A trillion here and a trillion there

Google is oogling over its numbers today. Not the numbers related to financial performance, but the numbers that math majors get goose bumps about. Granted, I may be misinterpreting what exactly the Google blog post is reporting, but I think it says that when Google started 10 years ago, they could index 26,000,000 web pages over the course of about 2 hours. But now, they can simultaneously index 1,000,000,000,000 unique URLs on the web at once.

As I was not a math major, at first I was impressed with that 1,000,000,000,000 number. But then I read that the U.S. House of Representatives today passed a bill that enables a potential government rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who together own or guarantee about $5,200,000,000,000 of the nation’s $12,000,000,000,000 in mortgages. To accommodate that potential rescue, the bill raises the national debt limit to $10,600,000,000,000, an increase of $800,000,000,000.

While you may think all of those 0s make for some big number, I’ll remind you that Google’s name is actually a play on the number, googol, which is the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes. So, when you start wanting to be impressed by how many URLs Google can index or how much potential debt Congress can instantly commit you and me to, just remember: Compared with a Googol, a trillion is like, well, 1.0 × 10 to the negative 91st power, give or take a few rounding errors.

Or, for those of you who were better at art than math:

Here’s a trillion: 1,000,000,000,000

Here’s a googol: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,

When Google can google a googol URLs at once, then I’ll be impressed.

As for Congress, they may as well go ahead a raise the debt limit to a googol, as that’s where they seem to be heading anyway.

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  • I’m just impressed you seem slightly concerned about the national debt.

  • Laura, do you really want to get me started? Yes, I’m concerned with the national debt. However, I also acknowledge there are some national assets on the balance sheet that are never discussed when the topic of the national debt is brought up. You see those “national debt clocks” on the Internet that continuously record how debt is increasing, but you never see a “national asset clock” that records the ever-increasing value of the oil holdings of the U.S. federal government or such intangible assets as a rule-of-law that governs interstate commerce. Or how much is the federal Interstate highway system worth? Or, what about the Grand Canyon? I imagine all of the stuff the federal government owns is worth at least how much we owe. Who knows, it may be worth a googol dollars.