No Happy Nonsense

Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them / Antonio Padilla


February 6th, 2023 | Quick Thoughts

This book felt dense as fuck, like a head-sized black hole, which coincidentally is the only head-sized object with enough data storage to fully comprehend Graham's Number, according to the book.

I take numbers for granted. I consider myself relatively "good" with numbers, especially when compared to some folks in the supply chain orgs I've worked within. But a book like this really reinforces a hard truth that I've spent the past ten years wrestling with: I am stupid.

I'm not an engineer, or a scientist. Not a doctor, or lawyer. Not a programmer. Not a tradesman. I'm just a guy who learned Excel and SAP, and even then only basic and intermediary skills (again, I'm stupid).

A lot of the folks I work with think of themselves as smart individuals, doing important work. The reality is that most of these processes work themselves out without intervention by the khaki and button-downers in a corporate office. And we're just making razors and toothpaste. It's not doing anything better for the world, despite in-house propaganda.

Reading about a history of big and small "important" numbers served as a powerful reminder of how dumb I am. Large parts of this book just felt like an absolute slog, because it was so hard to conceptualize. Quarks, gluons, fermions, neutrinos, string theory, fine structure constant, TREE(3), and whatever else hit me in this book. Fuck, man.

Physics is trying to understand the rules of a game world while being an avatar inside that game world, and very very very smart people have spent the past few hundred years constantly refining our collective understanding of how that game world works. This book was a brief and layperson's summary of that work presented as a series of specific numbers, and although it wasn't a fun read, I felt like it's one I'm grateful for completing.


Filed Under: Reviews