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Cosmic Perspective


Nobody can resist the temptation to ask, every now and then, ``what does it all mean''? At least I can't.

Cosmic Perspective

At attempt to gain perspective in various domains at several different orders of magnitude. In three parts.
by John Walker
June 29th, 1987

Cosmic Perspective--A

Autodesk recently announced the shipment of the 100,000th copy of AutoCAD. Let's do some calculations of the size of the industry this represents. Throughout this paper, the numbers I calculate will be expressed in ``astronomical units'', precise to 10 decimal places but probably accurate to 1 or 2.

Since Autodesk's sales curve is reasonably approximated by an exponential, it's reasonable to assume an average retail price for AutoCAD of about $2,000, factoring in discounting at retail, earlier sales at lower prices, and sales of base, ADE-1, and ADE-2, all corrected for sales of foreign language versions which carry a premium over the English version and have recently benefited by the fall of the dollar.

This means that, at retail, total sales of AutoCAD to date are about $200 million. But we just sell the software. Charles Foundyller estimates that software accounts for about 15% of the revenue in the PC CAD business. If this is accurate, the total retail sales generated to date by AutoCAD is approximately $1.3 billion. If you discount the obscene wealth extracted from this market by a few people, assume that half the business has been done in the last year, assume an industry-wide living wage of $40,000 per year (remember overhead), and attribute a negligible materials cost to AutoCAD-related products, this means that roughly 15,000 people earn their living from the AutoCAD industry (this is, of course, an abstraction for a much larger number of people partially supported by the industry).

None of this existed in 1982.

Cosmic Perspective--B

  An instrumentality of the federal government of the United States of America bought the 100,000th copy of AutoCAD. In its 1987 fiscal year, the federal government spent $1.3 billion, equal to the total five-year market for AutoCAD related products, about every twelve hours.

Roughly half of Autodesk's profits during the last five years have been paid as taxes.

Cosmic Perspective--C

    At 07:35:35 UTC on February 23, 1987, neutrinos and photons from the exploding star Sanduleak -69 202 reached the Earth. Roughly 10 billion neutrinos from the supernova passed through every square centimetre of the Earth's surface. In approximately five seconds, 10**58 neutrinos were emitted--equivalent to the total conversion into energy of one tenth of the mass of the Sun.[Footnote]

Over 99% of the energy of the supernova was carried away by the neutrinos; the visible manifestation in the sky is caused by much less than 1% of the energy released. The energy emitted in five seconds by the supernova is roughly equal to the output of the Milky Way galaxy for a period of several years. So great was the neutrino flux that, despite the fact a beam of neutrinos is attenuated only 50% by passing through six light-years of lead, approximately one million people on Earth experienced a neutrino interaction in their bodies as a result of the supernova.[Footnote]

The star that exploded is 160,000 light-years from Earth.

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Editor: John Walker