Apples and Oranges

Wil McCarthy

20 February 2000

In all walks of life, and especially in engineering, we find ourselves constantly warned against making inappropriate comparisons.  "Apples and oranges," the nay-sayers caution, as if these two watery, fist-sized, fructose-laden object-classes were so completely dissimilar as to require a separate mathematics.  For the record, I'm really tired of these folks sticking their fruit-deaf noses in where they don't belong.

Who says apples and oranges can't be compared?  Five of one is very much like five of the other, but different, too.  One pile is brighter, one heavier, one more acidic than the other.  It's precisely this difference in the face of similarity that makes these fruits perfect candidates for side-by-side benchmarking.  And we needn't stick to quantitative measurements, either; a reeking mound of fuzzy green Sunkist is clearly less desirable than a peck of fresh-picked Fuji reds, while a bushel of shriveled old Grannies wouldn't buy you a single ripe orange.

So the real question is, who wants to suppress these quite ordinary fructal comparisons, and why?  Is it some plot of farmers to keep food prices artificially high?  Or is it statisticians, hoping to preserve an air of mystery about the junior-high arithmetics of their so-called work?  Or maybe just politicians on the take, too stupid to realize than pi can't be legislated to an integer value, or baked around the wrong sort of fruit.

So go and do right: compare and contrast whatever fruits you see before you, turning a blind ear to the maunderings of anyone who tells you different.  Odds are, they probably want you to eat your vegetables.

See last quarter's rant.

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