Numbers, numbers, numbers

An article that was originally published on 1 November 1998 on Suite101 by Bernd Wechner, started with:

Thumbing Around: Robert Prins Writes

Robert Prins made it into the Guinness Book of Records with his hitch-hiking exploits, and with a remarkable set of records he recreates for us an illuminating and in many ways precise account of his history as a hitch-hiker. Behold the story as it unfolds and if you have any questions for Robert, by all means place them here, or email him.

and the article continued with

Hitching in Numbers

How do you define the quality of a hitch-hiking trip? Read on…

and if you have a look at many of the other pages on this site, you might see that a sizable number of them are filled with numbers.

From where this fascination?

I've always liked numbers, as a little boy I once wrote down all numbers from one to well over 1,000, and at school the marks for Mathematics on my report cards were rarely below 8 (out of 10). When I started doing some serious hitchhiking, I started making notes, not with the preconceived plan to use them for any numerical business, but just to remind me of the rides. However, after a few years I thought it might be fun to do something with them, and lo and behold, I, at the time manually, tabulated some of the data I had collected. Initially I just created five little tables for each trip,

  1. a table of distances per ride, initially split in 100 km intervals, but later, due to an "excessive" number of rides less than 100 km, adapted to add four 25 km intervals for these short rides,
  2. a table of the distances covered with various types of drivers, such as
  3. a table of distances per country,
  4. a table of "extremes" (such as highest velocity, lowest velocity, longest ride, shortest ride, etc), and
  5. a table with the nationalities of the drivers.

Then, in 1983(ish), my father bought a PC, and a while later, a copy of Turbo Pascal and soon after that I put the data of my notes into a file, and wrote a little program to automate the production of these five tables for every trip. Soon I realized that it might be interesting to see if I could add a few more. I started with the obvious, and added the above five tables, but now containing the combined data of all of my trips.

One of the first tables I added after that contained the velocities of the rides, split in 10 km/h intervals, right now they range from three rides with a velocity between 10 and 20 km/h, to a single ride with an average speed of 190.2 km/h. Note that I do not tabulate maximum speeds, but during many of my rides in Germany, velocities have for (usually) short stretches exceeded 200 km/h and some drivers actually put the "pedal to the metal", resulting in speeds around the 250-260 km/h mark!

More tables followed over the years, some of them to a greater or lesser extent pretty normal, like those with waiting times, reasons for in-ride stops (petrol, borders, meals, etc), pick-up times (there are only six out of 168 hours that I've not been picked up), distances per weekday and calendar month, days per month (right now I've ticked all the boxes on two months, having had rides on every day in June and August), and periods of 24 hours and 365 days.

It's these "normal" tables that allow me to tell others what they can expect, e.g. a few years ago it allowed me to predict that the winners of the Faro-to-Riga race would do it in around five days, which they did, and having covered almost 100,000 km in Germany alone, I can predict with a certainty of close to 100% that most of your rides in normal cars in that country will have an average speed in excess of 100 km/h and that covering more than 700 km per day is easy.

There are of course may far more esoteric tables, but who would really care about the fact that my fastest set of rides to cover one light-second (299,792.5 km) consisted of 2,428 rides, and the slowest required 2,461 rides, that I once had eight consecutive rides with drivers having eight different nationalities, or that I had a truck-avoiding streak that spanned 133 rides?

What? You actually care?

Well, a full description of all the statistical nonsense that the program produces and a short manual for the programs, there are some pre- and post-processors, do you really think User:Prino/log/summary was made manually, can be found on these two pages, Keeping statistics and A manual for Prino's hitchhiking programs. The latter also contains a link to the programs that are stored on Prino's Google drive, together with archives with the output in both text and .rtf format. The programs are written in Pascal (with an unhealthy dose of inline assembler), they are licensed under the provisions of the GNU General Public License V3, and can be compiled with Virtual Pascal.

Last updated on 14 August 2021 (Update link to 24-hour record)