Sunday, April 26, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Point of Brew: Americans get 410 mpg; wow!

MichaelLewisW

By
June 7, 2011 |

When odd sets of data come my way, I make something of a fetish of juggling the numbers. This mostly boils down to dividing one number into another, which is an ample stretch for my mathematical competence.

Simple division, however, can be a useful check on whether the data are nonsense or plausible. I suppose most of these numerical factoids are put out, online for example, in pursuit of the wow! factor.

At one time, a prominent basketball player estimated that he had bedded 10,000 women in his playing career. Wow! If we assume his playing career was 15 years, that represents two willing women per day, including Sundays and holidays, with no time off for good behavior — or perhaps even playing basketball.

Here are three sets of factoidal numbers;

By way of the Internet I learn that it takes a gallon of diesel fuel to move the Queen Mary 2 a distance of six inches; wow! Now it is true that this is one humungous heavy ship and can travel very fast (for a ship), so the number might seem reasonable on the face of it.

The information given, however, permits one to calculate the amount of fuel required to complete the North Atlantic crossing that the Queen Mary 2 was designed to do, i.e., the 3,423 miles from New York to Southampton.

Turns out that at the rate of 6 inches per gallon, the crossing would require in excess of 36 million gallons of diesel fuel, which, at something approaching $5 per gallon, represents a potential fuel surcharge of nearly $70,000 per passenger.

And we thought the airlines were pirates!

Another number I learned from a railroad company advertisement is that a railway engine can move one ton of freight 425 miles on one gallon of fuel; that is just 6 gallons per ton from New York to San Francisco. Wow! Now my car weighs about a ton; it can barely make it from here to Chico and back on that amount of gas.

I am sure both numbers in these two examples have been arrived at by some punctilious calculation, but there probably is an assumption in the calculation that we are not told about. For example, let us say it takes one gallon of fuel to move the QM for the first six inches of any journey, i.e., starting from rest. Maybe the freight train is coasting?

The third example has more to do with the general subject of this column and explains why these musings are here in the first place.

This example just arrived by way of email from a friend who forwards many interesting things and some very funny things as well as many really dumb things. I guess the world has two kinds of people: forwarders of cyber-nonsense and non-forwarders.

Be that as it may, the recently forwarded factoid, unlike the examples above, contains a demonstrable and egregious error. Here it is the wow! factoid:

“Americans walk 900 miles per year. They consume 22 gallons of alcohol per year. Therefore they get 41 mpg. I’m proud to be an American.”

Now, 900 miles per year is about 2.4 miles per day or maybe 5,000 strides; and so that number seems reasonable enough because it is about half the recommended amount of exercise Americans should get. On the other hand, 22 gallons of alcohol is 2,816 ounces per year or 7.7 ounces per day; this is roughly the amount of alcohol in a 12-pack of beer.

Though the brewing industry would love this kind of daily devotion to swallowing beer it seems an unlikely, indeed ludicrous, per capita number.

Even if we assume the reporter means 22 gallons of whiskey (i.e., not alcohol in its pure form but in its diluted beverage form) that’s still enough alcohol for a six-pack of beer for each person each day (still a brewer’s dream) or at least five shots of whiskey a day per each.

Turns out that the figure of 22 gallons of alcohol per person per year is wrong by a factor of 10. We go through about 2.2 gallons of alcohol per capita per year in this country, so the 12-pack of beer each suddenly becomes just a little more than one bottle of beer or half a shot of whiskey per day; that is enough to do each of us some good and no harm at all. And it has no wow! factor whatsoever.

On the other hand, if the original proponent of the calculation quoted above was proud to be an American when getting 41 miles per gallon, he must be positively bursting with hubris at the revised mileage of 410 miles per gallon of alcohol consumed.

On the subject of miles per gallon (the typical mpg by which the fuel efficiency of a car is rated), I have a revision to offer: miles per dollar or mp$. I find it instructive and a powerful incentive to think twice before starting the engine.

My car, on its very best behavior, will travel 30 miles per gallon; at $4 per gallon that is 7.5 mp$. A Prius, by contrast, covers at least 12 mp$ and a standard SUV probably manages barely 5 mp$.

And mp$, I assure you, contains no errors and no hidden assumptions. It’s just a factoid with a rather substantial wow! factor.

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
     
    Davis team wins world robotics championship

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Nepal quake death toll exceeds 1,800

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Spring storm delivers late rain, snow to Northern California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    At the Pond: Plenty of pleasures in our bioregion

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Pioneering organic chef presents her memoir Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Suspect in UCD assault arrested

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4

    Dog park marks anniversary with cleanup

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Rail-safety bill passes Senate committee

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Free Family Bike Clinic set Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Watch them in action

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5

    Stocks rise on tech earnings; Nasdaq adds to record

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Dodd speaks as part of public policy series

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    $2.72 million judgment ordered against Dollar Tree Stores

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    We did it (together)!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

    Bicycle activist will speak Monday at Hall of Fame

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    UCD hosts bike auction Saturday, May 2

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Fly Fishers to hear about advanced streamer tactics on Tuesday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    New ways of giving locally and beyond

    By Marion Franck | From Page: B6

     
    Study questions accuracy of tumor gene mapping

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

     
    Those texts still linger

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B6

    Mayor’s Corner: A spirit of renewal permeates Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    More work to do for a safe Picnic Day

    By Our View | From Page: A12

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

     
    Poker proceeds help youths

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Invest in water of the future

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Water, water everywhere?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Anaheim, where The Force is with you

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A13 | Gallery

    .

    Sports

    Grizzlies dominate young Blue Devils on Senior Night

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Energy, fan-friendly happenings highlight UCD spring football game

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Blue Devil golfers capture CAL Invitational title

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Davis gets two baseball wins in two days

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1

    UCD roundup: Aggies reach water polo semifinals

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Blue Devil swimmers are up to the challenge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    DHS softball struggles continue against Sheldon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

     
    Babich brings the heat as DHS girls stick it to Oak Ridge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    History comes alive in ‘The Sacramento Picture’

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Big Italian food, sports bar to fill Little Prague

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A7

    Davis Roots hires new general manager

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Comcast announces speed upgrade

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Valente Forrest Dolcini

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Whitney Joy Engler

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 26, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8