The Legend of Significant Numbers
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Once upon a time, there was an old man, he had 11 children, however, all of them were not old enough to find a job outside, the old man with his wife, had to work all day and night to support the family. Fortunately, due to the fact that they shrimp and save everyday, after 12 years, they were able to save up quite a sum of money- $98.50. The family of 13 lived in the period where televisions were so popular, so popular that their children could no longer resist the temptation to buy a television. Every day, every night, 1 of the 13 will always proposes the idea of buying a black and white television to their father.

One day, the eldest son came back and told his father, “Papa, I heard about a television sale that is going on tomorrow. I think there is a black and white television going at about…about…I think its about $100!” When the father heard that, his eyes lit up and up he jumped from his chair, shouting, “Finally, finally! WAHAHAHA! I AM ABLE TO BUY A TELEVISION. I, ANG CHEE MENG CAN FINALLY PROVE TO EVERYONE THAT I COULD AFFORD A TELEVISION!” In fact, the father did want a television badly, but could not afford it in the past. After a series of cheering, the father suddenly realized that he still had $1.50 to go. Even if he works for 24 hours, he needed 9 days to gather the amount of money and by that time, the sale would have gone.

His wife suggested selling some of their assets, but come to think of it, the family had no assets at all, their only assets are their children. Just then, their cleverest son, Chee Heng, said: “ Papa, you may sell me, I don’t mind.”(Actually the cleverest son only wanted to escape from the life of poverty) The father upon hearing that almost cried, as they had to be fast, the next day, the old man sold Chee Heng to a couple for $2.50.

On the following day, the old man took his $100 and walked proudly to the television sale. His butt was as high as his head and he wore a smug that can be spotted only on the face of rich people.

When he reached there, he asked for the cheapest television. However, to his shock ness, the cheapest cost $149.99! Even if he sold all his children, he still could not buy it. The old man returned home in fits of anger and scolded the eldest child who misled him. However, the eldest replied indignantly, “ PAPA! I merely estimated the price of the television it to the nearest 100 for I was unsure, that was what my teacher taught me!” The old man upon hearing that could not do anything as the teacher’s always right. The money that came from the selling of his child was also not of much use anymore. The only thing he could do was to tell everyone that he nearly could afford a television, just that his eldest son screwed up. A great mathematician was passing by the market when the old man was relating his story to everyone. He realized that there was a major problem with the estimation method people are using then. In his mind, he thought, “What can I do to make estimation more accurate? If this goes on, there will be lots of confusion!” After much thought and effort put into research, he managed to come out with the rule of significant numbers, and from then on, estimation was much more accurate and a lot of confusion was avoided when estimating. If significant number estimation was used when estitmating the price, it would have been $150 instead of $100.

Written on 14/12/09

Author: Mathematician of the 21st century- Lionell Loh. (Kidding)

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