I’m bad with numbers, but

I’m bad with numbers

, but there are a few basics I can figure out. For example, that a percentage can be expressed as a fraction. I bring this up because I hate it when people who should know better fall into the shallow and thorny pit of using colloquialisms that don’t make sense, such as using “

not even a fraction

” to mean a very small amount compared with something else.

This morning on CBC radio some pundit was talking about the oil potential in the Caspian Sea region. Apparently the Russians are quite excited about the apparently rich reserves there. The pundit was saying, however, that the amount of oil there is being overestimated, that in fact it amounts to only about 3% of the world’s production.

Along a whole other line of reasoning, 3% of the world’s oil production is not insignificant, but I won’t even get into that. The guy went on to compare it against Saudi Arabia, who produces 25% of the world’s oil. He said, dismissively, “The Caspian represents about 3% of world oil production, which is not even a fraction of what Saudi Arabia produces“.

Well, according to my calculations, 3% compared to 25% means the Caspian compares with about 12% of the Saudi resources. That “not even a fraction” is, in fact roughly 1/8. (1/8, of course, being a fraction.) Even if it was only 1/100, it’s still a damn fraction! 9/10 is a fraction. So is 1/1000. “A fraction” just means “a subdivision less than the whole“.

He could have said “…which is just a fraction of what Saudi Arabia produces.” In this case we know he means “it is less”, and we can infer he means “significantly less.”

But it is still a fraction!

By the way, I would have merely rolled my eyes had the lame pundit said that only once, but he said it twice! (Hence the rant.)

I hate the cost of saving a few bucks!

In January of 1993 some idiot kicked in my door and stole all of my cameras and my VCR. I was a student of photography at Concordia U. at the time, so losing my cameras was a real blow, on top of the fact that the woman I was married to had walked out a week earlier.

Aside from the trauma of the violation, which included a boot print on one of my pillows and a couple of horrified cats, it turned out to be like winning the lottery, because I was insured.Basically, I traded in an armload of broken and shopworn early-80s-era Minoltas for a full and up-to-date Nikon kit that I had previously not even dared dream of.

In there somewhere I also got a new VCR. I decided to save $50 by buying the non-stereo version of the very expensive 4-head Sony VCR that I had selected. What was the point, considering my TV had only one speaker? (Historians will note that I did, however, toss an extra $200 for half an f-stop on the 50mm f1.4 lens that I chose over the more conventional f1.8 model.)

Two years later I was much better paid at work, had a much bigger TV, and was able to run a VCR through my stereo had it been a stereo VCR! In the meantime, I had taken maybe one or two photos with the 50mm 1.4 lens, prefering instead the more natural–for me–28mm wide-angle lens.

Alas, my VCR was not stereo. So I spent several years in mono (occasionally running a split mono feed through the stereo speakers). Then, a year or so ago my (then) girlfriend suddenly found herself without a VCR. She was still running a straight-to-(20-year-old)-television feed, so my mono machine was perfect for her, and it was still running like it was brand new.

So I jumped at the opportunity… I passed the Sony machine on to her (in exchange for many smooches) and upgraded my VCR. Not long after that I went insane and ended up with a 5-channel stereo receiver, 5.1 speaker system, DVD player, etc.

OK, OK, so I got over the woes of my $50 savings from 1993. What I didn’t tell you is this. Just before my recent sound-system upgrade rampage, I bought a 5-disk carrousel CD player for the insanely low price of about $120 (CDN). I got the cheap, but widely regarded, RCA RP8065. For a few dollars more I could have gotten the RP8070. The only difference is that the RP8070 has an optical output for pure digital delivery to the receiver. Big Freakin’ Deal sez I. I don’t even have a freakin’ digital receiver!

A month later I had a digital receiver.

OK, frankly, I doubt I can tell the difference aurally. But the difference smashed me over the head last night when I went to transfer a mix CD I had made on my PC to a MiniDisc. My MD recorder is a portable player/recorder that came with an optical cable for direct digital recording from a CD player to MD. But I can’t do that because my CD player doesn’t have an optical output! My only workaround is a bunch of analog patches. Can you spell D-E-G-R-A-D-E? REM never sounded so fuzzy.

Alternatively, I can buy an RCA-to-¼inch patch cord for not much less than I would have paid for the upgrade to the more expensive machine with the optical feed, and suffer only minor analog humiliation.

As much as I like to think of myself as something of an anti-materialist, this is a lesson learned and unlearned and relearned, over and over: Think ahead!

Calculate your tax savings! Go

Calculate your tax savings!

Go here for a Canadian gub’mint java-fueled calculator that will tell you how much tax you will save in 2002 as a result of the recent tax cuts. (It also tells you how much you’ll save by 2004, when the program peaks.)

Beware, however, that someone in the Canadian Department of Finance does not understand double negatives. Your savings show up as a negative number, so if you’ll save $1000 in taxes this year it appears like this: Your tax savings for 2002: -$1000. Smart people like us know that if your savings are displayed as negative, that means you have to pay! But fear not, you’re not in trouble–it’s just bureaucratic lameness. Disregard the negative.

That’s one nutty noggin! While

That’s one nutty noggin!

While taking a break from work today I was thumbing through a book of Mensa puzzles in the Indigo book store downstairs from my office. I can be a pretty smart cookie sometimes, and as dumb as a post others. It all depends on what kind of smarts are required for the particular task. I’m surprisingly bad at word puzzles (considering I call myself a writer) and you might as well ask me what J Lo ate for dinner on June 25 as give me a numeric puzzle. But I’m usually pretty good at anything involving pattern recognition.

I looked at a few pattern puzzles in the Mensa book. The first one was easy–I used some lateral thinking and figured it out in about six seconds. The next one took about ten seconds but only because I did it twice because it seemed too obvious. The next one took about thirty seconds because it involved about sixteen boxes containing black and white dots and I had to register the patterns across several dimensions (number, color, horizontal, vertical), and I did it twice to make sure.

Of course my answers were all correct. Pretty satisfied, I decided to reward myself with a 50¢ piece of fudge from the little kiosk by the entrance to my building. I left the store, feeling pretty bright and wondering how I can turn pattern recognition into career possibilities. Perhaps, I thought, that explains why I never get lost–correlating a map (or even a memory of a map) with the patterns I see on the ground just comes naturally to me.

Oh, geographical me!

A couple of minutes later, as I was paying for the fudge, I noticed something weighty in my hand. Gee, it was the coffee-table-sized book that I was planning to buy back in the bookstore. Whoops!

(Yes, I went back and paid for it.)