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Chris Niccolls

Numbers You Can Count On

By November 12, 2012

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Numbers to count on

During the hurricane, you may have had to run out and get a new flashlight. Not long ago you could buy a "standard" flashlight, with 2 "C" or "D" batteries that lasted an hour or so and was bright enough to see where you were walking. You could also buy a "lantern" floodlight which ran off of a big 9-volt battery and was several times the size of a standard flashlight. There were premium brands like the MagLight which had 6, 8 or more batteries and put out a respectable amount of light.

Now, many flashlights are LED based, and generally much smaller in size. With old flashlights, you couldn't tell which was brighter. You hoped that a four battery flashlight was brighter than one with two batteries, but a premium brand like MagLight might be brighter even if it had fewer batteries. Choosing a flashlight was more a matter of guessing than knowing what you were buying. Today, many flashlights tell you exactly how many lumens (a standard measure of brightness) they produce. Now you can see that similarly sized flashlights can produce as little as 10 lumens or as much as several hundred.

The idea of listing how bright the light is, and how many hours it can run on a set of batteries, isn't exactly a revolutionary idea, yet it took 100 years for even a few manufacturers to provide comparable data. When you pick up spare batteries, you see: heavy-duty alkaline, alkaline Max, Super Power Batteries, Lithim power, and a bewildering number of other interestingly but uninformatively named products. However, rechargeable batteries list exactly how many MaH (milli-amps, a standard measure of power) each battery holds. Metrics now shapes the products we buy.

When the power is on, and you're back at work thinking about your next outsourcing project, remember this little lesson in metrics. Similar looking products can have huge differences in performance. Without measures of performance, you can't tell if which item is the better buy; with metrics, you may find that the best buy is the item that costs more. Learn how to read your metrics, and you'll never be in the dark... at home or at work!

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