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11 February 2008

To Buy or Not to Buy

I don't think I need to take any of Garth Sundem's "you can decide anything with maths" calculators that are available on the Horizon website.

1. Should you buy something (or not)? Always (the former).
2. Should you apologise? Yep!
3. Should you join a gym? Absolutely!

Yes, having clicked on the "should you buy something" link and been met with a load of maths, I think my option is definitely more painless. Just to humour them, though, let's play along: should I buy a new pair of boots?

-- W = How much do you want it (1-10 with 10 being "1969 Mustang Fastback")? I'll go with 7 (my standard answer in such things - I'd quite like some new knee-highs as my current boots are suffering from five rainy English winters, but then there are other things I would like more).
-- N = How much do you need this item (same scale as before)? Relative to what? Food, water and Google? I'll be mean: 5.
-- I = How good an investment is this (1-10 with 10 being "legal insider trading")? Erm... what's an investment? No, I'll probably get years of wear from these little beauties. 8.
-- M = How many months have you been ogling this item in catalogues, shop windows and/or online? Ha, that's more like my kind of question. Say, six months.
-- S = Your monthly salary. I couldn't possibly admit to that here, but suffice to say that it's a small enough figure to leave me debating over the purchase of new boots for months on end.
-- B = Your monthly bills, R = Your monthly rent/mortgage, £b = Balance of your current account, £i = Cost of the item (£775).

And the results? I scored 29.9; apparently a score of 1.0 or more means you should buy it. That seems off somehow; maybe I overestimated my bank balance or my desire for the boots. Ultimately, you see, I don't need the calculator. I know there are other things I want more than the boots and so even though I really like them and even though I have the money in my account, I'm not going to buy them and I knew that from the beginning and don't need no stinkin' maths to make me realise that.

The apology one is just as unnecessary:
-- D = How big a deal was the issue? (1-10 with 1 being 'forgot to take out trash before work' and 10 being 'forgot to turn off the gas before leaving for vacation')
-- Ra = Actual responsibility (On a scale of 1-10, how responsible are you in reality for this blunder?)
-- Rp = Perceived responsibility (On a scale of 1-10, how responsible does this person perceive you to be in this matter?)
-- P = How pissed off is this person? (1-10 with 10 being 'mail-order thumb screws have already arrived').

No need for (D [Rp (Ra + P) + D (Ra - Rp)] = A); if you feel bad and you care about the person to whom you are contemplating apologising, just blood apologise!

This is what happens when mathematicians are set free from their topos theory and are let loose on the real world. They "solve" problems that really don't need equations, just a little empathy (er...wot?) and common sense... Honestly, what's next? Mathematicians coming up with an equation for love? Oh no, wait; that was four Valentine's Days ago...

Actually, having read the main article in the BBC News Magazine, I do concede it is quite interesting - the parts about cognitive biases, anyway - if nothing particularly novel.


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