Surprising Numbers

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I’ve always been fascinated by results of calculations that seem disproportionate to the point of incredibility, but are correct. I get stroppy with people who are neither fascinated by such results nor moved to question and check them. Here are four that came to my attention recently:

  • I peeled an orange and weighed the peel. It was 31% of the unpeeled fruit, so a price of $2.99/kg turns out to be $4.33/kg of the edible part.
  • I read an article whose author decried the terrible devaluation of the US dollar over the past century: “A dollar in 1919 is now worth 5 cents!” That implies an average rate of inflation of 3.04%pa. A lot of central bankers would be very happy with that.
  • Imagine a globe with a diameter of 30cm (1 foot in the old money) representing Planet Earth. The depth of the atmosphere would be 0.3mm – the thickness of a child’s finger nail.
  • Research in the USA in 1997 found that average IQ had increased by 20 points since 1932. Eleven years later, similar research in the UK found a 14 point improvement since 1947. This is called the Flynn Effect. Other research suggests a pretty steady increase of about 3 points per decade – but only up to the late 1990s, when the trend appears to have petered out and reversed.
    [When originally posted, on 19 January, I mistyped “1970s” instead of “1990s”. Sorry.]

This Year’s Stroppy

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We had some strong nominations this year, but after much internal debate the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle goes to … drum roll … Ram Charan and Julia Yang, authors of a new book called ‘The Amazon Management System’, published by Ideapress Publishing and available… well, in most places where you’d look for a book these days. My old friend Ron Allan, who made the nomination, selected the following gem:

“Moreover, transparency of such ultra-detailed, end-to-end (cross-silo and cross-layer) real-time and inputs-oriented data and metrics makes the usual uphill battle for cross-functional collaboration much easier.”

With management advice like this, who needs saboteurs? Thanks to Ron, and congratulations to Ram and Julia.

Oh, and the picture is a visual pun on ‘Amazon’, not an intended likeness of anyone either living, dead, extinct or mythical..

Pride

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No-one is greater than Greta;
Humanity should fête her.
Tho’ belittled and trolled
She’s outspoken and bold –
If I were younger I’d date her.

Even without the photo you’d know which Greta I was talking about, wouldn’t you? Greta Thunberg has joined the small group of people for whom a single name is sufficient: Donald, Gandhi, Madonna, Mao, Meghan and the rest.

The reason I’m featured Miss Thunberg is that I heard her father interviewed on ABC radio the other day. The interviewer’s final question was “Are you proud of your daughter?” He answered “No,” having already explained that he and his wife had tried hard to dissuade Greta from becoming an activist for a cause they initially had little interest in.

It made me think about the word ‘proud’ and its derivatives. I remember as a child being told that I should be proud of my school uniform, and wondering why, since I’d had no hand in its design or manufacture. Moreover, I knew that pride came before a fall and in Religious Instruction I’d been taught that pride was altogether a Bad Thing. Even without knowing what ‘contumely’ meant, I got that Hamlet was not keen on proud men.

Of course it’s natural to feel pride in one’s own achievements – coming top of the class, winning a prize, scoring a goal – even though prophets, psalmists, apostles and Shakespeare are united in disapproval. But how can one possibly be proud of something that one has made no contribution to? How can I be proud that a person or persons unknown have won a match, or confronted a terrorist, or put out a fire?

I suppose a parent can feel pride in having brought up a child who does something good, and perhaps that’s what the ABC’s interviewer had in mind. But evidently Mr Thunberg believes that Greta did it all by herself; indeed, she did it despite her parents’ efforts to stop her. Good for him for giving an honest answer.

Or perhaps ‘proud’ and ‘pride’ are ambiguous words that mean different things to different people. ‘Respect’ is certainly such a word, and I’ve made a mental note to post something about that too.

While we’re on the subject of language, don’t forget that the announcement of this year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (aka ‘the Stroppy’) will be made on 17 January. Get your nomination in now! Deadline: 2359 hours GMT, Thursday 16 January.