Posts Tagged ‘odds’

The Issue of Scale, part 1

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009


I have often thought that the most important skill that an architect offers is an understanding of scale (my friend John has different take). Scale isn’t just knowing inches to meters, or the width of a corridor, or how an 8 foot ceiling feels versus a 12 foot one, but also having a general understanding of the broader environment and each persons place within it. I know that’s vague, but that’s why, beginning with this post, I will post a short missive on the issue of scale every once in a while. This is the first one, and it has to do with pure numbers.

This is a thought experiment suggested by John Allen Paulos in his book, Innumeracy.

Without doing the calculation, try to guess how long a million seconds is. Now try to guess the same for a billion seconds. How about a trillion?

Ready? A million seconds is less than twelve days. A billion seconds is almost thirty-two years. And a trillion seconds is roughly 31,688 years.

I ran across this in a great article about the financial crisis in this week’s New Yorker. It makes you think when you hear all those numbers batted around about the cost of the war in Iraq, the financial bailout, playing the lottery, or the odds of dying in a plane crash, no?

I mean, what are the odds?