From a letter I wrote to my son while attending the 2013 SANS Conference in Orlando, FL …
March 12, 2013
Marriot World Center
It’s lunch now. Until a minute ago I had been seated next to Mr. Wang. I asked him whether he was with the ENAR conference that had muscled its way into the World Center overnight and was now bivouacked directly opposite my SANS conference. He said, “Yes,” which I accepted as an invitation to pepper him with questions regarding ENAR’s mission overall, and in particular its purpose in meeting here, on these grounds and at this time. He was forthcoming but uncomfortable confirming my suspicions.
I’m not well-practiced at small talk, so I exhausted my arsenal of trivial questions and observations pretty quickly, and with plenty of food remaining on my plate. At the awkward pause that arrived in its usual place while I’m trying to be sociable, Wang and I weighed whether my exploratory drilling promised sufficient reward to warrant further extractive effort. He seemed ready to give up, and for a moment I was inclined to do so as well.
But then a strange and welcome thing happened: I felt flush with the moral superiority I suppose extroverts feel on encountering me in uncomfortable social situations after I’ve made it patently obvious I’m feeling backward, weak, socially inept, or just plain uninterested.
So I kept on talking. I pressed my advantage. I won Wang’s admiration and respect, if not his commitment to enduring friendship, by bludgeoning him with terms and concepts I barely recollected from a brief survey of probability and statistics I took more than 20 years ago:
Stem and Leaf, Histrogram, Factorial, Poisson Distribution, Bell Curve, Standard Deviation, Mean, Median, Mode, m Things Taken n at a Time
and so on.
Wang nodded, went on munching, and kept looking around the Falls restaurant as though expecting somebody to arrive at any moment.
I went further, telling him I thought we should be emphasizing probability and statistics in our K-12 education system over trigonometry and calculus. Failure to recognized fallacious reasoning grounded on contrived statistics proferred by our politicians, pundits, and corporations is what makes our citizenry a mob of victims, not a failure to compute the area under a curve.
“Simply educating our kids that correlation does not imply causation would render nearly all political discussion in its current form impotent.”
Wang nodded again, chewed some more and perhaps a bit faster, and kept up with his search of the restaurant. He observed my badge, which I’d removed and placed on the bar.
“You are with the SANS conference, I see.”
“That I am, Wang.”
“You guys got more money than we do. I can tell cause you have more food, and better drinks.”
“My industry’s enjoying some notoriety these days,” I said humbly, as humbly as one can after one’s industry is cited by the President of the United States. After a pause I realized I ought to reciprocate Wang’s kind observation – find something positive to say about his conference. Fortunately, I had a compliment at hand because I’d been thinking about it ever since ENAR arrived. The contrast between the refreshments of our two conferences was subtle; my contrast was not nearly so.
“Your conference has more women than mine.”
Wang had just shoveled the last heap of his lunch into his mouth. He chewed, grinning broadly, then wiped his mouth with a napkin. He looked me straight in the eye. “Yes. A lot more.” He dismounted his barstool. “In fact, you might say my conference has a normal distribution of both sexes, while your conference is sans women.”
He pushed his barstool back under the bar. He winked. He turned.
“You win this round, Wang!” I called after him.
He chuckled, raised his hand, and he was gone.