Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mythbuster Adam Savage Has an $11,000 AT&TMath Moment

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but a few readers have brought this to my attention recently (thank you!).

It appears Mythbuster Adam Savage has run into the same sort of issue I had with Verizon, with his provider (and now mine) AT&T.

According to Adam's tweets, due to him very quickly getting a following on twitter (50,000 or so), he seems to have already resolved his issue. It sounded like the service he received from the AT&T reps was significantly better than in my case, consistent with my experiences with AT&T CS in general. FYI, no one pays me to say that, I just like to give credit where credit is due.

I wonder if he was quoted over the phone like I was. Actually I hope he was, otherwise he should have been able to do the math. That said, these companies really need to start quoting in $/MB as I had suggested in the aftermath of my debacle. They might also want to start negotiating and charging more reasonable roaming rates. It's hard to believe that while AT&T charges $60/month for "unlimited" data, (which translates to 5gb magically) in the US, it has to charge $75,000 (1,250 times as much!) for the same amount of data if you cross the border into Canada.

Surprisingly, on Verizon, that same 5gb of Canadian roaming data (in my case) would only have cost $10,000 - quite a bargain by comparison ;). Also interestingly, had I had my problem back in the day with AT&T instead of Verizon, my $71.79 vs 71.79c would have been $538 vs. $5.38 - yeesh. Remember, that was about 35 megs, or equivalent to 10ish mobile mp3/iTunes downloads.

Now of course not everyone with that plan uses the whole 5gb, a fact that I'm sure the actuaries at AT&T and Verizon have worked out. So if for example we us a more conservative assumption, like perhaps the average monthly usage is 400mb/month, that would still cost $6000 with AT&T and $800 with Verizon, as roaming data vs. domestic. Something still seems out of whack.

Follow Adam here:, and check out the comments here:

Also, this event has prompted me to setup a verizonmath twitter account. At this point I don't know how much twitting is in order, but maybe you'll see something new up there now and then.

As a side note, Adam, if you are reading this, I'd jump the first plane to SF if I ever had the opportunity to have a beer with you and/or the rest of the amazing MB crew and/or a couple of birds! One can dream :).


StefanWonKosterajn said...

It's a bit funny that you wrote mb instead of MB. 1MB=8388608000mb

George Vaccaro said...


interesting, how about a reference link to wherever your definitions come from?

StefanWonKosterajn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StefanWonKosterajn said...

Actually MiB should be used instead of MB, but it's commonly accepted to use M to mean 2^20. Milibits aren't really used anywhere, but that's the only thing mb can mean in english. In polish mb can also stand for running meter.

Google doesn't understand milibits so I had to use a trick.

George Vaccaro said...


Why did you have to use "/1000"?

It is generally understood, especially in context, that mb would mean megabytes, however I should probably use MB as not to be confused with megabit (MB/8).

If I understand your definition, you are trying to say that mb represents a thousandth of a bit, which doesn't seem like too practical a term or even possible for that matter. What is a logical yes/no divided by 1000?

That might be why google didn't recognize it, and you had to use your "trick."

It's funny the lengths someone will go to, to try and justify a comment.

StefanWonKosterajn said...

There are many units google won't recoginze: milliamperes, millifarads, megafarads, newton-meters.

It's not a very practical unit, but it's real. It's not possible to have a 1/1000 of a logical state, just like it's not possible to have 1/1000 of a person. But if you send one bit every 1000 seconds that's one millibit per second. Just like a person walking through a door every 1000 seconds is 1/1000 of a person per second.

Most people don't see any difference between mb, Mb and MB, but most people don't really understand fractions and unit conversions either.

When dealing with file sizes there rarely is any confusion. There often is confusion when dealing with data transfer. Nobody really thinks it's a millibit, but it can be hard to understand if it's a megabyte or a megabit.

It's not a big mistake, I just found it funny that a blog that started out as a blog about problems with unit conversions writes units wrong.

George Vaccaro said...


Interesting. I suppose it could mean millibabies somewhere too. Next time I'll be sure to use all caps as not to confuse people.

infestdead said...

Mb is megabits
MB is megabytes
mb is milibits
mB is milibytes


Rob said...

@Stefan: Out of curiosity, can you cite a single document that uses "mb" for "millibits" without making that fact clear at some point?

Here's one that interprets "mb" as megabyte:

Michel said...

8 bit = 1 byte
1kB = 1 kilo Byte = 2^10 bytes = 1024 bytes = 1024 * 8 bits

8 Mb (megabits) is equal to 1 MB (megabytes)

mb is milibits (never used)
mB is milibytes (never used)

2^10 kB = 1024kB = 1MB

this was the original way of calculation for binairy data. But the metric system provides m, c, d, deca, k, M, G for base 10 representation and not for binairy.
for more information you should take a look at wiki

cheezfri said...

I just had to share my 2 stupid math moments with someone, so here it is:

I had a coworker who saw a sign for a sale at a store for 60% off, then below that, another sign saying to take an additional 40% off the sale price. She really thought she could buy things for 100% off (free.)

I had another coworker who had a 20% off coupon to a store, and said she was going to take 5 coupons to the store to get 100% off. Correct math, but I'm sure she wouldn't get away with it!

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Garetjax said...

Here is the part that confuses everyone - in all the advertisements, commercials and brouchures the companies are using the kb symbol to denote their low low pricing model. However, they are failing to acknowledge that a typical webpage (like this one) will require 10KB (10 KiloBytes - which is 10,000kb approximately). If they say you are only charged .005 per kb your bill would be .005x10,000 10.00 :D~ - now add that to the usage of a 100 webpages a month - very considerate estimate - 100x10.00 = 1,000.00 man are they camping out your wallet for usage)

This does introduce mathematically problems for customer service agents and similar but, you must understand they are only trying to do their job and likely have no idea why it works the way it does.

In Short Mobile Broadband is 'marketed' at kilobits and billed in KiloBytes (though they look the same kb vs KB).

Matt said...

When complaining how VZW confused dollars with cents, it might behoove you not to confuse bits (b) with bytes (B).

RomanGirl said...

On a lighter note...I've had AT&T since before they were the New AT&T, with Cingular in there. I've never had any problems that I noticed. Apparently somewhere there was an Unlimited Data window and I climbed through it. Soon after, it had a ceiling. So, that means I am never changing my plan!

And about 5 years too late, I love your Version Math and I am glad to see it is getting so much use. As a Latin teacher, I don't think math is my thing and I even get it. But, it might be more of a logic thing. Whichever, it was awesome and I am in awe of your tenacity.

Earn said...

I found the article interesting and the comments even more interesting:) In my country,Lithuania mobile internet is really cheap. You get 5GB for ~$3 usd or 1 minute $0.003 USD

MyTherapy21 said...

I love some of the games companies play with bits, bytes Kilo/Mega/Giga and Kibi/Mebi/Gibi

For instance at a local computer shop there is a storage device claiming 500Gb storage space, Theres a large database I use at work that would be useful to keep an image of. It's size reads 60GiB.

The database is to big to go on the hard drive. Because the Hard drive is about 62.5GB(I imagine it's 64 with a lot of unwriteable space) and the file is 64.4GB.

Now that the world is using Tera prefixes commercially there's a 10% variance between Binary and Metric prefixes. Couple that with the bit/byte issue and it's 780% variance.

Tb = 125,000,000,000 Bytes
Tib = 137,438,953,472 Bytes
TB = 1,000,000,000,000 Bytes
TiB = 1,099,511,627,776 Bytes

Worth paying attention to or that 0.002c/KiB Could turn into $0.002/Kb and 71.79c turns into £588.08

George Vaccaro said...


That's a new one! Gigabits? Crazy.

MyTherapy21 said...

Yeah, absolute scam. The sign the shop printed for it said "Half Terabyte flash drive" so I was interested. Then I read the packaging. The price has dropped and the sign has been altered with a marker pen to say 1/16 Terabyte. It was just a cheap manufacturer trying to fool computer illiterates without "lying".

George Vaccaro said...

@MyTherapy21, the shop shouldn't even sell products that stoop to such a low level. I'd think it wouldn't even pay off for them as I'm sure they'd have to deal with customer complaints... I'll never understand how people do business that way. Seems it would be better to have customer trust than a quick buck via almost false advertising.

EDS said...

Millibytes and Millibits cannot exist. Bits are a discrete unit where a bit is either a 1 or a 0. You can't have anything smaller than a bit.