21 June 2006

Quirky Work Happenings

As you may know I started my new job on Monday. Perhaps it is just the life event I need to revitalize my blogging... maybe.

My first quirky work happening comes from my first meeting at the company. There were 5 of us in a little conference room. The table was squeeky. I did not understand what was being talked about in the meeting so I thought about how to de-squeeky the table. Perhaps this would be my most valuable contribution to the meeting. I discovered that it was loose laterally and that if I leaned against it with signficant pressure the squeeking would stop. I did so for the rest of the meeting. I am a Multi-Discipline Systems Engineer.

The second quirky thing is more of an idea. Bathroom breaks are acceptable during work hours as are the occasional trip to the vending machine. Well let's say you walk to the vending machine, buy some skittles for 75 cents and return to your office (All this while your computer was rebooting and there was nothing else to work on of course but certainly you aren't expected to clock out!). Well, the whole operation, if skillfully executed probably takes 3 minutes, perhaps 4 minutes. If you make $25/hr, for the sake of this example, in 4 minutes you earn $1.67. Maybe you should buy two packs of skittles (one for me) and take home 17 cents for your efforts and generosity.

14 June 2006

Pareto Optimality: Elementary Style

I "volunteered" at the local elementary school field day earlier today. I was running the football kick station. Bless their souls, but when it comes to kicking a football from a tee, the k-2 graders were all over the place.

There were two tees and each kid kicked with a partner to see who could kick the farthest (although competition was discouraged). My job was essentially to pick up the balls which were usually kicked in nearly opposite directions. After about an hour, I tired, so I changed the rules.

First, I had each of the two kids kick the balls as far as they could. Afterwards I devised a race in which the kid would be required to retrieve his partner's ball and return it to the tee (for the next kickers).

In this way, I reduced my workload to simply reciting instruction (I had already gotten my workout chasing balls), I increased the activity of the littl'uns (which is the point of the field day), and the kids enjoyed the new version more than the previous.

07 June 2006

Life Expectancy: Don't count on it

Life expectancy (LE) numbers have always confused me. My eyes glazed over at this description for calculating it. The term life expectancy is thrown out all over the place. The way I (naively) looked at it was it was the lower bound on my life if I didn't do anything stupid to get myself killed. So when some one tells me that male LE in the US is 77.5 years, I say to myself, "Great, I'll live at least 77 years!"

Except that is not what it means at all. The LE of a man born in 1900 was 47 years. Yet people born in 1900 that lived to 65 could expect to live 15 more year, or to the age of 80. Umm, so is it 47 or 80? Well, at 65 you've already gotten through a bunch of stuff that kills lesser men (chicken pox, military service, dueling for a woman). So obviously it is a conditional probability.

So if I live to 77, can I then expect to live until 90? Thinking about it in the conditional sheds new insight on how long you will live. If you are pretty sure you can get to 77, then be sure you have a large retirement fund because you could be kicking for a lot longer.

What got me thinking about LE is all the old people in the history books. Many of the people in the history books die relatively old compared to the 47 years figure. If we looked at a distribution of the age of death in 1790 for instance, I think we'd see a large portion in the early forties with a long, thin tail out to about 75 years of age.