Tag Archives: math abuse

When He said that no man knew the day or the hour, I hadn’t done the math yet.

Every so often, a church leader speaks up and predicts with certainty the date of Christ’s return. It’s almost always in the near future. I, like everyone else, laugh at them, so imagine my surprise when I snapped awake early in the morning picturing an equation based on Biblical prophecy. Needless to say, I wrote it down immediately and later calculated that the Second Coming occurred at three o’clock this morning. (And how often do the predictors show their work?) I, however, am sufficiently confident that I know whether this is true that I’m writing it out for everyone to see.

It starts with Jesus’ statement in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The obvious meaning here is that the temple is His earthly body, which was dead for three days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. But it’s common for Biblical prophecies to refer to multiple fulfillments. In the secondary interpretation of John 2:19, the three days refers to the length of time not between Jesus’ death and resurrection but between His First and Second Comings. Of course a day doesn’t need to be a literal twenty-four hour period, especially when dealing with prophecy. The question is what length we ought to use, and the answer is obvious. The Number of the Beast, 666. This number is famously important in End Times theology, and is in fact specifically stated as being intended for use in calculations (Revelation 13:18).

Three days, where each metaphorical day is six hundred and sixty-six years, results in a period of one thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight years.
But we reached that result by multiplying by three. That is, we combined a time and times. Readers familiar with Biblical prophecy will notice that there’s a missing half a time. (Daniel 7:25, 12:5-7, Rev. 12:14…it’s a thing, OK?)
But what length do we divide in half? Not the same six hundred and sixty-six year period. Even in its original context, the three uses of “time” were not meant to have consistent units. Following the Biblical principle of “whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4:25, in a parable specifically about Jesus’ Second Coming), the “time” that is halved should be some shorter length than the others. The obvious candidate, since we’re calculating the time until Jesus returns to Earth, is the length of his first life on Earth.

Jesus died on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33, at 3:00 in the afternoon. This was calculated by historical and not numerological methods, but when you see the string of theologically significant threes you can’t doubt that it’s correct. The beginning of His life on Earth is of course by definition the beginning of the Anno Domini era. Therefore, the “half a time” that needs to be added to the time and the two times is half of thirty-three years and ninety-three days. This gives us sixteen years and six months, plus forty-six and a half days.

Now we have enough information to calculate the exact date. 3:00 April 3 + 3*666 years + 16 years + six months + 46.5 days = November 19, 2014, 3:00 a.m. As I write this, it has been less than twelve hours since the world ended. Did I expect that result? No, but it was almost exactly twenty-four hours after I scribbled down the equation in the middle of the night. Coincidence? How can there be any such thing?

But the revelation doesn’t stop there. We started this with a metaphor from Jesus about the destruction of a temple. The literal Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when he sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. We add to that number the four hundred years that God’s people were to spend in captivity (Genesis 15:13). Incidentally, there was a prophecy about God judging people at the end of that time, extremely reminiscent of the Second-to-Last Judgement that we all slept through. The number 400 also symbolizes the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, the boundary between the two most important eras so far. Since the destruction of the world by fire this morning marked the beginning of the next dispensation, the applicability is obvious.

2 Peter 3:8 states that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. Remember that Jesus promised to reinstate His kingdom three “days” after the Temple was destroyed (586 B.C.). Taking the four hundred into account, we find the following:
3000-586-400=2014
This morning’s apocalypse is a much more literal interpretation of 2 Peter than anyone expected. And since it happened at three in the morning, it satisfies the statement that the Lord’s return would come, like a thief, in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

As every scholar of the Left Behind book series knows, the Rapture occurs seven years before the Second Coming. We now know this means 19 November 2007. It was on this date that the Lord took unto himself both people whose theology was exactly correct. Needless to say, the world at large completely missed it, and we only know about it now because it was seven years to the day before angels declared the return of the King in earthshakingly loud voices.

I admit that I still don’t fully understand all the recently fulfilled prophecies. The seven-headed beast from the sea, for instance, ruled the world for 42 months until the Battle of Armageddon this morning. As for who he was, there aren’t any obvious candidates. VISA credit cards and Monster energy drinks both have the major disadvantage of not even being people.

The exact interpretation of that prophecy, along with the remainder of the Book of Revelation, is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Fencing to Chess Rating Comparison

Last weekend, I was at  a chess tournament and a fencing tournament. At the chess tournament, I could tell approximately how good someone is by the number after their name, but had no frame of reference for the fencing rating system.

At the stabbing competitions, some of the competitors have a rating, a letter after their name from E to A.  The problem is, it doesn’t really mean anything to anyone who doesn’t already know about it. If someone has a B rating, does that mean they’re tough but beatable, easy, or you-should-run-the-other-way-and-scream?

I’m familiar with this problem from failing to explain what a particular number in a chess rating means, but I’m not used to being on this side of it. I had no idea how impressed to be at any point. So, in the “things that will probably interest precisely nobody else” category,  I decided to try to come up with some way to convert between the USFA and USCF ratings, just so it makes sense to me. I have no idea if I succeeded.

Some cursory Googling turned up this forum post from the distant past, saying that about 2% of epee fencers have an A rating. (1.99% was the biggest number available. I should probably be more unsettled than I am by the contradictory numbers citing a different now-unavailable source, but I decided to use the bigger one and call it a margin of error.) The vast majority of fencers are unrated. In chess a rating is a prerequisite for all the good tournaments; in fencing you earn one.

The chess people have some conveniently available data, and from an official source, no less. (Oh yeah, these are just American organizations, if the “US”-es in the acronyms didn’t give that away.) This is out of date by about the same amount as the numbers I’m using for the fencing part.

Before comparing the numbers, I’ll get all the “I don’t know what I’m talking about” disclaimers out of the way first, and then go on to talk as if I’m definitely right. First: I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m basically completely unfamiliar with the USFA rating system. Second: I’ll be pretty much assuming that whoever has the higher rating is better at their sport. This is only true on average. And I’ve heard that upsets are more common in fencing than in most sports, especially if you’re fencing epee. Third: If I told you that skill at fencing and skill at chess are as different as apples and oranges, you’d laugh in the face of my understatement. All I’m doing is comparing percentiles. Third and a Halfth: You can compare percentiles of anything. I’m using chess and fencing ratings, but it could just as easily be marathon time and number of blinks per minute. There’s no actually meaningful quantity being measured. Fourth: I don’t have access to the original source for the fencing numbers, so I hope nobody minds hearsay.

So, those are the reasons I don’t actually trust these calculations. With that out of the way, I am now completely right about everything and definitely have all the numbers I could possibly want.

I want to compare how good someone is at fencing to how good a chess player is, because the chess ratings are numbers that actually mean something to me. So, compare the percentiles. An A rating for an epee fencer means they’re in the top 2%. (1.99, but who’s counting.) For a chess player (use the non-scholastic column for more fair numbers), the top 2% would mean a rating a bit over 2200. So by my calculations, losing to an A-rated fencer is approximately as embarrassing as losing to a low-level chess master. (For most people, this means, “not very.”)

Now assume that all rated fencers are uniformly better than all unrated fencers. Then a B rating for a fencer corresponds to the top 5.15%, which is about the same percent as a USCF rating of 2000. That’s just about exactly expert level. Do the same thing with the other fencing ratings, and you get that C corresponds to 1900 level, what chess players call class A. (Just to be confusing.) And fencing rating D means a slightly lower-rated class A chess player, and E to a low class B. This means that there are several categories full of people who are better at fencing than I am at chess. My ego will not stand for this; fortunately it doesn’t have to.

In real life, of course, not all rated fencers are better than all unrated ones. At high levels it’s true, because anyone who can compete that well is probably experienced enough to have earned a rating. But at lower levels, it’s entirely plausible for someone to be good enough to have a rating but not have it yet. Let’s assume that instead of all unrated fencers being worse than all rated ones, they’re actually just as skilled with the same distribution. So if 10% of rated epee fencers have an A rating, we’ll take this to mean that 10% of all the competitors are that skill level.

Now an A-rated fencer is only in the 90th percentile, corresponding to not a chess master nor even an expert but somewhere in the middle of chess class A. For everything else, a fencer with a rating in some letter would be in a worse percentile than a chess player with the similar-sounding title. An E-rated fencer would be in the same percentile as a chess player rated 800. I’m not even sure that someone who played at that strength could beat non-chess-players reliably, and an E-rated fencer has done well in at least one fencing tournament full of fencers who fence.

The most accurate comparison will be somewhere in between the two, pretty heavily weighted toward the first estimate. (The one that’s good for fencers.) It’ll get even closer to the first estimate as the ratings get higher. A fencing rating of “A” probably does correspond more or less to chess master level, so I don’t feel too bad about losing that one bout five to zero in seventeen seconds.

Weirdness.

In general, is being “strange” a good thing or a bad thing?

Math is going to have a hard time answering this because those terms are hard to quantify, but we can avoid the problem by making loads of unwarranted assumptions. 

Start by assuming that all characteristics can be ranked. You don’t have to actually describe a scale from one to ten or anything, just as long as it’s possible to say that one person is more [adjective] than another. You’d end up with one line like that for every characteristic, and a finite (but, if you want to describe everyone perfectly, very large) number of lines. 

This assumption is pretty plausible. And people do it in the real world, too. The Myers-Briggs test is one example: They pick four lines (Introvert-Extrovert, iNtuitive-Sensing, Thinking-Feeling, Judging-Perceiving) and assign everyone a number on each one. So they could describe your personality in four numbers. Of course, if they wanted to be more precise they’d have to use more. eHarmony uses twenty-nine core traits, which is mathematically interesting if you like being a point in 29-dimensional personspace. 

Also assume that where everyone falls on those axes is a normal distribution. (That was the plural of axis. The other interpretation of the sentence would be rather more painful.) There’s really no reason to assume that each individual’s numbers follow any particular distribution, but thanks to the central limit theorem we get to pretend the distributions for humanity in general are normal and there are enough people that we’ll be really close to right. Can I just get three cheers for math? No? OK then.

Now, strange just means far enough from average. (Someone needs to update Google’s dictionary. I asked it to “define: weird” and…well, it hasn’t had anything to do with fate for at least a couple hundred years, has it?) I’m going to arbitrarily say that “far enough” means “one standard deviation,” just because I have to pick a number. If that’s a good number, then for any given characteristic X, about 16% (15.865, if you insist) of everyone would be unusually X and 16% would be unusually not-X. 

Using the Myers-Briggs example,¹ 16% of people would be unusually introverted, another 16% would be unusually extroverted, and so on. Most people would be “weird” in at least one way, which fits real life pretty well.

If you assume that the characteristics are independent (they’re not) then 78% of the population could correctly be called strange in one way or another. (Actually less, because they’re not independent so anyone who is unusually Introverted is probably also unusually Thinking, and stuff like that leads to double-counting.)

Calculating the total amount of strangeness could be done² and then you get to determine whether someone is strange enough that that is itself strange, or even normal enough that it’s weird. And that would be fun.

So the question is whether being weird is usually a good thing or a bad thing. Math can’t answer that one directly, not unless you already know the best possible values of each character trait. (Legend tells of one man who did. After learning calculus from Aristotle, he interviewed the entire population of Earth, described everybody in terms of a bunch of scales from one to ten, and ranked everybody from best to worst. Then he spent the rest of his life trying to be exactly as adjective as the World’s Best Person for every possible adjective, and he was naturally completely miserable.)

Instead of ending up like that guy, I’m just going to assume that there is some optimal point and not worry about where it is. This probably isn’t true,³ but if it’s not then my usual approach becomes useless. Anyway, whoever that fictional philosopher would have ranked as the World’s Best Person* is probably going to be strange. Just in terms of the probabilities, he has almost a 78% chance of being unusual on at least one of the MBTI four dimensions, and if you use 29 then that number jumps to 99.998%. To actually describe a personality completely, you’re probably going to need a lot more than 29. Most people are going to be pretty far from wherever he is in 29-dimensional personspace (I really like that phrase) and if you want to be as awesome as he is, you’re going to have to be weird.

But even if weirdness is a prerequisite for being the World’s Best Person, that doesn’t mean it’s good in general. If someone is completely average in every way, you know they can function perfectly in society and stuff, and they are more or less the definition of adequate. They’ll be fine. If you have no information about someone other than the fact that they’re strange, you probably don’t think, “He’s probably the World’s Best Person!” There are a lot more ways to go wrong than right. (When Aristotle said this he was talking about 1870s Russian families, but it generalizes pretty well.)

This is why I can’t automatically take being called weird as a compliment: it is probably a bad thing. If it’s followed up with “weird, in a good way” then it actually is a compliment. (This separates it from most generally bad things you can say about someone. “An axe murderer…in a good way” just doesn’t work.)

So in conclusion, weirdness is not usually a positive trait. It can be (if you think the majority is just wrong, then you definitely don’t want to be normal), but those are exceptions. But don’t let that stop you.

¹The problem with this example is, surprisingly, not the fact that half the numbers are arbitrary. Well, not the main problem. The main problem is that the MBTI doesn’t collect enough of the information you’d need to declare someone to be strange. Maybe the eHarmony descriptors do, but I don’t actually know what their Core TraitsTM are.

²[√(Σ(Cii)]. I kind of cheated by defining “strange” as “strange along any of n dimensions.” The better number would be to look at the distance in n-dimensional personspace (Yay!) and see if that’s within one standard deviation for the population, since that doesn’t depend so much on how many characteristics you measure. That’s where this comes in.

³I’m definitely not saying this is true globally, but it could plausibly be true locally. Like, if you’re already extremely I, N, and J, and evenly split between T and F, then it’s probably better* to be more T.

*References to ranking people from best to worst are not meant to be taken seriously. Egalitarians, please don’t eat me.

Abusing Math for Fun and Profit, “Up Goer Five”-ed

This one song says that to “be a man” you have to be as quick as a running body of water and strong as a great wind. And as strong as a big fire. And people should know less about you than about the side that no body sees of that world in space that goes around our world. I wanted to see if I could do all that with numbers.

1. As fast as a body of moving water
This might work, but it matters what water we’re talking about. The things in this movie were supposed to have happened hundreds of years ago on the other side of the world from where I am. The water they were probably talking about is a body of water that is named because of its color. Its color is not red or blue, but when added to blue it makes green. This not-red-or-blue water moves pretty fast, for a body of water. It moves at almost ten feet every second. That’s…actually not that hard. I can run faster than that.
2. As strong as a big wind.
Some winds are stronger than others. It pushes harder if the air moves faster, if the air is heavier, or if the thing being pushed is bigger.
Let’s say I want to hit a wall hard enough to make it break. I want to see if I can do that better than the wind. To be a “great” wind, the air has to move more than one hundred feet every second. Let’s say it’s more than two times as fast. We want it to have a chance.
Air is not empty space. It can be heavy. Not very heavy, but a little bit of heavy. About seven numbers of heavy for every hundred feet of space.
The thing being hit is a part of a wall. The part is as big as my hand, when my hand is closed to punch things with.
Using those numbers, we can find how strong the wind is. It is the number for how fast the air moves, times that number again, times the number for how heavy air is, times the space that my hand takes up, times one more number because air does not move around walls very well. The wind has the same number for how strong it is as the number it would take to lift a brain. My hand could do that. So I must be as strong as that wind.
3. As strong as a big fire.
This one is easy. How strong something is means how hard it can push or pull something. Fires can not push or pull very hard at all. This is almost too easy.
4. And people should know less about me than about the far side of that other world that goes around this one.
I’m still having problems with talking about this using only the ten hundred most used words. Oh well.
Not very many people in the world have heard of me. But very nearly all the people have seen that other world (you can see one side of it if you look up at night), and a lot of those people knew that it had more than one side. And by now, there are even pictures of the other side that are easy to find if you want to. So which is better known, me or it?

For some reason, this is supposed to be a good thing. I don’t know why. But it’s in the song, so I’ll take it.

So, yeah. Those were supposed to be some things that no human could do. But the numbers say that I can do all of them. So either numbers can lie if you ask them to, or I am just that good. But it’s the first one.

Humans are Way Gullible

In units of Kelvin per cubic meter, or other forms of temperature per unit volume, the average human is hotter than the center of the sun.

This is, of course, completely ridiculous, completely true, and completely useless. And arguably meaningless. To start with, here’s the explanation.

The solar core (which I often referred to as “the center of the Sun” because it would make more sense to most people) has a temperature of about fifteen million Kelvin. This is known colloquially as “really hot.” And it is the center layer, with 24% the radius of the star itself. So it has a volume of about 2*10^25 cubic meters. (Numbers pulled from Wikipedia.) This is known colloquially as…no it isn’t. There is no comprehensible term for how big this is. Thousands of times the size of the Earth. Now that means that if you measure temperature per unit volume, you get about 7.5*10^-19 K/m^3. A small number.

Now do the same thing for a human. Temperature: 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 37 degrees Celsius, 310 Kelvin. Volume of a human body is a bit trickier, because who the heck knows the volume of a human body? I sure didn’t, but average weight is 136.7 lbs (or 62 kg if you prefer more sensible units). Since the human body has about the same density as water, that means the average human takes up 62 liters of space, or .062 cubic meters. xkcd verifies that this is about right. Google tells me that’s 16.4 gallons. So if you could liquefy your body, that’s what it would fit in. Also, ew.

Anyway, for the number we’re looking at, we want Kelvin divided by cubic meters. 310K/.062m^3 is five thousand Kelvin per cubic meter. (Yes, it just happened to be a round number. Don’t blame me.)

Sun: 7.5*10^-19.
You: 5*10^3
The ratio between those is 6.67*10^21. In other words,
In Kelvin per unit volume, you are six point six sextillion times hotter than the solar core.

(A sextillion, or 10^21, is better known as “big enough that when you say it people will only hear it as “too big.”” As a general rule, if a number ends in -illion preceded by anything except a boringly small consonant, nobody even heard it.)

There are a few problems with this statement. First: temperature per unit volume isn’t something anyone cares about. (Power per unit volume sometimes is, and humans still win that comparison against a type G star. But I was using temperature instead because it’s simpler and more people are familiar with it.)
The second problem is worse. What does “Kelvin per cubic meter” even mean? Watts per cubic meter would be the power output of an average cubic meter from the Sun, but if you want the temperature of an average cubic meter you just use regular temperature measurements. K/m^3 doesn’t even represent a physical quantity.
And if that ratio did mean something, “hot” is probably not the right adjective to describe it. “Hot” means high temperature, so calling this number heat would be like finding something with high pressure and saying that that must mean it has a lot of force. Which would be bad.

So what does all this have to do with humans being way gullible? A friend and I disagreed about this claim. I thought that most people would, if they understood how the math worked, not bother questioning it, accept it as true, and then proceed to ignore it. It’s what people do with most random factoids they hear. She had more faith in normal people, and thought they would notice how Kelvin per cubic meter is absurd and that temperature per unit volume is useless anyway. The numbers may work out, but they don’t matter in any meaningful way. The question was, would they bother to think of that?

Clearly this is a job for science. Or at least for uselessly informal semi-random sampling. Since I obviously don’t have the resources to conduct an actual survey, I just went and asked people. I was wandering around the engineering section of the university, because that way they’d have the best chance of actually understanding the question. Lots of them still didn’t (I had no way to make sure everyone walking down that street was an engineer, after all), so I just didn’t count those. After throwing those out, five accepted it as true without criticizing it and three pointed out that K/m^3 is weird, or that it’s a physically meaningless quantity, or whatever other legitimate point. No data on how many thought “your body is a sextillion times as hot as the center of the sun” was supposed to be a pickup line.

Obviously, eight people is such a small sample as to be almost useless. I don’t get to say that “sixty-two and a half percent of people believed me.” I can’t even declare myself to have been right. But it does show that it’s at least close, and that you can’t count on people to reject something backed by numbers even if it sounds off.

Also I think I might have accidentally convinced someone that the sun was very cold. I marked him down as not understanding the question.

OK, so people don’t pay attention to  math and so they’ll believe whatever you say. That doesn’t prove gullibility, or much of anything else. And you probably all knew that already. And it’s not even much of a big deal: If you tell me some counterintuitive but interesting fact about something I’m not familiar with, and give me the reasoning, I’d just file it away. Maybe people simply aren’t interested in numbers and units and the temperature of the Sun, which is still disappointing but for a different set of reasons. It’s not like “Kelvin per cubic meter? What does that even mean?” is a thought that comes naturally to normal people.

But, since I was asking strangers questions anyway, I went and did something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I included the following question:

“Why is it that you can’t see the moon during the day? Is it because,
A: The sun is brighter and drowns it out, or
B: The moon is over on the other side of the world where it’s night, so the earth gets in the way?”
The correct answer is “You can see the moon during the day.” When people answered why it was impossible and seemed confident in their answer, I rather enjoyed seeing their faces when I pointed up. To where the moon was clearly visible. As pretty much the only object in that side of a blue sky.

The whole time I was asking these, I was thinking about how in the backstory my dad tells me to remember to use my powers for good. This “lying for fun to see if they’d notice” thing seemed a bit evil, but I wasn’t about to stop. It was too fun. And I have plausible philosophical arguments for why there’s nothing wrong with it as long as I show them the moon afterward. (If I ever show up laughing maniacally while villainously twirling the ends of an unexplained black mustache, tell everyone not to trust anything I say with numbers. Take that, potential evil future self!)

By an odd coincidence, the moon happened to be in conjunction with Jupiter at the time. So while the moon unfortunately wasn’t the only visible object in the sky, I did enjoy the fact that if it weren’t for making fun of people for not looking up, I probably would have missed it.

So they’d look up and, by Jove, they’d see the moon. Of course, they probably didn’t see Jove by the moon, and I didn’t know it was Jove until later that day. I could probably have convinced them it was a star that was visible in the day time because of something or other.

There were exceptions. One particularly clever person said that it was neither A nor B, but it was actually caused by Rayleigh scattering (better known as the thing that makes the sky blue). After agreeing a few times that because of Rayleigh scattering it was impossible to see the moon during the day, he added “also, you can see it.” He then said that Rayleigh scattering is actually the reason why the moon appears less bright during the day. I don’t know if he’s right or not (I suspect not), but he did beat the question.

Another person said, as soon as I had asked the moon question, that it is possible to see the moon in the day and she looks for it every day. But then, that person was wearing a “you are here” map of the galaxy on a T-shirt, so not exactly representative. I had some faith in humanity restored, until I got the next few wrong answers.

Of the fifteen responses I got, five called me on the trick question and the other ten were more or less evenly split between the two fake answers. It’s probable that some of the people who answered mistook the question for “when the moon is not visible, is it because A or B.” But judging by the looks on some of their faces when they saw the moon, there was at least a sizable minority who honestly did not expect to see a moon in a blue sky. Even though they had seen it loads of times before. Either I just radiate scary amounts of credibility, or people are ridiculously easy to fool. I’m guessing it’s the second one.

Abusing Math for Fun and Profit 3: You’re the Saddest Bunch I’ve Ever Met.

According to math, I’m as swift as the coursing river and all the rest of it. (You should probably read that one first if you haven’t already.) But what if I’m not trying to brag? What if I’m trying to impugn the manliness of a hated rival? (If they’re using math for this, then I probably don’t hate them in the first place. We’ll ignore that.) If they used those calculations to prove how awesome they are, then I can’t argue with math. There’s nothing I can do, right?

Wrong. If someone used those numbers and I wanted to disagree with them, of course it’s possible. I am going to use math to prove that that whoever dared use my numbers against me is not up to the Fictional Ancient Chinese Imperial Army’s standards.

1. Swift as a Coursing River.
So you can run a nine-minute mile. Good for you. But ask yourself: What’s so special about one mile? The Yellow River runs for 3400 of those. Could you keep that pace up for one hundred and twenty-nine consecutive marathons? Run for three weeks straight? I didn’t think so. The river easily wins this race.

Swift as a Coursing River: Nope.

2. All the Force of a Great Typhoon:
Nice try. More force than a few square inches’ worth of typhoon is plausible. But the song clearly specified “all the force of a great typhoon.” Not just “as much force as a great typhoon applies over the cross-sectional area of a human fist.” That would sound terrible in a song.

The force applied by wind is still F=1/2*A*d*v^2*Cd. And I’m not going to argue with most of the numbers. A fist has a cross-sectional area of about .08 square meters. A hurricane is maybe 300 miles wide and 9 miles high. It’s got a cross-sectional area of 2700 square miles, or seven billion square meters. Keeping the rest of the numbers the same as in the last calculation, ½*(7*10^9 m^2)*1.225kg/m^3*(70 m/s)^2*1.17 = 2.46*10^13 kg*m/s^2 = 2.46*10^13N. That is a better estimate for all the force of a great typhoon. It’s the amount of force needed to lift about five trillion pounds. That’s the weight of a small mountain. That’s what you get for switching force and pressure when it clearly said force.

Here’s a simple reality check: Can you lift a cathedral? No? A category five hurricane can. It can exert that much force, you can’t. You do not have all the force of a great typhoon.

All the Force of a Great Typhoon: Nope.

3. Strength of a Raging Fire.

Seriously? You think strength has to be measured in Newtons? Fire obviously doesn’t push anything; don’t be so literal. It’s clearly supposed to be measured in Joules.

What we’re comparing in this case is the amount of energy. If you use as much energy as a raging fire then you can say you’re as strong as one, and if you don’t then you can’t. You don’t.
Your metabolism, assuming you’re a human which you probably are, works similarly to combustion. The food you eat gets oxidized inside your cells, and that’s where they get energy. Coincidentally, oxidization is the same type of reaction used by a fire. This is how people who care about this kind of thing measure how many calories are in a food item: They put one of that item in an enclosed box and burn it. The energy released is equal to the amount of energy your body can get from it.
Now think about how much stuff gets burned in your average raging fire. It’s a lot. Like, really  a lot. There is no way you could eat that much stuff that fast. At least I hope you couldn’t, or else you should probably see a doctor and I’m sorry for making fun of you.

Let’s say the raging fire is burning one cord of wood. A cord is neither an agreement nor a small Honda; it’s a unit of volume for measuring wood. Why there are special units for this I have no idea. It’s 128 cubic feet: 4x4x8. For a “raging fire” you’d think of something bigger, like, say, a building, but we’ll understate it. Depending on what type of wood it is, burning one cord of wood releases ten to thirty million kiloJoules. That’s a lot of energy. It’s about equal to (at least) 2,500,000 food calories of energy, which is more than you eat in a year. Nobody can intake that much energy in that little time, let alone actually use all of it. The raging fire uses more energy faster than you do.

Strength of a Raging Fire: Nope.

4. Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon.

“Mysterious” is hard to quantify. But you defined it wrong. It’s true that there has to be unknown information, but I would say that the person who doesn’t know it has to want to know it, or at the very least know that they don’t know it. Someone might ask “I wonder who that mysterious figure in the trench coat is,” and they would be right to call the figure mysterious. They know that they don’t know who he is. On the flip side, you can’t have the mystery surrounding the cookie jar unless you already know that a cookie has been stolen.

But, as you pointed out, most people haven’t even heard of you. Not only does that make it very difficult for them to care about all that information they don’t know, but it means that they don’t even know what information they’re missing. Nobody can wonder about the answer to any question about you if the idea of your existence never crosses their mind. And probably only a few thousand people have ever heard of you.

The dark side of the moon, on the other hand, was very well known to be something that nobody knew about. Entire civilizations have wondered what is on the other side of it, and knew that they didn’t know. Clearly that’s more mysterious than you are. Even now, when it has been photographed and publicized, not very many people can say they know everything there is to know about the dark side of the moon. And those people are some of the ones who care about the other things about it that are currently mysterious. I’m still not sure why “mysterious as the dark side of the moon” is a good thing, but whatever.

Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon: Nope.

So you do not have all the attributes that that song says you should. It’s not your fault; you’re not superhuman. I recommend a good training montage.
As you can see, if you twist math’s arm the right way, or maybe even ask nicely, you can almost pick your own result. Either that or you’re exactly the opposite of literally as awesome as that song says you should be metaphorically. But it’s the first one.

Abusing Math for Fun and Profit part 1: Be a Man

A while ago, I saw a picture on Facebook saying the following:

“My ideal man must:
-Be as swift as a coursing river.
-Have all the force of a great typhoon.
-Have all the strength of a raging fire.
-Be mysterious as the dark side of the moon.”

If you somehow haven’t heard of it, it’s a reference to this song.

I don’t have a training montage, but I do have something better. Math.

Like anyone else, my first reaction to seeing that image was, “If I can do this math well enough, I’ll be irresistible to women!” Actually it was the more straightforward “I wonder if that’s possible,” but I’ll go with the funnier revisionist version. So, the numbers:

1. Swift as a coursing river.

This, obviously, depends on the river. I don’t know much about ancient Chinese history, but from checking Wikipedia I think the most important river in China during the Han Dynasty was the Yellow River. Finding the speed of the river is a bit tricky, since hydrologists don’t seem to care much about that number. Apparently they’re more interested in numbers like amount of water per unit time, where all I care about is distance over time at the surface. But I managed to find a source saying that the Yellow River reaches current speeds of a respectable three meters per second.

If you don’t speak metric, that comes to six or seven miles per hour, or about a nine minute mile. That’s…actually not that hard.

Swift as a coursing river: CHECK.

2. Force of a great typhoon.

This one is easier to find information on. Wind load is calculated with the formula F=1/2*A*d*v^2*Cd. A is the area exposed to the wind. The bigger something is, the harder the wind pushes on it. This explains the sail, the windmill, and the toaster. d is the density of the air. If air were heavier, it would push harder, and if it were lighter, it would not push as hard. Cd is the drag coefficient. It depends solely on the shape of the thing. For a sphere it’s 0.47, for a shape like an airplane wing it can be as low as 0.04, for a flat plate it’s 1.17. This is based on how aerodynamic the object is. v is velocity, how fast the wind is blowing. Since it’s squared, this is where the numbers get big. So. The math. I’m going to work through this in metric because trust me you do not want to see units of square inches times miles per hour squared times slugs per cubic foot. Hey, want to hear a joke? The U.S. Customary system of units of measurement.

The density of air is usually more or less a constant. At sea level and reasonable temperatures, you can pretty much count on it being about 1.225 kg/m^3. That’s not very heavy, but during a typhoon there’s no shortage of air flying around all over the place, so it does add up.
Wind speed is the easy one. To be a typhoon, a storm has to have wind speeds of at least 33 m/s. If it’s below that, it is instead classified as “wimpy.” Wimpy is not good enough; we need it to be “great.” If it’s even bigger than we need it to be, it can also be a “severe typhoon” with wind speeds of 42 m/s. But let’s go the extra extra mile and give the unstoppable forces of nature the benefit of the doubt. Let’s upgrade it to a “super typhoon.” Yes, that is the actual Science name for it. It has speeds of at least 67 m/s. In fact, let’s round up to 70, making it equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. We have to make this fair, don’t we?
Let’s say I am trying to engage in the archetypically manly activity of punching through a wall. You know, something that that’s almost always pointless, and I’m just doing it to show off. My opponent will be the super typhoon I mentioned.
I stuck a ruler up against my fist to estimate the area. Apparently, the front of my fist is something like eight centimeters by five centimeters. (I bet you always wanted to know that.) Since it’s not actually a rectangle, the real number will be smaller, but I’m going to go with this one anyway. See above at: “giving the unstoppable forces of nature as much of a chance as I can.”

Now I’ll plug in some numbers to find the force of the aforementioned great typhoon. Let’s see what I have to beat.The velocity is 70 m/s. Translated into more familiar units, that’s twice as fast as the speed you drive on a highway that says to drive 65 mph, but less than twice as fast as a raptor on a hoverboard. Since the thing being punched is a wall, the drag coefficient is 1.17. Walls are not very aerodynamic. The density of air is, like I said above, 1.225 kg/m^3. And the area being punched is about eight centimeters times five centimeters. Let’s do some multiplication. ½*(.08m)*(.05m)*(70 m/s)^2*(1.225 kg/m^3)*(1.17)=14.05 kg*m/s^2 =14.05 N

The Newton is a unit of force. One Newton is equal to the amount of force it takes to hold up a weight of about 0.225 pounds. So 14.05 N corresponds to a little over 3.147 pounds. Which is pretty close to a nice round number, but not close enough to make a joke about it.

I can do that much force easily. It’s not even hard. Picture something that weighs about three pounds, like a gallon of milk that’s between a quarter and a half full, or a human brain, and picture me punching it in an upwardly direction. It’s more than enough to counteract gravity. So clearly my punch involves more than 14.05 Newtons of force.
Force of a great typhoon: CHECK.

3. Strength of a raging fire.

This one is almost embarrassingly easy. There are a bunch of definitions of strength, but it almost doesn’t even matter which one I use because fire fails at all of them. There’s compressive strength (How much force something can take before it collapses; think of a pillar), tensile strength (how much force something can take before it snaps; think of a rope or a cable), etc, etc. For all of these, “fire” scores something like “darn near zero.” Fires suck at lifting things, is my point here.

Strength of a raging fire: CHECK.

4. Mysterious as the dark side of the moon.

Um, what? How am I supposed to measure that? Well, I’ll see what I can do. A mystery (not to be confused with a puzzle or an enigma) is usually used to mean when there is relevant unknown information. So, how much is unknown about me compared to the dark side of the moon? Virtually everything. I am not exactly a public figure, and even if I ever become so, the vast majority of everybody will still never have heard of me. But people have at least known about the existence of the dark side of the moon for a very long time, and that’s unlikely to change. It actually is a public figure, and a well-known and well-understood one at that. I’m not sure exactly why “mysterious” is presented as a good thing, but okay.

Mysterious as the dark side of the moon: CHECK.

So, there you have it. If you twist math’s arm the right way, or maybe even ask nicely, you can almost pick your own result. Either that or I’m literally as awesome as that song says I should be metaphorically. Take your pick.