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Chapter 10: Numerical Math

It's hectic in the emergency room this morning. There's a multi-car crash about eight o'clock and ambulances come in a procession from the scene, howling and blinking their red lights. I'm too busy to count the customers. Short-handed, Dr. Salomon presses me into service cleaning and stapling lacerations. One person is dead on arrival and one is rushed off to surgery, but nobody dies in our area. We're able to send three people off under their own power, and the rest go into the hospital wards. I finish mopping the floor even though my work shift supposedly is done. People have stepped in the blood and tracked it all over. Finally the floor is again up to our standards.

I say goodbye and I calm myself down with a nice run under blue sky back to the dorm. I doubly need calming because my skin itches everywhere. Shadows of black and auburn can be seen in patches in my fur. My palms are discolored; auburn skin has formed underneath my usual basic lion color. While stapling I thought it prudent to wrap my right hand generously with gauze lest the skin tear prematurely from the repeated pressure of the stapling pliers' handles. Oops! I stop and check my right foot. The old skin has torn at the joint of my fifth toe and the brown new skin is exposed. I had better settle for quick walking; it's not painful but if any more old skin comes off, the new stuff is not yet hard enough for rough treatment.

Walking through our hallway I hear angry muttering from one room: ``Don't do this to me! It's due at noon!'' The kid is named Alec, and Tommy says he's a Christian. Odd for this floor, says Tommy. What brought him to my attention is, he avoids me. Not hostile, but he avoids meeting my eyes. I think to myself, I should have learned my lesson with Jan, but then I think, if I hadn't talked to her I wouldn't have her as a friend now, no matter how noisy the introduction. So I knock.

Me: Alec? Is your computer giving you trouble? Maybe I could help. It's Simba here.

He opens the door and gives me an extremely ambivalent look. The room is darker than I prefer, more enclosed, and I notice a religious quotation on his bulletin board.

Me: I know you've been avoiding me, but if your paper or whatever is due in an hour and a half, I wouldn't feel good if I didn't offer to help.

Alec: OK, I guess. Um, I can't get it to print.

Me: Is the machine otherwise alive? OK, I think the first priority is to handle the printing, and the second is to fix the machine. You wanted to use the public printer, right? Can you print to a PostScript file? Put it on a floppy and we'll print it from my machine. I think it's that icon, the one labeled ``Special''. Right, and on the submenu you can select PostScript and click the floppy icon and give the file a name. Got it! Give it a minute to generate the file... There, it's done. Now come on down to my room and we'll print it.

Alec: I don't know why you're doing this for me.

Me: We're a community and we have to work together. Even if you're uncomfortable with me, we're still a community.

In my room I boot up, pop in the disc, and print it. No sweat. I shut off the machine again.

Me: OK, get the output and meet me back at your room, and I'll have a look at your machine. Check that no pages got cut off; it happens sometimes.

The public printer is just at the bottom of the stairs, and Alec is back at his room in a moment. I try his operating system's diagnostic, which fortunately I learned from Ken a few days ago.

Me: Well, it says the Ethernet board is OK but it's not jacked into the network. Let's wiggle the wires... That didn't help. I'm going to get some stuff from my room.

I disassemble our room hub and bring it, its power supply, my spare wire and my laptop down to Alec's room.

OK, let's see what my machine says. No network connection. So most likely your diagnostic is right, that your Ethernet board is really OK. Next swap the wire... Bingo, your wire is bad. I'm glad it's not the room hub. Let's try my wire with your machine; boot it up. Does it see the net? Great! OK, here's what you do: go over to the students' store and buy another wire. When you have it and know it works, bring mine back. Leave it with Ken or slide it under the door if we're not there. Don't rush; this is my spare. I think that's it.

Alec: Gosh, Simba, thanks! I really don't deserve this, the way I've been ignoring you.

Me: Don't worry about it. But one thing you could maybe tell me: what about me bothers you?

Alec: Well... It's kind of hard to say this to your face; it's too unfriendly. Well, do you know about the Bible? About creation?

Me: About how I was created by humans, not gods? Yes, we lions are very aware that we have no place in some religions. Including yours, I assume. We can't expect everyone to be comfortable with us, for a variety of reasons, but I'm not going to get angry or anything like that. You certainly object that we were made, but the fact is, we were made and now we have to live together. It would make me feel better if we could be a little less distant, maybe say hi rather than ignoring each other, but I'll follow your lead on that. Hey, I've got a math lecture and I'd better run to get there. Nice to meet you. Bye!

I hurry back to my room, and I reinstall the hub and check it, plugging in Ken's wire too. Now I really have to toss my computer, book and notes in my pack and run. It's not far, but now the tear on my foot has opened further and there's a small flap of loose skin. I'm in a seat, not my usual front row, just before Prof. Williams begins the lecture. He spots me, with that odd look of his. It makes me uncomfortable.

Prof. Williams: Good morning, class. Today we'll talk more about Adams' method for differential equations. How many of our code warriors got this week's homework assignment to work already?

I try to keep well ahead in my reading and homework, to have some reserve in case of an emergency. The assignment took a lot of computer programming, but I pretty much finished it last night. I raise my hand, as do two others that I can see, who seem to be doing well in the class.

Prof. Williams: Well, that's a good turnout this early in the week. Simba, why don't you tell us what problems you encountered with Adams' method?

Gulp! He hasn't done anything like this before. I participate in section discussions, but I haven't done anything like public speaking for a long time -- since our press conference, in fact. But refusing is out of the question for a lion. Goals, issues, action. I plan the presentation as I walk to the whiteboard. Goal: explain my program, I hope mercifully briefly. Issues: on the board I quickly sketch an outline; I've seen my Civ prof do that, although she copies it from her notes that she has prepared in advance.

Me: OK, you have an unknown function y of x and a differential equation in the form y-prime equals a function f of x and y. You do x by steps. Knowing y-prime at N previous steps, you fit a polynomial to it, and integrate the polynomial up to the next step, which is easy for the computer. Now you have an estimate for y. Using that, you evaluate f at the next step, giving an estimate of y-prime there, and you do the whole thing over, but with one more point so the result is more accurate. The first challenge I had was simply to get the Adams subroutine to call the f subroutine...

I give the report, trying to limit each challenge and solution to two or three sentences. Pictures on the board of the function and the steps help to convey the message briefly. I finish by reporting that I had tried to break the method by integrating sin 1/x, and had worked out a formula to choose the size of each step individually that would let it solve that integral accurately, but the program was a lot more complicated than if a fixed step size were used.

Prof. Williams: Very nice, Simba, very nice indeed. Do you have any measure of the efficiency of the algorithm?

Me: I have the run times to compare with last week's assignment, and for sin x last week's method is faster for the same error, probably because it's simpler, but Adams' method evaluates the function fewer times, and last week's program doesn't work at all on sin 1/x. I don't really know the right way to compare the methods, or an absolute standard of efficiency.

Prof. Williams: OK, you can sit down. Simba gave a good review of Adams' method for those of you still trying to get your programs to go, so I can continue on to talk about another important topic in the context of Adams' method: efficiency. Now what do we really mean by efficiency? As Simba pointed out, Runge-Kutta is faster than Adams on a simple function...

I let out a sigh of relief. I sense that the students around me are very aware of my presence. I take notes rapidly on my computer. The efficiency measures being discussed are clearly important and my homework report will have to be revised to include them.

After class my neighbor whispers to me.

Student: Is he picking on you, or trying to shame the rest of us into doing the homework faster? I'm working as fast as I can!

Me: Jeez, when he called on me I would have wet myself if I were human. He can't keep his eyes off me. I'm always on display; I just have to live with that, but he's extreme. I don't think he's trying to embarrass me or trap me, but he's just fascinated with the different person. I'm going to ask him to cool it.

Student: Yeah. Hey, did you bruise your hand on something?

Me: No, I'm shedding. Next class I'll be auburn and black stripes. Hey, Prof. Williams won't recognize me and he'll leave me alone!

As I leave, Prof. Williams is talking with some students about the homework, which really is quite difficult. I know that his office is in the next building and I prepare an ambush on the route. Silent in shadow, a lion person is hard to see even in plain view. Similar to a human, if they could only quiet their minds. There he is. I materialize beside him, limping slightly.

Me: Hi, Prof. Williams. Could I talk with you a second?

Prof. Williams: Oh, hi, Simba. I didn't see you. What's on your mind?

Me: Well, I appreciate the attention you've been giving me, but I'm afraid it's making the other students uncomfortable. From their comments I think they're scared of getting paid attention to next, or resentful that I get attention they don't, or both, which is the hardest to bear since they can't admit both at the same time. So do you suppose you could treat me more equally in class? If you have extra work you'd like me to do, we could talk about it more discreetly so the other students don't feel that I'm getting favorite treatment because I'm a lion person.

Prof. Williams: Oh! I didn't realize... Did I embarrass you today? You're quite eye-catching, you know, and I guess you're the first person I think of to call on.

Me: One part of me seeks the shadows. Like all these people, I'm trying to make a place for myself in a world where resources may be limited, and if anyone is singled out he becomes a target. Another part likes to be told what a wonderful lion I am, but I think the first part is stronger. The part that makes the decisions says, I needed the practice today, but I have to make a balance between that and keeping other students happy to have me around.

Prof. Williams: I think I can hear my son saying something similar, but not in such refined tones. He's in junior high.

Me: Does he have a lion disc? Well, that's off the topic.

Prof. Williams: I'll mention it. Subtly. On topic, I'll be more subtle in class too. And as for extra credit, watch the class web page. I'll post it for everyone to do if they want. That's the fair way. How hard do you find the assignments?

Me: Rather. But the topic itself is difficult. I don't see how I could have done less and still done a complete job. I do have a sense of efficiency. I have to, with four classes, a job, and getting to know a dorm full of humans, which is a totally new experience for me. And sleep; how can I forget that?

Prof. Williams: What are you taking? And what's the job? I have an ulterior motive there.

Me: Civ, writing, beginning organ, and your class. I work in the emergency room mopping blood off the floor. Actually I do a lot of things; today I stapled together two or three people from a car crash. And then mopped the floor, which needed it.

Prof. Williams: A macabre vision. So you're a freshman? We don't get many in this class. How did you learn differential equations so much ahead?

Me: Check out the lion disc, when you get it. It was made for me personally. I should say, for the eight lions, but what's on it is there because we were learning it.

Prof. Williams: Hmmm. Well, I have a suggestion for a job. Have you heard of the Augean stables?

Me: The labors of Heracles? Let me guess: someone has a problem with their computer.

Prof. Williams: I was doing some consulting for them. A guy I play racquetball with got me into it. I don't have the patience and, I might say, the detail knowledge of system administration that it's going to take to straighten out their systems. You impress me as an energetic but careful worker. I'd like to mention your name to them. Gets me off the hook, gets them off the hook, and gets some money in your pockets, which I'm sure will be appreciated.

Me: Thank you very much for the opportunity. But there's a slight problem: I've promised to work at the hospital. Hmmm. Well, thinking ahead, I'm stuck here for a month over winter break; I don't have the money to go home, and I really don't have the money to stay either. They would get more hours out of me over the break than during the regular session anyway. Do you think they'd go for that?

Prof. Williams: I don't see why not! I'll give them your name and they'll be in contact. It's Xylogen, a biotech startup.

Me: Thanks loads, Prof. Williams. See you! Oh, by the way, I'm shedding. Next lecture I'll be auburn and black. Just so you're not startled when you see me.

I limp back to the dorm. The skin flap on my foot is bothering me and it's not good for the unhardened skin underneath to rub on the ground, so I tape over the gap before going to lunch. There's a Civ section this afternoon, but beyond that I can just hide in my room, do lessons, and itch.

At dinner my appetite is poor but I force myself to eat bagels, one each sesame, raisin, poppy and onion. I know I will need the fuel during the night. I sprinkle silica gel on them liberally, a triple dose of unattractive gray dust, and I choke down two horse-sized hormone pills.

Jan: How can you swallow those pills? They're so big. So tonight's the big night? I can already see dark patches in your fur.

Me: Yes, the new outer hairs stand up above the lion colored inner fur. I'll be glad to get this skin off. I itch!

Ken: Do I have to do anything special?

Me: Just don't barf, and try to step over me, not on me. I'll be sleeping on the floor tonight. Here's how it goes. I've taken the first slug of hormones. I'll try and study until ten. I hate the itching; that's the worst part. Then I put on the shedding gel. I have to be careful not to get it into my eyes. The itching gets about ten times worse. I'll just lay on my exercise mat; no way am I going to get that slop all over my bed, and afterward I can just take the mat into the shower to wash it off. I'm going to put myself to sleep using my shoulder control panel, as many times as I need to make it through the night. Actually there is something you need to practice: which button to press to wake me up, if there's a fire or something.

Ken: Should I avoid touching the shedding gel?

Me: It's not that vicious, mostly sodium bicarbonate and polymethoxy ethers, plus more hormone. There's a little hydroquinone, which toughens up the new skin. Probably it's best to wash it off if you get any on you. The main problem comes tomorrow morning. I hope you have a barf bag. I have to peel the old skin off, sliding it over the new hairs which have grown up through the holes already. I use my claws on the big pieces, and the scrub brush afterward. I may need a little help with my back because I can't see it and I can't get a safe angle with my claws. Forget it; I'll just use the scrub brush. It'll be too disgusting for you.

Ken: I'm your friend! I can handle it. My sister's pet snake shed its skin and it didn't gross me out.

Jan: Would you mind if I, you know, take a look?

Me: I don't mind but I'm warning you, you won't enjoy it. I'll start about six and the show will be mostly over about 7:30.

I finished revising the math homework before dinner. Now I try to concentrate on reading Hegel, for my Civ class. Hegel and itching don't mix. I go down to the lounge; the piano is free and I practice my organ pieces, faking it for the pedals and registration changes. That takes my mind off the itching for a while. I return to my room and make some progress on the assignment for the writing class, but I break it off and on impulse dash off a doggerel haiku about metamorphosis (and itching), and equally on impulse, I mail it to my writing prof. D for doggerel; this is not the famous lion steadiness. I ink a sign, with lurid drawings, saying ``Warning, lion shedding, grossout in progress, bring your own barf bag'', and Ken tapes it to the door. It's ten and the process is building to its climax. I feel like I'm host to a brigade of army ants -- hungry ones. I unroll my mat, and turn Ken's clock so I can see the glowing numbers from my position on the floor. I massage the shedding gel into my fur, as well as spreading it liberally on the soles of my feet (tape removed) and my palms, the inside of my pocket, and my penis (to Ken's amusement).

Ken: Should I study outside?

Me: Don't bother; you won't wake me. When I push the button I'm out like a light, until it wears off enough that the itching wakes me. I'll just keep pressing the button until morning. You remember how to wake me in an emergency? OK, sweet dreams!

And I hit the button. I climb to wakefulness with my back afire with itch. Ken is still reading at his desk; he looks at me. I groan, roll over and hit the button again. I awake in darkness with waves of sensation running up and down my arm. I roll to the other side and hit the button. Next the army ants are attacking my crotch. Only 2:30? I hit the button. My belly feels like it's splitting open, and I don't bother checking because I know it's true. There's also something funny hanging from my toe. I hit the button. This time the itching seems somewhat reduced, but my penis is uncomfortably packed. There is gray dawn light and the clock reads 5:30. I'm tempted to start peeling, but from experience I know I should give my skin the full eight hours. I pass the time by revising last night's haiku. Maybe I'll get a C in extra credit for the revision.

The alarm rings. I feel under my bed for the dish of water, paper towels and plastic garbage bag. I mop gel, fur and bits of skin from my eyelids. Then I get to work on my belly, which is hanging open like a badly tailored suit coat. I get one sheet of skin off mostly in one piece, and slash it up my side with my claw. The new colors look pretty good in the dawn light.

Ken: Is it morning yet? Yuck, you look awful!

Me: See my new fur? I was a little worried, but I think the colors go together nicely. Don't you? I'm taking up all the floor space; maybe you should exercise outside.

Ken: No, there's space; I'll just do the pushups and leg lifts on the bed. Does it hurt to pull that stuff off?

Me: No, it feels good; the old skin itches.

There's a knock on the door.

Jan: It's me! May I come in?

Me: I warned you!

Jan: Yeah, I guess you look pretty bad. You have something hanging from your ear. The auburn and black are nice. Will they change as they dry?

Me: I don't think so.

Jan: Ken, when you've finished your exercise, let's run. Do you need us, Simba?

Me: You're an early bird today! Go ahead and run; I haven't even started my arms and legs yet.

I work my way up and down my body. The soles of my feet were ready to go yesterday morning, and fell off by themselves during the night. It's a relief to squeeze, gently without claws, the slimy mixture of gel and old skin off my penis. My pocket is always hard to clean; it will have to be finished in the shower. I peel several strips off my scalp and ears. On their return Ken and Jan are nice enough to take a chunk off my back where I can't reach, holding it with a folded paper towel, and to start brushing bits out of my back. I take over and brush myself vigorously from head to toe, using the corner of the brush carefully between each toe. Finally I head for the shower, carrying my re-rolled mat. I sluice out my pocket several times with plain lukewarm water, then brush myself thoroughly again under the running water. Fur and bits of skin skitter down the drain. Finally I rinse the mat several times. As nobody else is showering this early I can mostly dry myself simply by a vigorous shake and kick routine, spraying water all over the shower room. What a relief! I blot my new fur and dry off my mat with the towel, and return to my room, a changed lion.

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