Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

March 2005

It's Only Money

Years ago, Bob Hope was asked how he managed to amass his reported $500 million wealth. He replied, "Easy, you just save $1 million a year for 500 years."

Everett Dirksen, grey-curled dean of the U.S. Senate in the '60s, commented on the governmental budgeting process, "A million here, a million there pretty soon you're talking real money."

Well, not only do I struggle trying to get a human-scale handle on a million, I am challenged mightily to get my head around the billions that Messrs. Gates, Turner, Walton and the Hathaway guy are said to be worth. When it comes to the multi-trillion dollars that make up the proposed federal budget, my palms sweat, my ears ring, my eyes blur, and my brain flashes the computer-like message, "You have attempted to perform an illegal function; shut down and reboot."

Here's a recap of my latest try to fit the concept of a trillion into anything understandable.

Using time (you know, like, I want to be as witty as Bob Hope), I note that there are 24 hours in a day; so assigning 365.25 days per year (allowing for one leap per presidential term), my handy-dandy spreadsheet program assures me that there are 8,766 hours in an average year. Right away, an important extra point is illustrated there are no average-length years. Three out of four are shorter than average; one out of four is longer.

Serendipitous insight aside, it's clearly going to take more than a lifetime of hours to get within spitting distance of a million hours. To be exact, there are 876,600 hours in a century. So, skipping right past minutes (of which there are more than 52 million per century), using seconds starts to yield some comprehensible ways to get a handle on a billion things.

I rather like to use my heart rate as an internal clock. On a good day with no short putts or stairs to run up, my ticker ticks about once a second; so every decade, if I bothered to count, I would tally 31,557,600 beats. There-fore, I'll reach a billion when I am around 300 years old.

Are you beginning to agree with me as to the difficulty of developing a comfortable vision of a trillion?

Therefore, let me cut to the chase. Get to the bottom line. Connect the dots. Make the final extra point. Whatever.

Recorded history is something like 7,000 years, plus or minus a billion seconds. It would take more than 32 millennia for one trillion seconds to tick or tock.

Go figure.