…because some thoughts are worth remembering
I like the idea of boiling down things to an essence, because you have to know so much and have synthesized the information to be able to do. “The Two Things” game appealed to me for that reason. I wrote about how I would like to know the two representative things. There are other opportunities with the concept of two things…like what are the two challenges in that field? What are the two things you can fix to make that field better?
Then I realize there can be a “One Thing” game, where you figure out something you can say to show you belong in that field…something that is appropriate to say, without having to know the discipline. For example, you may not know much about soccer (or football as the rest of the world calls it) and watching a soccer game surrounded by mad fans, you don’t want to get caught saying the wrong thing. My friend told me “the one thing” you can say that’s appropriate (and almost always true): “We’ve gotta keep moving forward!”
The one thing can be more specific.
The same friend had to go mingle with a bunch of cryptography academics. She knew just the thing to ask so she could feel like she fit in, by repeating something she often heard her husband (a cryptography academic) said: “What is the tightness of the (security) reduction?” Impressive, eh?
The fine print on what it means…(courtesy of my husband who is excellent at explaining concepts in layperson’s terms):
There is a set of problems that are believed to be very hard because mathematicians have spent a lot of time trying to solve them without success. So cryptographers build algorithms that can be reduced to one of the hard problems (mathematically), thereby ensuring the security of the algorithm. But often the reduction isn’t 1:1. The algorithm might be 100 times less hard than the hard problem. Therefore, the tightness refers to how “far” it is from the hard problem.
Perhaps you aren’t lucky enough to be invited to a gathering full of cryptographers to stash out this “one thing”, but your friends may invite you to a sushi restaurant. Simply asking “where is this <insert name of the ingredient/particular fish being served> from?” can signal to the sushi chef that you care about what you are eating and you are prepared to appreciate this experience. Not too familiar with the wine? When ordering an American Chardonnay, ask “is this aged in American Oak?” provides a similar effect. All pretensions aside, it’s an important question for me because I find American Oak to be too in your face. As a rule, I stay away from American Chardonnays because they are often aged in American Oak barrels.
The danger with using the question form for the “one thing” is, just as you piece together vocabulary to ask for directions in a foreign language, you aren’t guaranteed to fully understand (or appreciate) the response (or what to do with it). But hey, if the question didn’t benefit you, at least it showed your interest to the other party, and the answer will point you in a direction to learn more about it, if you so please.
Photo: Knotted tree branches, Beijing, China