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Seeking help from smart people

Posted on 2008.04.28 at 10:10
One of my upcoming pages has a little scene from which the following is an excerpt:

I thought I was using the word "asymptotic" correctly, or at least acceptably, but my sometimes-editor Wendy is calling me on it, and now I'm having my doubts. Essentially, in this panel I'm trying to give Aria a more clever way to say that possibilities for being stupid start going up a lot. Working from my admittedly vague high school math memories, one of the ways I think of an asymptote is as a line that approaches its goal but never quite gets there... so it continues on towards infinity. And thus, in the speech balloon above, so would the stupid-possibilities that Aria is talking about. But Wendy interprets it differently, saying that since an asymptotic line gets infinitely close to the target but never reaches it, then Aria would seem to be saying the people in question aren't actually being stupid. Which isn't quite what I had in mind.

So in an effort to correct a potential problem before I post the page (this time!), my question goes out to any and all of you LJ readers who are mathematicians, scientists, or who are just generally smarter about this sort of thing than I am-- does Aria's dialogue make sense, or will everybody reading it (esp. those who know what an asymptote is) just get confused?


Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong
shadesong at 2008-04-28 15:21 (UTC) (Link)
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:16 (UTC) (Link)
I'm thinking now this is probably the word to go with. Not as fancy-pants, but at least it's correct. Thanks!
(Deleted comment)
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:18 (UTC) (Link)
Hello and welcome! Yes, I think exponentially is the magic word. As it happens, Aria isn't talking about Engineers (at least, not specifically), but the idea is the same. Thanks for the input!
A Writer & Research Junkie
kriz1818 at 2008-04-28 15:40 (UTC) (Link)
I think Wendy is sort of right. In statistics (and I suffered through a graduate-level stats course, so I know something about it), when we say that something approaches a given state "asymptotically," we mean that given infinite observations there's no meaningful difference between, say, the probability of stupidity and the probabilities represented by a normal curve.

But I don't think that's really what Aria's trying to say. I suggest having her say "the probability of someone being stupid approaches one" instead. (Or something going stupid? whatever works for you.) You get to use probability theory without being confusing (or confused).
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:20 (UTC) (Link)
I would love to be able to use probability theory and sound very smart about it, but I don't think this page is going to be the place. I now know who to consult in the future, though! :-)
A Writer & Research Junkie
kriz1818 at 2008-04-29 15:30 (UTC) (Link)
At your service, ma'm! I love explaining probability theory, it's so non-intuitive to most people!
Dave III
dave_iii at 2008-04-28 16:03 (UTC) (Link)
Aria (or you, as the case may be) appears to be referring to possibilities, or perhaps 'opportunities', for Stupid™, as opposed to the probability of a specific Stupid™, yes? So basically she's saying that it's the list that grows "a whole bunch". There is no target involved, if I understand correctly, just a graph describing Size of Crew relative to Size of Ship against Possibility of Stupid™.

Would that even be a line graph? It seems to have too many variables to plot as a simple 2D chart, but then again I only know enough math to balance my checkbook and calculate bookshelf-to-wall-space proportions. I didn't even know that a word like "asymptotic" even existed until this post. (Not to say "don't use it"-- It's always good to stretch out one's vocabulary. ^_^)
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:22 (UTC) (Link)
Hahaha! Dave, you make me laugh!

(And coincidentally, I was also thinking of changing "possibilities" to "opportunities".)
Dave III
dave_iii at 2008-04-29 02:55 (UTC) (Link)
We aim ta please. ^_^
fusella at 2008-04-29 02:19 (UTC) (Link)
Dave, don't feel bad. I didn't even remember the word from high school and had to look it up, which, when I did, is why I questioned whether it was the right word to use here. I could totally see Aria using it, though. Somewhere.
Dave III
dave_iii at 2008-04-29 02:51 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I don't feel too bad about it... I know the word now, and that's the main thing. Heck, it's fun when a comic/movie/book/story brings an unfamiliar concept to your attention. It's like school, except not! ^_^
pamola at 2008-04-28 16:19 (UTC) (Link)
Mathematicians(I've got a BA and MS) would go with "up exponentially" vs. "asymptotic" as suggested above. Asymptotic does make some sense when you think of 2-D graphs: f(x)=1/(x-c) being asymptotic around the constant c. However while from the positive side it goes up, from the negative side it goes down. And for that fine square root of a negative 1, the asymptote could be considered to have all real values.

I could see it being slang, but not some one being absolutely correct with our current English.
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:25 (UTC) (Link)
Definitely seeing a consensus with "exponentially" here. Thank you for the advice, Smart Person! :-)
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at 2008-04-28 16:25 (UTC) (Link)
Asymptotically means what Aria wants it to mean only if you have a vertical asymptote. A horizontal one would limit stupidity to a finite level.
ext_36327 at 2008-04-28 17:21 (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, a vertical asymptote either limit crew size to a finite maximum or result in a drop of possibilities for stupidity beyond a certain size. (I'm interpreting "possibilities" as opportunities rather than probability.)

I'd go with "increases exponentially". It says that the possibilities increase with crew size and that the rate of increase is itself increasing, and it's used often enough that people have a sense of what it means. If you want something less common, you could also use "increases geometrically", which has a similar meaning and is much less common. (The Terminator described Skynet's growth as geometric, and that's the only pop-culture use I can think of.)
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:30 (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm... "increases geometrically" sounds like something that has potential. I'll play with the dialogue a bit more. Thanks!
ttallan at 2008-04-28 17:29 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, well, we can't have that!
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