## Scientists Define Murphy's Law 324

Posted
by
CmdrTaco

from the brillaint-or-pathetic dept.

from the brillaint-or-pathetic dept.

Jesrad writes

*"A mathematician, a psychologist and an economist commissioned by British Gas have finally put into mathematical terms what we all knew: that things don't just go wrong, they do so at the most annoying moment.The formula, ((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10)), indicates that to beat Murphy's Law (a.k.a. Sod's Law) you need to change one of the parameter: U for urgency, C for complexity, I for importance, S for skill, F for frequency and A for aggravation. Or in the researchers' own words: "If you haven't got the skill to do something important, leave it alone. If something is urgent or complex, find a simple way to do it. If something going wrong will particularly aggravate you, make certain you know how to do it." Don't you like it when maths back up common sense ?"*
## Another famous proof (Score:5, Funny)

## And while we're on mathematical jokes... (Score:5, Funny)

## Re:And while we're on mathematical jokes... [OT] (Score:2)

## Re:that is not a limit on math (Score:5, Informative)

The hermetic nature of basic math is from a limitation of mathematicians, us, rather than math itself.You've got it backwards. This joke doesn't illustrate a weakness of mathematical thinking, it illustrates a key strength. Mathematics is all about precise, rigorous reasoning, and that's what makes it both useful and beautiful. Fuzzy thinking that makes unnecessary assumptions limits the thought processes and closes off interesting lines of investigation. What if the the sheep *was* black only on one side? What might that imply? Or is it possible to demonstrate that a sheep that is black on one side must therefore be entirely black? Avoiding assumptions is a good thing, a way to free your mind, not to limit it. Even better is to go ahead and make assumptions, with the clear understanding of what you are assuming and see where it leads. You can even make assumptions that are counter to observed facts and see where that goes (e.g. non-Euclidean geometry -- which turns out to be highly useful in the real world -- was created in the midst of an attempt to demonstrate that Euclid's parallel postulate must be "true" because to assume otherwise leads to contradictions -- only it doesn't).

I'm a mathematician* and I think that joke spreads a valuable and important meme. Don't counter it, clarify it.

*Speaking of precision: Perhaps I shouldn't call myself a mathematician. I have a BS in Mathematics (pure, not applied or any somesuch) which doesn't so much make me a mathematician as someone who once wanted to be a mathematician. I still occasionally study a little math for fun.

## Not quite... (Score:2, Interesting)

women = (evil) ^ 2

Follows:

women = +/- evil

There are those of us who know and associate with women who possess negative evil.

## Er... (Score:5, Insightful)

Maths doesn't work like that. Writing something down as a formula doesn't automatically tell you something new or prove something.

It sounds like they're trying to

describehow things can go wrong with a formula. That's nice, but it's just their opinion.## Re:Er... (Score:3, Insightful)

Maths doesn't work like that. Writing something down as a formula doesn't automatically tell you something new or prove something.

It sounds like they're trying to describe how things can go wrong with a formula. That's nice, but it's just their opinion.

Christ, you must be a blast at parties.

You know that was a joke, right? Right?

## Re:Er... (Score:2)

You know that was a joke, right? Right?did you read the article? after reading it, didn't seem much like a joke to me.

## Apparantly not and many others like him don't get (Score:5, Interesting)

It is a joke people. No need to question who did it or what school they went to or discuss the merits of trying to explain the nature of probability in a formula.

A FUCKING JOKE. If you need it simpler it is like the old "You can have it fast, good or cheap. Pick two" but with more braces.

Seriously read the comments. A lot just don't seem to get it at all. Those few who did. Thank god. All hope is not lost. To those who didn't go I recommend suicide. Make the world a happier place.

## Re:Er... (Score:3, Interesting)

http://www.matrix-evolutions.com/

Despite the URL, there is some serious and, as far as I can tell, correct math proving Bush wrong. Just skip to the last paragraphs to see how mathematics defines 'significant'

## Re:Er... (Score:3, Interesting)

It basically boils down to how often do you do a thing? (frequency). How bad can the worst failure be? (importance).

Mitigating factors (skill, urgency). Which basically gives you what British Gas came up with.

## equals (Score:3, Insightful)

## Re:equals (Score:5, Funny)

## Re:equals (Score:5, Interesting)

## Re:equals (Score:4, Funny)

## Re:equals (Score:2)

## Re:equals (Score:2)

Urgency and aggravation are measured on their own relative scale, as percentages of unity (0.0->1.0)I realize that it's a joke. Sadly, in some journals this kind of stuff actually passes for research. Happiness and aggravation can't be measured with a ruler.

Current mathematical tools are mostly targeting applications in grant engineering.Heh heh. True enough.

## Re:equals (Score:2)

## Re:equals (Score:5, Funny)

How does one quantify urgencyFraction of bladder. 0 = bladder empty, no urgency. 1 = bladder full. Hoo boy, that's urgent.

## Re:equals (Score:3, Insightful)

## Re:equals (Score:2)

## Re:equals (Score:2)

Those axioms are observations.I wouldn't go that far. Initially, the axioms were chosen as self-evident. But later

## Re:equals (Score:5, Informative)

Those axioms are observations. One important observation, one of two axioms underpinning all of math (and therefore science), is "consistency". The other is falsifiability, that only statements that can be proven false are scientific - the rest are metaphysical. Math such as "all triangles are composed of three interior angles totaling 180 degrees" is an observation, that is supported by theories and constructions. Physics applies math by interpreting the mathematical relationships in observed phenomena.I suggest you go and read some Bertrand Russell on philisophy of mathematics. Mathematics isn't based on observation at all. It's based on what axioms you choose to start with and using deductive logic from there - and you would be very surprised about how basic and not based on observation the funcamental axioms of mathematics are, presuming you bother to look at works that build up math from as small a foundation as possible. On that front, I would suggest you look at Principia Mathematica by Russell and Whitehead, which is pretty much

thebook on purest mathematical foundations.Jedidiah.

## Re:equals (Score:2)

On that front, I would suggest you look at Principia Mathematica by Russell and Whitehead, which is pretty much the book on purest mathematical foundations.If you can afford to purchase a complete copy. I have to *56.

Personally, I prefer ZFC.

## Re:equals (Score:3, Interesting)

## Re:equals (Score:4, Insightful)

I'm not trying to argue the pointfulness of the formula here given, I'm rather trying to stand up for the fact that mathematics, unlike physics for example, goes very much further to separate itself from "depending on observation". There are plenty concepts in mathematics (p-adic numbers, non-Hausdorff spaces, projective geometry) that run completely counter to anything observable.

Jedidiah.

## Re:equals (Score:3, Funny)

## Re:equals (Score:5, Insightful)

No, those axioms are just the assumptions that a mathematician made. They don't have anything to do with reality, or the things we observe there. Every theorem has hypotheses and a conclusion; writing every one of those hypotheses every time you make a statement gets old, so you declare some things to be true before you get started.

The notion of consistency that troubles logicians is a matter of axioms -- it is merely a matter of whether there is a statement such that it and its negation follow from the axioms. Nothing to do with reality. As for "falsifiability", that has absolutely nothing to do with mathematics. Things are proven to be absolutely true in mathematics all the time.

No.

I feel I must repeat: No.

That the sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees is a consequence of the axioms. It is most definitely not an observation, since it isn't actually true in the real world (though it is very close to what you might measure).

The statement about angles is a consequence of Euclidean geometry. Work in a different geometry (ie non-flat, like spherical or hyperbolic geometry) and the formula for the sum of the angles is very different.

## Re:equals (Score:2)

No, mathematics is exactly that: a description of the phenmoena. The "laws" we're always talking about are just reasonable expectations of consistent phenomena, phrased to exclude irrelevant factors and products, while describing the relationships between the phenomena actually involved.And.

Making unwarranted and usually untrue assumptions about the nature of the relationship. Kinda like all hills have straight sides.

What is true is that mother nature sides with the hidden, and whatever and whenever caus

## Re:equals (Score:2)

## Re:Er... (Score:3, Insightful)

Maths doesn't work like that.Writing something down as a formuladoesn't automatically tell you something new or prove something.Score = 0

## Hundreds! (Score:2, Funny)

"I have hundreds of luck. HUNDREDS!"

So, what are the units of urgency, complexity, importance, skill, frequency and aggravation?

## Re:Hundreds! (Score:5, Funny)

## Re:Hundreds! (Score:2, Funny)

> "I have hundreds of luck. HUNDREDS!"

I'm sorry, that's only three funny.

## Re:Hundreds! (Score:2)

## Re:Hundreds! (Score:5, Funny)

>> "I have hundreds of luck. HUNDREDS!"

>I'm sorry, that's only three funny.

Apparently, so is your comment.

## If not mathematically then statistically.. (Score:2, Informative)

## Re:Er... (Score:5, Funny)

Important and have to be carried outFrequently, and a test that covers all the situations to which Murphy's law might apply is clearly going to have to beComplex. So plugging all of that in, we see that, even if the formula is correct, all your attempts to verfiy it are doomed to failure!Jedidiah.

## Re:Er... (Score:2)

How much of that they've done, is somewhat hard to tell from the article, but _some_ it seems.

## Re:Er... (Score:2)

Some [bbc.co.uk] examples [bbc.co.uk] here [bbc.co.uk]. Not to mention a "formula for the perfect joke" which I was unable to find. At least the news doesn't take these people too seriously.

Jedidiah.

## Re:Er... (Score:2)

## Re:Er... (Score:2, Funny)

If you're looking for self help, why would you read a book written by somebody else?

That's not self help. That's help.

There's no such thing as self help. If you did it yourself, you didn't need help!

</Carlin>

## Re:Humor? (Score:2)

Hmm. But humour generally has to be at least plausible... there's some suspension of disbelief allowed, but not to that extent :-P

Seriously, though, I never pass up the opportunity for an early (or maybe first) post complaining about the article... who could?

## I don't believe it! (Score:5, Funny)

Jesrad writes "A mathematician, a psychologist and an economist commissioned by British Gas have finally put into mathematical terms what we all knew: that things don't just go wrong, they do so at the most anno.... 503 service unavailable## Bullcrap (Score:2, Interesting)

A scientific law should be provable by repetation. You can't know somehting will go wrong every time.

## Re:Bullcrap (Score:3, Funny)

then?## Re:Bullcrap (Score:2, Insightful)

## Re:Bullcrap (Score:2, Funny)

## Re:Bullcrap (Score:3, Funny)

You sure about that?

You want

myjob?Follow me around for a day. You'll change your tune.

## Re:Bullcrap (Score:3, Informative)

possibilitythat something can go wrong, then it eventually will. Murphy developed it when he was working on the reliability of systems as a function of their components:[lim(L -> infinity)][P(L < infinity|some component has a positive failure rate)] = 1 where L is the lifetime of the system

## Re:Bullcrap (Score:2)

Besides, it doesn't prove that something will go wrong the next time used, it is used to give the probability. Often, you can't use math to prove something WILL go wrong in any particular instance, but you can at least provide the chances. If I flip a coin and declare that tails is "wrong", probability won't tell me which outcome I will get.

## Ugh (Score:5, Funny)

## Re:Ugh (Score:2)

Someone's always one post ahead of ya.

## well, at least Cmdr. Taco isn't stupid... (Score:2, Interesting)

he knows this is BS too...

-Leav

## And to avoid damaging the galaxies (Score:5, Insightful)

## Re:And to avoid damaging the galaxies (Score:2)

## Re:And to avoid damaging the galaxies (Score:2)

## Explanation (Score:5, Insightful)

((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10))The parent is noting that if you plug in 5*(pi) into F, you get sin(5*(pi)/10), which equals sin((pi)/2), which equals 1. The problem occurs when you evaluate this part: 1/(1-sin(F/10)), because you get 1/(1-1), which is 1/0, and division by 0 is prohibited.

## Re:And to avoid damaging the galaxies (Score:3, Funny)

Only an engineer would get something new and look for ways to break it.

Only a mathmatician could break it.

-Adam

## m+u-s (Score:2)

## most annoying moment (Score:5, Insightful)

That's because, when things go wrong, it

becomesthe most annoying moment.My dishwaster just starting leaking all over the floor btw. Damn you murphy!## Re:most annoying moment (Score:5, Insightful)

Then paint the target.

## Re:most annoying moment (Score:2)

hadto leave for an important job interview and couldn't find my dress shoes." The annoyance level of either situation, by itself, is tolerable but when combined## Re:most annoying moment (Score:2)

My dishwaster just starting leaking all over the floor btw.Check this: link [my-healthandsafety.com], good luck with that leak!

## Fire up the laserjet! (Score:5, Funny)

((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10))

Yeah baby! Learn it, live it, love it!

Actually, this formula is my life story in a nutshell.....

## IT'S A JOKE! (Score:5, Informative)

What a fun crowd we've got around here on Sunday...

## Re:IT'S A JOKE! (Score:2)

## OT, but mathmatical (Score:2)

## this has gotta be real... (Score:4, Funny)

Shame they didn't work in some of those cool Greek characters, though.

## not a story until there's a real reference (Score:3, Informative)

Experts at British Gas indeed. Why? How? No one is even telling us the quantity that is being calculated in this dubious formula.

If you don't know, guys, kindly don't pass it on. So far it's just noise. Here's a slightly better link [scotsman.com], but still not, in my opinion, enough to bother with.

## Re:not a story until there's a real reference (Score:3, Informative)

The equation has seven steps to forecasting a potential Murphy's Law moment, so you can work out which factors you need to change to avoid it:

1. Rate the urgency, importance and complexity on a scale of one to nine and add the three figures together.

2. Rate from one to nine how skilled you are at the task, then subtract this from 10.

3. Multiply answers to 1 and 2 and divide by 20.

4. Rate from one to nine how frequently you per

## Asskissing gives you better results than hardwork! (Score:5, Funny)

From a strictly mathematical viewpoint it goes like this:

What makes 100%?

What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?

Ever wonder about these people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been to these meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%

How about achieving 103%? What makes up 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these question.

If:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z is represented as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

Then:

H A R D W O R K

8+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

K N O W L E D G E

11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

But:

A T T I T U D E

1+20+20++9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

And:

B U L L S H I T

2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

AND, Look how far ass kissing will take you.

A S S K I S S I N G

1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that whilst hard work and knowledge will get you close, and attitude will get you there, it's the bullshit and ass kissing that will put you over the top.

## Re:Asskissing gives you better results than hardwo (Score:2)

## Re:Asskissing gives you better results than hardwo (Score:2)

Decide for yourselves!

## Proof of Murphy's Law (Score:2)

## schneider (Score:2)

cango wrong, in murphys, and annihilation of incoming events, things thatdogo wrong, in normys. This new formalization of schneidics will help us in our pur## But the equation contains a glaring error! (Score:2, Insightful)

Yes, I know in common usage, "aggravation," has meant an "an exasperated feeling of annoyance" for a long time. However, that is because since at least the time of Dickens, the word has been mistaken for "irritation." Dickens used "aggrivation," for "irritation" to make his Cockney charecters sound funny, and now it makes an already spurious equtaion comical. Of course, that may have been the intent.

However, perhaps we are all a little quick to judge. After all, all we have is a new

## so, aggravation is different from urgency (Score:3, Funny)

So, when we're trying to estimate the parameters, we take logs and get:

log(U+C+I) + log(10-S) - log20 + logA - log(1-sin(F/10))

That means that we can estimate the effects of skill, aggravation and frequency separately, but the effects of urgency, complexity and importance can't be separated from one another.

I'm pretty sure there's some deep, philosophical meaning to that.

## Scientific Humor (Score:3, Interesting)

is what? The number of times per week something will go wrong? A probability function describing the frustration field in the vicinity of a piece of hardware? The length of the scientist's nose?

Where's the equals sign? Or comparison operator? Where's the other half of the equation?

It's cute that somebody's multiplied a bunch of parameters. But they haven't said (mathematically) what that means.

Murphy's law is a humorous observation at man's frustration with the universe. A mathematical descrption of Murphy's law would be scientific humor.

What was reported by NEWS.com.au (and repeated by

## Is their formula meta enough? (Score:2)

## Murphy's Law and Schroedinger's cat (Score:2, Funny)

Is actually an inverse corollary of the Schroedinger's cat equations:

"Anything that can go wrong, already has, but you won't observe it until the most critical time."

## Now that they have defined it (Score:2)

## Murphy's law doesn't bug me at all (Score:2, Insightful)

mylife.Like when you're looking for somebody inside a building. You park next to their car and go inside to find them. If you don't leave a note on their car, they will come out the other door, get into their car without noticing yours, and leave. If you do leave a note, you'll meet up with them inside. Go figure. It's similar, but it's not the same.

I always wonder about those types of "laws"--nobody compares the number of times things go wrong at the worst possible m

## And Dr. Lewis Is Always Right (Score:5, Funny)

Project psychologist Dr David Lewis said... "So, if you haven't got the skill to do something important, leave it alone. If something is urgent or complex, find a simple way to do it. If something going wrong will particularly aggravate you, make certain you know how to do it."When asked why so many of his psychotherapy patients commit suicide, Dr. Lewis went on to say, "You're implying something went wrong. They would have become serial murderers or child rapists if I handn't helped them. Are you saying I should be

aggravatedover the outcome of having saved lives while protecting little children from molestation? If I didn't have the skills I have, you might not be standing here asking such questions, you Wanker."## Close (Score:5, Informative)

It's not, it's not the same thing as Sod's Law, and the law you're thinking of is Finagle's.

Ironicly, having it called Murphy's Law by a reporter from the Courier-Mail is an example of Murphy's Law.

## This is Finagle's Law (Score:2)

## Gibberish (Score:2)

Einstein did a much better job applying pseudo-math to real life :

## Sod's Law = Murphy's Law (Score:5, Funny)

Sod's Law: It will go wrong at the worst posible time.

## Re:Sod's Law NOT= Murphy's Law (Score:5, Funny)

It'll do it when typing a subject into

and completely reverse the subject's meaning: Sod's Law.And yes, it really did stop working. Bugger.

## So, what's the punchline? (Score:2)

"A mathematician, a psychologist and an economistwalked into a bar|commissioned by British GasWith an intro like that, it's

gotto be a joke. I suppose that if you search here [mcc.ac.uk], you'll find that missing punchline. Maybe this is it?Q: What's the difference between mathematics and economics

A: Mathematics is incomprehensible; economics just doesn't make any sense.

## Gotta love privatisation (Score:2)

"

"A mathematician, a psychologist and an economist"commissioned by British Gashave finally put into mathematical terms... Murphy's Law (a.k.a. Sod's Law).That'll explain why British Gas "had to" increase the price of energy [bbc.co.uk]: to pay for such folly as this.

## S = 11 (Score:2, Funny)

## The math IS common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

Don't you like it when maths back up common sense ?The equation in the post is a

model---an invention for the purposes of prediction and description. It's effectively a mathematical restatement of common sense insights and (hopefully) statistical tendencies derived from psychological and economic studies. So to say that this workbacks upcommon sense is missing the point to some extent: most of the meat was there firstascommon sense, and the math just expresses it more precisely and more in keeping with observed data.Note that

F=maand the rest of Newton's laws also form a model in the same way that this equation does. What made them so revolutionary was that the ideas behind the models were very powerful, making the models themselves extremely accurate. We'll have to wait and see whether this Murphy's Law model is backed by similarly potent insights.--Tom

## Not a joke . . . similar things used for decades (Score:3, Informative)

These factors are often multiplied together to result in a number that is used to prioritize the limited funds available to process improvement or maintenance.

These ideas are not new . . . they were developed by Japanese manufacturers and the US auto industry decades ago . . They are called Failure Modes and Effects Analyses. They are often used in conjunction with statisical process control efforts to reduce variability and downtime.

## Will I get my coffee today? (Score:3, Funny)

((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10))

Urgency = yeah I'd give that a 50, I mean it's pretty urgent.

Complexity = it's pretty simple so a 1.

Importance = it's not important for my boss, but really important for me, so a 400.

Skill = well a child or drunk person might have problems, so it sounds like a 4.

Frequency = well, I'll probably want 2 cups today.

Aggravation = yeah I'll get really aggrivated without my coffee, so 100 is about right.

Let's see plug all those in:

((50 + 1 + 400) x (10 - 4)) / 20 x 100 X 1/(1 - sin(2/10))

bust out calc.exe and punch in the numbers right:

1.3482771486352022902422017615702

Alright now I'm rocking. There is 1.3482771486352022902422017615702 that I'll get my 2 cups of coffee today. Glad that's straightened out.

PS. I think magic 8 ball is faster.

## INTERESTING ADDENDUM FROM RBL (Score:5, Informative)

Windows, 1999): http://rblevin.net

It's ironic. One of the world's favorite axioms on the inevitability of

failure is itself an example of such inevitability. It's Murphy's Law, most

often stated as "anything that can go wrong, will." The irony: That's not

Murphy's Law at all. It's "Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives," devised by

the famous science fiction author Larry Niven. The real Murphy's Law was

coined sometime around 1949 by USAF engineer Edward A. Murphy Jr.

Murphy was part of a team of USAF engineers working on a project that tested

the effects of extreme G-forces on the human body. One such test involved

mounting 16 sensors to 16 different parts of the test subject's body. Each

sensor could be connected in one of two ways: Correctly or incorrectly. On

the first run, a technician installed all 16 sensors backwards, after which

Murphy issued his now-famous maxim: "If there are two or more ways to do

something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone

will do it." Someone did, and now Finagle's Law is almost always misrepresented as Murphy's.

## Adjustment for short fuse (Score:3, Funny)

((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A x 1/(1-sin(F/10))

should be rewritten as:

((U+C+I) x (10-S))/20 x A^2 x 1/(1-sin(F/10))

!!

## Try it yourself here. (Score:5, Informative)

## Re:No no no no no... they got it all wrong... (Score:2, Informative)

If you were trying to use a trigonometric identity here, be aware that 1-(sin(x)^2) = cos(x)^2 is the correct one, not 1-sin(x) = cos(x),

Math pedants strike again!

## Re:Finally (Score:2)

No, that one doesn't work either...