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What's cooler than [1965 avg. CEO pay]? The [box office sales of Jaws].
May 20, 2013 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Tumblr's $1.1 Billion price-tag instinctively seems very high to most of us, but without context, numbers this huge are often literally unfathomable to the masses. To help readers gain perspective on the huge numbers commonly tossed around by the media, researcher Glen Chiacchieri has created Dictionary of Numbers, a Google Chrome extension that automatically adds context to huge numbers printed in the web pages that you read.

[via the xkcd blag]
posted by schmod (51 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because "8 million people" means nothing, but "population of New York City" means everything.

I must be a nerd because this sentence is exactly backwards to me.
posted by DU at 8:09 AM on May 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


Yeah. Reading about this plugin while said plugin has already been installed is a completely bewildering experience.
posted by schmod at 8:11 AM on May 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


How many Libraries of Congress can $1.1 Billion buy?
posted by kmz at 8:22 AM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


But why does the installation page want to access doubleclick.net?
Surely they don't care what I'm typing ... oh, wait ....
posted by hank at 8:22 AM on May 20, 2013


I had this installed briefly. There is a bug where, at least sometimes, it changes the text inside a textarea I'm about to edit from a wiki. I tried to report this bug, but their bug-reporting email address rejected my message. Oh well.
posted by mkb at 8:30 AM on May 20, 2013


"It can access your data on all websites."

Well, that was a quick no-install.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:37 AM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of the article from a this post that "in order to make the scale of their work intelligible to the layperson" insisted on measuring everything in Empire State Buildings.

Numbers without context can be misleading. But numbers with the wrong context tend to be useless.
posted by zinon at 8:44 AM on May 20, 2013


Yes. We must dumb down things so lazy people can understand them.
posted by gertzedek at 8:50 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes. We must dumb down things so lazy people can understand them.

Yeah! What is this country coming to? Providing context to unfamiliar magnitudes of numbers in a way that makes them more accessible and useful to users?

Thanks, Obama.
posted by graphnerd at 8:52 AM on May 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


Interesting idea, as noted context is important. I always think of dollar amounts in spending. For example if you gave a newborn $1.1 Billion, the newborn could spend $39,000 every day for its whole life (let's say 77 years) and still have $4 million left over.
posted by bytewrite at 8:56 AM on May 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


If it's just for lengths and dollar amounts, it's not super useful (and I'm not about to reinstall chrome just for that), but for stuff that's less familiar it can certainly help people -- e.g. how much pressure is 10 MPa? How strong a vacuum is... (I have no idea what a strong vacuum is). Is that substance very electronegative relative to common solvents? Etc. etc.

It's all stuff you can find out if you have a good library and an internet connection, but why not make it available quickly instead?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:57 AM on May 20, 2013


Yes. We must dumb down things so lazy people can understand them.

It isn't dumbing down to speak in analogies, but to provide context. See also: Rhode Island, the universal measure of land area.

Millions and Billions are huge numbers, something that most people don't directly deal with in their lives. So analogies provide a scale which is easier to understand. Take 100 yards. That's a long distance, right? Maybe? How about one (American) football field? That distance is used because it's a tangible distance for many people. You've been on one during high school for PE, or sat in the bleachers around one. People can visualize the distance. Or as bytewrite pointed out, $1.1 billion could be broken down into $39,000 every day for 77 years.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2013


For an individual, $1.1 billion would be the equivalent of 3.7 shitloads of money in constant (1986) shitloads.
posted by haricotvert at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


What I find unfathomable:

1) How does Yahoo have 1.1 billion dollars to throw around?
2) How is Yahoo even still a thing?

Who uses it for searching in the age of Google? Who uses it for news or anything else? What is it even for anymore?

I've still got an ancient Yahoo mail account, but it's mostly spam and I really prefer my GMail accounts. I rarely check the old Yahoo mail.
posted by NoAccount at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are those metric shitloads? Or old Imperial?
posted by Mister_A at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


So Tumbler's price was about 73% of a shiny new B-2 stealth bomber, or roughly equal to Wyoming's 2013 total spending on education. They're right, it really helps put things into perspective.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:06 AM on May 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


You can use the bomber to blow up schools and then use Tumblr to post pictures of it.
posted by Mister_A at 9:10 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


It isn't dumbing down to speak in analogies, but to provide context. See also: Rhode Island, the universal measure of land area.

Millions and Billions are huge numbers, something that most people don't directly deal with in their lives. So analogies provide a scale which is easier to understand. Take 100 yards. That's a long distance, right? Maybe? How about one (American) football field? That distance is used because it's a tangible distance for many people. You've been on one during high school for PE, or sat in the bleachers around one. People can visualize the distance. Or as bytewrite pointed out, $1.1 billion could be broken down into $39,000 every day for 77 years.


The football stadium thing, I can understand. Rhode Island though? I really have no concept of how big Rhode Island is supposed to be. So then using it to contextualize other measures becomes meaningless to me.
posted by kmz at 9:10 AM on May 20, 2013


jsavimbi: ""It can access your data on all websites."

Well, that was a quick no-install.
"

Isn't this true of all Chrome extensions? As far as I know, the extensions don't actually send your data back to the creators of the app, it just means the app has access to what you're viewing in the same way that Chrome does. For example, Adblock Plus specifically says:
Please note: When installing Adblock Plus for Chrome, your browser shows a warning that Adblock Plus for Chrome has access to your browsing history and data. This is a standard message, we NEVER collect any information whatsoever!
posted by mokin at 9:13 AM on May 20, 2013


I rode some 33000 smoots this weekend! That's about 188 light microseconds for those that prefer standard measurements.
posted by Mister_A at 9:13 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It can access your data on all websites."

Well, that was a quick no-install.


I'm not saying you're wrong not to install, but worth noting that this isn't some unusual privacy-invading angle, it's just a necessary consequence of what the extension does. Any plugin, extension, or GreaseMonkey script that modifies the way pages are displayed, in any browser, can also access your data on those pages. In fact, any software you download and install on your computer can "access your data on all websites."

So as soon as you read "automatically adds context to huge numbers printed in the web pages that you read," you know that the plugin could also steal your data if it was evil; you don't have to click the link to find that out. Chrome is actually doing something cool here by (1) providing granular permissions so extensions can only look over your shoulder if they need to, and (2) telling you up front in large print what they'll be able to do. It's totally understandable to decide to bail at that point, I just want to make sure they're not uniquely judged for it.
posted by jhc at 9:14 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe it would help if we told you how many times 110 million $100 dollar bills would circle the earth if placed end to end around the equator?
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:14 AM on May 20, 2013


kmz: "The football stadium thing, I can understand. Rhode Island though? I really have no concept of how big Rhode Island is supposed to be. So then using it to contextualize other measures becomes meaningless to me."

Well, one Rhode Island is a bit under 777,000 football fields in size.
posted by boo_radley at 9:36 AM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


‘Do you know,’ said a thoughtful Bean, ‘I’ll bet that if all the girls Freddie Widgeon has loved were placed end to end—not that I suppose one could do it—they would reach half-way down Piccadilly.’

‘Further than that,’ said the Egg. ‘Some of them were pretty tall.’
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:37 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you laid 110 million $100-dollar bills end to end, starting in San Francisco, you'd get nearly to Hong Kong, or so, before the trail ends. (I make it about ten thousand four hundred and sixteen miles of paper, and some change.)

Oh, and,
(Nothing is so inherently good that it can't be used by the forces of Evil.)

Gonna need a bigger boat. How big?.... well, if you laid all the liberty ships end to end in San Franscico Bay you wouldn't need the bay bridge, and it still wouldn't fit in Rhode Island.
posted by mule98J at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This string is the length you'd need to add to a Moon-encircling string to raise it above the surface one inch. How many of these strings would you need to add to do similarly to an Earth-encircling string?
posted by kmz at 9:50 AM on May 20, 2013


Are those metric shitloads? Or old Imperial?

You're thinking of the metric shit ton. Shitloads are never a metric unit, as far as I know.
posted by eviemath at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting idea, as noted context is important. I always think of dollar amounts in spending. For example if you gave a newborn $1.1 Billion, the newborn could spend $39,000 every day for its whole life (let's say 77 years) and still have $4 million left over.

See, this is really useful! What I hate are the analogies that are like "If you laid one billion potato chips from end to end it would cross to the moon and back 6 times" as if I have any comprehension really of what the distance to the moon and back is. These kinds of analogies do little more than just demonstrate "that's a fucking lot, yo."
posted by misskaz at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shitloads are never a metric unit,

More properly, "Metric Fucktonne." The Fuckton is the Imperial standard for the measurement of fuckweight, while the Fucktonne, in contrast, constitutes the Metric measure of fuckmass.

It would seem all the units are Imperial unless stated otherwise.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This string is the length you'd need to add to a Moon-encircling string to raise it above the surface one inch. How many of these strings would you need to add to do similarly to an Earth-encircling string?

One.
posted by borkencode at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like using Wolfram Alpha to render huge quantities into even less comprehensible units! Like, what is the volume of planet Uranus in hogsheads? 2.79×10^23 hhd (US hogsheads).
posted by Mister_A at 10:19 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...but that's just peanuts to space."
posted by zarq at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


More properly, "Metric Fucktonne." The Fuckton is the Imperial standard for the measurement of fuckweight, while the Fucktonne, in contrast, constitutes the Metric measure of fuckmass.

And if you're looking for liquid volume, the Imperial Fucktun works. Altho you probably wouldn't want to keep that large a volume of fuck on-hand, as it tends to curdle before you can finish the whole tun.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fr. D., I believe you'll be looking for a few of these.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:35 AM on May 20, 2013



"It isn't dumbing down to speak in analogies, but to provide context."

What would be super useful if it would automatically translate long shot odds into risks of rare calamities or every day dangers. Something along the lines of:

"Your chances of winning this weekend's power-ball were about 13.7 consecutive lightning strikes."

"Oh I never fly with pilots who only have their sport-license, the risk of death for one hour in the air is approximately 107-teen-driving-hours."

"I'd apply for that Goldman-Sachs internship, but without connections my odds of getting it are equivalent to 2.1 Girls-like-Lloyd-Christmas-ending-up-with-guys-like-Mary-Swansons."
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:49 AM on May 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


$1.1 billion = 23.7 metric Fucktonnes of animated porn GIFs.
posted by benzenedream at 11:10 AM on May 20, 2013


You're thinking of the metric shit ton.

Still confused. Is that shit tonnes, or shite tons, or what? Twenty shite tonnes, SAIT?
posted by rtha at 11:16 AM on May 20, 2013


If you laid 110 million $100-dollar bills end to end, starting in San Francisco, you'd get nearly to Hong Kong, or so, before the trail ends.

No it wouldn't. It would all wash away. God you're dumb.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:34 AM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


In metric it's a tonne de merde
posted by IanMorr at 12:26 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This always bothers me. A football field is 120 yards, not 100. A field with no end zones would result in really boring games. Or a lot of players running into the wall/crowd/band. At any rate this strange new sport deserves a new name. Facewallball. Notouchdownball. Something.

"Your Geoguessr spot was off by 134.7 km, which is 1228 football fields or 1473 scorelesspainball fields."
posted by mountmccabe at 12:49 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


All countries come in four sizes:

- The really, really small ones are a multiple of Central Park.
- Small ones are a multiple of Wales.
- Medium ones are a multiple of France, or Texas.
- Massive ones are just massive, or occasionally a multiple of Europe.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2013


The football stadium thing, I can understand. Rhode Island though? I really have no concept of how big Rhode Island is supposed to be.

And therein lies the problem with any analogies that have to do with numbers, measurement, etc.

What you're trying to do is describe a ruler in a language you both speak. But unless you know the person beforehand and have some sort of at least vague map of their potential knowledge, this has a decent probability of falling flat when you get beyond really basic analogies along the lines of "it's like 7x the length of your hand", or something you can point to directly in front of both of you like "it's 5x the size of that truck".

When you try and bust out these types of analogies to a group of people it gets even worse. There's a few things you can expect most people in your particular culture to know or understand, but it really becomes an awful crapshoot.

It's one of those things that seems a lot more cool and understandable in the mind of the speaker than of the listener, and i always used this type of thing as the measure of a good teacher/instructor as well.

We could split hairs for ages as to what acceptable analogies are for this type of thing, and that's exactly why it's usually crap. There is no standard to this, and it's just kind of a crappy kludge.
posted by emptythought at 1:06 PM on May 20, 2013


Metafilter: Shitloads
posted by wcfields at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: it's just kind of a crappy kludge.
posted by zinon at 1:22 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


So analogies provide a scale which is easier to understand. Take 100 yards. That's a long distance, right? Maybe? How about one (American) football field? That distance is used because it's a tangible distance for many people. You've been on one during high school for PE, or sat in the bleachers around one. People can visualize the distance.
For a while I really got into making crazy comparisons. I made a site which allows people to make lots of arbitrary comparisons. Sadly, I didn't do any money comparisons, but since you bring up football fields, here's a measurement of the distance between the earth and the moon in football fields.

My favorite is still the depth in cows if you rained down 1000000 cows onto the earth.

Honestly, although some of the comparisons on my site really are helpful, most are just funny. In this case I think the dictionary of numbers plugin gets closer to being fun than being useful, but I haven't installed it so who knows.
posted by HappyEngineer at 1:22 PM on May 20, 2013


1.1 billion = Avogadro's number / 5.474545 x 1014
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:11 PM on May 20, 2013


I find two $measures cover most contingencies.

A $trillion covers a football field 6'4" deep in 100-dollar bills. (Good luck burning through that, Mr. Brewster). So a measly $billion covers 1/10 of a football field in one-dollar bills to the same height.

A $billion is the cost of 50 brand-new $20million high-schools. Or, on the order of 10,000 brand-new luxury Tesla roadsters ... which could barely squeeze onto 750 football fields including end-zones.
posted by Twang at 2:21 PM on May 20, 2013


What is figuratively unfathomable?
posted by spitbull at 3:28 PM on May 20, 2013


We must dumb down things so lazy people can understand them.

That's actually a pretty good idea.
posted by John Cohen at 9:33 PM on May 20, 2013


Imperial Shitload.

Yep.
posted by mule98J at 10:39 PM on May 20, 2013


I don't really understand why some of the reactions to this are so negative.

If you get the analogy being made (I, personally, have a good sense of how large Rhode Island is and how many people live in New York City) that's great! I now have a better understanding of what 10,000 square miles or 16,000,000 people is.

If you don't get the analogy being made (I don't intuitively know how large a football field is, which I guess makes me a bad American) I might not be better off at understanding the large number, but I'm certainly not any worse off.

To take some of the arguments here to the logical extreme, you'd think we should never make analogies, similes or metaphors of any kind since there's bound to be someone out there who doesn't get it. That just seems unnecessarily pedantic.
posted by andrewesque at 9:10 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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