Why can't people do math?

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10/27/2008
this story for today because I wanted to make a point about statistics and their misuse, but along the way of making fun of this, I kind of got interested, so it's not as funny as I intended it to be, but maybe it actually has some value. Anyhoo, the first part certainly makes me wonder: Why can't people do math? First, the set-up: Burglary Surge Prompting Homeowners To Turn To Security Systems Homeowners Looking For Motion-Triggered, Infrared Cameras So, you can see why my interest has been piqued. Not only is there a burglary surge going on that might be a business opportunity for you, the readers, but also this surge is causing homeowners to invest in surveillance, not just burg alarms, and that means more margin. Very interesting. So, let's see what it's all about. INDIANAPOLIS -- With home burglaries on the rise in Indianapolis, police said more Hoosiers are turning to surveillance systems to keep a watchful eye when they aren't able to. Indianapolis police report more than 10,000 home burglaries so far this year; 300 more than the same period last year. The department launched a specialized burglary task force this week in an effort to combat the rising numbers around the city. Does anyone else see a problem with the math here? Initially, you're like, "Whoah, 10,000 home burglaries in Indy?!? That's a surge, alright!" But then you get the piece of information with the "300 more" and maybe you start to do a little math and you're like, "Um, that's three percent more than last year. Three percent is not statistically relevant and certainly does not constitute a 'surge.'" Has anyone done any math to see what those "300 more" mean? Because, first of all, there aren't exactly 10,000, nor exactly 300 more. That's impossible. So it's probably more like 10,127 and 289 or something, which makes that three percent look even less interesting, and then there's this fact: Over the period of 10 months, that's 1,000 per month, and 30 more per month, which means they have roughly 33 burglaries per day, and now one more! The difference between 33 and 34 burglaries a day is negligible. Did anyone ask the police department if there was something more than this "surge" that led to the creation of this brand-new task force? Seemingly not. But, anyway, on with the story, which is where some interesting stuff comes in. "We're going to spend some days, maybe up to a week, in various districts, but depending on what our recent intelligence tells us," said task force member Lt. Marshall DePew. "So if somebody gives us a good lead, if we've got a good hot spot to look at, we could be just about anywhere." Okay, well, that's not very interesting, actually. I mean, is WRTV intentionally making this guy look stupid? This does not explain anything. This is saying, "If someone tells us there are crimes happening somewhere, we'll go check it out." I'm assuming that's what they would do anyway. Police might get some help from proactive homeowners who've already taken steps to protect their property with surveillance systems, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported. The demand for surveillance systems has increased significantly in the last year, Sentinel Alarm Systems spokeswoman Kristine Graham told Rinehart. "We've got a lot of cameras where the price point keeps coming down so it gets more and more affordable," she said. "People are more concerned about protecting themselves, their families and their homes." This is a small point, but really, I think this is something that needs consideration: Is it the demand that's changed, or the supply? People have always been demanding cheap cameras with which to watch their homes and keep their families safe, right? Crime is actually down nationwide compared to historical averages, and I can't imagine there was a time in the recent past where people were like, "Eh, I don't really worry too much about protecting myself, my family, and my home." But, previously, inexpensive and effective cameras didn't really exist. Now they do. The demand's always been the same, but the supply finally exists to fulfill the demand. Why does that matter? Well, meeting a rising demand and finding a product that satisfies an existing demand are two really different things and offer two different opportunities. The iPod didn't become widely popular because people started demanding MP3 players way more. Rather, it became widely popular because it satisfied an existing demand that people had for taking their entire music collections around with them and making it really easy to access that music collection anytime they wanted to. When the iPod found the supply to meet the demand, they could start printing money. So, that's the question. Have video surveillance makers and installers finally found a supply that could meet an existing demand that's nearly universal? If so, I'll believe the explosion is about to happen. If it's instead true that people who were already concerned about safety are just demanding more security than their existing burg alarms can offer, then that's a much smaller potential market and I think the growth is more of a general uptick than a hockey stick. Graham said homeowners are most likely to invest in motion-triggered systems, infrared cameras that can see in the dark and systems that are accessible online. Remember SightMind CTO Steve Weller telling us IP video is in its infancy? I'm thinking this is all the proof you need that he's pessimistic in his estimation. When the mainstream media is reporting that your common homeowner is interested in IP surveillance systems for their homes, we're definitely beyond infancy. I think this is a really good sign for the industry, actually. Police said privately-owned security system can help them catch criminals. "We always like pictures; those are worth a thousand words, in more respects than one," said police crime watch coordinator Shirley Purvitis. "But also you have to look at the rest of it too. The video cameras are not the catch all. You have to do the rest that goes with it." Ah, the rest of it. Don't forget the rest of it. That's important. Also, good to know that pictures are worth more than 1,000 words in more than one way. I can't really think of the second way, but I'm going to take Purvitis' word for it. The new burglary task force will be given free reign for 60 days. After that, the members' progress will be evaluated by the department. If they started this whole task force because of a three percent rise in burglaries, are they going to praise its operations when 60 days produces a three percent cut (i.e., 60 fewer burglaries in two months)? If there is a 10 percent rise (200 more burglaries), is it a total failure, or just the result of a tanking economy? And what factor does this increasing amount of home surveillance play? Are burglars less likely to hit homes with video cameras prominently displayed? Are homes without cameras increasingly targets? I'm curious as to this task force's findings. Hopefully, I can get a report in 60 days or so.