Posts Tagged ‘Large Numbers’

Interpreting Large Numbers — Sichuan Earthquake Edition

May 13, 2008

The New York Times is currently reporting at least 10,000 dead in the Sichuan earthquake yesterday. The Times article on the quake contains 7,500 characters (not counting spaces). Take a look, and imagine each of the letters representing a victim of the earthquake.

I lived in Sichuan for a couple of months years ago. I hope the people I knew then are alright.

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Do not ask for whom the blog was written…

May 12, 2008

While searching for some other demographic statistics, I was surprised to find:

1. World population reached 3 billion in 1961, and 6 billion in 1999. There were twice as many people in the world of my youth as that of my parents’ youth. (Does that mean my life is worth half as much as theirs, or has demand increased as well? 😛 )

2. In 1900 Africa had 133 million residents and Europe had 408 million residents. Today Africa is larger than Europe with a total population of 810 million to Europe’s 710 million.

3. Every day approximately 365,000 people are born and 152,000 people die. The number of deaths is about the same as the average number of WordPress blogs written per day.

Interpreting Large Numbers: Myanmar Cyclone Edition

May 7, 2008

Imagine 44 full double-decker 747’s:

Myanmar Death Toll

If all these airplanes crashed with no survivors, the death toll would equal that of Myanmar’s cyclone as reported this evening (500 passengers and crew per plane x 44 planes = 22,000 victims).

4000 pages

April 6, 2008

A month or so ago I read Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, a popular mathematics book from the 1980’s.  One of Paulos’ recommendations had to do with rationalizing the size of numbers.  His point was basically that we all hear large numbers thrown around everyday, but we don’t really understand their size.  A casual perusal of today’s New York Times netted an article about the Swiss bank UBS, which had to write down $37 billion in losses.  The article was about a meeting of 6,000 UBS shareholders.  The Times reports the bank has $3.1trillian in assets.  For most people, once a number gets over a certain threshold, it is just a large number.  However, when you look at these numbers in a different way, their difference becomes more clear.  6000 people means a person for every second for the last 1 hour and 40 minutes.  $37 billion means a dollar for every second for the last 1173 years.  $37 trillion is every second since 1,173,262 years ago, around the appearance of Homo Erectus.

The reason I am bringing this up is that I am reading a large book about Nazi Germany’s economy.  It is a tome, with 800 pages total.  As I was reading, I got to thinking about how 4000 US soldiers have died so far in Iraq.  If each page of my book was a soldier, it would take five copies of the book to make a page for each soldier.  Flipping through the pages and imagining a face for each page is incredibly disconcerting, and really drives home the human cost of the war.   I recommend you go right now to your bookshelf, pick out the thickest book, and have a try yourself.