To the people who gave me direct, clear, non-patronising and, crucially, short answers to my direct questions (namely how well can Blender handle very large co-ordinate systems, and whether there is any way to position large groups of object mathematically - Python scripts being a potential answer) - LetterRip, Gwenouille, BionicGordon, Myke, pixelmass, dagobert and Meta-Androcto - I give my thanks. With the information you gave me I was able to make my design choice and proceeded to model what I wanted using Perl to generate absolute screen co-ordinates for an SVG renderer, accurately showing the parts I wanted to show of a 30-order-of-magnitude zoom-in on a particular object, including labels visible at various points to show relative positions and values. It does exactly what I wanted it to do. I look forward to getting to use Blender for (literally) smaller projects in the future and I feel I can count on this forum as being a very useful information resource.
To anyone who seemed to feel that they a) knew immediately what I was trying to do, b) know to what extent I will tolerate loss of any detail, c) know the extent of my understanding of how computers deal with large numbers, I ask - why aren’t you using your telepathic powers for the benefit of mankind?
Duoas, for someone who did not intend to be overtly rude, you seemed to manage it with such consummate ease and skill that an independent observer might think that you do it professionally.
“you posted asking to directly represent a continuous domain many orders of magnitude greater than any extant 3D software”.
No. Read the original question. Look at the words in it. The question was to find out whether or not the co-ordinate system I required would be beyond the reach of existent software (specifically Blender). This question was answered very concisely and (mostly) kindly by the six people who replied before you did. The answer was no. Which I acknowledged with gratitude.
“… set out to do something computers aren’t designed to do” - like manipulating numbers? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
The bigness of numbers depends on how you choose to measure them - if I asked you to consider 600000000000000000000000 atoms of Carbon it would indeed seem ridiculous, but to consider 12 Grams of Carbon is less so. And I might then choose to zoom in on this “pile” of Carbon atoms, while at the same time comparing the size of what was in my field of view with grains of sand, cells, nanomachines, buckyballs, an individual carbon atom (or representation of the size of one), whatever. Truly “understanding” the minute size of such things might be beyond mortal brains, but if we can understand the relationships between them then that is a start, and that is what I wanted to do. The purpose of my project, even though some didn’t ask but assumed they knew anyway, is to show how, by grouping ranges together, these huge numbers can be made more understandable.
However, if you still wish to maintain that what I wanted to achieve was impossible, I will be happy to delete the evidence to the contrary which is running nicely on my desktop right now.
I am very sorry that I have given a disproportionately small amount of attention to the people who helped by answering my question, and a disproportionately large amount of attention to anyone who made up their own question and then answered it for me but, as we all know, size is no indication of quality.