html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I'll leave overshot gates as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'll leave overshot gates as an exercise for the reader.

Via LGM:

...Dana Perino on women in defense:

Some of the terms I just don’t know, I haven’t grown up knowing. The type of missiles that are out there: patriots and scuds and cruise missiles and tomahawk missiles. And I think that men just by osmosis understand all of these things, and they’re things that I really have to work at — to know the difference between a carrier and a destroyer, and what it means when one of those is being launched to a certain area.

because men do have an inborn understanding of the difference between a Tu-95 "Bear" and a Tu-160 "Blackjack".

Dude. It took me forever to learn what everything meant in irrigation. It was so hard. I didn't know. I didn't know what was a category and what was a specific name, so that if you misspoke you were actually conveying something else. I wasn't sure what was a brand name and what was a model type. People weren't consistent! Different growers would call the same thing different things. People would say the same thing, but mean different things. "Foot" could be a volume of water (the implied area is an acre or maybe the field we were standing in, whatever), or a flow (short for cubic foot per second), or the pressure (vertical height unimpeded water would rise to for that lbs/square inch). I couldn't always tell what the speaker meant.

It always seemed like the men in my class knew. How did they know? I'd be confused and puzzling it out, but they were just moving on. Should I ask? Would everyone know that I didn't understand a thing about it?

Few things saved me. First, my irrigation professor would ask those kinds of questions. Front of a whole group of students, my professor who'd been in the field for decades, one of the top four or five people in the world at water projects, would ask the speaker what he meant. If there were a couple different interpretations, my professor would openly and immediately interrupt and ask. Oh thank god. If he could ask, so could I.

Second, I knew my problem wasn't 'cause I was a girl. My problem was that I was from L.A.. I didn't know how irrigation systems worked because I didn't work with them my whole life. There wasn't boy-magic to knowing this. You don't absorb the names of sprinkler systems through your cock. There wasn't any reason I couldn't know them, once they were taught to me.

Finally, it took me a little while to catch on*, but at least in water, things are often called things for a reason. Side-arm gates are radial gates, because they swing out from a radius or side-arm. Undershot gates are gates that water goes under. I wasn't always right, but the names could get me started.

In the end, I learned it. That was all it took, learning and repetition. The other thing I learned is that I don't fuck around with self-doubt and confusion any more. Those boys that just understood and nodded and moved on with the speaker? A couple of them were competition for the highest grade in our classes. Sometimes. Now, though, I ask. All the time. Soon as I don't understand something, I ask right away. If my professor could ask the most basic questions, so can I. I know it startles people when I ask like a four-year-old "what does that word mean?" "I don't understand, how does that work?" "I still don't understand. Could you please sketch what you're saying?" I occasionally get patronized for that. But never for long.

*Until I finally caught on, I was using brute force memorization. That's a pretty good technique for me, but it all got easier once I understood the family relations. Oh, those gates are all cousins because they rotate the same. Oh, anything that water flows over is a weir, and can also be other things too.

UPDATE: BobVis!! Comment policy! I will let all y'all know when it changes back. Mark, you're killing me...


Blogger bobvis said...

It's easy to see someone else's competence and feel there is something magical and mysterious about it. This is understandable because...we don't understand it yet. Why shouldn't it seem like magic?

Related prior feeling, recently debunked:
Women absorb fashion knowledge through their vaginas.

By the way, kudos to you for sticking with it. Most people convince themselves they aren't really interested rather than put in the work to overcome an initial handicap relative to others.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ate oatmeal for lunch today. Again! For the 30th day in a row. I still like the way it tastes! I cooked it in the microwave; if there was a stove in the kitchnette at work, I would eat steel-cut oats.

When I was a teenager, I started reading the novels of Tom Clancy, where you would learn a lot of these terms. So I tend to agree with Perino that some boys do learn defense-type terms by osmosis. But it only gets you so far; terms are not concepts are not overall strategy are not wise policy.

Megan, I couldn't agree more strongly about the need for people to clarify terms. It always helps you learn and sometimes you learn something that was more important, but tangentially involved with the original subject.

Now that I will have a daughter soon, I will teach her about everything, including irrigation.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Shane said...

My experience is that people like it when I ask those basic sorts of questions. I thought about this for a while and I decided that's because the people of whom I was asking were very, very smart, and for very smart people asking those sorts of questions indicates that I myself am smart, presumably because smart people don't worry whether other people will think they are stupid for asking questions.

With this conclusion in hand, I was wondering if the practice would have the opposite effect in a group of less-smart people, because less-smart people think the smartest thing you can do is to act smart all the time, which means you have to pretend like you already know everything.

I have no idea if this is true, but it's my working hypothesis.

(I am also assuming that this counts as a personal experience, as per the policy.)

3:25 PM  
Blogger Justus said...

When the snow fell last night
It reflected the lamps' street light
Turning night into day.
The snow covered ground
Became a molten mound
of recycled golden rays.

It kept me awake.
But I like it, for some reason, and never close the blinds in my bedroom.

It is unfortunate, but seemingly universal, that the more you know about something the more willing you are to ask questions about what you don't know. Too bad it doesn't work the other way around.

I know that "Tu" means Tupolev but that comes from playing Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain many years ago. That was when video games came with manuals that you actually had to read. Some game manuals, like the Battle of Britain, were essentially mini-history lessons cleverly disguised as game accoutrements.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Outside my window white blossoms blow off the trees like snow, though it never snows here and I'm still stuck inside.

Man--this is like playing Mother-May-I? Sorry that came out critical, when I just meant it's arduous--like the other childhood game of having to raise your hand to go potty--when you just want to get off your one-liner...

You don't absorb the names of sprinkler systems through your cock.
But isn't that traditionally how farm boys get to know their livestock?

No, that's not a personal experience either, so I hope it doesn't invalidate the comment.

I hope that joke wasn't why Mark got in trouble.

4:04 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

Aaack! *I* don't have experiences! I only have thoughts!

Ok, is this one?

I wore my dorkiest available sweater today for Mr. Roger's birthday. The weather widget on my ibook reported 25 degrees to me, so I thought this might be a good idea anyway. Somehow it ended up pretty warm.

Oh, and I recovered my bicycle pump that I left on the bus two days ago!! I thought it was lost because they usually leave that stuff in the downtown office, but it was sitting on the dashboard of the bus home when I got in today.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just learned that when I lean back in my office chair, I can fall over. Like a 3 year old, I just bonked my head...

So... I don't have a question about what girls know or don't know... since I have a friend who has a Phd. in Military History of Medieval Warfare. She's the girl that get's all excited about the new trebouchet she's building.

The question I have, is why would a press secretary at the White House, act like she doesn't know. Even IF you don't know, you dissemble, you don't NEED to say you don't know. This just seems to be stupid to me.

On the other hand, seems like something you would want to know a little bit about. In a time of war, when you work for the Commander in Chief...


10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you watch the Colbert report? It was all about water last night. -A

7:49 AM  
Blogger Louis said...

So when I was a kid, we had creeks and irrigation ditches all over the place. Some friends and I, being the industrious people that we are, would occasionally build a little dam in some out of the way ditch, that would make a pond to swim in, or just wash out with the next high water. One day, though, we decided to go for the gold and started damming up Finley Creek...

Needless to say, there were phone calls going out all around the community in a little while about why the water levels were dropping in Finley Creek and in danger of burning out irrigation pumps and such. They found us, and we got a good talking to, but I think that they understood it.

We were all probably 7 or 8, and it was a really good dam, considering that all that we had to work with was a few pieces of fallen trees and a bunch of rocks from the creek.

I still laugh.

So anyway, regarding your post, a lot of those guys in the class probably didn't know either, or were fuzzy on it. They just didn't want to appear ignorant, or thought that it might become clear later. I have been absolutely amazed how often this happens. I used to not ask so many questions, and leave a lecture asking people what something meant. A lot of them, usually, didn't know! One day, I said "screw this, I'm asking questions, I don't care what people think". I've never looked back :D

Regarding gender based knowlege...
Guys tend to talk to guys about things of interest. If you're in a rural area, irrigation is a thing of interest. Sports and mechanical and military things are things of interest. It's hard not to learn some stuff by osmosis. It does break down by gender some too. The men where I grew up definitely knew more about the irrigations systems, on average, than the women.

Women, likewise, pick up stuff by talking to each other that men are often very ignorant of.

7:59 AM  
Blogger scott said...

You do absorb knowledge about knot-tying through your cock, though. It's true. My scoutmaster taught me all about it back when...

Oh. Never mind. Man, do I feel stupid.

Let me reassure you that your point is valid. I know nothing whatsoever about irrigation and I am a thundering maelstrom of masculinity and male virility. So, it must not be a guy thing.

Hello, Megan.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous scottb said...

I worked a late night last night, again, and took a picture of the moon through our telescope after it finished it's big test. First light = yay!

I think people should always ask questions about things they don't know. I have to remember to do that because I do pick up a lot of stuff by context and naming (radial gates, etc.) but I can also be _wrong_. And one characteristic I like about all the really smart people I know is they _know what they don't know_. And therefore when they tell you they do know something, you can trust that.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Women absorb fashion knowledge through their vaginas.

I'm envisioning this and it's turning me on. That's kind of sick. Probably sexist too.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today, I was a little confused when faced with the breakfast food choices at the all-hands meeting I attended. I ended up getting the orange muffin, when I really wanted a scone. Next time, scone.

One of the neater and more random things I learned over the last two years was from a serious fashion maven (day job for both of us: synthetic chemists). She explained to me the general theory behind the 'fashion show'; it's not just random and appears to be a interesting and odd non-verbal communication between the designer, the fashion press and the buying public.

While I still don't fully get it, I get it a little more than I did.That being said, she didn't appear to have learned this information through osmosis, just serious study. -K.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous dilletante said...

i always thought one of the best lessons i learned in grad school was from having classes with a fellow student who wasn't quite as quick as i was to understand explanations when they *were* complete, but who was completely thorough and unembarassed about asking questions about anything he hadn't gotten yet; and seeing how quickly that put his understanding ahead of mine.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Trevor said...

A rigorous regimen of What Not To Wear and Project Runway has made me much more confident in the fashion arena, rippling male virility notwithstanding. Lacking a vagina, I have been content to absorb that knowledge via television.

Megan, I was sure that your story about irrigation class was building to an emperor has no clothes punchline where nobody knew what the terms meant. That happened to me last week, where the professor was using all this technical language and I was certain I was the only one who didn't understand it out of the whole class. Then some other, braver student piped up, and the whole class sighed with relief. So yay for "obvious" questions!

9:21 PM  
Anonymous NB said...

Dear Megan,

What is your take on the Meramec River flooding because they are talking about levees and other things for future.
I have seen this first hand since I went to school in Midwest and it's all over the place (rivers flooding). I know you don't care about anything other than CA but what do you think as the Water Guru/expert :)

A Brown admirer

PS: I have an Engineering degree and your water topics are fascinating from a Tech and Eng perspective.

PSS: I'm one of those lurkers who doesn't never comments but always reads this blog religiously

11:32 AM  
Anonymous the Other Paul said...

I don't know if you've seen this, but I caught a bit of it on the radio and it seemed right up your alley.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

Picture a 2nd year engineering class, dynamics, and the subject was engine balancing.

YOu know, why a straight six cylinder engine is smoother than a 4 cylinder, and a V8 is in between.

So after two hours of calculating the acceleration of pistons and their resulting forces, one of the 5 female students (class of 100) put up her hand and finally asked: What IS a piston?

We (all the other students) didn't say anything, but I'm sure the sudden silence was just as bad.

Needless to say, she ended up with the highest mark. Having no previous knowledge of the subject, she relied on her maths to get her through, and in the end, that gives a better score.

9:06 PM  

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