Sunday, April 24, 2011

Really big numbers

The Adaptive Curmudgeon muses on mind boggling numbers and national debt. My comment over there started to get rather lengthy, so I thought I'd just post it here.

Thinking about the size of the numbers associated with the national debt elicits an "uuuh huuuhh..right, I'll get back to you on that" response from the higher math functions in my brain.

The Curmudgeon notes:

Humans count in their head like this; one, two, three… a whole shitload.
So this morning, I decided to find a frame of reference for numbers like one billion and one trillion.
Being a shade tree grease monkey I wondered if I ran my engine at 2500 rpm, how long would it take to get to one million revolutions, or a billion, or a trillion.

At 2500 rpm it takes:
400 minutes to reach 1 million revolutions.
400,000 minutes to reach 1 billion revolutions. That's 6,666 hours or 277 days, nonstop.
400,000,000 minutes to reach 1 trillion revolutions. That's 6, 666,666 hours or 277,777 days or 763 years.

When I substitute the word "dollars" for "revolutions", it puts a hitch in my side.

Disclaimer: I have not had to use exponential notation since high school chemistry, in the days when a slide rule or an abacus were the only calculators available. So, feel free to correct my math if I've added or lost zeros somewhere.

Some further commentary:

400 minutes to reach 1 million, well ok, I can burn 400 minutes driving from Houston to Kerville, TX. That's no big deal.

6,666 hours to reach 1 billion. The aforementioned mind boggle kicks into gear here.
Putting this closer to the context of real life driving, using my average round trip commute of 2.5 hours per day, it would take 2,666 days. That's 7.4 years. I can't drive my car non-stop at 2500 rpm on my daily commute. But just for the sake of conversation, let's say the average rpm was 1250. That pushes the billionth revolution out to just shy of 15 years. What this boils down to is that your car is going to fall apart before your engine crankshaft rotates one billion times.

763 years to reach one trillion revolutions. uuuh huuuhh..right, I'll get back to you on that.

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