Thursday, November 01, 2007

Comparing apples with round, green, tasty, slightly acid things

I read today that the price of white truffles, a delicacy from northern italy, has leapt to £7 a gram. One commentator noted it was like "grating a gold bar over your papardelle."  That's quite a lovely image - although I'm guessing a standard grater wouldn't quite cut it so to speak.  It's also wrong.  There are 31.1 grammes in a troy ounce (a troy ounce is a little more than a standard ounce.   My screen shows gold trading at $791 per ounce and the pound is presently $2.07. That makes an ounce of gold £382; and an ounce of white truffle £217.7.  So eating white truffles is like "grating 56/100ths of a gold bar over your papardelle."  Not quite such a lovely image.  But it's funny how often I read an article that makes some egregious comparison so as, apparently, to aid our understanding.  9 times out of 10, it doesn't work for me.

Last week I read that someone had grown a huge pumpkin and that it weighed as much as fourteen and a half Kate Mosses (I hope that's the plural).  I don't know how much one Kate Moss weighs and a comparison between a pumpkin and 14-odd KMs really didn't help me figure out how big it was.  The same newspaper carried a story about the Rubik's Cube world championship and noted that the cube has 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 combinations.  No clever comparison there.  Surely 43 billion billion would have been easier to write? And just as comprehensible.

Why am I wittering on like this and when am I going to get back to talking about e-government? It's coming ...

I was just sent a link to an article about the Government Gateway - one of the best projects I've ever worked on (and one that is still going - which I can't say for everything I've ever worked on).

It contains a splurge of statistics along with some just plain weird comparisons.  Did you know that the weight of the servers in the Gateway is the same as 42 John Prescotts?  No, I digress.  Here are the real ones:

  • 11 million citizens and companies are now e-enabled. In context, that’s equivalent to 120 new Wembley Stadiums, filled to capacity. Or, in other words, an online UK community of registered users, seven times greater than Barclays Bank
  • On its peak day 150,000 people logged on to the Government Gateway to file their tax return, that’s the equivalent to the population of a town like Oxford, or the number of people at the Glastonbury festival in 2007.

120 Wembley stadiums? I don't know what that means.  Seven times Barclays Bank?  Surely that's not important - the Gateway is a monopoly. Barclays has competition. How about "25% of the number of users Facebook has"?  Every day Oxford as a whole logs on?  Reminds me of the commentator during the Rugby World Cup who said, I think about Samoa or Tonga, that "these guys are fielding a team from a country that is so small that it would be the same as Chesterfield entering a team in the competition".  I'm no nearer knowing how many people that means, but at least I know the population of Oxford now, ready for when I'm asked one day (in 2001 it was 134,248)

And one that I quite like

  • 20 million online forms electronically submitted since its inception in 2001. This is an impressive statistic when you consider that if each form had been submitted in paper, via first class post, this would have cost over £6 million in stamps alone.

Now that's got some legs.  £6.4 milli0n in stamps - the cost of a 5,000 square foot apartment by the river.  That's pretty good - and let's not even mention the 60 million bits of paper saved (1 envelope and 2 pages of form) - one for every person in the UK.  Think of the trees. And the reduction in shoe rubber for the postmen.

Ages and ages ago - 2002 maybe - I did a triple header presentation - me, Paul Kelsall (then IT director at the Royal Mail) and Marc Andreessen (needs no intro).  I joked with Paul that he had a real problem looming because government was responsible for about £1 billion of the Mail's revenue through sending and receiving forms - and once e-government took off, they'd be in serious trouble).  Plainly we're a loooooonnnnggggg way from that, but it's nice to know we've made a dent the size of a riverside apartment.

All comparisons aside, I'm as pleased as punch (a hulking Ali-esque one) that the Gateway is alive and kicking 7 years (as long as some wars) after we started work on it (yes, September 2000) and wish only that the numbers were quite a lot bigger. Perhaps we could set some new targets, by 2010:

  • 25 million users - 6 times the population of Los Angeles
  • £16 million in stamps, the same as the number of copies sold of Elton John's greatest hits (and Hotel California for that matter - see an earlier post on hotel california.gov - you can check in, but you can never leave. use the search box to find it)
  • 60 million forms (one for every man, woman and child in the UK) or indeed, the number of Vista copies sold in the first 5 weeks (or 30 times the number of Leopards sold by Apple, no not real leopards, in the first 4 days).

There's so much opportunity for comparison.

4 comments:

  1. A little over seven Rubik's cube combinations for every square millimetre on the earth's surface, ocean included.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Proverb10:53 pm

    Self-praise is no recommendation.
    -early 19th

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  3. Anonymous8:36 pm

    An imperial Kate Moss, is one sixty seventh of a double decker bus. The metric equivalent, the Kate Mosse, is slightly heavier.

    Was it combinations, or permutations?

    As for the Servers, I wouldn't like one 200th of the weight of them on top of me. What must it have been like to be that secretary? It's funny women can't lift much but some of them can take quite a bit of weight lying on top of them. Shudder at the thought.

    I.

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