Well, you know the old Everett Dirksen line: ‘ . . . and pretty soon it begins to mount up.’
A billion is a lot.
Jack Tribet: ‘I haven’t checked if this is right. And it would matter how fast you counted. But I was told if you were to sit and count to 1 billion it would take you OVER 30 YEARS.’
☞ Well, it’s not that hard to check. I called Arthur Kribble, who began counting on January 1, 1999, and our conversation went like this:
‘Thirteen million six hundred twenty-one thousand five hundred sixty-seven,’
‘Thirteen million six hundred twenty-one thousand five hundred sixty-eight,’
‘I’m sorry to bother you but – ‘
‘Can’t talk. Thirteen million six hundred twenty-one thousand five hundred sixty-nine,’
‘Well, thank you for your time.’
The thing is, your figure of ‘over 30 years’ is based on one number per second – 31.675 years to be exact. At first you could count much faster – onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten! But if you had to say each number out loud, it would get much, much slower. And this is, in any event, 31.675 years without sleep or food. I think it simply could not be done in a human lifetime. Kribble has taken three and a half years just to get to thirteen million, and even from our brief conversation, and the tone of his voice, I thought I sensed desperation, as in, ‘I wonder if this was really such a good idea to start this in the first place, but I’ve got too much invested in it to stop now, but at this rate what kind of life is this?’ That’s what I thought I heard.
And what must it be like for Mrs. Kribble?
Gil Walker: ‘Amen! I was stationed on Adak in 1957 and saw posted regularly the accuracy in percentage of the military meteorologists. (Weather was vitally important to flying in the Aleutian, it goes without saying!) Their predictions of the weather for the next 24 hours was in the 85% range. I believe they used slide-rules and mechanical calculators. Maybe they had access to a crude weather computer by then, but I doubt it. At any rate, we aren’t doing a lot better today, despite the availability of tools they probably didn’t even dream of! We make weather information much more available to the public, and I suppose we have saved a few lives by broadcasting warnings about tornado and hurricane paths, but technology hasn’t lived up to the predictions I have read over the last fifty years or so. It takes more than tools to solve the problems of this world. I agree that whom we vote for is vitally important.’
Dana D. Dlott: ‘How do you suppose IBM knows how many calculations a person could do in 80 million years? How much time do they figure he would eat and sleep and take vacations? Wouldn’t it be about the same number he could do in 80 years – or maybe 100 years – then he’d be dead.’
Coming Soon: More Dick Davis
Quote of the Day
Triumphant wife to down-and-out husband: I've consolidated all our bills into one missed payment.~Frank Cotham cartoon in the October 11, 1999, New Yorker
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