What a Paradox Can Tell IT Pros

Solving problems, fixing bugs, dealing with users—the answers are right before your eyes

Scientists say they’ve solved Gray’s Paradox. Okay, I’d never heard of it before this morning either. But if you’ll bear with me, we can glean some tips that might apply to IT.

Back in the 1930s, a scientist named Sir James Gray did extensive research on the muscle power of dolphins and concluded that 20 miles per hour was their top speed. It wasn’t physically possible for them to produce the necessary thrust to go any faster. And yet, he and others observed dolphins doing just that. Hence Gray’s Paradox—dolphins couldn’t go 20 miles per hour but dolphins were going 20 miles per hour.

After more study, he theorized that dolphin skin somehow reduced drag, but no one ever confirmed it. Gray’s Paradox remained a puzzle.

Until technology caught up this year. Timothy Wei, an engineering professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, combined flow diagnostic tools, video, and computer software to find the answer. He videotaped two bottlenose dolphins as they swam through water that was loaded with bubbles. Using the computer software, he tracked the bubble movement, color-coded it, and was able to show the speed and direction of the water flowing around the dolphins so his team could calculate the amount of force the dolphins were producing.

The answer: “Dolphins are simply much stronger than Gray or many other people ever imagined.”

After I recovered from this "Duh" moment, (or perhaps it was a "Doh!" moment), I managed to glean some lessons learned from Gray’s Paradox:
1. When approaching a problem, you need to deal with what is, rather than what’s “supposed” to be.
2. It’s better to be wrong than to waste time trying to be right.
3. If you wait long enough (which sometimes isn’t that long), the technological tools will arrive to help you do the job.
4. No one believes what you “know” until you’ve got the hard data to back it up.
5. If you give it a catchy title and capitalize it, you just might make your next migration, upgrade, or problem more important than it really is.

To learn more about Wei’s dolphin project, see Rensselaer's website.
To read about one IT pro's version of an IT paradox, see “The Paradox of Simplicity,” by Brian Moran.


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