Word count 545
Duke Hanley, an associate actuary, got his idea while working on a mortality study at Pura Life Company. The underwriting department gave him access to all of the underwriting and claims information for 10,000 insureds to see how best to predict their longevity. After doing multivariate curve fitting on a number of variables – blood pressure, weight, height, father’s age at death, mother’s age at death and a few other variables, he found out that he could predict the age at death within one week as long as the death was natural as opposed to accidental.
He spent months trying to get a meeting with his supervisor, Larry Jones. Larry had already told him that he didn’t believe that there could be a formula that was that accurate and even if there was, regulators would not allow the insurance company to use it when setting life insurance rates.
Frustrated, Duke retired and set to work on his other research project using publicly available health statistics and medical research papers. One morning while discarding his used hearing aid battery into a Styrofoam cup, he noticed that the cup was about half full. He did a rough estimate on the time it would take to fill the cup and guessed it would take about three more years to fill. He had never calculated when he would die, but he thought that would be about three years also. Using his longevity calculator and the formula for the volume of a truncated cone and the rate at which he discarded his hearing aide batteries, he found out that he would fill the cup at the same time that he would die in two years and ten months. After learning that, rather than watch the calendar, he watched the cup.
With his morbid turn of mind, Duke started to say out loud “As the batteries in the styrofoam cup, so are the days of my life”, a paraphrase of the intro to the soap opera that he called “Days Of Our Wives”.
Given his short life span, he redoubled his efforts to finish his other project, but when he got within one year left to his life he was missing some vital information. When he contacted the leading researcher on the topic, Joe Galvin, he found that it would take thirteen months to complete the study and get him the data that he needed. Crestfallen, he gave up his research, knowing that he would not live long enough to finish his project.
A week after the Styrofoam cup was filled; Duke was shocked to find out that he was still alive. Dumbfounded, he went back and checked all of his calculations. He was shocked to find out that he had used 170 pounds for his mother’s weight rather than the accurate 110 pounds. The “1” must have looked like a “7”. He would have time to finish that other research.
Duke thought that it would just take a couple of days to finish that project after he got the data from Galvin. On the day that he received the data, he died. He hadn’t taken the trouble to recalculate when he would die. That is why we don’t have a cure for cancer.
Appeared in Bitchin’ Kitsch, Down In The Dirt and Short Humour.
Inspired by my personal estimate of my lifespan (I’m old) and my styrofoam cup of hear thing (used for contact with the FBI and CIA) batteries.