## Posts tagged ‘precision’

### The Virginia Governor’s Race and MP.6

Hotly contested. Particularly nasty. Ugly. Uncivilized. Controversial. Disgusting. Dirty.

Those are just some of the words and phrases used to describe this year’s race for governor in my home state of Virginia. It’s part of the reason that we had the highest voter turnout for a gubernatorial election in 20 years. It’s also why every citizen in the Old Dominion was anxiously awaiting the results.

I was no different. At 8:30 p.m. EST, I strolled on over to POLITICO, where I was presented with more information that I could handle:

It was surprising that Northam had a 5.8% lead, since some recent polls suggested that his lead had dwindled to as little as 3.3%. It was surprising that only 90 minutes after the polls had closed, many news organizations were already declaring Northam the winner. But it was outright astonishing that POLITICO was displaying the percent of precints reporting as:

72.68121590023384%

WTF?

On Feburary 13, 2011, in a post titled Statistically Speaking…, I presented the following joke:

69.8724% of all statistics reflect an unjustified level of precision.

Three years later, in a post titled Sound Smart with Math Words, I presented another version of that same joke, though this time the percentage was expressed to the millionths:

An unprecedented 69.846743% of all statistics reflect an unjustified level of precision.

Did I think the additional precision would make it more obvious that the sentence was actually a joke? Or did I just think it would make it funnier? I’m not sure.

But I do know that it would never have occurred to me to take the level of precision to 14 — count them, 14! — digits of accuracy beyond the decimal point.

But POLITICO thought it was necessary.

That’s right. They calculated and displayed the percent of precincts reporting **to the hundred-trillionths place**. Hundred. Trillionths.

That’s like stating the winning time for the Tour de France to the nearest millisecond.

Or estimating the weight of the Earth to the nearest gram.

In fairness to POLITICO, though, the percentages that they were reporting not only reflected an unjustified level of precision. They were also wrong.

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, there are 2,567 precincts in the commonwealth. If 1,865 precincts had submitted results, the percent of precincts reporting could have been displayed as:

72.6529%

If 1,866 precincts had turned in their results, the percent of precincts reporting could have been displayed as:

72.6918%

But there is no number of precincts for which the percent could have been reported as:

72.68121590023384%

So, either POLITICO was using an incorrect denominator, or their algorithm was incorrectly calculating percentages.

Oh, well. At least they got the election results correct. (I hope.)

In their defense, they did finally make a correction. When I checked the results at 9:24 p.m. EST, this is what was presented:

The percentage of precincts was displayed as a more reasonable 97.74%. From this, I can surmise that 2,509 precincts had reported their results (since 2,509 / 2,567 = 0.9774) and that POLITICO had finally found someone who was nimble with a slide rule.

### Passwords, Age Restrictions, and Computer Silliness

My computer has been a bad boy recently.

First, it told me that my password is going to expire approximately 11 months *before I was born*…

Interestingly, the folks at www.timeanddate.com disagree with the number of days between March 31, 1970, and the date that screen capture was snapped (March 1, 2015). So much for the truism that, “Computers make very fast, very accurate mistakes.” I thought the difference could be explained by excluding the end dates, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I’m not sure what ADPassMon is doing. (Then again, I’m not sure why I’m wasting my time checking the calculations of a piece of software whose warning messages suggest the existence of time travel.)

Then, when attempting to register my sons for ski camp, it gave one of the craziest age restrictions I’ve ever seen…

An age of 5.925 corresponds to 5 years, 11 months, 7 days, and 15 hours, which seems quite an arbitrary cut-off for a ski camp. Further, an age of 7.999 years means that kids are eligible for ski camp so long as they are not within 15 hours, 14 minutes, and 24 seconds of their eighth birthday. The framers of the Common Core would be happy with the consideration paid to MP.6: Attend to Precision. Where else have you seen ages expressed to the nearest thousandth? Not even parents of newborns use this many decimal places.

Both of these issues remind me of a childhood friend who wanted to be a writer. He said he wanted to write stuff that would be widely read, cause an emotional reaction, and make people scream and cry. He now writes error messages for Microsoft.

Here’s wishing you an error-free day!