numbers

70 They don’t fit

The story At University of Chicago, my physics professor (structure of matter course) tricked us with a priceless lesson. The homework solution was not an exact answer. We were to place sixteen readings into a four-by-four table so that they filled a consistent progression of energy levels. It was easy to sort the numbers into columns such that each number was a fixed step lower than the number above it—except for the last column. After I filled three columns, it was impossible to arrange the remaining four numbers to match the pattern. In discussing the homework solution, we students complained, …

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18 When better does not mean more

“More is better.”  So goes most advertising:  measure something and increase the number.  It works pretty well for gasoline mileage and typing speed. Someday someone will ask whether you are measuring the right thing.  If you are not, why increase the number?  In ten consecutive years I completed the neighborhood 10K run, until the organizers wanted a “better” qualifying time that was faster than mine.  Eventually I learned to run for individual happiness and leave the timer at home.  That ended my pains and left me revived instead of depleted.  It improved my health to measure my alertness instead of …

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