Sunday, February 28, 2010

Higher Math

I’ve been reading Steven Strogatz’ ongoing series in the New York Times about the basics of math.  In this post about Division, he referred to the above exchange between George Vaccaro and a Verizon customer service rep about an error in his bill.  Vaccaro was supposed to be charged .002 cents per kilobyte but was charged .002 dollars per kilobyte:

About halfway through the recording, a highlight occurs in the exchange between Vaccaro and Andrea, the Verizon floor manager:

V: “Do you recognize that there’s a difference between one dollar and one cent?”
A: “Definitely.”
V: “Do you recognize there’s a difference between half a dollar and half a cent?”
A: “Definitely.”
V: “Then, do you therefore recognize there’s a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents?”
A: “No.”
V: “No?”
A: “I mean there’s … there’s no .002 dollars.”

It’s a common joke between a few of us in the office that We Hate Math.   What we mean is that, as lawyers, we think in words and not in numbers but, as corporate lawyers, we are constantly asked to do math.   For instance, when we are doing a recapitalization someone needs to perform the math to convert the current number of current shares into the number of shares that will exist after the conversion and then convert each individual shareholder’s shares into the new number.  It’s not difficult, except that often it ends up with fractional shares.   Sometimes it gets more complicated.   And you’ll hear someone muttering as they take a break and walk down the hall, “I HATE math.”

So part of me feels for the Verizon rep.

By the way, since this is a math post I should point out that this marks my 300th post on my blog.  That would 2 times 150 posts.  Or 1/3 of 900 posts.  Or … well, you do the math.