Extra Epsilons for Perturbed Parenting Theory

I wrote about Perturbed Parenting Theory over at Parent Plus Plus, which is already incredibly nerdy, but nowhere near as nerdy as me. Which is why we enjoy all the epsilon overspill here at ZERO POINT COMEDY. 

In perturbation theory epsilon represents a small change to existing solutions, a terrible mistake many parents until they’re forced to re-evaluate everything about their lives by exponentially-increasing errors. Which is a terrible thing to call your children, but poor parenting practice can lead to all kinds of bad moods and name-calling. 

Amusingly mathematicians make this mistake as well as parents. Paul Erdös called kids “epsilons”, which was ironic, because he had no children of his own but was himself by all accounts a giant baby. Incredibly coddled until he went to college, and after establishing himself as a brilliant mathematician he spent most of the rest of his life travelling between conferences and collaborations, expecting his hosts to take care of everything from his laundry to planning his travel to his next destination. Some would say that when we find a magnificent mathematical mind it shouldn’t be distracted by daily duties. I say washing your own pants doesn’t erase arithmetic, and that we can talk about “freeing brilliant brains from daily annoyances” when we start doing it for people other than white men.

Meanwhile the ever-present second vowel means ever more, see some science-style parent-relevant examples: 

  • In engineering epsilon represents strain, measuring how far things have been deformed compared to original values, such an obvious gag about parenting I think it makes engineering our dad. 

  • “Epsilon calculus” is an extension to first order logic*. ɛx A returns a value t which makes A(t) true. If there are multiple t it just picks one with no rhyme or reason, anything to make A happy, and if there isn’t any it just uses a default or arbitrary t to give an answer and get on with things. The ɛ IS parenting once your kid starts asking questions. 

*as well as clearly being a SCIENCE JAEGER 

  • ɛ represents the Heaviside step function, which returns 0 for negative numbers, 1 for positive numbers, and “oooooh that depends” for 0. Making it perfect practice for explaining things. I was going to say “explaining things to children” but no, you should know the awkward questions for any explanations because they’re the most interesting, the most fun, and the most likely to be asked when the most people are watching. The Heaviside step function itself is a big clunky shift from one side to the other, so in both name and appearance it’s my Dad Dancing since I dented my left leg a while back. 

  • In computer science ɛ can be an empty string, but it’s more often the upper bound on relative error due to floating point arithmetic. That’s not just a parenting parallel but a self-help textbook: something you might think is zero but it’s actually measuring the flaws creeping into your results from the basic limitations of how you work things out. I’ll have a great big smile on the cover under immense impact font EPSILON ZERO, and in every single friendly interview I’ll be internally gritting my teeth not to start yelling “A SCIENCE JAEGER, IT’S ANOTHER SCIENCE JAEGER!”

  • ɛ is also the permittivity of a medium. But that’s the permittivity for transmission of electric fields, so you won’t want to apply this to your children. 

  • In automata theory ɛ represents a transition with no shifting of the input symbol. This is the parenting dream activity. This is letting the little automata operate itself without having to move yourself to keep things going. My best recent example was teaching little TNG to climb the steps, cross the bridge, and go down the slide, and he repeated that ridiculously fun operation, giggling and joyous, at least twenty times while I simply stood by the ladder enjoying full GOOD PARENT and NOT CURRENTLY HAVING TO MOVE bonuses.

  • ɛ also represents economic elasticity and statistical error terms, I don’t know why more people don’t do academic parenting pieces because the jokes write themselves. 

  • In planetary science ɛ measures how much the entire world’s axis has been tilted. In parenting it only feels like that. 

  • ɛ is also Uranus’ most distant and visible ring, and by god I’ve changed enough nappies to imply the obvious joke. 
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