22 May 2008

Radar for English Majors

When I was at Maryland (and maybe still now) a few courses were offered to try to lure people from in other disciplines. Our general name for these was Physics for Poets. I took one and enjoyed it. IIRC, it was a the physics glass that involves dipping a rose in liquid nitrogen and then smashing it on the counter. Or maybe I just heard a lot about that one. It's been a while.

Anyway, this week at work we had what I've been calling "Radar for English Majors." Greg inherited the job of organizing our noontime lecture series which is sort of continuing education for the technical staff. Over the past year or so he has arranged for speakers from various disciplines from both inside and outside the company to present a (half-hour, 45-minute + question period) talk to the MATLAB crowd, who consume company-purchased pizza and learn something.

Normally, these fly right past me because: 1) I'm not supposed to eat pizza any more; and 2) the subject matter would be way over my head. I mean, come on, half the time here I don't understand the titles of the projects let alone the engineering/physics/math behind them.

But they got me with this one because they were clever enough to phrase the invite thus:

Dear Silver Spring and the Navy Yard:

The noontime lecture for the month of May will be presented by [senior staffer] and [brilliant, talented not-as-senior staffer, who reads this blog] of TSC's Silver Spring office.

Details follow:

Title: Monopulse 101 [substitute for actual title. I like working here.]
Speakers: [Senior Guy] and [Not-as-Senior Woman]
Date: Monday, 19 May 2008
Time: 12 noon to 1 PM
Location: 8th Floor Conference Room, Silver Spring office.


We plan to present the topic at the Radar 101 Level and include a flashy engineering tool demonstration. We hope this forum will attract a broader audience and result in a lecture that is both interesting and entertaining. As such we would like to extend a special invitation to everyone, but especially the Corporate Staff to participate in this Radar-over-Lunch session.*

* Perhaps we should call these RAP sessions, that is, "Radar And Pizza".

Needless to say (and yet I am saying it because that's just how I am), I am a member of the Corporate Staff. But I am also a dilettante and I can find prett' near any subject interesting for 15 minutes or so. And because there was a piece of wedding cake on my desk Monday, I already knew that I was having a gluten cigarette, so I might as well have the pizza, too. So! Learning something and flouting the rules. It's too much happiness.

I have attended educational experiences that were outside of my official "area of information" before. Like the time that I was visiting Larry down in Tallahassee and sat in on his contracts class at the law school. I didn't understand everything, of course, but it was pretty spiffy to watch him get all pedagogical in a setting other than a G&S rehearsal.

And we did hit on something I actually knew. The question that he asked the class involved placing restrictions on a check. From the Introduction to Banking class I had taken a few years before (no, really), I knew that restrictions written on a check by the payer (eg, this check not valid until or unless or some condition had been met) are not legally enforceable. In my banking class I was taught that this is - very generally, of course - because bank managers have no interest in enforcing your outside conditions. Checks are "demand instruments."

Okay, so I could have answered the question and for an instant I considered raising my hand. Then it occurred to me that Larry would call on me, would allow me to answer the question, and then would say "Yes, that is correct. Now, as you remember from last week's reading, ...." and then he would ask me a follow-up question that I would have no possible way of answering. So I kept my hands in my lap. Not always as dumb as I look, am I?

So my goal for this lecture was to listen carefully, learn what I could, and not embarrass the Corporate section. I got there a couple of minutes early in order to snag both a good seat and some sausage pizza (my favorite). I was, in fact, sitting right next to Not as Senior Staffer which meant that I could share my pizza with her and could benefit from any stray muttered comments she might make.

And thus began the lesson. Knowing that there were accountants and admin folks in the room, the presenters actually did keep it pretty easy to understand with a reasonable amount of engineer-specific terminology.* Even so, I understood about one sentence in three and would nod when I got something.

Sort of like when I was in France about five years ago. Theresa, Howard, Les, and I went to church mass and as I had been in the country about a week, my "French ear" was more or less up to speed, so I understood about a third of what I heard. Sermons Homilies are really good for ear training because the priest speaks fairly slowly, so I was doing even better than usual until we got the point were he implored us to avoid peaches. This seemed odd to me (as it might to you, depending on how you feel about peaches) so after mass I double checked the word in my French-English dictionary which David thoughtfully gave me before I left on the trip.

Ahhhh. Yes. Pêche does mean peach. It is also (as pêcher) a verb meaning "to fish." And - more to the point - péché is also a verb meaning "sin."

So in the same spirit of learn what I can, try not to get too much wrong information, I did a reasonable amount of nodding. And was grateful when one of the accountants asked a fairly basic question that I thought I understood because when my interpretation was confirmed and I did my little headbob, Not So Senior Woman leaned over and whispered "which you knew." And I did!

So now I know a little bit more about radar and what some of our acronyms mean, I was duly impressed with the flashing engineering tools which has some of the same properties as the sort of flashy computer tools you see on crime dramas, I had a yummy lunch, and I didn't embarrass the Corporate side.

Not bad for a Monday lunch.

*Did you know that while Delta is represented thus: Δ, double Delta is represented so Δð. I didn't, but I do now. I'm looking for opportunities to use this new knowledge.**

** Hmmmm. Another engineer told me that Δð means "delta difference." Perhaps I will seek out further information before I start tossing that around. Perhaps I won't.

*** I can see why my father is not a Catholic if he might have thought they would inveigh against fishing. Better safe than sorry and not allowed to fish.


Anonymous said...

Um, actually it looks like what you have there is delta-eth, which would represent the change in the number of Saxons.

Bill said...


"2) the subject matter would be way over my head."

Leta, do you still have my copy of _Godel_Escher_Bach_?

Bill said...

It suddenly occurred to me that my previous comment could be taken two ways... to clarify, I'm saying that I don't believe there is anything "way over" Leta's head (and I do wonder where my copy of GEB has got to...).

Helen said...

Hey 1/3 sentences is not bad :) And really it's all about the pretty pictures anyway. Does make me wonder what you would have said if you didn't know I read your blog...

Leta said...

Does make me wonder what you would have said if you didn't know I read your blog...

Oh, I would have been more flattering, but I would hate for that to go to your head. :-)

Anonymous said...

I believe that you have confused ð (latin small letter eth - used write Old English, like thorn) and δ (Greek small letter delta - simply a lower case greek letter) I MAY have inherited my father's pickiness over typographic nicities.
(Reply to this)

Leta said...

Yes, Simon, you're right, I did. Good. That makes me feel better because Senior Guy really did say "Double Delta" a few times during the talk.