Stan the Statistician <<Last | Next>> | Current Stan | Archive Stan
Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 37: Advice to a photocopy repair man 31 July 2000

My Webmistress sent me this proof of the math problem on my last desk top. It is the most elegant I have seen so far.

Below 3000 you can go only up to 7, and the number is 2519. Above this, you can pick any number in the form number=10!*k-1, where 10! is factorial of 10, which is 1*2*3*4*5*6*7*8*9*10, and k is any integer. In fact, you can extend to any number of divisions, say up to p, and the formula is number=p!*k-1, where p is the number up to which you want the division to go, and k is any integer. This came from someone called, 'maths boy' in California. Maybe I should set my readers a couple more maths problems.

For example, Mersenne (1588-1648) in a letter to Frenicle de Bessy discussed the possibility of prime numbers of the form 2n-1 and made the surprising assertion that 2n-1 was prime for n=2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 17, 19, 31, 67,127, 257 and for no other n below 257. Is this true? Can you prove that 2127 - 1 is prime? It’s easy to see that 2n - 1 is definitely not prime if n itself is not prime. But there are prime numbers p for which 2p is not prime. That should keep ‘maths boy’ out of mischief for a bit. Of course, statistics are far more interesting.

Mavis sent me this rather sad piece. You have to feel some sympathy for the writer. He is a photocopier repair man, but with a few small changes of wording, it could be applied to your line of work I’m sure:

  1. Do not call for service until everyone concerned has had time to form an opinion as to what is wrong. Give each member of staff an opportunity to correct the problem. Whenever possible, ALL controls and adjusting screws should be turned.

  2. After several days, when the machine malfunction has become a major emergency, place an URGENT call for service. Fridays are best, but any day after 4-00pm is OK.

  3. Alert all personnel so each can give their version of what is wrong. Suggestions on how to fix the machine will be welcomed by the Engineer.

  4. Hide the Service History Log (if there is one) which can be found inside the machine. Make several references about the "man who was here last week" for the same problem.

  5. Have at least eight graduate Engineers present to ask highly technical questions which are in no way related to the problem.

  6. The minute the Engineer arrives, ask what caused the delay. Make it clear that you expected him two days ago. Before he can answer, ask him when the machine will be back in service.

  7. The machine should be as dirty and greasy as possible. A mixture of oil, pencil sharpenings and toner powder works well. If the machine has electrical components, add staples and paper clips.

  8. Assign a member of staff to supervise the repair, preferably somebody who has never seen or used the machine before. Bad breath is a plus here and scores extra points.

  9. Ask again when the machine will be ready. Good timing is essential here and when the machine is in 800 pieces all over the floor will be just grand.

  10. Be sure the machine is in a narrow passage with plenty of people passing by, each making a comment about how long the repair is taking. The lighting should be as low as possible - good engineers can work blindfold.

  11. Ask if the machine is ready yet. If the engineer is looking at the schematic diagram, ask him if he knows what he is doing. It doesn't hurt to mention that you repaired the toaster last week without the aid of a schematic diagram.

  12. When the repair is completed, tell him what a good job he did. Say it should be a good job as it took long enough.


  14. After he has gone, call his supervisor and say that the machine works worse than before. Follow up with a letter - stop payment of the account.


Check in again at my desk soon!

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