Too many significant digits (Part 1)

The following appeared on my Facebook feed a while back:

significantdigits

Just look at that: the Nike app claimed to measure the length of my friend’s run with twelve decimal places of accuracy.

Let’s have some fun with this. Just suppose that the app was able to measure distance to the nearest trillionth of a mile. One trillionth of a mile is…

5.28 billionths of a foot,

or about 63.4 billionths of an inch,

or about 161 billionths of a centimeter,

or about 1.61 billionths of a meter,

or about 1.61 nanometers.

By way of comparison, the fingernails on the average adult grow about 3 millimeters a month. A world-class runner could run 6.25 miles in about 30 minutes; in those 30 minutes, his/her fingernails would grow about 2 microns, or about 2000 nanometers. (Of course, they’ll grow longer for less athletic runners covering the same distance at a slower speed.)

So if the Nike app can measure my distance to the nearest trillionth of a mile, it would have absolutely no difficulty measuring how much my fingernails grew while running.

Or, it could be that the Nike app really isn’t measuring the distance all that precisely. Probably the app used double-precision arithmetic, and whoever programmed the app didn’t tell it to truncate after a reasonable number of digits.

One thought on “Too many significant digits (Part 1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.