Dec 10, 2007

A Turning from the workshop Floor

We all have friends who send emails to us with humorous pictures, novelties, jokes, emails they get which strike them as profound. I always check the attempts at profundity at, the urban legend folks, who invariably have tracked down the source of the urban legend or have corrected the errors.

It makes me feel good to know my shit detector is still working, but it can also lead to strange moments, like the email forwarding the story about the little girl dying of cancer, supposedly written by a doctor. It was forwarded to me by a friend who has cancer. I checked it out on Snopes and found out that it was a fabrication. I sent the link to my friend with a few misgivings, but figured that truth was more valuable than false hopes.

I got one the other day from a friend that was a rant about taxes, and was based on a calculation of what "a billion" can represent. The one designed to strike every Christian's fancy was "a billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive." Sure enough, when I googled the sentence, the first entry was for (Since Google presents the search in the order of the most hits, I figure that a number of people have their poop detectors working at least as well as mine.)

So in the interest of still presenting the sense of what a billion represents, I cut out the extraneous rant and updated the calculations. The email referred to an ad agency who had come up with the original calculations, but the folks at Snopes were unable to identify the source. From the calculations in the forwarded email regarding a billion seconds ago being 1959 I figure the original was done around 1990, but that's the limit of my investigation. (Life is short enough for this little exercise. This is, after all, a mere turning on the shop floor.)

I have updated the math relative to December 2007:

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but here are some rough calculations to make the point about the large number called a "billion."

A. A billion seconds ago it was 1975 .
B. A billion minutes ago Jesus had been dead for about 70 years .
C. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age. (114,077 years ago = the Pleistocene epoch)
D. A billion days ago (2,737,852 years ago) Australopithecus, the first hominid, appeared on the African savannas, brain size 1/3 that of a modern human.
E. A thousand billion is a trillion.
G. The public debt of the US is $9.1 trillion.*
H. Interest alone increases the public debt by $1.11 billion a day.**

*As of October 2007 **Based on $406 billion in 2006.

I guess I will leave it up to you to contemplate the meaning of $9.1 trillion dollars of US debt. It's a number that makes me want to shrug or go for a walk. I haven't decided yet which is the better thing to do.

Hat tip (h/t) to The Motley Fool's bulletin board for the calculation ("Based on 60 seconds a minute, 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day and 365.25 days a . . . year"). And to Janet A., my friend who sent the original email.

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