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Horses and other amazing things

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There's more to go horse jumping a fence than meets the eye.
There's more to go horse jumping a fence than meets the eye.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Eponimm)
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By Bob Gaydos

I have recently taken a brief break from writing, well, just because. It helped. For one thing, I learned that if you can turn your gaze away from the chaos of the day, even briefly, sometimes life can be amazing. For example, you know what's amazing? Watermelon. Watermelon's amazing.

Think about it. It is sweet, juicy, virtually free of calories and is loaded with nutrients, including Vitamin C and lycopene, a combination that, the science suggests, may fight off cancer, heart problems, macular degeneration, inflammation and cell damage, while protecting your skin and hair. Also, being mostly water with a little fiber, it's good for digestive health. You can eat it or drink it, it grows anywhere that it's not too frigid and if you binge on it, it's a terrific diuretic. Yum today, gone tomorrow.

Amazing. Who thought of this?

Well, we don't really know. It was just kind of here, like a lot of other stuff, just waiting to be discovered, apparently in West Africa, from which it spread to Egypt, India and by the 10th century, China, which is today's largest producer of watermelon. Europeans brought it to the New World in the 16th century and the Japanese, to the dismay of seed-spitters, developed a seedless variety in 1939. Today, there's a watermelon variety for every palate or picnic.

One more bit of watermelon trivia: In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate declared watermelon the official state vegetable, although the rest of the world considers it to be a fruit. Oh, Oklahoma.

But the point here is that this fruit grows abundantly, is both delicious and healthful and has virtually no significant risks associated with it. It's like someone left us a gift and hoped we would find and appreciate it: You're going to need and enjoy this, earthlings. Until recently--well, just now--I hardly gave it a thought. But no more. Go ahead, I know the season's about over, but find one and take a bite.

Amazing, right?

You know what else is amazing? Benford's Law. In fact, it is mind-numbingly amazing, in my humble opinion. It's also called the Newcomb-Benford law, the law of anomalous numbers, or the first-digit law. By any name, it's well, you know.

As simply as I can explain for the non-mathematicians or non-accountants (like me) out there, the law states that in naturally occurring sizable groups of numbers, be it dollars in a budget, acres, heights of mountains, populations, street addresses or stock prices, the first number of each entry is likely to be 1 about 30 per cent of the time, while 9 is the leading number only about 5 percent of the time. And, the frequency moves downward from 1 to 9 in a predictable curve. This happens all the time, unless the sample is too small or there are restrictions in the collection, such as the height of basketball players (5 to 7 being the range).

In practical terms, this means it's possible to determine if someone is cooking the books, the natural tendency of humans being to distribute numbers randomly, with each number having an equal chance of lead status. The law has been admitted in criminal-fraud cases at local, state and federal levels. The IRS must use because it won't even comment on it. A recent study of reported COVID-19 cases indicated that results from Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Chile are suspicious, because the numbers don't match the Benford Curve.

I learned about this amazing law from the Netflix series, "Connected", which I recommend for those who like their science approachable and with a little humor. It turns out the law had a leading role in another Netflix series, "Ozark", in which it was used to detect fraud in a cartel financial statement. And in the 2016 movie, "The Accountant", Ben Affleck uses it to expose the theft of funds from a robotics company.

So I'm really late to the game on this one. But that doesn't make it any less amazing that, in the seemingly randomness of our numbers-crazy society, someone/thing/power has provided order, if we only know where to look for it. Physicist Frank Benford knew where to look in 1938 when he did an extensive test of the phenomenon first noted by astronomer/mathematician Simon Newcomb in 1838. Newcomb noted that the early pages in a book of algorithms were used much more often than the later pages. Benford took Newcomb's observation and gave it meaning.

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Bob Gaydos Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter Page       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)
 

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