The Barometer and the House March 3, 2010

Stāsts no “The Idea Book” , by Fredrik Haren:

“If you don’t tell me how
tall your house is, I’ll beat
you to death with my
barometer
…”

A professor asked the following question: “How would you measure the height of a house using a barometer?” He wanted his students to say that you measure the air pressure on the ground and then the air pressure at the top of the house. Then, by using the formula, you can work out the height.

One student thought this is too simple, so he answered:

I would tie the barometer to the end of a piece of string, lower the barometer from the top of the building and then measure the length of the string and barometer once the barometer touches the ground.” The professor marked this answer as wrong.

But the student was not wrong, he actually succeeded in measuring the height of the house. He asked the professor to give him another chance.
This time he suggested: “I would lower the barometer from the top of the building on a piece of string, then swing it like a pendulum and measure the period of its oscillation.”

The professor failed him again. This time the student wrote:
I would count the number of steps taken whilst carrying the barometer up the stairs to the roof and multiplying that by the height of a stair tread.”

He was told off again, but he had more ideas:
Using a shorter piece of string measure the period of the makeshift pendulum at the top and bottom of the building. Use the two values to determine the change in gravitational force and therefore the height of the building.

The professor rejected his answer again, but the student did not give up, his new solution was:
Dropping the barometer off the top of the building, using a stopwatch to measure how long it takes to hit the ground, and solving for height in the equations for a falling body.

The professor did not like this answer either, so the student tried again:
Placing the barometer against the building at ground level, marking the top, placing the barometer above the mark, marking the new top, and so on until the building has been measured in “barometer units”.”

As also this answer was not accepted by the professor, the student gave a more mathematical solution to the problem:
Measuring the barometer, finding the length of the shadow cast by the barometer when stood on the ground, then finding the length of the building’s shadow in the same conditions.

After being rejected once again by the professor, the student was so fed up that he wrote:
“I would go to the house, knock on the door and say to the occupant. “If you don’t tell me the height of your house, I’ll beat you to death with my barometer.”

In the end, after protests from other students, the teacher granted the passing grade.

The student in the story was the future Danish Nobel Prize winner, Nils Bohr.

Nils chose to Break Free from his teachers “No-s”. Losing heart and and choosing the easy “teacher” solution is probably what a lot of us would have done.

But not Nils.

Keeping his mind open, he looked for more options. He dared to think outside of the box. Time and time again.

And now think of how many people give up at the first “NO”. At the first obstacle that comes their way? (maybe you have friends who wanted to start exercising. And they really “WOULD HAVE”, if it hadn’t rained that day!)

And does that help?

Of course not.

So, how about thinking in options? How about the next time you have a challenge, you ask your mind to think of 7 solutions?

PS. In case you doubt you can think of 7 solutions, just try out this test: come up with 30 different uses for a brick! (afterwards you will get a feeling of how creative you can actually be!)

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