Sunday, April 26, 2009

overbooking & orders of magnitude

Every morning I give the kids a five minute warning to get in the car. Yet many mornings I end up waiting for one of them. On Friday, as I was waiting for A, I thought I would start telling them to be ready five minutes before we would actually leave so that hopefully by the time I got to the car they would all be there. I mentioned this to them and told them about overbooking by airlines. They were not familiar with this "practice" of selling more seats than are available with the expectation that some people won't show up. We also spoke a bit about the capacity of commercial jets: some guessed 100 other 1000.

This reminds me that the other day I spoke to them about "orders of magnitude". I had a chemistry professor in college who would tell us that all he wanted us to know were the order of magnitude of the responses. It was OK if we answered 40 when the actual number was 60, but not if we answered 50 when the answer was 5 or 500. This is obviously of particular relevance in chemistry where you talk about the size of atoms and molecules, and the time it takes for physical reactions to take place. Most people, me included, can't guess (or remember) the right order of magnitude for the size of a molecule... Can you? But this applies as well to more day-to-day topics, such as the size of an airplane...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

latitude & gdp

I was having a hard time getting work done during this week's heat wave in SF. I told the kids that there is a strong correlation between the latitude of a place and its economic development. It seems that the hotter it gets, the slower people do things. Even within specific countries (I am thinking of Italy's Norrth & South, for example) the more "tropical" regions are less "developed". Of course, too much cold is also a problem: not much development in Siberia or Antartica... And, air conditioning might change this over time...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dead Mosquitoes

We had a great party at the house on Sunday. Unfortunately, we kept the door to the yard open for hours and the house got filled with mosquitoes. Last night, for the second night in a row, A escaped the mosquitoes in his room and went to sleep in the guest room. This morning, M expressed surprise, saying she had killed a whole bunch of mosquitoes yesterday. This is a perfect example of a situation in which what you 'accomplish' is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what you don't accomplish. Who cares how many mosquitoes you killl if you leave some alive? It only takes one mosquitoe to keep you awake at night! It is not how many you kill that matters, but how many remain alive.

We discussed a more amusing example of this premise: going to the bathroom. What matters is not how much #2 you make, but how much (hopefully none) you leave inside... Kids liked this example :-).