by Mad Dog
Bogdanoff won her
seat by a margin of 0.1%. While that sounds small, remember that
percentages, like presidents, donít always tell the whole story.
||Itís official. Ellyn
Bogdanoff won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives by a measly
12 votes. To put that in perspective, itís the same as the number of
people who sit on a jury, the number of ways Wonder Bread claims to
build strong bodies, and the number of times you have to be told to pick
your underwear up off the floor before you actually do it.
When you look at it that way, 12 can
sound like a lot, but donít tell that to Bogdanoffís opponent,
especially if you live in his district and didnít go to the polls.
Heís probably not in the mood to hear that right now because, as we
used to say when we were growing up, close only counts in horseshoes and
hand grenades. Of course it turns out it can also count in darts, sex,
and the Academy Awards if you figure what it can do to box office
receipts to be nominated and not win, but I guess we werenít tuned
into those things during our formative years, because we thought darts
were dangerous, sex meant gender, and we werenít allowed to stay up
late enough to watch awards shows. Though we did always wonder who the
hell Oscar was.
Bogdanoff won her seat by a margin of
0.1%. While that sounds small, remember that percentages, like
presidents, donít always tell the whole story. Take Starbucks. Go
ahead, you can find one on every corner. Well, except in West Virginia.
See, they just got their first full-fledged Starbucks coffee shop,
meaning residents there will finally discover that, despite what they
learned in school and the clothing department of Sears, tall means
small, medium is grande, and venti means twenty in Italian but large in
Starbucksian, a language as made-up as Klingon but only half as much fun
since the people who speak it donít wear funny costumes.
But numbers can
also have a positive spin. You could say that West Virginia has seen an
infinite percent increase in the number of Starbucks. Pretty impressive
when you look at it that way, isnít it?
Considering the chain has 7,200 outlets in 30 countries ó 31 if
you count West Virginia ó that means the Mountain State has only 0.01%
of the Starbucks. If this were an election, West Virginia would
definitely lose. On the plus side, it means the state can change the
motto on their license plates to: ďWest Virginia. Fewer Starbucks than
front teeth.Ē But numbers can also have a positive spin. You could say
that West Virginia has seen an infinite percent increase in the number
of Starbucks. Pretty impressive when you look at it that way, isnít
it? Heck, itís just about enough to make you think the state really is
almost heaven. Assuming, of course, that you donít need a grande soy
milk decaf caramel frappuccino in heaven.
Small numbers donít have a lock on
perceptional problems. Large numbers can also be deceiving. Recently,
Michael Shafner, a graduate student at Michigan State University (motto:
ďNo, theyíre the Other Michigan CollegeĒ), looked at his
computer and discovered that it had found a prime number. And he
didnít even realize heíd lost one. Actually, it was part of a
project called the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, in which his
computer, along with thousands of others, ran a program in the
background which searched for new prime numbers. Prime numbers, for
those of you who tuned out your math teacher because you figured youíd
never need it in life but now realize that it means you have to read
this extra sentence in order to have any clue what Iím talking about,
is a number that is divisible only by one and itself. A Mersenne prime
is irrelevant to this discussion, which is a nice way of saying Iíve
read the definition an exponential number of times and still have no
idea what theyíre talking about. Exponential means I definitely have
no clue what Iím talking about. Feel free to skip to the next
The prime number he found is 2 million digits larger than
the previous record holder. Thatís even longer than the number of
digits you dial when using your calling card, though not by much.
The new prime number Shafnerís computer uncovered has 6,320,430
digits and would need about 1,500 pages to print out, which of course
would serve no useful purpose other than to get him laid, though you
have to wonder who would want to go to bed with someone who fell for a
line like, ďHey baby, want to see my huge prime number?Ē The prime
number he found is 2 million digits larger than the previous record
holder. Thatís even longer than the number of digits you dial when
using your calling card, though not by much. While the 2 million more
digits sounds like a lot, itís actually only a 46% increase. This
proves that, contrary to what you keep telling yourself, size does in
fact matter, though numbers in percentages may be larger than they
Another example of deceptive numbers
involves dominoes. Not the pizza place that delivers in 30 minutes or
less except when they can convince you your clock is wrong, or the Van
Morrison song which classic rock stations play in between Moondance and,
well, Moondance. No, these are the little black tiles with white
dots which you played with as a child, never figuring out what could
possibly be fun about them. Not long ago, a 24-year-old woman in
Singapore, knowing what was fun about them, set up and knocked over
303,621 dominoes, breaking the previous record by 22,040. While that
sounds like a lot, itís actually only 8% more than the old record
holder. Sure using them added 42 hours to her set-up time, but obviously
she has nothing better to do and needs a hobby. Okay, she has a hobby.
What she really needs is a life.
Keep all this in mind the next time
someone bandies around some numbers, particularly percentages. Ask them
to elaborate, elucidate, and most of all, tell you what the hell
bandying is supposed to mean. And remember, numbers donít lie, people
throwing numbers around do.
©2004 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
A low percentage of them, but don't let that fool you.