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The joy in numbers

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but numbers tell a thousand stories.

Thanks to the number of people who get dooced, this post will be intentionally vague. And I will reflect on a slightly off tangent, yet related topic – the joy I find in numbers. There are various reasons why humans have an inclination towards numbers. The more well known one is their inherent beauty, which is the realm of theoretical mathematicians. While I get to deal with such magnificence only in my free time, my choice of career has exposed me to a whole new, lesser known genre of mathematical beauty – the one due to the stories they can tell.

Many people I know have told me that they would find an excel sheet full of font 8 numbers as appealing as a dip in a cold pool in the middle of winter. I guess it is an acquired taste and true appreciation comes only with time. Once you have passed the threshold into kingdom numerale, stories start jumping out at you every time you look at data. Patterns, trends, unexpected stories and ultimately decisions are what you see in a page full of numbers from 1 to 9. It is amazing that major business decisions are based on just the arrangement of the 9 digits, which appear almost random to an untrained eye. When I used to visit my father in his Histopathology lab, one of the posters that left a lasting impression in my mind said “The eyes do not see what the mind does not know”. I guess it has taken me over two decades to grasp its true meaning.

The sadistic pleasure of seeing someone else struggle to draw the same conclusions as you did from the same old data sheet is just one of the unforgivable sins that an analyst allows herself from time to time. I have been told before that I am nuts to think data is ‘beautiful’, so I don’t expect everyone to get it – but I believe anyone who has relished the joy of realisation – the joy of understanding – the joy of grasping an elegant solution – be it in any field, will be able to identify with my feelings. Its not that I think my job is anything special – like any other, it has its ups and downs, with a few mundane moments of routine intricately and inseparably interwoven into the exhilarating moments of intellectual satisfaction. Just that today was one of those them days when I was reminded of why I do what I do.

Posted in Personal, Science on March 15, 2005


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  1. Pleomorphous says

    6 years after I studied polar geometry, I had to use its concepts to redo code that drew a network. What was boring then, became fascinating then.



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