What is a Langkah?

Langkah (Indonesian) - noun: literally step, move, pace, action, measure, stride, leap, foot, footstep, gesture, tread, footpace

In Indonesian martial arts, Pencak Silat, it commonly refers to geometric patterns on the floor used to train footwork and develop an understanding of the role of the lower body in maintaining balance and a base from which to generate power.

Search This Blog

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Lesson Learned

A meme went viral today. If you are reading this blog post, you probably saw the meme. The image (attached at the bottom of this post) said, "Powerball 1.3 Billion {divided by} U.S. Pop 300 Million {equals} Everyone receives 4.33 mil {conclusion} Poverty Solved!"

Obviously the math is flawed. 1.3 billion divided 300 million is $4.33 per person, not 4.33 million per person.

As I prepared to type a response to the first version of this I saw, a slew of other people posted the same information. Relieved, I wiped out my first response. Then I asked Siri, "What is the adult population of the U.S.?" She responded with a number that rounded to 199.5 million. I divided 1.3 billion by this number and posted, "Even if the money is only divided among the adults in the U.S., each person would get $6.66 ... and now we've brought the devil into it."

All in all, I had a good laugh at the meme and the coincidental joke I had made.

Then something happened. In one of the conversations about this meme, someone said, "Maybe the author of the meme isn't American. A billion in some parts of the world is different than how Americans use it." This led to an interesting tangent in the conversation, but it lit a huge neon sign in my head that said, "A billion isn't a billion? What!"

I did some research. There are two types of "scale" used. The "long scale" and the "short scale." Apparently, the UK used to use the long scale. America has always used the short scale. Britain switched to the short scale as their standard decades ago but, near as I can tell, some regions of the world still use the long scale.

If you do not know what the long/short scales are, as I did not, let me explain. On the short scale, a billion equals a thousand million (10 ^ 9). On the long scale, a billion equals a million million (10 ^ 12). And, further, a trillion on the short scale is 10 ^ 12, but on the long scale, it is 10 ^ 18. And these paths diverge farther and farther the higher you go.

This led me to wonder: if, on the long scale, a billion equals 10 ^ 12 and a trillion equals 10 ^ 18, what did they call 10 ^ 15? Then I realized, it would be a thousand billion. Holy crap!

All my life, I had heard phrases like "a thousand million" or "a thousand billion," and I assumed they were nonsensical numbers meant to imply a large but unknown value.

For the record, the math does not work on the long scale any better than on the short scale.

1.3 * 10 ^ 9 (1.3 billion short scale) divided by 3 * 10 ^ 8 (300 million) = $4.33 per person. 1.3 * 10 ^ 12 (1.3 billion long scale) divided by 300 million = $4,333.33 per person.

So ... the meme is ridiculous. Whoever put it together was either very mathematically challenged or wanted to see how many people would propagate it without checking the math.

BUT the meme led to me learning something new. I never suspected such a thing as the "long scale" existed. I would wager few people who grew up in the States do suspect it. I am sure people in regions where they use long scale are aware of the difference. And I would guess people in regions, like Britain, where they used to use long scale know about the difference. But I had no clue, and I am a long way from being a country bumpkin who has never left his hometown.

Thank you to the creator of this meme—Philipe Andolini or whoever you are. Not for the inane meme itself, but for sparking a conversation where I learned something new. Something I had never suspected. Of course, it is probably not very useful knowledge and probably will not change my life—but I am glad I learned it.

The Wandering (and newly enlightened) Guru