January 28, 2011

"A man's got to know his limitations."

As you may have heard, on Wednesday we got some extraordinarily heavy wet snow here in the National Capital Area. Only about half a foot of snow, mind you, but much much heavier than any half-foot snow-fall ought to be, because it was really sopping wet. As a result, our area suffered from extraordinary levels of tree damage and power outages (because so much electricity here runs in overhead power lines).

At home, one of our street trees dropped a big limb, blocking the street in front of our house. So, I went out – wearing lug-soled boots & winter layers – to try to move the limb. I determined that it was far too heavy for me to move.

What about snow plows? Would the next plow to come along just push the limb out of the way? Hard to tell – to me, the limb was neither clearly so small that it could easily be moved by a plow, nor clearly so large that it could not.

What would the plow driver decide? Might different plow drivers make different decisions? Well then, a probability distribution would be required to compute the likelihood of the street remaining blocked over time.

I was wondering how big an error would be made by using a Gaussian, as opposed to a Poisson distribution, when a van drove up, and stopped. Two men wearing sneakers, sweatshirts, and jeans got out, moved the fallen limb aside, and got back in. The van drove through, and away.

I went out with a rake, to clear the many smaller broken branches from the snowy street, and I thought: Some problems are best solved by persons who are not scientists.

[Post title refers to this.]

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