Monday, April 14, 2008

Lawrence Weinstein & John A. Adam's "Guesstimation"

Lawrence Weinstein is professor of physics at Old Dominion University; John A. Adam is professor of mathematics at Old Dominion University. Their new book is Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin.

Weinstein applied the "Page 99 Test" to Guesstimation and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a question, “What are the relative costs of fuel (per mile or per kilometer) of New York City bicycle rickshaws (human pedaled taxis) and of automobiles?” plus a few hints to help the reader answer the question. While this is not one of the world’s most pressing questions, the answer (rickshaw fuel [i.e., food] is about twice as expensive per mile as automobile fuel, explained in detail on pp. 100-101) does help show why the automobile is the dominant form of transportation in America.

This book is comprised of questions and their answers to help the reader figure out how to estimate the size of almost anything, from the silly to the serious (but never solemn) and from the simple to the complex. Questions include:
  • How many people are picking their nose at this instant?
  • How much coal or uranium is needed to fuel a power plant for one year?
  • How long is all of the DNA in your body?
  • How much space is needed to landfill all of America’s garbage for a century?
In order to make the questions answerable, we only try to get the answer to within a factor of ten. Since size by itself is meaningless, the book also shows readers how to make useful comparisons, such as between the energy storage capacity of batteries and gas tanks or between the risks of driving to the beach and getting bitten by a shark while swimming.
Read an excerpt from Guesstimation, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit the webpages of Lawrence Weinstein and John A. Adam.

--Marshal Zeringue