This beast is the legendary Scoobmeister. Some of you may even have seen it in real life if you’ve been particularly lucky. Anyway, I think it’s great.
“And your point is, Simon..?” you might be thinking. Well it’s this – over the last few days I seem to have been beset by more binary comparisons than I could shake a stick at. Stories about exam results being up by 2% compared to last year, a 10% increase in ferry passengers compared to July 2012, and a decrease in festival attendance of blah percent compared to last year finally tipped me over the edge.
Don’t these people read my blog?!! It’s not complicated stuff. You just can’t compare two isolated numeric values and come to any conclusion about apparent trends, up or down! It’s impossible. The use of binary comparisons is worse than just GUESSING and will send you off in the wrong direction if you use this ‘method’* of ‘interpreting’* data as a basis for decision making (*note inverted commas to indicate eye-rolling). Have some decency – at least toss a coin.
Anyway, my latest apoplexy resulted in me thinking about what would happen if the Scoobmeister (or any other perfectly good car) suffered the binary comparison treatment. Let’s take a look at the features of such a turkey:
Well, the petrol gauge won’t tell you how much petrol you’ve got left, or show the tank becoming emptier. No! Who would want to know useless incremental information like that? Heaven forbid – it might help you plan ahead and stop you from running out of petrol at midnight, miles from nowhere. Our binary comparison petrol gauge only tells you if there’s PETROL or NO PETROL.
Roll up! Roll Up! Take your chances, one and all. That’s right, the binary comparison speedometer doesn’t tell you your actual speed, just whether you’re going faster or slower than 10 minutes ago. Inspired!
Specially modified so that all but two calibration marks are obscured. Which two? It doesn’t matter. For an upgrade of £3,000 you can customise the rev counter and pick any two calibration marks to remain visible. (Buyer’s tip – don’t waste your money on this upgrade; you’ll still get the same results as for the cheapo version. They’re both rubbish).
There’s only two gears in this vehicle, as you’d expect. Sometimes it’s forwards; sometimes it’s reverse, depending on which way the wind blows. Just like the only two possible outcomes of a binary comparison. Genius, eh? This car is very well themed!
The built-in satnav is a gem. It picks two random points along your intended route and leaves you to guess the rest.
Think you can get around the uselessness of the binary comparison satnav by listening to traffic reports on the radio? Think again – it’s been specially developed to only let you know about traffic conditions for the start and end points of your journey. Haha! And as for music, you’ll be pleased to know that it only plays the first and last half-second of each track on your CDs, separated by three minutes of silence.
Oh, and the clock isn’t much use either. Why show the actual passage of time, when it can just inform you whether it’s earlier or later than a random point in time yesterday?
Well, the windscreen is totally blacked out, except for two tiny pinprick holes positioned well away from the driver’s eye level, meaning you’ll have to guess where you’re heading. I suppose you could look in the rear view mirror and compare a point in the distance to where you are now (if it isn’t the middle of a hedge).
Finally, the steering wheel is specially adapted so that it appears to work just like a real one and gives the impression that you’re in control of the vehicle. Don’t be fooled though – it doesn’t actually turn the wheels, so you have no influence on direction of travel. Just the sort of false comfort that binary comparisons inspire.
Silliness Over. ‘Moral of the story’ section coming up…
Of course, no one would want such a useless car. So why do so many performance frameworks and other daily uses of data revert to comparing today’s isolated figure to another isolated figure from some point in the past? Organisations may already enjoy otherwise perfectly good systems, so why ruin them by using binary comparisons to present and act upon data?
Therefore, I implore you. Ditch those ‘up’ and ‘down’ arrows, red and green boxes, percentage changes compared to last year / last quarter / last month / last week / yesterday. Chuck them on a big bonfire of binary comparisons, then go out and do something useful instead.