Yearly Archives: 2006

The World’s Population in a Big Box

How big a box would you need for everybody?

Well, how much space do people take up? Assuming an average human mass of 65 kg, and a density of close to 1 (since we only just float), a person occupies 65,000 cubic centimeters. In theory you could pack about 15 people in a cubic meter (or 1,000,000 cubic centimeters). That seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Let’s check. It turns out the record for stuffing smallish undergraduates into a telephone booth is 22, and a phone booth is about 1.3 cubic meters inside. And remember, the folks near the bottom of the Big Box will be somewhat…compressed. Nevertheless, let’s assume an average of 13 people per cubic meter, since those near the top won’t be so packed so tightly.

The current world population is 6.6 billion. At 13 people per cubic meter, that’s a 507,692,308 m3 box; if it’s a cube, the Big Box is 798 m on each interior side. Say we make it an even 800 m (which allows for another 56 million people, probably as many as will be born by the time we’ve wrangled everyone inside). Don’t ask me how thick the walls would need to be; I’m not an engineer.

Exactly how big is a box 800 m a side? That’s half a mile. The World Trade Center was 417 m high. The box would take up 32 city blocks in Manhattan; it’d fit neatly into a fifth of Central Park.

The world’s population thus occupies an eighth of a cubic mile. All together we’d weigh 430 metric megatons. The pressure on the poor folks at the bottom would be half a ton per square inch, or 64 atmospheres–in fact, what you’d feel nearly half a mile deep in the ocean. The sea of humanity indeed.

Obviously you’d want to be one of the last inside the Big Box. How many people would be left standing when it was filled? The area of the top of the box is 640,000 m2, and a common estimate for crowd density is 6 people to the square meter. That means nearly 4 million people get to stand on top of everybody else; coincidentally, about the population of New Zealand. Lucky Kiwis!

bigbox.png

This Boy Is Not Just Running But Literally Jumping Through the Air

A proofreading job I did a while ago was an article on masculinity and femininity in advertising. The photo captions were, strangely, in Title Case, which made them resemble the names of slightly pretentious pop songs. So:

Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
Album: This Boy Is Not Just Running But Literally Jumping Through the Air
Release: August 15, 2006
Label: Atlantic

  1. The Eyes Tell the Story Here
  2. This Boy Is Not Just Running But Literally Jumping Through the Air
  3. Promoting Athleticism for Males
  4. A Well-Developed Body Is Covered by Trendy Clothes
  5. This Older Woman is a Comic Figure
  6. (Have You Been Taking) Someone Else’s Vitamins?
  7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Is Intensely Involved with His Car
  8. Hurdling Through the Air But Wrapped in Ribbons
  9. This Man Drinks Expensive Liquor
  10. I Want to Own My Own Business
  11. Take Me Fishing
  12. Both Father and Son Seem Bored with the Homework
  13. Make Your Own Daylight
  14. This Man Travels Abroad [live]

Things I Used To Think Were The Same

  • Lily Allen and Katy Perry
  • Dick Frizzell and Bill Frisell
  • Benicio del Toro and Guillermo del Toro
  • Greensboro and Greenville
  • The Counting Crows and the Black Crowes
  • Ryan Adams and Bryan Adams
  • Henry Adams and Henry James
  • Henri Rousseau and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • John Hughes and John Waters
  • John Belushi and Jim Belushi
  • John Hurt and William Hurt
  • Jeff Bridges and Jeff Daniels
  • Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy
  • Joseph McCarthy and Eugene McCarthy
  • Roddy McDowell and Malcolm McDowell
  • David Carradine and Keith Carradine
  • Zach Braff and Zac Efron
  • The Thin Red Line and The Thin Blue Line
  • Gates of Heaven and Days of Heaven
  • tombolo and tombola
  • Wes Anderson and P.T. Anderson
  • Saul Steinberg and Shel Silverstein
  • Flann O’Brian and Flannery O’Connor
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Key Lingo

I’ve traveled a little bit with Americans, some of whom took the trouble to learn a few words of their hosts’ language, and some of whom, well, didn’t. Now my personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that it’s only fair to learn the basics. What are the basics? For me, they’re the following, divided into the essentials (things you should have memorized before you get on the plane) and desirables (the more of these you learn, the happier you’ll be). First, the essentials; no surprises here.

  • Please & thank you
  • Sorry & excuse me
  • Do you speak English?
  • I don’t speak [whatever]
  • I don’t understand
  • Yes & no
  • Hello & goodbye

I think politeness never hurts. Blame my Mum. And to interact a bit, memorizing the following desirables would be a good idea, lavishly adding please/thank you/excuse me of course.

  • How much?
  • The bill please
  • [Enough numbers to count to 20, and use common sums of money]
  • Where’s the toilet?
  • I’d like [whatever]
  • A [whatever] stamp, please
  • A ticket to [wherever], please
  • Left, right, straight ahead
  • A glass of [plain old faucet] water with/without ice, please
  • [Days of the week], today, & tomorrow

lingo.gif Anything more, and one graduates to actually having to learn the language: namely, understanding what people say back to you. Yeah, that’s the killer. Anyway, to help keep all this straight I threw together a little downloadable PDF cheat sheet that you can print, fold up, fill in, and carry around as an aide-mémoire. Happy traveling!

103-Word Joke with Duck

In 2002, a British psychology professor asked people to rate thousands of jokes, in an experiment called LaughLab. The optimum length for jokes was found to be 103 words. And jokes containing ducks were found to be funnier than jokes about other animals. Logically, therefore, a 103-word joke featuring a duck would be funniest of all. Let’s find out.


Duck walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Got any grapes?” The bartender says, “No. This is a bar. We don’t sell grapes.” The duck leaves.

The next day, the duck’s back. “Got any grapes?” The bartender says, “I told you yesterday. We don’t sell grapes.”

The next day: “Got any grapes?” The bartender loses it, grabs the duck, and yells, “I already told you twice! Ask me again and I’ll nail your beak to the floor!”

The next day, the duck returns. “Got any nails?” The bartender sighs. “No, we don’t have any nails.” The duck says, “Good. Got any grapes?”