Sunday, February 24, 2008

David quantifies his inanity

To those who know me, it's probably not a big surprise that I waste a lot of time talking about things that are completely meaningless and most likely offer zero benefit to anyone. To illustrate, I offer the following example. Recently, we have been studying childhood development. One important topic in the study of infants and toddlers is a milestone, a certain ability a child acquires at a certain age which is important in his or her development. Some one of these milestones involve how many blocks a kid can stack at, say, 20 months versus 24 months (only four at 20, but a whopping 4-5 at 24). This is important because it indicates the child's motor and cognitive skills are progressing appropriately.

Instead of taking this concept at face value, my friend and I launched into a 30 minute discussion about how exactly these block values are ascertained. Is there a block laboratory where babies perform thousands of stacking trials? Are there internationally standardized blocks sold by Welch Allyn? If there aren't, what's the point? A toddler might be able to toddle his way to a stack of 10 really stable blocks, but if one weighed 5lbs he probably wouldn't be able to add number two. What exactly is the limiting factor? Is there just an increasing error accumulation that is insurmountable once four blocks are reached? And perhaps most importantly, how much more awesome would we be at block-stacking than those little kids? If we had a crane and a really tall indoor space with virtually no airflow, couldn't we be an unstoppable block-stacking force the likes of the which the world has never seen?

As sad as it seems, I have at least 2-3 of these sorts of conversations per day. This one was sort of long, but if we assume I have 2.5 conversations at 15min per, and take about two weeks of vacation time to rest my rambling muscles, I waste over 9.1 full days on this nonsense annually ((15/[60*24])*2.5*350). That may not seem like a lot, but since I plan on saving at least 300 lives per day as a doctor, and the economic value of a statistical life has been argued to be about $5million*, my inanity will cost the world billions by the time I die. Good to know I'm making a difference...

*This is actually true, but don't expect me to cite any sources here.

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