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Everyday Probability

Everyday Probability

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Published by Anh Ton

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Published by: Anh Ton on Sep 21, 2011
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03/27/2013

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Hot-filament electric light bulbs are a common and cheap com-
modity, produced in large numbers by mass-production processes.
Inevitably there is some variation in their characteristics and the

March 24, 2008 17:9 B-595

ch10

120 Everyday Probability and Statistics

one that most people are concerned with is their lifetime. A more
expensive light bulb that lasts longer may be preferred to a cheaper
onewithashorterlifetime,nomatterwhattherelativecostperhour,
if the effort of changing a bulb is a primary consideration.
We now consider a particular brand of light bulb that is found
to have a mean life of 1,000h and a standard deviation of 100h.
Assuming that the lifetimes have a normal distribution then what is
theprobabilitythataparticularbulbwillhavealifetimeofmorethan
1,200h?Since1,200his2σfromthemeanweareinterestedinthearea
of that part of the normal distribution that is more than 2σ from the
mean in the positive direction. From Table 10.1 the area between the
meanand2σfromthemeanis0.47725sotheareainthetailmorethan
2σfromthemeaninthepositivedirectionis0.5−0.47725=0.02275.
Hence the proportion of bulbs with a lifetime of more than 1,200h
is about 1 in 45. We should also note that this is also the probability
of a lifetime of less than 800h.
If we bought a light bulb and it only lasted 700h would we be
justified in complaining? Not really — in the sale of millions of light
bulbs some would inevitably fail early. We would not be rushing to
paytheshopextramoneyifwehadabulbofunusuallylonglifetime.
Againthepatternofusemustbetakenintoaccountsinceconstantly
turning a bulb on and off subjects it to thermal shocks that shorten
its lifetime. In the museum in Fort Myers, Florida, devoted to the
work of the inventor Thomas Edison (1847–1913) who invented the
first practical filament light bulb in 1879, one of the original bulbs is
still burning. It has never been switched off.

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