Information Content

DELTAIt’s Friday and I’m flying again.  There was a time that meant business, very likely in Washington, D.C.  At this stage of my life, flying usually means vacation or visiting family.  Today, the destination is Salt Lake City to see our grandkids (and their parents … it’s a package deal).  If you’ve been a reader for a while,  you know air travel is a challenge for my Inner Curmudgeon.   It has three of the things he hates: waiting (especially in lines) and confined spaces packed with people and their cell phones.  And the worst thing, small cadres of business folks traveling together, compelled to have loud business meetings in the airport lounges … or worse, in the row behind me on the aircraft.

Today, shortly after we boarded, a spontaneous meeting broke out among three millennials behind us.  Apparently, they felt that their subject was of wide general interest because they were talking loud enough for the entire plane to hear.  Worse, they were all up talkers, something my Inner Curmudgeon finds simultaneously annoying and impossible to ignore.  He also can’t take any one who up talks seriously, which is probably unfair.  What can I say, he’s a curmudgeon.  Their conversation was laced with every business cliche known to man … motivation … quality … team building.  They didn’t utter a single word about their product or service.  Perhaps they were professional up talkers.

The episode reminded me of a concept I learned in engineering school, the notion of information or information content.  In communication systems, a message is usually imposed on a signal of some sort.  CommunicationINFORMATION engineers are not as interested in the signal as how much information it carries.  Information content, expressed in bits of information, is an exact measure of how much information us carried by the signal.  If no message is present or the message says the same thing over and over again, the information content is zero.  My Inner  Curmudgeon (who has a PhD in communications, you know) will tell you, there wasn’t one bit of information in the conversation behind us.  And as a communications engineer myself, I can’t disagree.  Thank goodness for Bose noise canceling headphones.

As we were getting off the plane, my wife, Muri, eavesdropped their conversation and discovered they were on a convention in Salt Lake. I Googled conventions in Salt Lake and found the IAUT Convention was in town.  Yeah, International Association of Up Talkers.  Honest.

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