Thursday, August 31, 2006

How Far a Drive is That?

I don't really know when it happened, but over the years I've developed an unusual aversion to number-crunching. I often find myself freezing when I'm confronted by a long and wide spreadsheet and it takes some effort to go through it and distill insight from a sea of figures.

So, upon the recommendation of my boss, I've lately been reading a book entitled "Mathsemantics: Making Numbers Talk Sense" by Edward McNeal.

And while it has not cured me of my irrational fear of spreadsheets, it has made me look at numbers in a completely different way. And it has also created a new habit -- that of making "checkable estimates."

On pp. 226-227, the author writes:

Anybody can make many checkable estimates a day. For instance, while walking, estimate how many people you'll see around the next corner. While driving, estimate how far it will be on the odometer to where you're going. Before buying gas, estimate how many gallons it will take. Before looking at your watch, estimate what time it is. Before opening the envelope, estimate your electric bill. Before opening the book, estimate its total pages. Before looking at the thermometer, estimate the temperature. As you watch football, estimate each yardage. As you watch a movie, estimate when it was made.

For that matter, don't count anything, look up, or ask for any figure without estimating it first.

The difficult thing isn't finding opportunities to learn estimating, it's committing to an estimate. Checkable estimating opportunities come to you all day long. The trick is getting yourself to take advantage of them.
And so, I have since learned that the drive from my favorite gas station to my office building is 1.2km (and not 0.7km as I originally estimated), and that the drive from the entrance of my office building to my designated parking space is 0.2km (a correct estimate). Heck, I've even learned that there are 34 slats to the blinds on my window (I had estimated 24).

And while these little exercises may be nothing more than mental diversions for now, I do find myself enjoying it. And it certainly brings a whole new layer of meaning to the term "guesstimate" hehe!


Oh, and here's one more: Estimated number of words in the above entry: 320. Actual number: 366