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Your Funniest Moment When Distracted by a Hard Problem

  1. Oct 17, 2006 #1

    berkeman

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    I think many of us share the characteristic that when we get deeply involved in solving a hard problem (whether in math, physics, engineering or whatever), we tend to fuzz out on the world around us and get tunnel vision on the problem and possible solutions. You have to be careful to not do this while driving of course, but in other situations it can result in some funny moments. Here are my top three. How about yours?

    -- I was part of a team working on figuring out a problem in one of our products that we were trying to release for first sales (turned out to be a complicated chemistry problem in the formulation of components for an electronics product), and we were working continuous 70-hour plus weeks working on many different experiments and angles to try to fix the problem and ship the product for revenue. I was intently reading some of my test data in a 3-ring binder that I was carrying as I walked briskly from a meeting on the 2nd floor to get back to the lab on the first floor. But I wasn't paying enough attention to the walking part, and when I got to the stairs I basically walked off the edge of the top stair and out into the air. I realized something was wrong when my next footfall didn't make any contact, and I looked up to realize that I was flying through the air headed down the stairwell with both hands wrapped around my important binder. My first thought was just "Oh rats, I'm going to lose my place!" And then I came to my senses and realized that if I didn't do something real quick, I was going to hit the stairs mostly chest-first and tumble, which seemed like it would be a bad thing. I managed to reach out and grab the handrail in time to modify my impact and get a foot down, so I was not hurt and the binder was not scattered too badly. Important note to self -- do not combine reading and running down stairs!

    -- (the last two are less dangerous) I had been working on a difficult uC chip/firmware/process problem for weeks, including many weekends. I was at work one Saturday working mostly in the lab, and a little in my office just down the hallway from the lab. There was a water cooler in the hallway -- the kind with the 5 gallon clear plastic jug inverted on the water dispenser, and a trash can for throwing away the blue plastic covers that seal the jug tops until they are ready for use. I often would change the jug when it got emptied, and this Saturday as I was walking down the hall I noticed in my fog that the water jug was empty. So I removed the empty jug from the dispenser, picked up a full jug from the adjacent rack, pulled the blue plastic cover piece off the end of the jug, tossed that cover piece into the water cooler dispenser top, turned the water jug upside down and started emptying it into the trash can! I quickly pulled out of my fog and realized that I had gotten the last two steps backwards. Doh!

    -- Here recently at work I was working on yet another difficult combination uC hardware/firmware problem debug, and was even more distracted by it than normal. There is a small cantina on my floor that is adjacent to the main printer/copier machine room. One day I was thinking several levels down in the problem while I gathered up my lunchtime sandwich fixings onto a paper plate and headed down to the cantina to make the sandwich and microwave it for lunch. I walked in my fog down to the cantina, through the cantina and ended up in front of the big printer/copy machine. I stood there in front of the machine for a few moments, not really seeing anything except the math and simulations and whatnot that I was working on in front of my foggy eyes. As I realized that the scenery was no longer moving by and pulled back out of my fog, I was puzzled for a moment about how I was going to fix my sandwich using the copy machine. I was trying to figure out how I could fit the sandwich under the copy machine lid and get a good copy of it without wasting too much toner. And then I finally shook my head and realized where I was and how I probably should use the microwave oven instead of the copier to heat my sandwich. :rolleyes:
     
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  3. Oct 17, 2006 #2

    brewnog

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    A while back, shortly after I started my design placement, I started having vivid Pro Engineer dreams. I just couldn't stop rotating components in my mind, and zooming in and out. They got so bad I started trying to mentally manipulate everyday objects; I'd be making a cup of tea and trying to put datum planes on the kettle. Or I'd be getting into my car and trying to figure out a good sweep path to put my key into the ignition.
     
  4. Oct 17, 2006 #3

    Astronuc

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    I've done something similar.

    and while driving - missed the turn to go home or to work.

    We had a professor at university who allegedly fell into an open manhole one time while walking along a sidewalk reading a newspaper. It apparently happened before I attended that university.

    I do get involved in a problem, and time just goes by before I realize it.

    Lately, I've been working on some critical calculations and it's not so much hard as stressful. Lots of folks are waiting for an answer - and it has to be right. So I have to worry about the raw data, accuracy of input (translated from data), reliability of model (new one with limited testing), reasonableness of the output - and millions of dollars riding on the answer.
     
  5. Oct 17, 2006 #4

    Danger

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    I do minor stuff like that on a distressingly regular basis. The most recent one was when I phoned a client last week to arrange a payment. I sat there for close to 20 seconds wondering why the hell I wasn't getting a ring tone, then realized that I'd dialled it on my calculator instead of the phone. :rolleyes:
    The one that I really remember, because it hurt like crazy, was when I was a kid. I was concentrating on something (probably reading a good book), and I got my straw and my cigarette mixed up. Inhaled about half a teaspoon of Coke before I caught on. :eek:

    edit: Oops! I just realized what that last one might sound like. It was Coca Cola.
     
  6. Oct 17, 2006 #5

    brewnog

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    You must have been being really stupid there (who, you?! :tongue2:), since the numbers on a calculator and the numbers on a phone are the opposite way round!

    I managed to really wind up our senior apps engineer the other day by removing all the number keys from his computer keyboard, and rearranging them like how they're laid out on a phone. Some bending moment calculations came out very wrong!
     
  7. Oct 17, 2006 #6

    Danger

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    In a lot of instances, too true.:biggrin:
    The fact is, though, that I'm somewhat dislexic when it comes to numbers. Even when I'm doing my cash-outs, I have to break each number down into separate 'syllables' to avoid transposing the digits, and then look at the calculator to make sure I'm hitting the right keys. It's really quite irritating. I never even notice which side up the keys are arranged in. :redface:
    Good prank, man... as long as he caught on before submitting the results.
     
  8. Oct 17, 2006 #7
    This happened to me when I was junior in high school during a physics class. I was a whiz at physics and math, always ahead of my class mates. I never studied because I already new 95% of the whole meterial. Anyways, during another lecture, whch I chose to ignore again I delved into my own world.

    I started calculating the strength of magnetic field of the electromagnet I was building. My dad brought roughly 2000 ft of electrical cable from work for free. I remember I did intense calcuations, with different turns, and radii. I was punching the calculator like crazy, and drawing schematics and diagrams. In meantime, the teacher was lecturing.

    Now this is the part that freaked my out, I completly lost the sense of time, and surroundings. I had no idea, teacher calling on me saying "are you all right?" I had no idea, my whole class was looking at me, and giggling. I was in a trans. But then, I realized something wasn't right, like too much time have passed, so I snapped back to reality, and the whole class burst into laughter. I was like "what?" and found notebook pages full of calculations scattered around my desk.

    To this day when I think about it, it freaks me out. No doubt, I did very productive work, it felt smooth and completly detached from reality.
     
  9. Oct 17, 2006 #8
    I tend to pull lame sex-related jokes when I'm trying to do such things. The people around me find it extreemely irritating.
     
  10. Oct 17, 2006 #9

    Evo

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    Uhm, Greg, maybe we should have known about this BEFORE we made berkeman a mentor? :bugeye:

    <joking> :biggrin:
     
  11. Oct 17, 2006 #10

    berkeman

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    Oopsies. Um, more coffee!!? :blushing:
     
  12. Oct 17, 2006 #11
    Congrats on becoming a PF mentor berkeman! Well deserved.

    OMG. Too funny Danger! That had to be so funny when you realized you were pressing numbers on the calculator. I love those realization moments.


    So, this one time I was working on solving this math problem that I just couldnt figure out. I decided I should just post it on PF and get some help, but before I did that I went to the kitchen to get something to eat. I decided that I didn't want to really make anything, so I chose cereal. I got some cereal, sat down in front of my computer, ate it, and started to type up the problem. As I was typing it in, I figured out what I was missing so I started back at the problem with this new thought in my head. Then all of a sudden I was like, oh my god... so I ran back into the kitchen.

    I put the cereal box in the refrigerator, and the milk in the cupboard. :)
     
  13. Oct 17, 2006 #12

    Evo

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    Don't forget the Amaretto creamer. :approve:
     
  14. Oct 17, 2006 #13
    Gotcha all beat.

    Fifth 36 hour work session (programming) in a row. Drive home (two minute drive). Pass out. Wake up. Clock says eight or something else resembling morning. Shower. Feel like hell even after more than 12 hours sleep. Get in car. Drive out of parking lot directly into sunrise. Think, "Wow, that's a pretty cool looking sunrise even if it usually is on the other side of the sky." Wait at stoplight thinking about Newton Rafeson convergence optimization for some nasty exponentials. Drive another 100 meters before realizing it's 8:00 PM, not AM.
     
  15. Oct 17, 2006 #14
    Say, this topic isvery close to one I was considering starting.

    I wrote a near future SF micro story that sort of captures this whole mindset, and was debating what to do with it when I was done. It'd be about three pages in a paperback (1800 words).

    Should I post the text here, provide a link to it elsewhere, or skip the entire idea? I haven't seen anyone else posting any fiction here, but some science types are notorius for reading that sort of thing. The phrase "inhaled by the palette-load" (Snow Crash) comes to mind.
     
  16. Oct 17, 2006 #15

    Evo

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    Start a journal, that's where people usually put stories.
     
  17. Oct 17, 2006 #16

    berkeman

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    :rofl: :rofl: That's definitely a classic. "even if it usually is on the other side of the sky..." :rofl: :rofl:
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2006
  18. Oct 17, 2006 #17
    hahaha nice
     
  19. Oct 18, 2006 #18

    Danger

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    You couldn't have told him that in person? What kind of engagement is this, anyhow? (And I'm starting to suspect that the bugger is after my badge. :biggrin: )
    Twister, if you do post your story in a journal, please inform me. I've never read one of those, so I'd miss it without notification.
     
  20. Oct 18, 2006 #19
    One time I was thinking about perfect numbers while crossing the street, when I suddenly had some kind of neat idea, and I stopped in the middle of the street to think about it.

    Very nearly got hit by a car.
     
  21. Oct 18, 2006 #20

    Danger

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    Are you going to brew it in the paper shredder?
     
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