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Posted on Feb 14, 2018 at 07:25 AM

"Guess I had too many balls in the air..."

 

Ever heard anyone use that phrase to try to explain why a seemingly simple task goes off the rails...or even something as simple as leaving out an ingredient in a recipe?

 

Well...there is actually a good bit of science about this.  In the 50's there was a seminal paper by George Miller called "the magical number seven plus or minus two".  It's a pretty heavy read, and I don't pretend to understand it completely, but the cliff notes version basically says that there is an upper limit on the number of threads that can be kept in "active memory" in the human brain...maybe an upper limit on how many balls each of us can keep in the air in a given situation.

 

In the 70's a guy named Tom DeMarco was pioneering some interesting concepts about software, and how it should be designed, engineered, tested, and deployed.  Some say his work over the years led to the current "Agile" approach to software.  In one of his first works, DeMarco assigned the term "hrair" to the magical number seven plus or minus two, when describing what was then considered a key tool in the "structured" approach to designing software - the Data Flow Diagram (nee "bubble chart").  Hrair is a term from the book Watership Down ( a very good read by the way).  The book follows a warren of rabbits trying to find a new home as their current one is in danger of being destroyed.  There is an entire "language" designed by the author (Richard Adams) that is used by the rabbits (think Lord of the Rings), and for them "hrair" is an upper limit to their numerical universe.  For these rabbits, hrair was 4...that is...their numerical universe was 1,2,3,4,hrair.

 

While both Miller and DeMarco agreed on the same upper limit while studying somewhat different topics, both eventually revisited and even appeared to recant some of their work...many years after original publication.  But for my personal toolbox, I like to keep their stuff handy...especially when I am trying to calculate my personal hrair...as I realize I left out the nutmeg.

 

Be well...do good work...keep in touch


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Posted on Feb 14, 2018 at 07:49 PM

I'll forward your solution to Miller and DeMarco...I'll let you know what they think.

 

Be well

 


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Posted on Feb 14, 2018 at 06:45 PM

The answer to the world is 4.  Apparently that simple phase occurs repeatedly in many peoples dreams.  It has been written up.  Not sure why that applies.  


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