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August 6th, 2022 (Permalink)

Rouge or Rogue?

WARNING: The following post may make sensitive readers gag, and cause immature readers to giggle.

A recent article in The New York Post begins:

Astronauts have been warned against masturbating in space over fears female astronauts could get impregnated by stray fluids. There are strict guidelines over “alone-time” onboard in zero gravity. Scientists have warned even the slightest rouge droplet could cause chaos on board.1

All I have to say to this is: if your droplets are red, you're doing it wrong. See a doctor when you get back to earth.

"Rouge" is the French word for "red". In English, it is a noun, referring to reddish makeup, such as blusher or lipstick. It's not usually used as an adjective, but the online Cambridge dictionary's examples show a few cases, such as "rouge makeup"2.

In contrast, "rogue" is an adjective meaning "solitary", "out of control", and usually "dangerous", as in "rogue elephant"3. So, obviously, the reporter meant "rogue" not "rouge".

The New York Post reprinted the article from an Australian news site4, which has since corrected the misspelling. I quoted the The Post reprint, above, because it is uncorrected as of the time of writing. No reporter is credited on the story, for perhaps obvious reasons.

"Rouge" for "rogue" is a surprisingly common misspelling; I've seen it previously, though I can't remember exactly where. It's also one that your spell-checking program may not save you from since both are English words. Given that "rouge" is usually a noun in English, and "rogue" an adjective, you might expect that a grammar-checking program would be able to flag this mistake, but I tried the offending sentence on several such online programs, none of which objected.

Thankfully, the ever-vigilant Snopes has already debunked the quoted article5―not the rouge/rogue mix-up, but the claim that NASA warned astronauts against orbital onanism, or that a male astronaut might accidentally impregnate a female one. A little thought would indicate how unlikely it is that a "rouge droplet" would manage to float into a uterus, even if the female astronaut were floating about the cabin naked. Rather, the "warning" was a joke on a recent Conan O'Brien comedy show.

Much of what passes for news these days is a joke, and much of what passes for humor is not funny. This supposed news story is, literally, an unfunny joke.


Notes:

  1. "Astronauts should not masturbate in zero gravity, NASA scientist says", The New York Post, 7/22/2022
  2. "Rouge", Cambridge Dictionary, accessed: 8/5/2022.
  3. "Rogue", Cambridge Dictionary, accessed: 8/5/2022
  4. "NASA scientist explains why astronauts should not masturbate in zero gravity", News.com.au, 7/22/2022
  5. Dan Evon, "Did NASA Warn Astronauts Not to Masturbate in Space?", Snopes, 7/22/2022

August 4th, 2022 (Permalink)

The Incredible Shrinking Economy

Not only is the U.S. economy shrinking1, but so are the items you can buy at the store, assuming you have any money left to spend. A recent episode of the PBS News Hour included a segment on "shrinkflation"2, an ugly word for an ugly practice: manufacturers shrinking the size of a product rather than raising the price, in order to keep up with inflation. Many people may notice when the price of a product increases, but they are unlikely to notice that the product's size decreases when the price remains the same. How many of us pay close attention to the number of ounces listed on a product, or the number of sheets in the rolls of toilet paper we buy? I sure don't, but I think it may be time to start.

This is an important practice to be aware of, especially in these times of high inflation. Decreasing the size of a product without warning is really a hidden price increase, and it may not only fool people into buying the product, it may also deceive them into thinking that inflation isn't as bad as it is.

I commend the PBS News Hour for this useful consumer information, and I recommend viewing the short segment or reading the transcript. However, this is not what I set out to write about.

Near the beginning of the segment, there is the following exchange between the reporter Paul Solman and consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky:

Dworsky: The first one here is kind of an egregious example. Angel Soft toilet paper used to have 425 sheets on a roll. The new one has 320.

Solman: Wow! That's 25 percent. …

Dworsky: I remember the Charmin of the 1960s…and it had 650 sheets on a roll. The biggest one today has 366. It's about 90 percent less.

Can you spot the problem? This brief exchange includes two cases of figuring the amount of shrinkage of the size of the product as a percentage of its previous size, one by the reporter and one by the consumer advocate. Here's a hint: one is correct and the other incorrect, but which?

Before we answer these questions, let's do a short refresher on percentage change. There are two ways that the size of something can change: either it increases or it decreases. Both ways can be measured in terms of a percentage, and the way to do so is the same in each case: first, subtract the old size from the new one, then divide by the old size, and finally multiply by one hundred to convert it into a percentage. In mathematical symbols:

x% = n − oo × 100

Where "x" represents the percentage change, "n" is the new size, and "o" is the old size. So, n − o is the new size minus the old size―that is, the difference between the old and new sizes in ounces or sheets or whatever units―which is the amount that the item's size has changed. Dividing this difference by the old size gives the ratio of the change in size to the original size. Finally, multiplying by 100 converts this ratio into a percentage. If the resulting percentage is positive, then that indicates growth; whereas, if it's negative, that means it has decreased in size.

Now, let's use the formula to calculate the two percentages from the interview. Angel Soft used to have 425 sheets, which means that o = 425, but now it has only 320, so n = 320. Therefore, n − o = 320 − 425 = −105. So, the roll has decreased by 105 sheets. −105/425 = −.247, which is the ratio between the amount of decrease and the original size. −.247 × 100 = −24.7%, or −25%, rounding to the nearest percentage point: this is the amount of decrease as a percentage of the original size. So, Solman was right.

I'll leave it to you to calculate the percentage change for Charmin. According to Dworsky, o = 650 and n = 366. If you plug these numbers into the equation, you should get about: −43.7% or −44% rounded off, which is considerably less than 90%.

Calculating percentage change can be confusing because there are two numbers involved, one for the size before and one after the change, and it's easy to forget which is subtracted from which, as well as which divides into the result of that subtraction. Still, it's possible to develop your number sense so that you'll notice when a percentage change claim just doesn't seem right.

If something decreases by 50%, then 50% of it is left; that is, take away half, and half is left. In general, if something decreases by x%, then 100−x% of it is left. This is enough to raise doubts about the claim that the size of Charmin had decreased 90%, because that would mean that the new Charmin was only 10% the size of the old one, which is implausible. Moreover, if you look at the two numbers, the new size―366 sheets―is approximately half the old size―650 sheets. So, you can tell that 90% must be too high, and that the actual decrease is closer to 50%. Moreover, you can do all this in your head, without putting pencil to paper or using a calculator.

An important consequence of the fact that 100−x% is left after an x% decrease is that nothing can decrease by more than 100%. If something decreases by 100%, then it's gone―that is, if you take 100% of it away, that leaves 0%. Nonetheless, percentage decrease is so confusing that you'll occasionally see people claiming decreases greater than 100%. For instance:

June represented a new low for disclosed ransomware attacks in the U.S. this year, which have been steadily declining since the end of March. …[T]he number of reported ransomware attacks in the U.S. hit its peak in January and its low in June. Comparing just January to June, there was more than a 300% decrease in the number of reported attacks.3

A. K. Dewdney discussed a similar claim in which an electric company advertised that "by installing a metal halide fixture the consumer is…promised an amazing savings of '200 percent on energy'.4" That really is amazing: apparently, the fixture would be generating more electricity than it was using!


Notes:

  1. See: Yes, We Have No Recession, 7/28/2022.
  2. Paul Solman & Diane Lincoln Estes, "Manufacturers use ‘shrinkflation’ to pass costs on to consumers", PBS News Hour, 7/29/2022.
  3. Peyton Doyle, "Public sector still facing ransomware attacks amid decline", TechTarget, 7/7/2022.
  4. A. K. Dewdney, 200% of Nothing: An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy (1993), pp. 3-5.

Puzzle
August 2nd, 2022 (Permalink)

Crack the Combination IV

The combination of a lock is three digits long. The following are some incorrect combinations:

  1. 532: Two digits are correct but each is in the wrong position.
  2. 241: One digit is correct and in the right position.
  3. 751: Two digits are correct but each is in the wrong position.
  4. 347: One digit is correct but in the wrong position.

Can you determine the correct combination from the above clues?

WARNING: Do not operate heavy machinery while working this puzzle.

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