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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

An 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, 1058 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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