Saturday, December 09, 2006

Verizon fails math

This is a recording of a conversation between a guy named George Vaccaro and Verizon customer service. Apparently, Verizon had quoted George a data transfer rate of ".002 cents/KB," but when he received his bill he discovered that they charged him for .002 dollars per KB. While you and I may know the difference between two thousandths of a cent and two thousandths of a dollar, it is clear from this call (and a follow-up email received by George) that Verizon does not.

If a single call-center person made this thoughtless mistake, I could understand it. But there were at least five different Verizon employees who told George that some fraction of a dollar is equal to that same fraction of a cent. If you listen to the audio file, you will be astounded by George's patience with his tormentors.

If only I'd had that patience when I taught math to high schoolers in 1997. This particular decimal/unit related story reminds me of my first day teaching a remedial math class. Not knowing where exactly these kids stood on math skills, I started with what I thought was a simple question. I wrote two numbers on the board: 2.99 and 3.01. I made them big, one on each side of the board, so everyone could see.

"Which one of these numbers is bigger?" I asked, wanting to get the ball rolling with an easy question.

The class was split. Worse, those who happened to choose correctly didn't have particularly sound reasons for it. My pulse quickened. I started sweating. Any illusion of myself as a competent teacher vanished as I started to realize the distance my students needed to travel.

Not all illusions. I had the answer - the laserbeam that would burn this concept into the hearts and minds of my students. These kids all used money. I would reach their minds through their wallets, and use dollars and pennies to illustrate the importance of decimal places. For a moment, I was Mark Thackery and Jaime Escalante rolled into one.

"Would you rather have two dollars and ninety-nine cents, or three dollars and one cent?" I asked one of the more outspoken students, and then stood back to bask in the glow of lightbulbs clicking on over each head in the room.

The student rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and then stage-whispered, "man, you can't buy shit with that."

It was that kind of year. There were many more days when I could be found arguing on behalf of ideas that I'd once considered self-evident - such as 3.01 > 2.99.

So, hats off to George Vaccaro. His patience during this twenty-minute phone call should be an example to us all.


Anonymous said...

Not a bad way to pass the time. I enjoyed the phone call. I wish I knew what happened next!

The Olson Family said...

Seriously. That guy needs to send that recording to the CEO of Verizon. Maybe he'll get unlimited usage for a lifetime. HA! Those guys need to be sent to a mandatory remedial math course! Can you imagine in MY job if I made a mathematical error like that! POW! End of career! Nice work bro! Wow did you find this?

Anonymous said...

Andrew is listening now!

Sally said...

Isn't this maddening!

Anonymous said...

This is priceless. Thanks for the laugh. I am absolutely amazed at his patience. I would have gone ballistic five minutes in.

BTW, I passed the recording along (giving Matt full credit) to a bunch of people. I also found the guy's blog: According to the blog he was eventually credited for the charge.