It doesn’t count

The phrase “it doesn’t count” is quite telling. When taken literally, it means that to be important things have to be countable – in numbers. My laptop is connected to the Internet via WiFi, so that I can wonder about in the house and work wherever I please. There is a an indicator on my screen that tells me the quality of the signal I am transmitting with. Some clever heuristics engineer has decided that I would rather have this information in a human fashion – with words rather than numbers. My signal is either excellent, very good, good, poor or very poor, according to this indicator. I don’t really have a problem with this, I can figure out the order of connection quality intended. But what the computer can dish out – it can not take in return. I cant ask my computer to do something excellently or poorly, unless an arrangement has been made in advance as to the numerical value of these terms.

I have often thought how much more fun it would be if the engineers had worked out a scale of 99 adjectives, using words like remarkable, fantastic, dodgy, cool, so-so, pretty good, wonderful, miserable, horrendous, paltry, acceptable, catastrophic, and so on. It would be fun to see if I could learn them in relation to the reception I was experiencing.

Some sporting contests are very difficult to count, not downhill ski racing, where we would never know who was the winner without stopwatches accurate to 100ths second, but disciplines like figure skating, diving, and synchronized swimming. Here the aggregated results of a bench of judges determine the winner. If judges had only the 100 adjectives I fantasized about above, even if all were words familiar to them from daily usage, with no mapping allowed to any sort of numbering or ordering system, there would be no way of determining a winner. The judges could argue just as much about the relative values of the adjectives as they could about the perceived quality of the competitor’s performances. Practitioners of law will recognize the imbroglio.

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