life he's been wrong about anything, and the possibility just does not compute. He's going to retire next June (yippee!) and he'll go to his grave believing he was right.

[Update: I saw the data. The professor's predictions were off by more than 10,000 percent. He was claiming accuracy to within a few percent, so nyah nyah or words to that effect.]

temporarily assigned to this planet


I'm going to turn now from posting about injustice and suffering in the world to focus on moi and the petty aggravations of my daily life. This is brought on by a meeting yesterday in which I was, of course, the only woman present, as is almost always the case.

I was also the only mathematician in the room, and was doubling as the only physicist, since we have no physicist involved in the project being discussed. Results of some experimental work were being presented by a very "famous"-- using the term in the limited context of academia-- prof. of electrical engineering. Not a mathematician. Not a physicist. Take note. He is "famous" largely for having invented a methodology a long time ago that was effective and which he successfully marketed here and abroad.

Long story short. He was trying to use this methodology in some experiments in which the methodology failed, so he tried modifying it in a way that was bogus. The reason I know it was bogus is that he provided a "mathematical proof" of this new method in the form of some thirty pages of hand-written notes, faxed, and a lengthy section of a report lifted from a book on shock waves by Zel'dovich and Raizer, which I just happen to own.

His "proof" was fine for about the first 29 pages, until he made a simple substitution, came up with a final equation, and wrote Q.E.D. with a smiley face next to it. The substitution he made is valid only in the limit as the Mach number of a shock approaches infinity, and he was using this equation to examine shocks of Mach number 2 or 3, so...

So I objected, and he looked at me as though a department store mannequin had just questioned him, a famous professor of electrical engineering. I persisted. I invented examples that, to me, were intuitively obvious. He dismissed my objections repeatedly, although I was, gradually, winning over the rest of the people sitting around the table. That was my goal, because I knew I could never in a million years convince the prof that he was wrong.

The rest of the people were scientists or engineers, some PhDs, some masters, but none were mathematicians, so I knew I couldn't start writing equations because everyone would tune me out. I had to fall back on simple logic: explaining the ludicrous corollaries that would follow if his assumption were true.

At such times I know that to convince listeners, I have to overcome my being a woman, my being blonde, and my being an American--a woman with a Russian or German accent is much more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. The professor can wave his hands and talk bullshit and everybody will think "wow this guy sounds smart; he totally lost me; he's talking way over my head", while I have to use such simple logic that everyone can follow it, so they will forget what I look like and follow my logic and listen to what I say. At such times I feel so utterly mismatched, mind and body, that I sometimes feel there are no other people on the planet like me.

Sitting there, arguing my case, suffering from congestion due to allergies, an odd thought passed through my mind: I'm allergic to this planet; I'm going to request a transfer.

This thought was so ridiculously comforting that I held it throughout the meeting: I'm on temporary assignment on this planet, and I'm going to request a transfer. In fact I held the thought throughout the day, and it made my job immensely more enjoyable.

At home last night I missed my late husband. The camaraderie we shared as mathematicians was the best part of a difficult relationship. My husband, as an Aspie, was way more out of touch with the planet than I, but when it came to mathematics, we enjoyed the ability to talk to one another about our work. I could have written the professor's equation on a piece of paper and shown it to my husband, and he would have rocked back and forth with laughter at the stupidity.

But he's gone, and my son has rejected mathematics, despite, as I'm sure I've mentioned here before, probably more than once, obtaining a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT. *sigh* So there is no longer anyone with whom I can share my frustration. I tell the dog: Saint! Prof. K assumed C was zero! lol! Can you imagine that?! And Saint looks at me and I know he's thinking: Throw the ball! THROW THE BALL!

So I throw the ball, and it's okay and I'm happy, because my job on this planet is just a temporary assignment, after all.

Being poor


peering into my crystal ball...


...I see a presidential medal of freedom in the future for "Michael Brown, the blithering idiot in charge of FEMA - a job he trained for by running something called the International Arabian Horse Association"

UPDATE: Heh, I just took a look at Eschaton and I see Atrios had this same thought 58 minutes before I did.

Family Ties


Watching the news last night, I saw Bush with Papa Bush and Clinton in the Oval Office--the meeting is shown in the picture accompanying this article in the NY Times. NY Times is registration required, so here's the picture:

In this picture Bush has just finished making the announcement that he has asked Papa Bush and Clinton to raise funds for hurricane relief. After he finished speaking he turned to Clinton and shook his hand briefly, then he turned to his father and barely touched his hand, while seeming not to make eye contact; he was already heading toward the door. Brrr... seemed very frosty. Made me curious as to what had passed between them. After W walked out, Clinton went over to Papa Bush and put his arm around his shoulders, as if to say "Kids--what are you gonna do?"

The frustration of having useless skills


Useless for such a time as this. Every time some disaster happens I want to help. I don't want to just donate money--I want to go there, to work 24 hours a day, to bring relief in any way I can. But all I can do is make a pathetic donation to the Red Cross.

I'm not a doctor, a nurse, an EMT, or any other kind of medical professional. I'm not a construction worker or a rescue swimmer or a helicopter pilot. I don't own a boat for rescuing people or a big truck for hauling water or debris. I'm reasonably fit but not strong. In short, I'd just be in the way.

And when it comes to rebuilding, I have no skills at all. I can pound nails and paint, I suppose. If the call goes out for volunteers to paint in New Orleans, I'll be there.

relief organizations


the company I work for has posted a long list of relief organizations on its website. (About 150 employees of the company were in the affected area and the company is still trying to track them all down.) I thought I'd post the list here:

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA is taking the lead role in coordinating relief efforts. The agency is posting information about the storm on its Web site at FEMA (

Voluntary organizations are seeking cash donations to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in Gulf Coast states, according to Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response. But volunteers should not report directly to the affected areas unless directed by a voluntary agency.

State Relief
State responses are being coordinated by the following organizations:

Louisiana Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (
Louisiana Governor's Office (
City of New Orleans (

The relief effort is still being hampered by flooding in some areas. Up-to-date information can be found at these web sites:

National Weather Service (
National Weather Service Hydrologic Information Center (river flooding only) ( )
The American Red Cross ( opened a telephone hotline on Sunday to receive for donations from citizens. The number is 1-800-435-7669. Also, the Red Cross shelter information for Louisiana is available by calling 1-800-469-4828.

Other Relief Organizations Soliciting Donations
Catholic Charities (
Episcopal Relief and Development (
Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (
Salvation Army (
United Methodist Committee on Relief (

The Salvation Army's Team Emergency Radio Network ( was taking requests for information on the welfare and status of loved ones in the hurricane area at its web site.

As of 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, August 31, the Federal Aviation Administration ( reported that airports had been closed in New Orleans; Baton Rouge; Mobile, Ala.; Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss.; and Pensacola, Fla. Major delays were expected at other airports in the Southeast and the domino effect from them could spread all the way across the country.

Phone Numbers Set Up Solely for Cash Donations and/or Volunteers

Donate cash to:

American Red Cross
1-800-HELP NOW (435-7669) English
1-800-257-7575 Spanish

UPDATE RIGHT HERE: Operation Blessing is nut-case Pat Robertson's Virginia-based outfit. See here. The company obviously cut and pasted this list from FEMA's.

I'm just going to delete the rest of the list and point you to The Whiskey Bar. Billmon does a better job, with links.

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