In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: numbers

That word ‘ever’

I was watching The National last night and one of the stories was about air safety. With the July 24 crash of Air Algerie Flight AH5017, the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, and the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, it’s been a bad year for air safety. The story really got my attention when the reporter, Peter Armstrong, said that 2013 had the lowest number of air passenger fatalities ever. Ever! 

Even if you ignore all the years before commercial air travel, what about the early years of passenger service in which the number of fliers were so few as compared to today? He specified no start date, so were there fewer fatalities last year than in 1919 when Aircraft Transport and Travel started flying military biplanes modified to carry two passengers each between London and Paris?

It could be that last year was the safest year on record in terms of the number of fatal commercial airline crashes per people/miles flown. Wikipedia claims that the worst year by that reckoning was 1929. During that year there were 51 fatal commercial airline crashes killing a total of 61 people. Figuring in the distance, it works out to one fatal crash for every 1,000,000 miles flown. With today’s volume of air travel, an equivalent rate would mean 7,000 crashes annually! And do note that the 61 fatalities from 1929 is fewer than the 210 fatalities from 2013.

Maybe this is what Armstrong meant, but it is certainly not what he said. Come on CBC, you’re better than this.

I sent a query to the show about this. If I hear back, so will you.

Conceptualizing numbers

We’ve all read about how large numbers are difficult to really understand. I’ve always dismissed these claims because I do understand them. I got into astronomy at an early age and in terms of the distances involved, the numbers are huge.

But I’ve since grasped that understanding large numbers goes beyond simply realizing that a trillion has twice as many zeros as a million. It’s understanding what those extra zeros mean in the real world.

World Net Daily has an article called “Trillions? Get ready for quadrillion” that touches upon this issue. They discuss how the economic stimulus package will force the U.S. government to borrow $6.5 trillion dollars over the next two years, increasing the national debt by 65%.

But what is a trillion dollars, really? The article paints a vivid picture:

If you had gone into business on the day Jesus was born, and your business lost a million dollars a day, 365 days a year, it would take you until October 2737 to lose $1 trillion.

Jesus, indeed!


Permit me a bit of pettiness, okay?

Come to think of it, it’s probably the first thing you expect of me when coming here.

Anyway, I digress.

I don’t know much algebra. That said, I still do know that multiplying something by two is a very different thing than multiplying it by itself! It seems that many people, marketers and advertisers chief among them, are not aware of this difference.

Want an example? According to the Wikipedia,

Current TV is the first American 24-hour network based around viewer-created content, which it dubs VC².

They clearly mean VCC and are trying to be clever by shortening it to VC², except the two are not remotely the same thing. If anything, they mean V(2×C) and not V(C×C).

I see where you’re going to take this though. You’re going to tell me that V(2×C) can also be correctly expressed as V(2C), and since 2C is equivalent to 2×C, then CC is equivalent to C×C which is also equivalent to C². While this is true, the abbreviation we started with is simply a string of three letters. There are no implied mathematical operations. The last two letters are the same. Therefore, if they’re going to drag any operation into this, it’s simple multiplication by two, and certainly not multiplication with each other.

If they’re going to insist on multiplying the letters with each other, I’m forced to use the only numeric values for ‘V’ and ‘C’ I know and assume V×C×C is 50,000. Where’s the sense in that?

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