absurd

How to Win the Lottery OR: The Least Efficient Way to Make Money

Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you not to buy a lottery ticket. Oh no, I’m here to encourage you.

Yes, there is a lot wrong with lottery systems. They are pretty much a tax designed to prey on people who can’t math. And the poor–since poor people, you know, generally like entertaining the thought of not being poor. Mathematically the amount you stand to gain from buying a lottery ticket is almost exactly that ticket’s price-tag–but in negative dollars.

Never mind all that. Never mind the odds against you, you want to win. As far as I can see, there are two ways to be absolutely positive that you will win a lottery without cheating: either open up a lottery and attract customers or find a way to collect every possible ticket. Let’s deal with the second option.

Now, the classic lottery system is to draw a winning ticket number from all of the tickets sold. If there are a limited number of tickets, one could conceivably buy all of them and thus ensure a 100% percent chance of winning. However, if just one other person buys just one other ticket, your odds of winning will be incredibly high but not assured. We don’t deal with not assured in this blog. The second problem is that lotteries are designed to make a profit for somebody, so there is no way that the total sum of the prizes will be worth the total sum of all the tickets sold, excepting, perhaps some sort of lottery for charity.

So we have to look at lotteries that follow a different pattern. Powerball, for example, is what is called a progressive jackpot. There is one winning combination of numbers, and so long as no one guesses it, each week this jackpot increases. What this means is that, with enough tickets, a single person can be absolutely assured of winning the jackpot.

Players choose 5 non-repeating numbers for the white balls and one number for the red Powerball. The final results are automatically placed in ascending order, effectively making this a combination and not a permutation (that is, the order numbers are chosen is irrelevant), making the odds of winning 1 out of 175,223,510.

Again, I’m not discouraging you, but you’re just wasting your money with those kinds of odds. To put it one way, there are about 3.4 million High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI–those that have at least $1 million in wealth) in the US out of a total of 316 million people, making it, roughly, 1.7 million times more likely that a random American is already a millionaire then that the random ticket they are holding will win that week’s Powerball.

In order to have a 100 percent chance of winning you have to buy all 175,223,510 tickets. Each Powerball ticket is $2, meaning that you need a payout of $350,447,020 to break even. The rules state that you pay taxes on lottery winnings based on where you bought the ticket, so in order to make this venture as profitable as possible you’ll want to buy all 175 million tickets where there isn’t a state lottery tax: Delaware, Florida, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

Even so, there is always a 25% Federal Lottery Tax, so you’ll actually need to wait for an advertised jackpot of at least $467,262,693.34, something that has so far only happened twice. People that actually do win American lotteries have to choose between getting a severe reduction in payout or receiving the full winnings over 30 years. You’ll have to choose the second option unless you want to wait for an even higher jackpot.

Now then, now that you have collected your $350 million to invest in lottery tickets, you have a week to buy all 175 million of them. But, if you were able to purchase a Powerball ticket once a second, you’d still be 174,618,710 tickets short at the end of the week. Even Ayn Rand is gonna ask for help on this one.

Time for the 175 million person lottery pool. Of course this number can be substantially less if each person is allowed to buy more tickets. The problem is that people tend to forget about the whole lottery pool contract after they win. So you need a contract, signed and notarized. And you’ll still probably have to sue. All of this will cut into your winnings. Also make sure to have 175 million copies of lottery tickets to make sure no one can say they bought the ticket with their own money and try to not split it. Finally, if you’re playing something like Powerball, start hoping right now that no one else chooses the jackpot.

Okay, so your group won. You chose the 30 year payment plan, meaning that someone will have to have a full time job divvying out 175 million shares once a year for thirty years. But it’s all worth it! The highest Powerball ever got was $600 million. This is a lot of money. So much money, in fact, that after taxes every $2 share you purchase is going to be worth a whopping $2.57, paid back to you over 30 years. It would take about 23 years just for you to get your investment back.

Still, though, a 25% return sound like a pretty good bonus to being able to say you once won the Powerball Jackpot. So if 175 million of you are bored next time Powerball is that high, hit me up.

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How to End Malaria, OR: Eight Legs of Death

It’s time for a controversial statement: malaria sucks. Someone should really do something about that.

How much does malaria suck? Try 660,000 deaths a year, something the World Health Organization loves to put down as the emotionally crushing average of almost 2,000 people a day. Humans have a bad time conceptualizing numbers as big as 660,000 deaths in a year so I’ll put it this way: that would depopulate Manhattan in less than three years. Sorry, readers from New York, but part of being iconic is getting used in ways to illustrate large numbers of people, dead or otherwise.

Malaria is spread by way of mosquitoes and most of the cost-effective ways found to deal with the disease are by limiting that vector. Nets are popular, and particularly effective when coated with insecticide. However, a small portion of mosquitoes are surviving this whole poison-net thing to produce offspring. And the offspring of those offspring will be less and less likely to die to net death. Meaning this whole net death thing has its limit. Yeah, thanks a lot, Darwin. Because of you I want to find a mosquito killer with a hundred-percent kill rate. Though to be fair I also want to find something with a hundred-percent mosquito kill rate because I really hate mosquitoes.

Recently it’s been suggested that mosquitoes can be genetically modified into only producing non-bloodsucking males. However I find that, first of all, this is not painful enough of a way to go for the mosquitoes, and secondly, we need to be absolutely sure that all the good work mosquitoes do as food for bigger species, and as pollinators won’t be missed. (That article does mention a–as in one–study about this, but I am not convinced).

So what is something that kills mosquitoes pretty much all of the time it’s employed but doesn’t end an entire species? The cold, furry, eight-legged grip of death from our friendly, neighborhood spiders. Let’s start putting those in bedrooms in developing countries. Everybody loves having spiders in their bedroom, so you can see that this post is also about America winning hearts and minds.

I’m not the first to think about natural pest control. In my home state of Montana, for example, we have a huge problem with plants from Europe, such as spotted knapweed. Knapweed kills the plants around it and out-competes the local flora, leading to destabilized habitats and fields of nothing but knapweed. So we introduced some of the insects that help keep knapweed populations in control in their native lands, but I don’t know if anyone thought about what sorts of things eat those insects, or what other things those insects might eat, or if other problems might suddenly crop up.

So you see I wasn’t kidding when I said neighborhood spiders. It’s probably a good idea to disturb the local ecosystems as little as possible. There are African spiders that already hunger for malarial mosquitoes anyway. Apparently they are way tastier than other bugs… not that I would know. Unfortunately, this eight-eyed cutie is a jumping spider, but suppose we can find local varieties of spiders with a craving for malaria that build giant webs. Teach people that, in addition to their insecticide-treated mosquito nets, it’s okay to let these little furry pets live in the house.

Mosquitoes, like many members of the insect world, use the moon to help navigate. This means, that like moths, when there is a constant light a few feet from them instead of a steady and stable 384,000 kilometers, their navigation system gets a little off. Mosquito zappers work on this principle and we can totally use it with spiders.

The process of extracting jellyfish genes to make other animals glow in the dark, from pigs, to sheep, to kittens, is already well-established. In fact, if you live in the United States you can go buy some fish for your aquarium. A glow in the dark spider would have the advantage of eating more tasty malaria mosquitoes since mosquitoes like bumping into bright lights. Also, people seem to have this irrational fear of these eight-legged venom-injecting nightmare monsters, but having them glow brightly in the corner of your room while you sleep would make an excellent and comforting night light.

Glow in the dark spiders are a better option than zappers because they are self-sustaining and don’t require pesky things like electricity, something poorer nations aren’t always great about consistently supplying. Also with a zapper the little bastards are just electrocuted. Obviously this isn’t nearly a painful enough way to die for a mosquito. Unless someone like George R.R. Martin can come up with a more terrifying death, I’m sticking with the spider thing. The mosquitoes will struggle in the webs waiting for that small injection of venom before being slowly cocooned in spider silk and mummified by having their insides dissolved and eaten while still alive–wow I really hate mosquitoes. I just hope that their little brains are complicated enough to know fear.

The only other thing is that genetically modifying organisms can do weird things to their ability to reproduce. If the spiders bred with local wild spiders it could also have unforeseen consequences on the ecosystem. So I recommend we make the spiders sterile and set up huge facilities to clone them. Millions of cloned spiders could be made every year to ship out to malarial countries. All to end malaria.

Sleep tight. Spiders watch over you.

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How to Bring Internet to the Masses OR: God Help the Pigeons

Like all good conversations, this one started out about sex.

We’re just a tiny bit nerdy, so we started wondering about the data speed during conception. Which, of course, got me to making comparisons to our local internet providers, which is a less messy form of data transfer while still providing the sensation of being screwed.

However, we still have it easy when you consider that less than one third of the world has home internet access. Google is, of course, trying to expand their market by building a fleet of satellites. Space is pretty awesome and all, but we’ve been sending stuff up there since the fifties. There has to be a more ridiculous option.

If you want really fast speeds and don’t care about ping, it turns out that snail mail is many, many times faster than your internet connection.

Still not ridiculous enough. My brain made the obvious leap to carrier pigeons. I bet nobody’s ever sent data via carrier pigeon! Oh, wait, no,  of course they have.

What’s more, the pigeons are still faster. But these tests were only over small distances, with relatively large amounts of data. Over longer distances, one would expect the internet to win out. Let’s figure it out.

I want to make this as challenging as possible for the pigeons in terms of distance. But since we have yet to breed pigeons that can fly through the vastness of space the furthest we can possibly send them is to exact opposite side of the world. That’s called your antipode, and there is a website for figuring yours out here.

I wrote this blog while sitting in my home town of Missoula, Montana. Despite being told my entire childhood that digging straight down would lead me to China, Missoula’s actual antipode  is around 66.013° E, -46.85° S, smack dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The nearest land is actually owned by the French and not the Chinese.

Welcome to the awesomely-named Desolation Islands. There are no indigenous inhabitants, but the French government maintains a satellite tracking center and a research station. They also launch rockets.

The beefiest carrier pigeons can carry about 70 grams on their little backs. Newegg sells some nifty 64 GB microdiscs as small as a fingernail that weigh half a gram. That would be 140 cards costing a total of $7,203. There is free shipping, but not by carrier pigeon. That’s 8,960 GB per pigeon or 8.75 TB.

Missoula to the Desolation islands is about 19,664 km. Homing pigeons at top speed can reach speeds of 93 km/hr. Now, because time and money are no obstacle when I’m pondering the data transfer speed of pigeons, I’m imagining a Pony Express relay of pigeons stretching from here to the Desolation Islands. Stations would have to be set up about every 200 km, requiring  100 pigeons each trained to go back to their home station (the extra pigeon would be so that data could come back).

Most of this direct route is in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, requiring supports drilled into the bottom of the world’s deepest oceans. Ocean-based oil rigs can cost up to 700 million USD, to give you an idea of the expenses involved here. Each station would need trained staff just waiting to transfer the data from pigeon to pigeon as they make the relay. All told, one pigeon semi-circumnavigation would take 8 days, 23 hours to deliver 8.75 TB, or 94.83 mbps. Of course this means that if you wanted to play chess with someone via pigeon mail, it would take 16 days, 21 hours to send your move and see that they took your queen–not counting however long they take to make their move.

There are no undersea cables leading that far South into the ocean, meaning that the researchers most likely rely on satellite internet. The annual FCC benchmarking report from  2013, Measuring Broadband America, lists 12 mbps as the fastest advertised rate (at least for civilian use). Some people experience up to 160% of the advertised rate, leading to about 19.2 mbps. This is still only 1/5 the speed of pigeon net.

Conclusion: God help the pigeons if I ever become an eccentric billionaire.

There are no airports on the Desolation Islands. Shipping your data by boat saves you the hassle of pigeon exchange stations every 200 km, the expense of staffing and maintaining these stations and shipping food and supplies halfway around the globe. However, it would take about the same amount of time, considering the only way to the Desolation Islands is a six day boat ride from Réunion, which requires a few airport connections from Europe and getting to Europe is already a 20-hour ordeal from Montana.

So, I don’t actually expect some internetless third worlders to go out every morning, collect a pigeon, take off the microdiscs and fire up Facebook.

But a man can dream.