Know Your Prefixes, Baseball Edition

On the way to get SteelyKid from day care last night, I flipped on ESPN radio in the vain hope of getting a baseball score, but wound up listening to former Mets manager and freelance jackass Bobby Valentine talking about how difficult batting is, which included the statement:

And the whole thing is over in a mega-second!

A mega-second, of course, is 1,000,000 seconds, or a bit less than twelve days. That’s awfully long for an at-bat in baseball, though it might not be unreasonable for cricket.

Subsequent comments made clear that Valentine was trying for “millisecond,” though it remains unclear to me what he was claiming took place in 0.001 seconds. Even for a world-class fastballer, the time for a pitch to travel from the pitcher’s mound to home plate is a few hundred milliseconds. Which is fast, but well within the range of human reaction time, as should be obvious from the fact that even world-class pitchers get hit. He might’ve been referring to some part of the pitching motion, but again, it’s hard to imagine what part would happen that quickly that could make any difference to a batter– at fastball speeds, the ball or a pitcher’s arm would move maybe 5cm in a millisecond, a difference that’s kind of hard to pick up– it covers roughly the same angular distance in your field of view as quarter seen edge-on at arm’s length.

The real answer to this, of course, is “It’s Bobby Valentine. Just typing his name involves an order of magnitude more thought than he puts into anything he says.” Which is probably true. I report it here just to give you some idea what sports commentary sounds like when you understand SI units.

7 thoughts on “Know Your Prefixes, Baseball Edition

  1. For those of us (*raises hand*) who have to actually take time to think about the prefixes and scales of measurement–Could you compare Valentine’s wrongness to, say, Chopra’s when he claims that the same sort of conscious event (for purposes of the question, both Chopra and Valentine are speaking fuzzily about “noticing something and reacting to it”) takes place as a quantum event?

    Or is such a comparison apples and antimatter?

  2. Or is such a comparison apples and antimatter?

    More like apples and ether. While Valentine is misusing terminology, he is attempting to describe a real phenomenon. Chopra misuses terminology in the pursuit of something that exists only in his mind (and in the minds of gullible people who buy his books).

  3. I take your point, Eric, and agree, but one can measure reaction times to stimuli (again, a few hundred milliseconds is a reasonable cocktail napkin figure), and can measure the number of neurons involved, the minimum number of synaptic vesicles, molecules per vesicle, atoms per molecule… and have a reasonable measure of Chopra’s ignorance even given a most favorable interpretation of what he is talking about.

    Although in truth I agree with you, it is a smokescreen for a fantasy of a ghost of an idea.

    hope you are enjoying the beginnings of homecoming weekend, btw! looks like we have a shot at good weather!

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