Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Blog Contest: How many dandelions are in the bag?
Be the first to get the right answer and win a prize. Details below.
This contest arose when I saw the yellow flowers in the lawn. Pick them now, this voice said, or they will multiply beyond counting. OK, I’ll pick 200 today and maybe get my wife to do another 200 and keep that pace until they are gone. [I know, purists dig the whole plant out of the ground, including the long deep roots. That’s just not going to happen. I can do the minimum which is stop the seeds from forming and blowing all over.]
So I got a bag and started picking and counting. I stopped at one point and took the picture below just to have a record of what I’d done - besides the bag.
As I counted toward my 200, my mind wandered to the recent election and the problem of counting the ballots. Would readers challenge my count? How could I prove how many dandelions were in the bag? And I found myself picking not just yellow dandelions, but also dandelion buds that hadn’t opened yet, and dandelion flowers that had finished, but not yet turned to seedballs. Do all three all count? In the ultmate number in the bag?
If someone challenged me, could we do a recount? Maybe I should build a dandelion counting machine. I could put them in the machine to verify the handcount.
Was it necessary to count at all? Couldn’t I use the picture of a patch of dandelions and see how many dandelions were in six square feet of lawn? We could, but not every six square foot patch had the same number of dandelions.
How important is it to be exact? Well, if I have a contest and four people were within five or six dandelions from the exact number, surely they would want to be sure that the person who was the closest won. Unless, of course, they were close but not the closest. Then a miscount might make them the winner.
In the recent election, assuming that no voting machines were hijacked, the margins of victory were high enough that miscounting by three or four, even 20 votes, wouldn’t have mattered. It was close enough to know who won. But what happens when the elections are closer? Where three votes off would change the winner?
And because we have machines, we need to do hand counts regularly because that seems to be the only way to be assured that none of the machines were hijacked. I tend to think this didn’t happen in this election, but I also have no patience with people who dismiss this possibility completely. It’s more than a theoretical possibility. It’s happened in other locations using the same machines. If you haven’t watched the film Hacking Democracy, (it's free online at the link) I think you have no standing to dispute me on this. If you have watched it, and still think it’s impossible or even unlikely, then tell me why. People are spending billions of dollars to get their favored candidates elected. Why wouldn’t they be likely to try to tamper with the cards in the voting machines?
OK, back to the important things. How many dandelions are in the bag?
How to participate:
1. Post your answers in the comment section. You can post anonymously if you like, but you need to sign a name (any name you like) and city (real city) in the comments.
2. Email me to let me know that you made a comment, the number of dandelions, the name you used, and the city.
Deadline: Thursday, May 31, 2012 5pm Alaska Daylight Savings Time.
For people near Anchorage - I'll take you to dinner at the Thai Kitchen. (People in the Seattle or LA areas, we can possibly work a dinner somewhere in late June.)
For others: I’ll make and send you five hand made greeting cards using images you choose from this blog. (I have most, but not all, in high enough resolution to do this.)
Although this contest has relatively minor consequences, it seems important, even here, to have reasonable security measures, so that you can be assured the contest is not rigged in any way. Therefore, I have emailed the actual number to an Anchorage expert on plant biology. I won't name her now so people do not pester her for the number (which she wouldn't give anyway.)
1. I went well beyond 200.
2. There will be no recount of the dandelions, but you can have the bag of dandelions if you pick it up or pay for shipping.