Margin of error

"Don't apply it if the temperature drops below 10-degrees, or if there is a chance of rain or snow" said the lady at the paint counter.  She really did say "snow", though if I was stringent about following the first rule, one would presume that there would be none of the white stuff in sight.

She was talking about the two-part deck coating that I had just purchased, the first part being a rubber-like under layer, the second a nonslip final coat.

"Did I mention the 10-degrees bit?"

"Yes, thank you," I replied.

I was fully prepared to wait a few days to complete the project, but when I checked the weather and saw no chance of rain for 24 hours and a low of 7, I instantly went to a place of full speed ahead. Seven sounded incredibly close to 10, and I instinctively thought there were be no issues.  I managed to get two coats down easily, making way for the final two finishing coats.

Of course, sitting here this morning, the temperature actually went down a little lower than forecasted - it's 5-degrees (feels like 3) and the air blowing in through my window, cracked a few inches open, is decidedly crisp. My margin of error is now a little smaller than I anticipated.

How often do we flirt with the margin of error?  How do we decide what is reasonable risk, where is the edge, and what is much too much?

For instance, the speed limit is 100 km/hr, but what is the real tipping point for what will or will not produce a speeding ticket?  That number at radar controlled intersections is actually fixed, though I learned it is adjustable to keep everyone on their toes.  The enforcement officer on the highway also has to decide when to pull people over.  Their margin of error could differ depending on their mood, how much coffee they've had, a threshold that has been imposed from on high, or what the conditions of the road are at that particular moment.

I'm a habitual rule follower, so when we went for a walk on the weekend to MacDonald Island and discovered that barricades had been put up advising that the trails along the Athabasca River were closed, we adjusted our plans.  Many others thought about the margin of error and ignored the barricades, probably thinking to themselves that it was Sunday and that no construction would be happening anyway.  No harm, no foul.

What about the makers of the deck covering that I purchased?  Do they advertise 10-degrees knowing full well that the product tolerance is actually a lot greater?  Probably.  At least, I hope so.


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