19 Sept. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

A Treatise on Scientific Notation as it Applies to the Economics of the Blogosphere

I am never forget the day I am given first original paper to write!  It was on Analytic and Algebraic Topology of Locally Euclidean Metrization of Infinitely Differentiable Riemannian Manifold.  

Unlike in Tom Lehrer's telling of the Lobachevski tale, my friend was in Hoboken, not Minsk or Pinsk.  And he suggested that the above mathspeak was about gravitation, which sounded reasonable to me.  I'm not especially good at math; I feel free to pick on CNN and whine about innumeracy only because pretty much everyone else is truly appalling.  Not just math theory, but statistics, probability, and anything which has more than two single digit numbers involving any operation more complicated than addition and subtraction.  So today, a bit of math. 

I discovered "scientific notation" in grade school.  I don't remember the circumstances, and it wasn't a great discovery, since it's not a complicated subject.  It's just a method of allowing one to manipulate big and tiny numbers without using a lot of zeros.  Nobody has trouble with 10 or 100 or 10,000.  (Except, I suppose, CNN.)  But what about 1,000,000,000.  We can't even agree what it's called.  We USans would call it a billion, but the Brits consider 1,000,000,000,000 a billion, whereas we think it's a trillion.  However, pretty much everyone would agree that 10^12 is a thousand times larger than 10^9

The Cost Of Blogging

As an able-bodied citizen of these United States, one who arguably possesses marketable skills and who is not yet subsisting at the public trough, I could instead be working during the time I spend writing these blogitems.  Were I doing so, the treasury would be incremented by the value of the income taxes I would be paying.  Not significant?  What if everyone blogged!  No work would get done, and we'd have to eat phosphor dots until we ran out of oil.  But, as I understand it, only about 75% of us do, and productivity of the remaining workers has skyrocketed.

It's a running joke on the internet that if you don't like what you read, the author will give you a refund.  (Joke:  Everything on the internet is free, see?  So, if he gives you a refund, you get nothing.  You understood that?  Of course.  You know how sometimes without "body language" jokes aren't clear.)

Let's say I spend an hour a day on this blog.  Although I give myself weekends off, I do work on the PriUPS site, and let's face it, sometimes I do commit acts of blog on Saturday and even Sunday.  So that's seven hours a week.  If I were striving at some activity notionally worth $35 per hour, for which I was paid $20 per hour*, this blog would be costing me $140 in gross income every week.  So blogging isn't free after all.

Hey!  This is my last blog.  Bye!  (Just kidding.)

Of that $140, I would be obliged to forward about a third of it to various agencies of the government, notably the Internal Revenue Service and the State of New Jersey.  That's about $47.  What happens to that money?  Most of it comes right back to you and me!  Well, not you, and certainly not me, but it ends up, mostly, in the pockets of citizens that one way or the other are subsisting at the public trough.  Everything from social security payments to space shuttle components to farm subsidies to room and board at Danbury.  And even if you don't get it directly, some of it comes your way from those people and activities.  In other words, you would get your share of my $47.  Except you won't, because you have this to read, and therefore there is no "my $47."

Now I have an admission to make:  I did some "research."  Not a lot!  I typed "irs taxpayer statistics" into Google, and I think I got away with it, despite my failure to capitalize IRS.  The very first item for fiscal year 2004 showed 131,301,697 individual returns.  (They're entitled to this precision because, presumably they counted them, right down to the last return.)  However the money from those returns gets spread out over the entire populace, roughly 300 million, or 3*10^8.  Discounting foreign aid, that would mean my weekly $47, if it did exist, or my annual $2000 (I'm subtracting for New Jersey here) would net taxpayers (2*10^5 pennies) / (3*10^8 people) = 6.66*10^-4 pennies per person. 

To put that in perspective, my blog is actually costing you less than a hundredth of a mill, which I was surprised to find is the correct spelling for a tenth of a cent.  If you demanded a refund and sent me a self-addressed stamped envelope, and if I could find my old S&H Green Stamp books, and if I could get the stamps unstuck, then I could cut one of the tiny bits of perforations off an edge and send it to you.  If I did, most likely you'd owe me change.

Except, it's not only my blog that's taking money out of your pocket.  Almost everyone's a blogger now!  Multiply 6.66*10^-4 pennies per person by 3*10^8people times the 75% whose productivity is replaced by babble and you're down by $1,500 per year.  And don't try to tell me there aren't over 200 million bloggers.  It's worse than that - now babies have their own video sites.  How much is that costing the commonweal?

I see I've gone just a bit astray here, and didn't cover as much ground with the math as I had intended.  None of these numbers are really big or incredibly tiny.  I'll have to get to them later.  Tell you what:  Send me an SASE and for a refund I'll return TWO perforations.

*This is what "exploiting the workers" means.  It also means that the workers get to eat.

Richard Factor