Friday, September 08, 2006

Millions. Billions. Trillions!

Talking with DubaiBilly and Cher this afternoon we got onto the topic of millions, billions and trillions. This was sparked because on our way to their house we had passed a gigantic hoarding beside Sheikh Zayed Road, advertising the 'Trillion For Lebanon' campaign. I was explaining to BetterArf that their aim was to raise a trillion dirhams for Lebanon's reconstruction. BetterArf said she didn't think three million dirhams would go very far. I was a bit confused, and she explained that she thought a trillion was 3 million. So what's a billion? I asked. Two million, she replied. Hmmm.

So, for the numerically challenged, here's what's what:

million: 1,000,000
(one thousand thousands, or 1 with 6 zeros after it)
billion: 1,000,000,000
(one thousand millions, or 1 with 9 zeros after it)
trillion: 1,000,000,000,000
(one million millions, or 1 with 12 zeros after it)

the sequence continues thus (I'm not going to type all the zeros, I don't want to break that key on my keyboard):

quadrillion: 1 with 15 zeros
quintillion: 1 with 18 zeros
sextillion: 1 with 21 zeros
septillion: 1 with 24 zeros
octillion: 1 with 27 zeros
nonillion: 1 with 30 zeros
decillion: 1 with 33 zeros

Now, if you're an old Britgit like me, you may recall from your schooldays being told that one billion was one million million. And indeed it was, until 1975 when Chancellor Denis Healey announced that poodle Britain would henceforth fall in line with the American system.

And if you're Indian, you have even more problems - they are called lakhs and crores. A lakh is 100,000. A crore is 100 lakhs or 10 million. Simple, no? So how do you write 30 million using the Indian system? Like this: 3,00,00,000 - commas separate the lakhs, crores and thousands.

While we're on the subject of arcane knowledge, we had a bit of a lunar eclipse last night, caused by the Earth casting a shadow on the Moon. We were chatting about this at our little soireƩ and then got onto the topic of the phases of the moon. It was suggested that these were caused by the Earth casting a shadow on the moon (not naming names, but it wasn't Cher, BetterArf or moi doing the suggesting). But no. It's all to do with the position of the moon relative to the Earth and the sun, and this article explains it brilliantly.*

*no pun intended