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On Learning, Technology

Estimating – a needed skill

How would you estimate the number of operational bullock carts in India? You can look it up. You will probably see there will be about 10 estimates. One figure I encountered was 15 million. But how would you go about it?

One way would be to sample 300 one square kilometers and count the number of bullock carts in the area, extrapolate and see the result for India. By now your eyebrows would be a notch higher than usual and are ready to stop reading. Perhaps not the right way would be your verdict.

A more acceptable way would be use the formula


Every day we are required to estimate. From simple things such as when will you be at office? When do you leave office? (Easy for the GRN members who go by bus). When can you drop the code for testing? It does not stop there. How much will a party cost me? A trip to Medinipur – wonder how much will it be?

All the above are perhaps very personal and involve a few people at best. Some of you have been involved in Function Point estimation or the T-shirt method of estimating effort. But imagine estimating the cost of a proposal to build complex software such Electronic Voting Machine or say predicting the number of customer Pizza Hut may have to service on the eve of the Baseball finals?

LogjamWork all round us requires estimation. They are real and they are hard. For example see the diagram on the left and the story here. Can you estimate the number of logs in the log-jam? It is not a frivolous exercise. Dynamites had to be used to clear the two mile long log-jam.

Locust swarms hit agriculture in many parts of the world. See the elephant braving the swarm.


It is imperative to estimate the swarm size and figure out the path they will follow. The sheer enormity of the problem is best explained in the before and after picture of a fig tree. Find the details here.

How would you estimate the number of ceiling fans sold in the market? One way would be ask for data from manufacturers? But what about the grey market manufacturers? There could be brands that have never been heard of before.

An interesting way would be to study the sale of specific types of ball bearing that are used in the fans with fairly high specificity. Manufacturers of ball bearings are perhaps less in number.

One of the key attributes in analytics is to figure out the way to estimate certain things on which the predictive nature of the subject of interest depends on. A friend of mine used to insist that he could care less whether the order was awarded but wanted an ‘accurate’ estimate of the effort needed!

Estimation is an art form supported by rational of science and the subjective nature of the human being doing it. Are you ready to explore this area?

On the lighter side – what does the word floccinaucinihilipilification mean? It means – the action or habit of estimating something as worthless.



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