If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, “Failure or success(ion),” just post it in the discussion area. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the January 8 edition of Geek Trivia, “Double (trouble) figures.” TechRepublic member RandalBarnes disputed my description of the short scale of larger number naming.

“You stated that: ‘wherein each power of 1,000 has its own [root] + -illion designation.’ You should have said power of 3 instead of 1000. 10^3 = 1,000, what you said above is 10^1,000, which is slightly larger than 1,000.”

Member NickNielsen had similar disputes, but his response helps me defend myself.

“[The Trivia Geek] should have said ‘every third power of 10.’ However, every third power of 10 is a power of 1,000, so he’s numerically correct in his statement, although not — strictly speaking — technically accurate. BTW, the powers of a number are the values of that number raised to a series of exponents from 0 through whatever. Therefore, the powers of 3 are 1, 3, 9, 27, 81…”

I was speaking of general math, not scientific notation, so any number can legitimately be said to have a power. Here are the first five conventional powers of 1,000 under the short scale:

  1. 1,0000 = 1 (one)
  2. 1,0001 = 1,000 (one thousand)
  3. 1,0002 = 1,000,000 (one million)
  4. 1,0003 = 1,000,000,000 (one billion)
  5. 1,0004 = 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion)

NickNielsen is right in that my description ignores the first two of these, as there is no [root] + -illion designation for the numbers 1 or 1,000. But then, that’s why we call them quibbles, so by all means (and medians and modes), keep them coming!

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