Time technicians at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (Formerly the National Bureau of Standards) set a new level of precision in 1949 by inventing the atomic clock. It counted the oscillations of the nitrogen atom in an ammonia molecule--and was reliable to within one second in three years. More recently, NIST switched to an atomic clock based on the vibrations of cesium atoms. It will need 300,000 years to gain or lose a single second. But NIST scientists are working on a still-better model: a single mercury ion will be trapped in a vacuum by laser beams and cooled to its lowest possible energy level. The atom's oscillations will then be so stable that the new timepiece should be accurate to within one second in 10 billion years--the total life span of stars similar to our sun.── Business Week, reported in Resource, Mar/April, 1990.
Maria Fedorovna, the empress of Russia and wife of Czar Alexander III, was known for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from exile in Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander. The czar had written: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia." After Maria's intervention, the note read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." The prisoner was eventually released. ── Today in the Word, July 14, 1993.
Once when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was preparing a speech, he needed some economic statistics to back up a point he was trying to make. His advisers said it would take six months to get accurate figures. "In that case, I'll just use these rough estimates," FDR said, and he wrote down some numbers in his text. "They're reasonable figures and they support my point. "Besides," he added as an afterthought, "it will keep my critics busy for at least six month just to prove me wrong." ── Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.
In the New York Times last year: "The 'Candidates on Television' listing yesterday misspelled the name of the Vice President in some editions. It is Quayle, not Quale. The Times regrets the error." ── Reader's Digest.
Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy of dishonesty.── Charles Simmons.
If 99.9 percent is good enough, then...
- Two million documents
will be lost by the IRS this year.
- 811,000 faulty rolls of 35mm film will be loaded this year.
- 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next 60 minutes.
- 1,314 phone calls will be misplaced by telecommunication services every minute.
- 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
- 268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year.
- 14,208 defective personal computers will be shipped this year.
- 103,260 income tax returns will be process incorrectly this year.
- 2,488,200 books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
- 5,517,200 cases of soft drinks produced in the next 12 months will be flatter than a bad tire.
- Two plane landings daily at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago will be unsafe.
- 3,056 copies of tomorrow's Wall Street Journal will be missing one of the three sections.
- 18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
- 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
- 880,000 credit cards in circulation will turn out to have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
- $9,690 will be spent today, tomorrow, next Thursday, and every day in the future on defective, often unsafe sporting equipment.
- 55 malfunction automatic teller machines will be installed in the next 12 months.
- 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next 12 months.
- 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes will be shipped this year.
- $761,900 will be spent in the next 12 months on tapes and compact discs that won't play.
- 107 incorrect medical procedures will be performed by the end of the day today.
- 315 entries in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language will turn out to be misspelled.
── InSight, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Communications Division Communicator, p. 6.
Alexander Woollcott: In matters of speech, it's not elegance that interest me but exactness. Precision. Surgical precision. Let me give an illustration--in the pattern of the old story about Noah Webster, the man who wrote the dictionary. Of him it used to be told that his wife once caught him in the pantry in the act of kissing the cook. "Why, Mr. Webster," she said, "I'm surprised." "No, my dear," he replied. "I'm surprised' you're amazed."
Howard Teichmann, Smart Aleck.
On Jan 25, 1990, Avianca Flight 52 from Colombia crashed just 15 miles short of New York's Kennedy International Airport, killing 73 passengers. Reason: The plane just ran out of gas. Under international regulations, an airliner must carry enough fuel to reach its destination as well as its assigned alternate, plus enough extra to handle at least 45 minutes of delays. Due to low fuel condition, the Avianca pilots had requested "priority" (not "emergency") landing. Because the exact word "emergency" was not used, and due to heavy traffic and bad weather conditions, the ill-fated plane was placed on a holding pattern...until it simply ran out of gas.