Friday, January 30, 2015

Tiny Differences that Matter

Two examples jumped out at me yesterday where tiny differences can make or break something really important. 

A man in Canada purchased two lottery tickets for the weekly multi-million lottery jackpot.  The tickets were purchased at 8:59pm, which was just in time for the May 23 drawing.  The first ticket printed out at 8:59pm.  The second one printed at 9:00 and 7 seconds.   9pm is when the computer switched from the May 23 drawing to the May 30 drawing.  So the second ticket was tagged as an entry in the May 30 lottery drawing.  The buyer clearly intended it to be for the May 23rd drawing.  The vendor knew it was for the May 23rd drawing.  The ticket was purchased in time for the May 23rd drawing.  But because of slow processing, the second ticket had a late time stamp on it.  And then wouldn’t you know it, the second ticket hit all seven numbers – worth $10 Million.  Except that the lottery company wouldn’t pay out because the ticket said May 30.  They wouldn’t budge.  The Canada Supreme Court refused to hear the case so the guy is out of luck.  And out $10 million.  

Question:  Which should be the decision point? 
  • The date the buyer intended the ticket to be for?
  • The time the vendor entered the purchase?  
  • The time the computer registered the sale?
  • The time the computer printed out the ticket?
The second one is a touchy subject because it involves the Patriots and deflation-gate.  But I am not going to talk about the controversy or cheating or anything like that.  This post is about small differences.  How much of a difference does a football at 12.5 psi and a football at 10.5 psi behave on a rainy, cold day in New England?  These two psi do not weigh two pounds, which would obviously be a huge difference.  Scientific American reports that inside an NFL football, this would be about the weight of a dollar bill.  Football experts cited in the article say that it would be easier to grip and catch, but would not fly as far.  It is a mixed message there, but what I can’t get over is “the weight of a dollar bill.”  That just seems so miniscule.  Tiny differences matter.

But we do know that the footballs had a 2 psi lower pressure at halftime than they did at game time. 

Question: What should be the decision point?
  • The footballs were different by an amount that could only be explained by extreme natural causes which don’t seem to have been present or if someone tampered with them. If someone tampered, it must be the Patriots.  Regardless of any lack of physical evidence or testimony evidence, we will assume that the Patriots are guilty.  Not a poorly managed ball boy.  Not a third party of any kind.  Because our assumptions are never wrong. The justice system requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases or a preponderance of the evidence in civil cases.  The NFL is not the law, so instinct and assumption are fine.  
  • The NFL may not need to rise up to the level of criminal or even the civil justice system.  But they should at least have a halfway decent amount of evidence.  
  • The NFL should try to overcome the reputation caused by its recent lack-of-evidence based behavior (see Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, et al) and use the same criteria as the civil justice system.

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