Watching the Olympics brings up a recurring discussion with my family, mainly between my wife, the non-engineer, and me, the engineer. As an engineer, I can appreciate it when things are able to be quantified and measured. Numbers are our game.

(Of course, some of these “measurements” are carried way to far by managers at work places who have no idea how statistics work and wouldn’t know a regression to the mean if it bit them on their… oops, that’s for another post.)

My wife and I will watch a race and the runner or swimmer who wins will beat the second place person by 1 or 2 or 3 hundredths of a second. This may be after racing for many minutes, and my wife, kind-hearted soul she is, would say that they all finished about the same time. “Is there really any difference between the athletes?” She would give them all gold medals.

We now have the ability to measure quite precisely the time span from the start of the race to the end in hundredths or thousandths of a second. It’s not like the old days when someone may have to make a judgment on who crossed the finish line first or touched the wall before anyone else. It is measurable and specific. One person wins, the other does not.

What I figured out, though, is that I am just as “kind-hearted” as my wife, at least as far as an engineer can be. I may be more kind-hearted because I support the system where the true winner, the absolute winner, the winner proven to be the winner, is the one who is declared the winner.

Specific, measurable, precise, and using significant digits that identify accurate results. An engineer can appreciate that.