A Million Dollars vs A Billion Dollars, Visualized: A Road Trip

From Tom Scott.

There are lots of ways to compare a million to a billion, but most of them use volume. And I think that’s a mistake, because volume just isn’t something the human brain is great at. So instead, here’s the difference between a million and a billion, in a more one-dimensional way: distance.

REFERENCES:
Humphrey Yang’s rice TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@humphreytalks/video/6798276393634467077
and his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/HumphreyYang

The Corridor Crew billion video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbVb63qPDQ8

FAQ:
Q: Is this accurate?
A: Yes. The GPS track on the GoPro wasn’t great, though, so the walking sections had to be manually smoothed out. For the main car drive, I relied on a backup GPS tracker taking a sample every 1 second. That data was loaded into an After Effects expression, set to $1 per 0.1093mm. If it couldn’t pick up a GPS reading (for example, in the Chestfield Tunnel), it waited until signal returned and then calculated an average speed for the gap. There was one correction: during a stop next to a large lorry, the GPS lost tracking and wandered about 50m in a random pattern while the car was completely at a halt. Those errors were removed.

Q: Why is this in 50fps?
A: The electricity grid in the UK runs at 50Hz, which means that you can get strobing effects from lighting. Normally that wouldn’t matter on something filmed outside, and I’d go with 60fps, but I didn’t want to risk full-screen strobing in the tunnel section. (You do still see strobing on some variable message signs, but that’s for different technical reasons.) As 24/25fps feels too slow and jerky for a continuous dashcam shot, this was the best option.

Q: Why did you do this with American dollars in the UK?
A: The Bank of England doesn’t produce a £1 note. The smallest paper money we have is £5. (The Royal Bank of Scotland, and the banks of some of the Channel Islands, do though!) And while it would have been apt to do this along desert roads in California, sometimes you’ve got to make do with what’s available.

Q: What was that "oops" about a minute into the drive?
A: I nearly turned left one junction too soon, which would have sent me to a closed barrier and ruined the take.

Q: Why do you change lanes so much?
A: In the UK, the "correct" thing to do is to always switch to the leftmost possible lane after overtaking on a motorway, unless there’s another car you’ll have to overtake soon or you’re approaching a slip road. This means you have to change lanes a lot more than in many other countries. Source: https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/driving-advice/middle-lane-hogging/

Q: You pass a van on the left at one point. Is that legal?
A: Deliberately passing on the left ("undertaking") in the UK is considered dangerous driving on non-motorways and in free-flowing motorway traffic. However, in congestion when traffic is slowed down, keeping up with traffic in your lane is fine. Source: https://www.askthe.police.uk/content/Q891.htm

Q: What do those white signs with a black stripe mean?
A: "National speed limit applies". On dual carriageways ("divided highways"), that means 70mph; on other roads, it’s lower. Alas, it does not mean "no speed limit" like it does on the German autobahn.

Q: What does the signs with the white C in a red circle mean?
A: Those are reminders about the Dart Charge, the £2.50 toll for crossing the Thames at Dartford.

Q: How many attempts did this take?
A: Three. Attempt one was ruined by the time of day: I was travelling east in the morning — so all the camera could see was glare from the sun and the dashboard reflected in the windscreen. Attempt two was ruined by the camera overheating shortly after the Dartford Crossing. (That’s why this is in 2.7k, not 4k, and why you can hear wind noise from the air conditioning blowing over the camera to keep it cool.)

Q: How can this be an FAQ when you wrote it before the video went live?
A: In this case, "FAQ" stands for "Fully Anticipated Questions".

Q: What’s your route?
00:00 Introduction
02:14 Leaving Dagenham
06:03 A13 Eastbound
12:43 Mar Dyke Interchange
14:26 A282
16:07 Queen Elizabeth II Bridge
20:50 A2 Eastbound
30:16 M2 Eastbound
53:36 Thanet Way Eastbound
1:08:09 A28 towards Margate
1:12:09 Local roads towards Margate
1:14:39 Ah good, the sea
1:17:29 Conclusion

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