#MentalNote · Education · Random

Using the Fermi Method To Improve Estimations Skills

Physicist Enrico Fermi was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. He won the Nobel prize in physics, held several patents and was best known for developing the first nuclear reactor. During career, he became well known for his ability to make fast, excellent approximate calculations with little or no concrete data. In one well-known example, when the first atomic bomb was detonated during the Manhattan Project, Fermi dropped a few scraps of paper as the shock wave from the detonation passed. After some coarse calculation, Fermi estimated the power of the blast from the motion of the scraps as they fell.

His estimation strategy spawned what we now call Fermi problems or estimates. These problems normally involve making justified estimations about an amount and their variance or minimum or maximum. These problems have been used in employee interviews (how effective they are is question for another day) to better identify a candidate’s ability to break down seemingly large unknown problems and create a reasonable estimate. Here’s an example of some common Fermi problems:

  1. How many plastic flamingos still exist in the United States?
  2. What is the total number of shots taken in one NBA season?
  3. How many hot dogs are bought at all the Major League Baseball games for one season?
  4. What is the average lifetime of a pencil?
  5. How many musical notes are played on your favorite radio station in a given year?
  6. How much popcorn is popped at the movie theater on an average Saturday?
  7. What is the probability that you have a doppelganger?
  8. How many hours of tv will you watch in your lifetime?
  9. How much gasoline does a typical automobile use during its lifetime?
  10. If everyone in our city donated one day’s wages to a good cause, how much money could be raised?

As you can see, most of these questions are abstract and unknowable but Fermi type problems rely on estimation, dimensional analysis, approximation, but most importantly, approaching the unknown from a knowable place. For example, taking a look at a question like how many hours will you watch tv in your lifetime, might look like a daunting and unknowable number. But we can approach it from a knowable place and come up with an estimate by asking a couple of key “knowable questions. For example, if I’m trying to figure out, “How many hours of tv will you watch in your life?”. Here are a couple of the questions you might ask to get you to a solid estimate;

  • What is the average lifespan of your gender based on where you live? (We know the average life expectancy of a male in the US is 78.4…based on US census data)
  • What tv shows do you watch frequently on a weekly basis – Daily Show (4*30 minutes), Dragon ball Super ( 1*30 minutes), GPS (1*1 hour) = 3.5 hours a week.
  • How does this extrapolate to other parts of my life?  (I probably watched 3.5 hours of tv now, including netflix, amazon prime, etc but I probably have decreased my tv watching as I’ve gotten older. I probably watched 15-20 hours a week when I was a child (4-17- thinking of my favorite tv shows and daily schedule) and 10-15 when I was a young adult. (18-29)
  • Do I think my time watching tv will increase or decrease? – Most likely increase. I’m pretty busy now so I’ll probably get to the point where its back to 6-8 hours per week. In the long term, I think i’ll have more free time and also will have kids that will want to watch tv with me.  

Once we’ve got a majority of the inputs, (duration of life, baseline on tv show hours) now we can start estimating amount of time per year and then develop an estimate.

  • 0-3 ( Not really sure but let’s just say I spent 30 hours a week watching television) – 4 years * 52 weeks * 30 hours = 6,240 hours
  • 4-17 (20 hours a week) – 14 years * 52 weeks * 20 hours = 14,560 hours
  • 18-29 (15 hours a week) – 12 years * 52 weeks * 15 hours = 9,360 hours
  • 30-40 (8 hours a week) – 11 years * 52 weeks * 8 hours = 8,580 hours
  • 41-50 (6 hours a week) – 10 years * 52 weeks * 6 hours=  3,120 hours
  • 51-60 (15 hours a week)  – 10 years * 52 weeks * 15 hours = 7,800 hours
  • 61- 78 (10 hours a week) – 18 years * 52 weeks * 10 hours = 9,360 hours

I will spend an estimated 59,020 hours, or about 7 years watching television during my lifetime.

With Fermi problems, it’s less about the primary questions and more about the questions you can ask to identify certainty and fundamental assumptions that  affect estimations. For example, three major assumptions I made to come up with 59,020 hours are:

  1. The rate of tv watching is consistent on a day to day.
  2. Tv watching is connected to the amount of free time I think I’ll have in a given week.
  3. I’ll live to be the average age (78.4 years)

There are other ways to go about approaching this question. You could take a subtractive approach and identify the minimum and maximum time you can have to watch tv. IE, if a sleep 6-8 hours for the rest of my life, spend 8 hours working, 1 hour exercising, 1 hour eating, how much time do I have to watch tv a day? What are some other pressures that can affect how much tv time I have? To get more granular, what does my weekend look like? What do I normally do on vacation. There are questions that could bring you to a more approximate estimate, but the time spent on the estimate should be proportional to the need for accuracy.

The Fermi method has practical applications, it can be helpful in day to day estimating in work and play. From a project management perspective, the Fermi method can be really helpful when developing out approximate hours for  for client / internal estimates on upcoming features or projects. Most importantly, start with what you know. How many people will interface with the project? Based on previous projects, how long do your processes like discovery, check-ins, QA, and etc. normally take? While each project is different in its own way, asking these questions help expose what you know and areas where you’re making assumptions. Over time, you can evaluate how well your assumptions play out after each project.

I challenge you to find ways you can estimate better buy identifying your assumptions and approaching unknown questions from a knowable place

#MentalNote · Random · Self-Revelation

Meditations for 2018

There are very few newsletters I read consistently as I do the Daily Stoic Newsletter.  It gives me the right boost I need each day for perspective, mortality and overall stoic philosophy.

It’s the beginning of the year and we’re all starting to do the new year shuffle. What are my goals? What do I want to focus on this year? Where am I going? I couldn’t think of a better guiding post than what I received from Daily Stoic earlier today. Here’s an expert of the email that highlights 12 focus areas to meditate on for 2018. I hope it will provide you with solid foundation as it did for me.

Clarity — Remember, the most important task is to separate the things that are in your control from those that are not in your control. To get real clarity about what to focus on in life. As Seneca put it, “It’s not activity that disrupts people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad.”

Equanimity — To the Stoics, the passions were the source of suffering. “A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent,” Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, “and such a person has strength, courage and endurance—unlike the angry and the complaining.” Calmness is strength.

Awareness — Accurate self-assessment is essential. Know thyself, was the dictum from the Oracle at Delphi. Knowing your strengths is just as important as knowledge of your weakness, and ignorance of either is ego (as we show here). As Zeno put it, “nothing is more hostile to a firm grasp on knowledge than self-deception.”

Unbiased Thought — “Objective judgement, now at this very moment,” was Marcus’s command to himself. Our life is colored by our thoughts, the Stoics said, and so to be driven by this bias or that bias—this delusion or that false impression—is to send your whole existence off-kilter.

Right Action — It’s not just about clear thoughts, but clear thoughts that lead to clear and right action. “First, tell yourself what kind of person you want to be,” Epictetus said, “then do what you have to do.” Emphasis on the do. Remember Marcus: “Don’t talk about what a good man is like. Be one.” This philosophy is for life, not for the ethereal world.

Problem Solving — Are you vexed by daily obstacles or do you throw yourself into solving them? “This is what we’re here for,” Seneca said. No one said life was easy. No one said it would be fair. Let’s make progress where we can.

Duty — “Whatever anyone does or says,” Marcus wrote, “I’m bound to the good…Whatever anyone does or says, I must be what I am and show my true colors.” He was talking about duty. Duty to his country, to his family, to humankind, to his talents, to the philosophy he had learned. Are you doing yours?

Pragmatism — A Stoic is an idealist…but they are also imminently practical. If the food is bitter, Marcus wrote, toss it out. If there are brambles in the path, go around. Don’t expect perfection. Be ready to be flexible and creative. Life demands it.

Resiliency — Do you want to count on good luck or be prepared for anything that happens? The Stoics had an attitude of “Let come what may” because they had cultivated inner-strength and resilience. Make sure you’ve done your training.

Kindness — Be hard on yourself, and understanding of others. See every person you meet, as Seneca tried to do, as an opportunity for kindness and compassion. Nothing can stop you from being virtuous, from being good. That’s on you.

Amor Fati — Don’t just accept what happens, love it. Because it’s for the best. Because you will make it for the best. A Stoic embraces everything with a smile. Every obstacle is fuel for their fire, to borrow Marcus’s metaphor. 

Memento Mori — We’re strong but we’re not invincible. We were born mortal and nothing can change that. So let us, as Seneca said, “prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life.” Let us put nothing off, let us live each moment fully. 


business · Current Events · Random · Technology

My Thoughts On A Potential CVS+ Aetna Deal


Some context….We’ve seen high levels of consolidation in the healthcare industry over the last 4- 5 years….a lot having to do with ACA and inter-industry competition. Yesterday, Amazon won regulatory approval to wholesale pharmaceuticals in 12 states. While it does seem Amazon will enter the pharma sales business, the larger elephant in the room, which I think CVS Health acknowledges with this move, is pharmaceutical benefits management (PBM). PBM has been a major driver of profits and growth for CVS and a key differentiator from the Walmarts of the world. Adding aetna will re-inforce their PBM business by giving them a larger network to play with and helps with diversification to weather an Amazon entrance into the pharmaceutical space. Amazon will start by selling pharmaceutical products but will eventually use Amazon Prime as a PBM which will ultimately drive down the cost of prescriptions for Amazon prime members while they take a cut of course. Interesting time to be a consumer.

Random · Self-Revelation · Technology

Hoarding 2.0

I have a problem. I’m a digital Hoarder. What does even that mean? Let me try and break it down for you.

I have multiple memory sticks, external hard drives, and cloud storage. They are full of pictures, movies, other videos, music, documents, books, and other random files that I don’t feel like deleting.  

I never delete my email anymore. I archive with the hope they’ll someday be useful. I’m one of those zero inbox folks but I feel like I’m cheating by archiving and not deleting.

I bookmark everything. My Chrome browser most likely has bookmarks all the way back from December 2008. If I see something that want to go back to and I want to remember, I’ll automatically save as a bookmark. Just briefly looking through…. I’ve bookmarked craigslist post that no longer exist, reference pages for hobbies, jobs, and personal projects.

I haven’t even gotten to the two most notorious apps for hoarding behavior. Evernote and Pocket allow me to take still shots of the internet (literally and figuratively speaking.). I’ve used the evernote clipping tool extension to capture posts, images, and quotes I’ll most likely never look at again. I use to go pocket crazy. I’d save an article to pocket with the hope of reading it again but pocketing the article made it more likely I wasn’t going to read it.

I archive all my texts. I rarely delete call logs. I could go on and on.

I would understand if I had similar tendencies offline. Far from it. I keep my physical possessions to a minimum. My minimalist mindset doesn’t translate to my online existence.  

How would I even go correcting my behavior? Is it something which needs to be corrected?  

Education · Politics · Random · Uncategorized

The Rise of Pseudo Intellectualism

What is pseudo intellectualism?

Pseudo Intellectualism, as defined by dictionary.com is:

  1. Exhibiting intellectual pretensions that have no basis in sound scholarship.
  2. Pretending an interest in intellectual matters for reasons of status.

There’s no other time in the history of the world we have a limitless amount of knowledge at our fingertips. Traditionally, we’ve depended on institution and life experience to dictate who had access to knowledge but as a result of technological advances, we’ve seen a rapid democratization of knowledge in a way which overloads how we identify who and what is intellectual.

Instead of leaning on academic credentials, intellectual pursuits, and/or age, we’ve become a society focused on stance and position. We focus on a person’s ability to create a stance and answer a question instead of the pursuit of the right question. Ultimately, the pursuit of questions or answers is what differentiates an intellectual from a pseudo intellectual. The answer can be 42 but what is the ultimate question?

What are some examples?

Example of pseudo intellectualism is all around us. My favorite example of pseudo intellectualism are some people that consider themselves “woke”. Woke, for those asking what that even means in this context, is the awareness of systems and messages that facilitate social injustice. Some people will recite to you all the reasons said systems exist and how they are impacted but then enforce the same systems on other people. This shows a puedo understanding of what the systems are and how they impact a group’s existence.

Another example is our election process in the US. You are well informed if you identify key platform positions for each candidate. We regurgitate positions, history, topics of contention, but rarely ask why. Why does this position exist? Why are they on this side of the issue? What are the long term implications of this person’s position? We are hand fed talking points by the news and use them in conversation. As a result, they eventually become a force framework for how we think about the election. It becomes this vs that. The forced dichotomy prevents us from asking bigger questions that challenge the election process.

Is it bad for society?

Yes and no. The traditional role of intellectuals was to move the “pursuit of knowledge” forward so others can partake in its fruits. We’ve gotten to a point where there’s so much information and knowledge openly available, we need people who will curate and provide us with a bite sized understanding with the hope an average of bite sized summaries and positions will get us closer to understanding topics of interest.

To counter, pseudo intellectualism lulls people into a surface understanding of life. We outsource intellectual processing to other parties so we just become consumers of knowledge without knowing what went into making it. What’s in that burger?

How can we do better?

There are three simple ways we can combat pseudo intellectualism.

  1. Call out people who exhibit pseudo intellectual habits.
  2. Always ask why
  3. Be wary of those who point to an absolute truth…. One of my favorite sayings, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” is from Assassin’s Creed. “To say ‘Nothing is True’, is to realise that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilisation. To say that ‘Everything is Permitted’, is to understand that we must live with the consequences of our actions whether good or bad.”