Ten years ago today, the United States Congress approved legislation authorizing $70 billion of additional borrowing authority for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The legislation was inspired by the record number of failures of savings and loans: the anniversary of the date, and the huge numbers involved, inspired us to take a look at just how big big numbers can be.
We begin with the concept of a billion. One billion is represented as a one followed by nine zeros (1,000,000,000); it is one thousand times the size of one million (represented as a one followed by six zeroes—1,000,000). But what does one thousand times greater than one million really mean? Mathematician John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy, a book about overcoming ignorance of mathematics and a fear of numbers, presents this example. It takes eleven and one half days for one million seconds to elapse. Can you guess how long it takes for one billion seconds to tick away? Try thirty-two years.
If those numbers impress you, you may be willing to follow our advice not to leave your grandchildren a time capsule with instructions to open it in one trillion seconds. That's because it will take 31,709 years—that's one-thousand billion seconds—to go by.
While you wait for time to pass, drop us a line. Our e-mail address is www.tingliku.com on the bottom. Production and research support for Word for the Wise comes from Merriam-Webster, publisher of language reference books and CDs including Merriam-Webster's Guide to Everyday Math, A Home and Business Reference