Large Numbers II – Fun with Calculators   Leave a comment

I wrote a post about large numbers a while back. Yesterday I came across the MegaPenny Project, which uses the common penny as an illustrative tool to provide a sense of scale for some big numbers.

These aren’t really, really big numbers, but 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) is still a bit bigger than most people can wrap their heads around. Here’s an image that shows you what a trillion really looks like:

1,000,000,016,640 pennies

That little teeny spec with the shadow in the bottom left corner? That’s a person, for perspective. The cube above would weigh 3,125,000 tons. That’s a little bit over $10 billion dollars in pennies. Another “fabulous fact”: as of this writing, 24 hour copper futures are running at $3.12/lb, which means that this might be $10 billion dollars in pennies, but it is also $19.5 billion dollars in raw copper. Well, it would be if pennies were still made of copper. Still, if you have a cube of pennies this size minted between 1944 and 1982, it would be worth a little over $18.5 billion. That’s not chump change.

Of course, if you collected 50 pennies a day (certainly possible), it would take you 54,794,521 years to build a cube this big (assuming a lifespan of 75 years, that’s 730,594 lifetimes). That’s a bit longer than the entire Permian era.

All of that seems pretty astonishing, no? One of the interesting things about big numbers is what happens when you collide them with other big numbers, however. If everyone in America (just over 301,000,000 according to the CIA factbook) collected 10 pennies a day, you could build a cube this big in 332 days, give or take. If everyone in America collected 50 pennies a day ($182.50 a year), in 365 days you’d have a whopping $54,932,500,000. That’s $54 billion.  Now you know why that “fraction of a penny” hack is so effective.

Hm. Of course, that means that a $150 billion dollar economic stimulus package for a year could be thought of as basically equivalent to giving every American roughly $1.38 a day, or … ah… a free cup of coffee (and not even a large coffee, at that).

Posted January 23, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise, web sites

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