Posted in Big Numbers

The Lottery

There is the old saw that says the lottery is a tax on people who don’t understand math.  And, to be honest, that is the absolute truth, albeit a bit harsh.   Sure, people win.  But considering that most of the time it’s a single person and there are millions who play, those are pretty long odds.  Besides, it’s not about how many people play.   You knew that right?  I’ll get to that in a minute. But there has been a recent uptick in the revenues that lotteries across the country are seeing.   It’s really no surprise with the economy in the tank like it is.   People just want a little of that magic to take away the sting of the headlines or that mortgage bill or the feeling that their retirement savings are just not going to cut it in the end. But what about that math? Wait, time out! …

Posted in Big Numbers

A Number Beyond Imagination

I am a numbers person. Having studied math in college, I have always found all different manner of numbers, equations and formulas fascinating. There have been a lot of big numbers bandied about lately — usually with dollar signs bolted on to the front — and I got to thinking about how big those numbers are. During all the talk about the $700 billion dollar bailout package, I wrote about how big the number one billion is, what a billion dollars could buy and a few ways you could use to visualize such a number. Half that money has been spent (on what, no one seems to be quite sure) and the rest, $350 billion, is now being distributed with anyone and everyone slithering in to try to get a piece of it. I’m not so sure Gordon Gecko was right in the movie Wall Street. So far, greed has…

Posted in Big Numbers

Do You Really Know What a Billion Looks Like?

Unless you live under a rock you’ve no doubt heard of the work the U.S. government is doing to stop the bleeding in the financial system. The number most bandied about is seven hundred billion which everyone knows is a large number. But do we really understand how very large that number is? It seems it starts sounding like 200 billion or 800 billion or 500 billion. All those zeros kind of run together in one’s mind. A few weeks back I wrote a piece about having everything and nothing in which I mentioned the odds of winning the lottery. Those odds pretty much approached zero which is a really small number. That’s not hard to conceptualize. You have some money, it gets syphoned off by greedy executives running some company, you have zero dollars. Simple. Hey, Bernie Ebbers, prison going ok for you? No? Good! But what about the…

Posted in Big Numbers Humanity

Having Everything and Having Nothing

We were passing through Vail the other day on the way to a camping trip and stopped off at a 7-Eleven to stretch our legs and see what the big 7 had to offer (not much). On a whim, while purchasing a few comics for the boys, I threw two dollars on the counter and said “two, quick picks.” This is a silly but entertaining thing I do maybe once every 2 years. Part teaching opportunity, part mental exercise, the purchase of a lottery ticket always sparks conversations that evolve in interesting ways. This year, with the hurricane in Texas, I was able to think in two realms. Having a lot and having nothing. Having a Lot Being able to buy anything you want is always — or at least most times — the fantasy of those purchasing lottery tickets. I would venture to say most people aren’t walking away…