SUNDAY LETTERS
12 November, 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . The joke in Arden is that the houses here were built without carpenters ever having to use two tools -- a square and a plumb bob.
. . . The edge of the door to my office is clearly on a different line than the edge of the wall behind it. To see the misalignment, you move your head until the two edges line up. Actually, they never line up.
. . . No such head movement is necessary to see the misalignment at the top of the door. The gap on one side is wide enough to accept a thumb; on the other, the gap is barely wide enough to slip in a piece of paper.
. . . In other communities, such misalignment would be a sign of shoddiness, lack of care, and perhaps the use of cheap materials. Not so here. If the houses here are built with cheap materials., you’re just not supposed to notice. What you’re supposed to notice is the creativity of design, the organic way in which structures have grown, and the idiosyncrasies of construction.
. . . Friday I fax'd a proof of a publication to a client seventeen hundred miles away. My creative design was ideosyncratic; the placement of graphics, organic. My client made the mistake of pulling out a ruler to check some measurements. Nothing was correct. She wanted to know why.
. . . It wasn’t my fault, needless to say. Neither was it a problem with earth’s erratic curvature or its unequally distributed mass. Gravity is stronger in some places than others. The planet wobbles. The higher you go, the less gravity there is pulling you down. As they say, the world isn’t prefect. But that wasn’t the problem with the fax.
. . . Neither was it a problem caused by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Simply stated, you can’t tell where something happens if you know when it happens. Or if you know when something happened, you can’t tell where.
. . . Sometimes, when I can’t remember where or when something happened, I like to think it’s because the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is at work. Yes, yes, I know -- that principle only affects subatomic measurements -- but I’m working with a subatomic brain.
. . . If the fax I sent didn’t measure correctly, the problem wasn’t variations in gravity over 1700 miles, nor were the measurements affected by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to any noticeable degree.
. . . If the fax wasn’t perfect, it was because fax machines were never meant to offer perfectly calibrated reproductions. Documents copied in one place appear in another place quickly, dot for dot, but the dot size varies from machine to machine. As a result, documents transmitted by fax will shrink or expand in one direction or perhaps both directions.
. . . In situations like these, if you pull out a ruler, you’re asking for trouble.
. . . I asked my client if she’d ever put two rulers side by side. Unless the rulers were made by the same company at about the same time, they won’t agree. My client did this and was disturbed to find that the rulers disagreed by one eighth of an inch in twelve inches. Suddenly she didn’t know what to trust. The bottom fell out of her world. Now she’s in treatment at a home for the temporarily deranged.
. . . I’m not worried about that happening to you. You already know these sad facts of life. You’ve been temporarily deranged and got over it, as will my client. You know how the concept of “tolerance” affects measurements, that when working with wood, an eighth of an inch is usually close enough, that a thousanth is impossible.
. . . You also know that measuring isn’t the same as counting. Measuring is always approximate; counting can be exact.
. . . Banking is a good example. When was the last time your bank made an error in your checking account? In thirty years, often using multiple checking accounts, I’ve only discovered one error, and it was small. Banks do great. Let’s hear it for banks!
. . . Recently, I deposited one penny in my savings account, in honor of Benjamin Franklin. Sure enough, a month later, there was that deposit recorded in my account.
. . . Franklin’s birthday, by the way, is January 17. On that day, think of honoring his birth by depositing a penny into a savings account. That penny saved will be a penny earned. If you need one, just look on the ground. You’ll find one soon.
. . . If banks can be accurate, it’s because they are dealing with units, digits. A one is not a zero. This is what makes errors in elections so hard to understand. It’s not like the folks are measuring. In measuring, no one expects you to be accurate. But it is expected when counting.
. . . Counting is accurate, that’s why most computers count rather than measure. Most are digital rather than analog. If you’ve never heard of an analog computer, that’s because they are quite rare. I saw an experimental model once at the Center for the Study of Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University. It could think better than I could, but it couldn’t count.
. . . If banks, computers, and elections use counting, you’d expect them all to be equally accurate in their result. If elections are not accurate, it’s because election officials haven’t figured out how to count.
. . . My solution is to turn voting over to banks. Bankers know how to count. Unlike election officials, bankers are universally loved, trusted, and respected. Votes could be cast in the same way deposits are made; in fact they could be done at the same time.
. . . Let’s change our election practices now! Delaware -- “The Credit Card State” -- strikes me as an ideal place to start.

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Sunday, November 5, 2000.

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Sunday, November 19, 2000.

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