Mr. Science Gentleman posed a problem to me:  is it possible to draw one million dots on a piece of paper within the time it takes to travel from London to Dover and back on a bicycle?  I made a guess without really thinking about it, and before I had listened to this podcast: Tim FitzHigham: Gambler – Dots vs Dover.

I said that yes, it sounds like a doddle, basing my response on a poster I’d seen at high school, similar to this one. It both conveys the message that a million is a big number, but also scalable. The same site that sells this poster has a really good blog post on what a million really means compared to other numbers and familiar concepts.But… I was horribly wrong.  And to demonstrate this, we carried out a small experiment.  I drew dots on a piece of paper as quickly as I could for three minutes, and divided this number by three to get the rate per minute.  Knowing that Mr. Science gentleman already knew the answer, and it didn’t look good for me, I dotted the page frantically so that most of them were lines or scrawls rather than dots, but they were a mark on the page nonetheless.  After 3 minutes I had 562 dots, which is about 187 dots per minute.
So now we need to look at the problem from the other end. How far is it from London to Dover and back? According to Google Maps, it’s 84.1 miles in one direction, taking a little under 8 hours.  Let’s be charitable and assume that someone doing this is permitted a 20 minute break when they get to the White Cliffs and allow 16 hours total for this feat of endurance.  Well, it wouldn’t make much difference even if they decided to stop over for the night to recover.  60 minutes in one hour gives 187 x 60 = 11220 dots / hour. London to Dover in 7h 52min

That would be over 89 hours to draw all one million dots, going at full pelt and assuming that I had the physical and mental stamina to complete the task (ha!).  In those 89 hours, our cyclist could not only have an extended lunch break, but they could hop on the ferry to Calais for a long weekend and/or epic booze cruise.  Not sure how much cheap alcohol and cigarettes you can fit in a cycle pannier, though.

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