What We Are Reading Today: Millions, Billions, Zillions by Brian W. Kernighan

Updated 19 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Millions, Billions, Zillions by Brian W. Kernighan

  • Numbers are often intimidating, confusing, and even deliberately deceptive
  • Misunderstanding numbers can have serious consequences

Numbers are often intimidating, confusing, and even deliberately deceptive— especially when they are really big. The media loves to report on millions, billions, and trillions, but frequently makes basic mistakes or presents such numbers in misleading ways. 

And misunderstanding numbers can have serious consequences, since they can deceive us in many of our most important decisions, including how to vote, what to buy, and whether to make a financial investment. In this short, accessible, enlightening, and entertaining book, leading computer scientist Brian Kernighan teaches anyone — even diehard math-phobes — how to demystify the numbers that assault us every day.

With examples drawn from a rich variety of sources, including journalism, advertising, and politics, Kernighan demonstrates how numbers can mislead and misrepresent. In chapters covering big numbers, units, dimensions, and more, he lays bare everything from deceptive graphs to speciously precise numbers. And he shows how anyone — using a few basic ideas and lots of shortcuts — can easily learn to recognize common mistakes, determine whether numbers are credible, and make their own sensible estimates when needed.

Giving you the simple tools you need to avoid being fooled by dubious numbers, Millions, Billions, Zillions is an essential survival guide for a world drowning in big — and often bad — data.

Brian W. Kernighan is professor of computer science at Princeton University. His many books include Understanding the Digital World: What You Need to Know about Computers, the Internet, Privacy, and Security (Princeton). He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.


Chinese pianist Lang Lang set to regale music lovers at Tantora

Updated 18 January 2019
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Chinese pianist Lang Lang set to regale music lovers at Tantora

  • Lang will perform alongside the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra at the Al-Ula-based festival
  • The Winter at Tantora festival has proven wildly successful with audiences so far

RIYADH: Award-winning Chinese pianist Lang Lang delighted fans on Wednesday with a short video teaser to promote his upcoming performance at the Winter at Tantora festival. 

The musician posted the video online, in which he was seen opening a book to reveal the words “stay tuned.” 

Winter at Tantora’s Twitter account added to the hype, tweeting to their followers that the concert would “refresh their senses.”

Lang will perform alongside the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra at the Al-Ula-based festival.

He is famous for his compelling style and talent, as well as his range as a pianist. Claimed that music is his “first language,” he believes that through it he is able to communicate with audiences all over the globe, despite language barriers. 

Throughout his career, he has performed classical pieces, including Chopin and Liszt, but also more contemporary work, including songs from The Little Mermaid.

The sold-out concert, called Monumental, is scheduled for Friday Jan. 18, and will be Lang’s and the Guangzhou Orchestra’s first performances in Saudi Arabia.

Fans took to Twitter to express their excitement. “I can’t wait to see you!” Tweeted one. “It’s a pleasure and an honor to have you in Saudi Arabia!”

The Winter at Tantora festival has proven wildly successful with audiences so far, with names such as Mohammed Abdo, Majida Al-Roumi, and a holographic depiction of legendary songstress Umm Kulthoum all appearing to positive acclaim.

The limited seating per concert, capped at 500 apiece, has been popular, with most concerts selling out in record-breaking time. With different packages available to purchase for the festival, ranging from affordable seats to high-end luxury experiences, the chance to spend a weekend in Al-Ula has also been made available to a wide pool of people, despite the small numbers on offer.