Another sad story, another place where the editor had tons of knowledge and no common sense.

He/she was only off by 796 feet and 1.385952 inches.

The story is that of the missing baby in Kansas City.  I haven’t followed it, but the little girl has to be dead after two and a half weeks.  No suspects, but the police are eyeing the parents suspiciously.

And because there’s no resolution yet, no joyous reunion or sad find, there is a lot of media attention.  Presumably that is why the FAA established a no-fly zone around the house.  As reported on a Cincinnati TV station,

No, they didn’t.  They set up the no-fly zone at one nautical mile, and some youngster with more calculator keys than comprehension converted it.  But why?  Is that awkward string of digits better than saying “one nautical mile”?  Is anything lost, realistically, if they say “one mile”, leaving out the differentiator?  The pilots are not going to get their orders from a public news source, they are going to get it from the FAA.  And they know that the FAA, being all aviation-y and everything, uses nautical miles.

Where did the wonky conversion come from?  A Google news search shows only two hits on that string, neither of them the Cincinnati station.  So it may be a local decision, not in the AP/Reuters/Scripps/AFP original.

And how did I know it was a nautical mile?  I used RealCalc on my Android smartphone.  It is available from the Android Market here, and from the developer here.  It is free, and it does conversions.  I typed the long string into the calculator, hit Shift-zero to pull up the conversions, told it I wanted to convert distance, and that my “from” unit was miles.  It popped up all the results, from an insane number of micrometers (close to two billion) to an insane number of light years (about two times ten to the minus thirteenth).  And in the middle of it was nm, for nautical miles, showing 1.0 (and zeroes out to 8 decimal places).  Good enough for me.

So the calculator gets an A+ for helpfulness, and an editor somewhere gets a C-.  Accurate, but not helpful.

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