Saturday, October 13, 2007

One Billionth Letterbox Planted: December 27, 2010

As some of you may know, a few months back I brought most all my worldly possessions from storage in Portland to a storage unit here in Seattle. It's been fun going through some of my old stuff. I make a trip to visit "my stuff" about once a week, pulling out stuff I realized I really don't need, don't want, and haven't used since it went into storage back in April of 2002.

One of my finds this last week was a book I purchased called How To Lie With Statistics. It should be required reading in every high school in the country if you want my opinion. It's not so much a book about how to lie with statistics as it is a book about how to identify other people lying with statistics--deliberately or otherwise. The book I have shows a copyright date of 1954, and I find it terribly amusing when he uses examples of one publication that says the "average family income" is $3,500 per year while another publication says it's $5,250 for that same year. Which is right? Both? Neither? Needless to say, the book has not been updated to account for inflation. =) I'd be a very wealthy man indeed if either of those were true. (Those aren't exact figures, I might add--I'm too lazy to look them up. But there was an example that used a $3,000-odd figure and a $5,000-odd figure. The rest of the digits I made up.)

Statistics are a tricky beast that can be made to say pretty much you want. Considering this last election here on Atlas Quest, I even remember joking about "what results would you like to see?" or something to that effect. Not that I was deliberately contemplating manipulating results to suit my fancy--I have a terrible vice of honesty. My former boss at Pizza Hut once told me that if I found a $20 bill on the ground, I'd probably go around the restaurant asking who it belonged to. (On a related note, I did recently find a $10 bill a week or so ago, and I did not ask around for who it belonged to. I even suspect I know who--or at least which group of people lost it--but they'd already left by the time I found it and tracking them down seemed like too much work. They were loud and obnoxious as well, and admit to feeling a little bit of pleasure at knowing one of them lost $10. Perhaps not quite as honest as my former employer believed.)

But it got me thinking, what wild statistics could I make up about letterboxing? We don't actually have much in terms of statistics about the letterboxing community. Heck, we don't even know how many letterboxes there are! We are a society of statically-challenged people.

I mean to change that. My first thought: When would the one billionth letterbox be planted? Oh, sure, laugh. I hear the snickers already. The whispering, "Not in my lifetime!" Hogwash. Of course it will. You just have to look at it from the right perspective. I just needed to find the stats to give me an accurate and oh-so-precise date. And I have.

The one billionth letterbox will be planted on December 27, 2010, at precisely 8:36:06 in the evening. Pacific time, of course. It will be planted by Lock Wench, at approximately 32.37 miles south of her home in North Carolina. Possibly as a joint plant with Dixie.

Preposterous you say?! Ha!

At the end of 2004, there were 3009 letterboxes listed on Atlas Quest. As of the last stats update last night, there were 61,684 letterboxes listed. That's an increase of 2049.983383% in just 1,171 days. Calculating the date and time of the one billionth letterbox is elementary at this point: 1 billion letterboxes = 61,684 * (20.4 ^ x), where x is the number of years until the 1 billionth letterbox. That asterisk means "times" and the caret symbol means "to the power of" for those of you not familiar with mathematical symbols used in programming. Solve for x.

I actually had trouble solving for x at first. I divided by 61684 on both sides of the equation, then what? That x is up there as a "power of" and I didn't know how to get it down! I poured through the dirty cobwebs of my mind and suddenly remembered something about logarithms. A quick Google search for logarithms refreshed my mind, and I now knew that x = log20.5(16211). I'm not even sure the proper way to write that on a keyboard, but I still had a problem. My calculator didn't have a button for taking logs to the 20.5. Not to worry, though, Wikipedia explained that it's the same as log(16211) / log(20.4), which my calculator can do, and I wound up with 3.21 years, or 1171-odd days. Add to today's date, and we end up with December 27, 2010, at precisely 8:36:06PM, Pacific time.

It's solid math, do not try to refute it. =)

What about knowing it's Lock Wench in North Carolina? There's a lot of probabilities involved and is therefore a much less exact science, but she's listed more boxes than everyone except Scout. I assume Scout is going to run out of places to hide new boxes soon, but Lock Wench moved opening up a whole new area for her to play and is therefore more likely to keep planting boxes making her the most likely to plant the one billionth.

Additionally, in the few short years I've known her, she's moved from New York to Connecticut, a distance of about 275 miles, in a general southeast direction. At this rate, we'd expect her to have reached North Carolina by 2010. Obviously, she won't be living in the Atlantic Ocean, so rather than assume she'll continue southeast during that whole time, I expect she'll reach the Atlantic Ocean then just follow it south. Thus, North Carolina.

She's also known for sending stamps far and wide, making friends with the local letterboxing community, and is there any letterboxer bigger than Dixie in North Carolina, who in fact gave me a box (which I planted in Iowa, the Dixie Express, and still waiting a first finder). Two known collaborators in the same state? Definitely a possibility. Additionally, by my eyeball estimates, I figure the "average" box planted by Lock Wench is about 32.37 miles south of where she lives, an impossibly precise number to throw off anyone who thinks I'm "just estimating," so that will be the most likely location of the one billionth letterbox.

This is solid logic. You cannot refute it.


Anonymous said...

And I thought my stats class would never be relevant to the real world :)

Ryan - I have just completed round 2 of studying for my MBA Statistics mid-term exam - which is Tuesday night. Needing a bit of inspiration to shut myself up in my office again tomorrow to study all day, I decided to check out AQ blogs before heading to bed.

Imagine my delight when I found your post, and now I am happy to report I will sleep better, knowing there are actually practical applications for this stuff I'm learning :-)

Have a great evening & I'll be keeping an eye out for Lock Wench's profile

*who eagerly anticpates boxing after exams are over!*

Anonymous said...

Ok, that "stat" definately caught my eye.

But here's some facts that may skew your results. 1) "Scout" as a planter consists of Scout, Eagle Eye and Maggie. Granted they plant as a family NOW, but I predict that by 2010, Maggie will have surpassed her mother in plants. And will probably have her own account. If you've ever met Maggie, you will agree that she is an up and coming letterbox planter and carver in her own right! 2) The 'Scout' family has a vacation place, much closer to Dixie, and so will probably team up much sooner with Dixie.

3) I don't mountain bike, so I am a slower planter than the "Scout" family. Heck, my new bike here in CT even has a big basket on the front!(Toto is inside)lol 4) There are no places left in CT to plant. Seriously. I may have moved to CT, but I have yet to plant a box in the month I have been here. I am working 60 hours a week and spend my weekends FINDING boxes! I plant boxes to bring people to cool places I have found in my travels. I may know New York like the back of my hand, but I am still learning about my world here....

My "money" is on Scout/Maggie to plant the billionth letterbox.
So I'll take some of that action. I wager a slab of PZ cut on it!

"Nice Counts"

Anonymous said...

That is so cool! Sorry to hear about the 'slow down' in LW's plants. I am sure it is only temporary as she would not deprive us of the delight in finding one of her own!

Great stats! It makes me understand how presidents and other pols delight in relying on polls.

Thanks again, Ryan, for jumpstarting the grey matter!


3Ms said...

[quote and is there any letterboxer bigger than Dixie in North Carolina,[/quote]

yea... ME. oh wait.. you meant to say, is there anyone in NC who carves more than Dixie.... ;-D
-3Ms (who knows indeed it's not the facts so much as the way you present them)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to refute your logic, but of those 61,684 boxes, at least 20,000 of them were existing boxes already posted on LBNA. To get a more accurate rate of boxes placed per year you should look at just the last year in AQ, or better yet, use LBNA, which has a longer history. According to my calculations, the 1 billionth box will be placed when the Cubs win the World Series.

Anonymous said...

You didnt take into account global warming...

The billionth box will never be planted cuz the Cubs will never win.