Siddhant Pyasi

Mistakes, Viruses, and Plum

Feb 24, 2020 | Read time: 5 min | 866 words

Hi all,

This week will have two newsletters instead of the usual one, because there’s quite a lot to be written about. So without further ado -

Ever since I started out in analytics, I’ve been terrified of making a mistake in the numbers that I push out. Quite a lot can go wrong if I’m not paying attention, and I don’t want to cause heavy damage (monetary or reputational). And then I read something yesterday that scared the living daylights out of me - the Spanish submarine builder Navantia made a submarine 70 tons too heavy, because of an improper decimal point. This happened in 2013, with the lead boat in the Isaac Peral class of submarines, and

“Apparently somebody in the calculations made a mistake in the very beginning and nobody paid attention to review the calculations…”

So there’s that. The one thing a submarine manufacturer has to ensure is that a submarine always comes back to the surface after a dive. But this error would have led to the submarine staying submerged, which is not very convenient. It took them 7 years to fix the error (they increased the length of the submarine by 7 metres to offset the increase in weight). Imagine being the intern/Associate/Excel-monkey who was responsible for that section of the calculations. Oh, the horror.

What’s the latest with COVID-19? Some leaders in Hubei province were fired, and fresh blood was brought in (pun not intended). The first act of the new leadership was to “change” the criteria for classifying people as affected by the virus, which led to the number of infected people spiking up by 15k (of course, that’s the official reason. The unofficial reason, I suspect, is that they couldn’t keep up with this charade any longer). My previous newsletter talked about how the numbers coming out of the Middle Kingdom didn’t make sense. They still don’t, but at least the numbers we see now are closer to reality. I feel that the reality there is best expressed by this meme.

We’re now seeing more cases in other parts of the world. The number of cases in Italy went up, puzzling everybody and their mother as to how a virus from China reached Italy in first place. Iran attributed 6 deaths to the virus on Saturday, and once again, I’m confused how a virus from China made its way to Qom, one of the more prominent cities of Islamic learning (Qom was the base of the Ayatollah Khomeini, before he was exiled from Iran). South Korea has been reporting some bad numbers too lately. The virus is spreading, and I guess the best thing we can do is to

  1. stay hydrated
  2. have lots of Vitamin C
  3. get plenty of sleep because at the rate at which this is going, it seems like in about a month or so, it won’t be a matter of if, but when.

Oh and here’s a funny story - the Japanese Ministry of Health said that it didn’t screen their medical staff for COVID-19 because if they tested positive, they wouldn’t be able to come to work. I’m not making this up. 4 workers from the Japanese Ministry of Health have tested positive for the virus. Now that they’ve tested positive, I’m guessing they’re not coming in to work anytime soon. How much more surreal do you think things are going to get?

The 14th of February marked the death anniversary of Sir P. G. Wodehouse, one of the finest English language writers to have ever walked the streets of this Earth. Snobby literature “critics” who’ve never written a line in their lives will call him “formulaic”, or “repetitive”. But what do they know? They couldn’t recognise literary genius if it stood in front of them in a tutu waving pom-poms. Sample this bit, for example -

“Yes, Aunt Dahlia,’ I said, ‘you have guessed my secret. I do indeed love.’
‘Who is she?’
‘A Miss Pendlebury. Christian name, Gwladys. She spells it with a “w”.’
‘With a “g”, you mean.’
‘With a “w” and a “g”.’
‘Not Gwladys?’
‘That’s it.’
The relative uttered a yowl.
‘You sit there and tell me you haven’t enough sense to steer clear of a girl who calls herself Gwladys? Listen, Bertie,’ said Aunt Dahlia earnestly, ‘I’m an older woman than you are – well, you know what I mean – and I can tell you a thing or two. And one of them is that no good can come of association with anything labelled Gwladys or Ysobel or Ethyl or Mabelle or Kathryn. But particularly Gwladys. What sort of girl is she?”

From: P. G. Wodehouse. “The Spot of Art”.

Show me someone else who can dream up something like this. Who can write it out in this fashion, who can write thirty five short stories and ten full-sized novels filled with dialogue like this (that’s just the Bertie and Jeeves canon, there’s more with Blandings Castle, and the rest of the Drones Club to contend with). Don’t waste your time looking, please - such people don’t exist anymore. Hope you’re happy, Plum, wherever you are.

Have a great week ahead! Next volume coming soon.

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