Things I Wish I Could Solve with Math

I’m an engineer. And like most engineers, I do a lot of math. Unfortunately, most of this math falls into two categories: 1) Useless or 2) Useful but applied to fake problems. The other day, I was thinking about how great it would be if I could apply math to everyday situations. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Finding the Optimal Amount of Coffee to Drink:

Almost everyone, me included, needs a cup of coffee to make it through the day. Having too little leads to headaches, drowsiness, and destructive fits of rage. Having too much coffee causes an insatiable need to pee, inability to sleep, and destructive fits of rage. On certain days, I’ll wake up somewhere strange surrounded by a ring of tattered textbooks and perforated problem sets, and the only explanation is that I missed the mark on my optimal amount of coffee for the day. Unfortunately, solving this problem is not so easy – amount of coffee needed depends on a number of factors including amount of sleep, number of classes, and bladder size. Apparently, optimization theory doesn’t apply to bladder size.

Finding the Expected Value on Time to Get to Class:

No one likes waking up early, that’s a proven fact. But people are especially annoyed with waking up early, walking to class, and accidentally getting there 3 minutes early. That’s 3 minutes of extra sleep lost forever! Getting to class late is no fun either. For some reason, people like to leave seats in the middle of rows empty, causing you to awkwardly climb over everyone, spilling coffee on classmates, leaving footprints on backpacks, and accidentally groping that girl you’ve been meaning to talk to for the past 14 lectures. If only there was a way to calculate the exact amount of time needed to get from waking up to sitting down in class. Unfortunately, this depends largely on a number of random factors, like who you fail to avoid on Locust Walk, how quickly you can jaywalk across 38th Street, and the time it takes to ride a highrise elevator.

Finding the Rate of Deceleration of Homework Completion Speed:

Everyone has been in this situation at some point: It’s 12:30am, your eyes are closing, but you still have 3 hours of homework to do. However, as you keep working, you get slower and slower as your exhaustion grows until it’s 5:00am, you haven’t slept, and your homework still isn’t done. Now, you not only have to tell the teacher some bullshit lie about how you were taking a friend to the ER to get a [insert fake medical term here] procedure because his pet [insert animal name here] bit his [insert body part], but you also have to grab coffee and risk a coffee OD (see above). The only benefit to this situation is that you get to brag about how late you went to bed. If only you could calculate how much homework completion speed is decreasing per minute – then, when completion speed hits some critical rate, you could go home and sleep a bit before tackling the assignment again. Let’s be honest though, you’ll stay up late regardless just for the bragging rights.


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