Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Power of Zero: Give or Take a Few

I've never been good at numbers. Especially those which have a long trail of zeros running after them trying to keep pace.
I can count up to 10 on my fingers. And I believe I can count up to 1000 in my mind. But anything beyond that, you lose me.

Which is probably why I just don't get these numbers and how on earth they are supposed to make sense.

This is what we are spending for the War for Oil the War in Iraq.
And then, this is what we are spending for making the Nation free from the suffering and death due to Cancer by 2015.

500 Billion for a War. 5 Billion for Cancer Research. What's the difference? Just a few zeros trying to keep pace.

Didn't I tell you that you'd lose me after 1000?

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Rope Question

A long time back a friend had posed this question:

"You have a tennis ball and the earth. You have two ropes. 

One rope ties the tennis ball along its surface. It fits exactly.

The other rope does the same to the earth,

i.e. exactly covers the circumference of the earth.

You now increase the length of each rope by 1 inch.

Form a circle with each rope covering the tennis ball and the earth

Is the distance between the tennis ball and its new circle greater
than that between the earth and its new circle?"

She was looking for the logic and not the Math.

Now since neither my logic nor my Math skills are anything to talk home about, I turned to someone who might have done justice to the problem.

This is the answer I got back:

"Is this a trick question?

If it were, I would ask,

1) What kind of a rope was used, i.e. what was the modulus of elasticity? Did you twist the rope during the process?

2) What was the tension in the rope while it was stretched?

3) What were the temperatures during the experiments?

4) What is the coefficient of thermal expansion, in case there was a temperature variation?

5) How fast was the measurement done? (may become important if we are thinking in speeds near that of the light)

6) The question that has always haunted me since can you tie a knot (to add that 1 inch) without altering the original length?

(That will be close to Heisenberg’s heart too.)

7) Question 6 alone can generate a whole set of debate, like how tight was the knot?

( I won't even get into the uncertainty in measurements!)

8) If you asked my Graduate school advisor he'd ask, "Did you repeat the experiment?"

9) My present boss would ask: "Did you write that up?"

(Just in case you didn't know what writing up is all about, it refers to writing up a US patent)

10) And his boss would suggest," Sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement) before you answer the question!"

11) The Corporate VP would ask, "Can we get the problem solved in China?"

12) Tom Skilling would ask, "Was there a Jet stream in the upper atmosphere pushing the rope?"

13) Dubya Bush would say " Are you sure it is not an act of terrorism?"

14) My Dad who loves a gourmet meal and is a secret poet at heart would ask, " May I hope, to eat the rope?"

15) My health freak brother would say, " Jump the rope 20 min a day to get rid of the extra calories."

16) My sister who is always looking for an excuse to scold me will say, " Who asked you to get in to such a mess with ropes!"

17) My Mom who spent her entire trip to the US trying to find a way to wash and dry her sarees would ask, "Can we dry our laundry on that rope?"

18) And last, my wife who is forever trying to stock up on things will say, " Can we have another rope? Then we can do the experiment with one and keep the other in stock just in case we need it later."

Thanks for asking. Hopefully I answered your question."

Needless to say I was left speechless.

*I'd like to thank AB for the question and AR for sending me the reply.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Measure of Success

How do you measure Success?

Do you look at people who are considered successful and see how you measure up against them?
Or do you set your own standard and see how you measure up against yourself?
Or do you let someone else decide for you? Let some stranger tell you if you are successful. Or will be successful. Ever.

"Don't ever let someone tell you, you can't do something."

"You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you that you can't do it. You want something? Go get it. Period." ~ The Pursuit of Happyness


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