The Herald Bulletin

October 29, 2013

Emmett Dulaney: No one is doing everyday math

The Herald Bulletin

---- — I often hear it said that no one reads anymore, and I vehemently disagree with this. There isn’t a waiting room anywhere that I can sit in without someone telling me what the Old Farmer’s Almanac says about the weather in the upcoming season. It is my contention that reading is very much alive and well.

What I will argue is that no one does math anymore. Many can recall sitting in a math class at one point in time or another and coming to the conclusion that they would never use the concepts being discussed in the real world. I believe that not only have they have kept their word with geometry, trigonometry, and the like, but they’ve kept that word with basic math as well.

As a point of illustration, consider the “value meal” at McDonalds. It consists of a main item (sandwich, chicken nuggets, etc.), a medium fry, and a medium soft drink and offers a savings over buying each item individually. As a long running promotion, all sizes of soft drinks are priced at one dollar, so it is possible to get the meal and swap out the medium drink for a large and not pay anything additional. Along with the standard meal choice, McDonald’s offers the option to go “large”: this does not change the main item in any way, shape, or form, but it does change both the drink and fries to large. While there is no cost differential associated with the drink, the difference in individual pricing between the medium fry you are foregoing and the large fry you are obtaining is 30 cents, while the cost of going large is 60 cents. This means that by ordering the meal large, a customer is paying twice as much as they should (60 cents for 30 cents more value) and is akin to me selling a dollar for the unbelievable price of $2. It is my understanding that the “large” option is a popular one at the golden arches, and it is one that I am sure the accountants must be proud of.

As another example, consider the often advertised “free delivery” of appliances above a certain price from h.h. gregg. The fine print at the bottom of each ad clearly states that they are redefining the word “free” to not mean that you don’t get charged for it, but rather to mean that they charge you $79.99 and you then can send in paperwork within 30 days of purchase to get a prepaid charge card with that same amount on it. Among those things not spelled out in the fine print is that by defining the word “free” this way, you are paying an additional $5.60 in sales tax, as well as incurring the costs of mailing (stamps, envelopes, copying) and complying with their rules (if you don’t send in the right form, don’t send it in in time, etc., then you forgo the opportunity to get the prepaid card). Since, at a minimum, this form of free is costing $5.60, I have to confess that I liked the old definition better.

Emmett Dulaney is an Anderson resident and the author of several books on technology. His column usually appears Tuesdays.