Numbers for Life and Work

Some people love numbers, working with them, playing with them, and thinking about them. Others do not. Many don’t even have a basic understanding of how to use numbers in their work. Here are the basics…

While serving in Iraq, an officer colleague of mine was called upon to estimate the exposure from a radiation source that our soldiers found on a rooftop in Baghdad. He did the calculations and gave them to me to check. This officer was industrious, dedicated, and smart, but he had made a decimal place error and overestimated the exposure by a factor of 1,000. My colleague hadn’t made such calculations for years, and his mistake could have happened to anyone. But had this estimate gone to the commanding general, he would have had to evacuate the area and send many troops back home for medical monitoring.

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Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Epidemics, and other Misfortunes

Misfortunes and even disasters are part of life. Are they natural phenomena, are they judgments from God, or are they both?  

Hurricane Sandy has just swept through the east coast of the US, killing at least 100, leaving six million without power and causing at least $3 billion dollars in damages. In March 2011, an earthquake (magnitude 9.3), tsunami and radiation accident in Japan killed 15,870 and caused $235 billion in damages. In January 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Leogane in Haiti, killing at least 316,000. Disease epidemics relentlessly cycle through populations. Such catastrophes occur constantly somewhere in the world, and terrible suffering and loss is an inevitable result.

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