These original Kirt's Cogitations™ may be reproduced (no more than
5, please) provided proper credit is given to me, Kirt Blattenberger.
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Cog·i·ta·tion [koj-i-tey'-shun] – noun: Concerted thought or
reflection; meditation; contemplation.
Kirt [kert] – proper noun: RF Cafe webmaster.
SR3BMUN (NUMB3RS in Reverse)
you watched CBS's NUMB3RS? It is usually the
only television show that I try to watch each week. As the name suggests, it has a rather unique, geeky theme
where two brothers, one a career FBI crime fighter and the other a mathematical genius, work to solve Federal
crimes. Don Eppes is the gun-toting, head-busting leader of the team, while Charlie is a part-time consultant who
divides his time between helping his brother and teaching game theory at CalSci University, where he is head of
the mathematics department.
Charlie is an unassuming, humble, likeable super genius who would leave
Wile E. Coyote's
assessment of himself wanting for equivalent intelligence and, well, wile. With the sometimes assistance of his
number theory whiz student-turned-girlfriend-turned-fiancée and an increasingly eccentric astrophysics professor
mentor/friend, Charlie applies sophisticated mathematical principles to crime scene details to construct "likely
scenarios" that help Don and his FBI team get the bad guys. Initially skeptical of Professor Eppes' ability to use
his techniques to extract information from apparently (to the FBI members) unrelated and/or insignificant data,
even the most ardent Doubting Thomas quickly learns that Charlie's instincts and abilities are to be trusted.
Charlie is the grade curve busting kid in high school math class that always gets the word (aka story) problems
right, no matter how tough they are.
Whenever Don calls Charlie in for help, he arrives on the scene with
notebook computer in tow, and begins enthusiastically describing how path minimization can produce a
pursuit curve to most effectively locate
where a perpetrator might have been hiding during a shooting spree. Maybe he will suggest how chaos theory or
fluid dynamics can be used to deconstruct a bank robbery where hostages have been taken to locate and eliminate
the ring leader. FBI agents get a deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces and roll their eyes back in their
heads until Charlie realizes that what is obvious to him is not so clear to everyone else in the room. Now, FBI
agents are college graduates, and many have law degrees, but this level of cogitation exceeds the ability of mere
mortals to fully grasp.
is the point Charlie puts on his professor's cap and starts a layman's explanation with arms waving in the air,
beginning his elucidation with, "Imagine..." From there, diagrams are presented in the background that use
familiar objects and physical principles to demonstrate how his brainiac mathematical model will solve their case,
so everyone can live happily ever after. The example might be a spider determining the whereabouts of its captured
prey within the large web, or maybe how searching for an occupant of a sparsely populated region of space (a bowl
of fluffy popcorn) can be made simpler if some collection agent can bring all the members in closer proximity
without losing any suspects (pouring water on the popcorn to reduce its volume). Of course, an appropriate amount
of math equations with large Greek symbols, summation signs, and integral curves are superimposed on the visual
always thought it would be comical to produce a reverse version of the NUMB3RS theme, whereby a commoner finds the
need to use the parlance of a highly educated person in order to explain a simple principle by applying complex
explanations that the highbrow individual requires in order to comprehend.
It might go something like
Dr. Kantaleaver, presiding chair of the local Mensa chapter, notices that his Lexus is producing "an
aberrant audible emanation who's point of origin has been determined to be located in the engine compartment" (his
words). Dr. Kantaleaver holds Ph.D.s in both mechanical engineering and materials sciences, but being a busy and
important guy, does not have time to fix the problem himself, so he takes it to the dealer for repair. He had
always concerned himself with the theoretical aspects of engineering, not the practical side. Besides, the
lifetime warranty of his pricey SC09 convertible
precluded the need to ever own a wrench, so the smiling service manager assigns Bob to drive the good professor to
his university office while Larry the mechanic tends to the car.
Larry quickly hones in on the problem: the
water pump has failed. In less time than Dr. Kantaleaver can drink his large
Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccino® Light Blended, Larry has the old unit off and the new installed. Sure it is a bit
of a black eye for the water pump to fail on a Lexus so new the steer who's hide the leather seats are sewn from
is still warm, but the service is good. It is time to send Bob to pick up the customer.
Kantaleaver arrives, he naturally asks Larry what had been causing the noise. "The water pump crapped out on you,"
replied Larry. "Water pump?" says the prof quizzically. "Yeah, the bearing got busted, so I replaced it."
Realizing he was getting nowhere, our socket-spinning hero begins, "Imagine that you have a thermal mass that
needs to have its temperature maintained at a level not to exceed
366 kelvins. Due to the differential coefficients of expansion of the dissimilar metal alloys that comprise
the mass, higher temperatures will produces crystalline fractures and out of tolerance meshing between components
in relative motion within the volume. Such incongruities inexorably result in system deterioration - often
irreversible. If catastrophic failure is not experienced, then certainly metal fatigue and weakening of interface
mating facilitators will precipitate premature aging in accordance with
lifetime acceleration. Substituting the offending element with one which fully complies with the requirements
specified by the designers has resolved the deficiency." A broad smile appeared across the good professor's face.
"Well done," said he. Larry winked at the manager as Dr. Kantaleaver drove off, his long graying ponytail flapping
in the breeze.
Meanwhile, across town, neurosurgeon Dr. Broca (no relation to the famous
Paul Brocha) was having problems of his own. It
was not to be a good day for the Lexus brand, but that's why dealerships have service departments. In the middle
of the intersection, Dr. Broca's
GS Hybrid sat dead as a doornail.
Neither electric motor nor internal combustion engine could be coaxed into moving the beast. It was now in its
greenest possible mode of propulsion. The standard equipment OnStar system instantly placed a call to the central
office, whereupon a tow truck was dispatched to the scene, and a courtesy vehicle was delivered so that Dr. Broca
could complete his trip home after a full day of operating on brains.
Back at the shop, our man Larry
directed the tow truck to place the car in his service bay. With the aptitude that would make
Mr. Goodwrench himself seethe with envy, Larry used his crack
troubleshooting techniques and the diagnostic instruments to isolate the problem to the sensor connector going
into the car's primary computer. A squirt of
WD-40, and a couple mating/de-mating cycles later (to wipe the
contacts clean), and the little eco-friendly contraption was ready to resume saving the Earth. The service manager
suggest that Larry deliver the GS Hybrid to the doctor's personal residence as a gesture of quality service. He
Silently pulling into the granite-paved, U-shaped driveway (the GS was in electric-only mode),
Larry strode to the door. The man servant greeted Larry and told him he would find Dr. Broca in garage #4, packing
H2 for a cross-country vacation trek. Too far
away to walk in short order, Larry hopped back into the hybrid and motored over to the estate garage complex.
There, indeed, was Dr. Broca.
"Just a moment and I will open the door on garage #2. You can pull it in
there." As Larry was getting out of the car, the doctor inquired as to the cause of the malfunction. "Dirty
connector," said Larry. Dr. Broca tilted his head in confusion. By now, Larry knew the drill.
begins Larry, "that a patient presents in the ER exhibiting total lethargy of all limbs and extremities.
Sufficient brain activity is occurring to maintain primordial stem functions such as heartbeat and breathing, but
paralysis of voluntary motor senses are plenary. No external injuries are apparent. The 2-year-old patient has no
history of brain failure. Vital signs are normal, but the patient is nonresponsive to stimulus. You wire the
patient for an
EEG to determine the extent
of the damage. Without sufficient oxygenation brain cells begin to atrophy in mere minutes, and they do not
regenerate. Time is of the essence. Fortunately, breathing is normal so oxygen depravation is not an issue, but
you are trained to remember the dying brain cell thing anyway. It will come in handy another day.
machine comes to life and begins displaying critical information about your patient's brain activity. Synapses are
firing within the cortex, but there seems to be little activity at the spinal cord region. You immediately suspect
a deficiency of enzymes that transmit bodily function signals to the neuroreceptors of a healthy brain.
Remembering reading an article on the synapse facilitating enzyme Synaptojanin 1, you order a 10 cc syringe for
injection at the primary motor cortex site. Stat. The ER is tense as minutes pass. Almost miraculously, your young
patient springs to life and all is well again. The diagnosis was correct and the treatment successful. Your
emotions swing wildly back and forth between near panic and exuberance. Today, science has won. Tomorrow will
bring a new challenge. You wheel the patient out to greet her parents. In celebration, they are going on a
Two happy customers in one day. Not bad.
Bob had followed behind Larry to pick him up
after dropping off the doctor's car, forgetting that Larry could drive the loaner back on his own. By now, though,
it is 6 o'clock, so they head for the tavern. There will be some good stories to tell tonight.
Copyright: Kirt Blattenberger,
BSEE, UVM 1989.