Home > Appreciation > Insignificant Digits

Insignificant Digits

As someone with an affinity for numbers, I’m always aware of how they appear around us.  Consequently I’m always trying to decode the numbers I see:  what do they mean?  Why are they here?

It didn’t take much to figure out the numbers below these No U-Turns signs along the highway.  It’s a bit blurry (it’s hard to take a picture when you are driving, umm, 55 mph.  Please do not try this at home.  Or, in your car.) but you can make out the 55.39 in yellow.

After a couple of miles of confirmation it’s clear that the 55 is the corresponding mile number on the highway.  So this is  a distance marker for the U-Turn, telling emergency vehicles the exact location of this U-Turn, 55.39 miles up the highway. 

Is the .39 really necessary?  How much accuracy do we need in these measurements?  I can see wanting to avoid the confusion of naming it 55 (is it between 54 and 55, or 55 and 56?), but couldn’t we just call it 55.5 and save ourselves the trouble of dealing with the .39? 

If the Highway Department has extra money to spend on stuff like this, how about spending it on new speed limit signs?  Rounded the nearest integer, please.

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  1. May 5, 2011 at 9:08 am

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