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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How Old Are You Now?

The other night I was out with some of my coursemates when I noticed the head of one of them pop up and study me for a moment. His eyes regarded me with a contemplative, calculative gaze. I was certain that his companion had just asked him, "How old is that old man in our program, anyway?"

I pictured the rest of the conversation going as follows:

"Well, he looks to be about 65 -- but that would be really old to be doing a Master's."

"On the other hand, he acts like he's about 25."

"Wait a second, we could..."

"Average them! He's 45!"

(As I understand it, when faced with two or more numbers whose meaningful relationship to each other one cannot fathom, it's always OK to average them. Then, at the very least you have turned several inscrutable figures into one, representing a clearcut decrease in confusion. Choose the method of averaging that looks most likely to produce the final figure that backs your pet theory.)

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