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June 30, 2011

I always hear people say they never need to understand math beyond arithmetic.  That’s fair, but I would respectfully like to add another topic to the requirements for life: understanding of magnitudes, which is critical to understanding whether something is ‘worth it’ or whether it is absurd.

Let’s look at an example:

The gist of it is, a homeless man arrested for charging his cell phone at a privately owned outdoor outlet.

Now he most likely has a prepaid phone that he doesn’t talk on very much but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that he has a power-guzzling smartphone that he talks on all the time.

Now a typical smartphone is estimated to use 3 watts of power to charge.  To convert this to energy, you multiply by the time the phone is charging.  Let’s say he charged it there once a week and it takes three hours to charge.  So his total energy usage is 3*3*52 or 468 watt hours.  Now, energy companies charge in units of kilowatt hours, which are 1000 watt hours.  In the area this takes place, Sacramento, power costs about 12 cents per kilowatt hour, which is outrageously high.  But even then, a year’s worth of cell phone charging costs 12*.468 or a little over five and a half cents.

Now, this man was charged with theft of services.  They also found a folding knife on him so for good measure he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon too.

Just to highlight the absurdity of this, compare the estimated cost of the crime with the cost of the man’s public defender, not to mention all of the other court costs.  The lowest salary I could find for a state attorney in California was about $18.50/hr.  Now, there’s 3600 seconds in an hour, so he gets paid a little over half a cent per second.  So in 11 seconds he will get paid the entire cost of the crime committed by his client.  A person who speaks very quickly can maintain about 2.5 words per second, so the attorney can speak about 28 words in that time.

I think these may have been the 28 words:

“You are all idiots.  I can understand not wanting homeless people around your business at night, but actually pressing charges is a colossal dick move.  Motion for dismissal.”

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