Modulo Common Sense

by F.

The other day I read an article about an FTC consent decree with an internet company that disclosed some customer data. The article was fairly long and tried to summarize what was in the consent decree (which is a sort of binding contract with the government).

Reading it over, the consent decree seemed like common sense. The FTC wanted the company to appoint a security czar for customer data, take reasonable steps to protect the data based on industry standards, have an outside auditor monitor their performance, and some other stuff.

So I was thinking, “Modulo common sense, there’s not much to this.” Or, put another way, I was thinking, “This decree, divided by common sense, doesn’t yield much.” Upon reflection, I think that’s not a bad way to think about new information. Use (your) common sense as a modulus, divide the new information by the modulus, and only consider what remains.

(Here’s an interesting post on how people use the word “modulo.” I think it’s easiest to think about modular arithmetic with a physical analogy. For instance, you have a long 2×4. It’s 13 feet long. You have to get as many 2 foot pieces from it as you can. You don’t care how many pieces you get; you’re only concerned about the waste—the remainder. The remainder is 1 and the modulus is 2. 13 is congruent to 1 (mod 2), in other words.)