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Some different ways of multiplying numbers, vectors and matrices

Here’s a quick video I recorded at the end of my work day, inspired by this tweet.

The enormous difficulty of telling the truth about escalators with statistics

Earlier this year, when getting the train to work was still a thing for me, I noticed this statistic:

Did you know? 95% of the time escalators were working in the last four weeks.

The permutation clock

52 playing cards arranged in a grid

I recently had an idea: map the Unix time (seconds since 1st January 1970) to shufflings of a deck of cards. Each second would correspond to a different ordering of the 52 cards.

I wanted to think about how mind-bogglingly huge $52!$ is: $52!$ seconds is more than $2 \times 10^{60}$ years. So even if you spent your entire life watching this thing, you’d leave this world having seen basically none of the possible permutations. Happily, Wikipedia reckons that the heat death of the universe will happen in about $10^{100}$ years, so there’s plenty of time for me to enact my plan.

Where could you (or your rich pal) give everyone $1 million?

Recently someone on Twitter, and then two people on US cable news, said that Michael Bloomberg could have used the \$500 million he spent on his presidential campaign to give everyone in the USA \$1 million. This caused quite a fuss.

In short, someone divided 500 by 327, saw that the answer was bigger than 1 and the units were “millions”, and concluded that the money could instead have been distributed to give everyone \$1 million.

That’s an easy mistake to make for someone writing a tweet, but the kind of error that should have made someone think “does that make sense?” before planning a segment on TV news about it.

It’s raised a couple of interesting questions, though:

  • If that money was shared between every American citizen, how much would each one get?
  • If Michael Bloomberg wanted to give \$1 million to everyone in a smaller area, where could he choose?

I realised that all the data I need is freely available on the internet, so I made a website to do the calculations for you:

It asks you how much money you’ve got, then for every power of 10 dollars, it tells you where in the USA you could give every resident that much.

To give you an idea of how far the net worths of people like Michael Bloomberg could go, it’s got a list of shortcuts for billionaires. Appropriately, I got that data from Bloomberg’s own website. Bloomberg himself was mysteriously missing from the list, so I got his net worth from Google and added it in myself.

The most unexpected thing for me was seeing how much money these people would have left over after giving everyone in the USA \$100. They’d still be enormously, unimaginably rich!

I’ll describe a few of the fiddly details of the implementation now. At first the “how much money have you got?” input was a text field, but I realised it’d be much better to have a slider that you can swing from \$1 all the way up to \$1 trillion. It’s a logarithmic scale, so powers of 10 are equally spaced.

I got data on the populations of US cities and states from

Working out which amounts and places to show you wasn’t completely straightforward. I thought it’d be easiest to fix the amounts given away to a power of 10 per person, and to find places where the population meant that the amount left over would be as small as possible. To do that, my code works through the list of places in ascending order of population, and stops at the last place whose population is big enough to give everyone at least the target amount.

I enjoyed making this tool, and I hope it helps somebody get a better feel for what these big numbers mean.

Spread your wealth at

SAMDOB – mess up the order of operations

While I’m on strike, I’m catching up on stuff I’ve made but never posted about here.

At the Talking Maths in Public conference last August, I was talking with Katie Steckles and Kevin Houston about the order of operations. I think that another one of those ambiguously-written sums had gone round Twitter again. I said it would be good to have a tool where you can write an expression, then change the order of operations and see what happens.

So, on the way home, I wrote one! I’ve called it SAMDOB, which is an anagram of BODMAS.

Screenshot of SAMDOB, showing the order of operations BO(DM)(AS) on the expression 2*3/3*2+2, which evaluates to 6
Screenshot showing how with the order of operations BOMD(AS), the expression evaluates to 3
Screenshot showing how with the order of operations BO(AS)(MD), the expression evaluates to 8.

Please have a play with it. I can imagine that this could be useful to people teaching the order of operations in real life. Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements.

The code is on GitHub.

A paper version of the Seven Triples puzzle

Last year I wrote about a 3D-printed puzzle I’d designed, called Seven Triples.

At work we want to use this puzzle during an A-Level enrichment day, which means we need about twenty copies of it. I 3D-printed four copies over the course of a couple of weeks, in amongst other jobs, and I don’t have the patience to do any more. So, I’ve made a 2D version that we can print and cut out much more quickly.

Triangles arranged in rows. Each triangle is filled with one of seven patterns. There are white, yellow and magenta triangles.