Like sand through the hourglass.

I was listening to Car Talk on the radio the other day as they were reviewing a trivia question they gave the listeners.

“RAY: This week’s puzzler is historical in nature, and it doesn’t need any additional obfuscation or declarification. It has built-in obfuscation. Here it is:

I’m thinking of two inventions from long ago. One of them has thousands of moving parts. The other has one part, and it doesn’t move.

They both do the same thing.

TOM: Are they still around?

RAY: Of course. Are they still in widespread use? Of course not. What am I thinking of?”

Right before they gave the answer they gave out one more hint .  Each item measures something.  Naturally whenever I hear the word “measure” my ears perk up.   Both of the mystery items measured time.  An hourglass and a sundial.  Thousands of pieces of sand in the hourglass all working together to perform their task and the classic sundial which does not move, but only reports on what the world around it is doing.

Sure each and every piece of sand on its own might seem pretty insignificant but we know that is not true.  The amount of sand needed was measured, the size of the hourglass measured, the opening between the two halves of the glass measured, to make sure that the end result was as accurate as it could be.  Sound familiar?

The trick is to recognize the importance of each and every detail in a digital measurement project but at the same time to not get lost in the sand.   If we get consumed by just one small item, and it derails the whole project then we might as well be the sundial.  Just sitting there, waiting on the world to turn and our shadow to be cast in order to provide meaningful data.

So which one are you?  The hourglass or the sundial?

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