SR3BMUN (NUMB3RS in Reverse)
Have you watched
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
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.
That 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 props.
I 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
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.
When Dr. 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
Arrhenius 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
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 agreed.
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 the 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.
"Imagine," 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.
The EEG 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 vacation.
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
Kirt Blattenberger, BSEE, UVM 1989.
Posted May 23, 2009