February 5, 2009

Verizon Math Fail

This one of the most dramatic failures of basic understanding of arithmetic (specifically, the concept of units) that I have ever seen. The last part is particularly painful, as he tries to walk the manager through the logic of his complaint.

Bonus question: DO you suppose the failure to understand is conceptual (not understanding units) arithmetic (just forgetting to convert) or social -- the inability to admit that the rate was quoted wrong, for example. Or a combination. Or other?

I'm not sure we have enough information to tell, but what do you think?

Posted by James at February 5, 2009 9:21 AM
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Technically, we don't have enough information. We don't know what Verizon told them. Maybe they'd been explicitly told that a penny is equal to a dollar and they believed it, but I doubt that Verizon trains their employees so comprehensively.

The first guy obviously had inadequate knowledge of math, but also seemed confident that the bad math was correct. I guess you could consider that confidence to be social.

The woman also had an obvious conceptual deficit and a social problem. She didn't understand the math, but also felt that it was acceptable to ignore it because it was so complicated. That's certainly social - it's learned from and reinforced by friends and family who think math is hard.

Many people grow up with this attitude towards math. I think it runs in families - not genetically, I mean, but the idea that decimal points are for Harvard scholars, so why try. I had several friends in school who gave up on math very early on, with their family's blessing, long before it became difficult. (First or second grade.) They were probably warned that it was "too hard" even before their first day of school.

I had help from my parents AND no blessing to quit. I had no choice but to learn. Evidently many people grow up in the opposite situation - discouraged or perhaps even implicitly forbidden to give it a try.

There was a blatant math error on my mortgage papers when I closed on my house. I mean, there were two numbers stacked one above the other, with an incorrect (lower) sum below. I showed this to my Realtor, and I showed it to the lawyer. They both made excuses for the error: maybe the second line labeled "escrow" didn't include all of the things that would be included in an escrow payment.

LOL. That would have made that line less, not more. But I think there's a social urge to explain discrepancies, especially if you're not confident about your math skills.

In any case, the error was in my favor, so I didn't mind signing at all. I even hoped that it was somehow correct. But I couldn't disregard the math lessons what Sr. Terese had taught me in second grade.

And of course my mortgage bill showed up with the correct amount.

Posted by: Julie at February 5, 2009 11:33 AM

That's hysterical!

Especially when you got the 2nd person on the line.


Posted by: Gary LaPointe at February 6, 2009 12:12 PM

Just to be clear, this wasn't me. I just ran across it and found it interesting.

Posted by: James at February 6, 2009 1:39 PM

My god, that's painful.

"Do you recognize there's a difference between those two numbers?"


AAHH!!! My head just popped off!

Posted by: Patti M. at February 6, 2009 4:06 PM

When the supervisor told him that his correct math and Verizon's incorrect math was really just a "difference of opinion," I wanted to reach through my computer and shake her.

This reminds me of when Karl Rove told NPR's Robert Siegel that he, Rove, had a different math than everyone else. Maybe that's what Verizon has. That's it! They've got Karl Rove's math! I wonder if he knows it's missing.

For old times sake, here's that witty banter from The Chubby One:

SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.

ROVE: No, you are not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the US House and US Senate, and Governor and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally.

SIEGEL: I don't want to have you to call races...

ROVE: I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.

SIEGEL: I don't know if we're entitled to a different math but your...

ROVE: I said THE math.

Posted by: Patti M. at February 6, 2009 4:17 PM

This hurts my brain. If 1 kB costs .002 pennies, then 500 kB costs 1 penny. 500 kB goes into 35,000 about 70 times, so it has to be about 70 PENNIES. WTF?

Posted by: Chuck S at February 9, 2009 3:10 PM

Sorry wasn't addressing your question--I'd say the rate was probably quoted wrong, and they aren't going to admit it. They are charging $0.002 per kB, or 0.2 cents per kB. But their literature probably quotes it as 0.002 cents--otherwise the guy wouldn't have anything to complain about. Clearly *he* understands the difference between dollars and cents.

Posted by: Chuck S at February 9, 2009 3:12 PM

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