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May 08, 2007
Billion = Trillion
Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/more_or_less/6625545.stm
It's annoying that "billion", "trillion", etc. refer to two number each; you can never be entirely sure which they refer to because some countries use one, some use another, some have changed the one they use, and some apparently even use both. If you're talking to someone from another country, you need to know which they're using...
We used to use the "powers of a million" (long scale) option but recently changed to the "powers of a thousand" (short scale). The US has always used the latter, and some European countries use the former.
I don't know which I prefer; in some ways the long scale is better because "thousand million" is easy to say but "million million is a bit of a tongue twister - therefore "thousand million" doesn't need a name, but "million million" could benefit.
The long scale also makes the BBC's size comparisons a little more mind boggling; where they have a trillion seconds as about 32,000 years, a long-trillion seconds come to about 32 million millenia; which is a hell of a long time...