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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Remember this really great joke?


Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos
Sorry about the repeat, but it sets up a neat story about Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon Books. Here's that story again... but better:

In the olden (pre-Google) days, a guy rushing for his train in Grand Central Station in NYC is running late. He stops a stoop-shouldered, bedraggled little man huffing and puffing as he struggles to carry two enormous suitcases.

"Hey friend," asks our commuter, "can you tell me what time it is?"

The man stops, grateful to be able to put his monstrously heavy suitcases on the floor and rest. As he wipes sweat from his brow, he looks as his watch and tells the harried commuter, "It is exactly 5:17.26 1/2 pm on the 365,276th day, 4th hour, 38th minute and 52 1/2 second past the birth of Christ, a Thursday in leap year 0, when the sun warmed the day to 82 degrees fahrenheit or 27.777778 celcius."

"Wow!" said the commuter who was literally stopped in his tracks. "Your watch told you all of that?"

"Oh," says the watch owner, "my watch will tell you anything you would ever want to know. Is Elvis alive? Is O.J. Simpson the real killer? When will the Cubs win the pennant? Anything, really.

 "WOW! I've GOT to have one! Where can I buy a watch like that?"

"You can't," says the little man. "You see, I invented this watch and it knows EVERYTHING... but it is one of a kind and it is mine."

"But I'll give you anything for that watch," says the commuter.  "ANYTHING! I must have that watch."

After 5 minutes of intense haggling, the commuter convinces the watch inventor--with the help of $2 million dollars--to sell him the watch. Happily, he straps it on his wrist, says "Thank you so much," and starts to run in hopes of catching his train.

"Wait... WAIT," hollers the watchmaker, pointing to the enormous suitcases sitting on the floor, "Don't you want the batteries?"

See? It is better the second time... oh, sorry.
 
So how does that have anything to do with Jeff Bezos? Eerily, quit a lot. You see, Bezos is much more that Amazon, Zappos or on-line shopping. He has other stuff that has almost nothing to do with his $18.4 billion net worth (#26 on the Billionaire list, just ahead of Scrooge McDuck, I think).  

One of those other ventures--the one that triggered this joke lead-in-- is Bezos' $42 million, 200-foot-tall, "10,000 Year Clock" that he is building deep inside a mountain on the property he owns in Texas, not far from his commercial rocket-launch site. (Yeah, really.)  

And it is, as so many things in life are, eerie. A joke that is perhaps 50-years-old becomes real-life in another time... another era. Nothing disappears, it just regenerates in a different form. While this sounds like it might be another joke, the story is real.

Bezos told The Wall Street Journal,  "It's like a grandfather clock on a grander scale. When it's finished, it will play an elaborate cukoo-like sequence for the anniversary of every year, decade, century, millennium and 10 millennia. 

"People who visit the clock when it is finished years from now will also be treated to a daily chime sequence that has been choreographed by musician Brian Eno (got that crossword fans), who serves on the project's board."

"The reason I'm doing it," says Bezos, "is that it is a symbol of long-term thinking, and the idea of long-term responsibility... We humans have become so technologically sophisticated that in certain ways we're dangerous to ourselves. It's going to be increasingly important over time for humanity to take a longer-term view of its future."

Impressive... in a vague, symbolic- sort-of way. And so is the 48-year-old Bezos. 

But if the watch batteries in my story took two enormously big suitcases, how big will the batteries need to be for this 10,000-year clock? Pretty darned small in today's world is my guess. The constant, of course, is the quest for knowledge, place and perspective.

Next joke: A horse walks into a bar... 

Friday, June 22, 2012

What could possibly be bigger than the internet?

In case you hadn't noticed, the number of unique IP  (Internet Protocol) addresses--the numerical label assigned to each computer, printer, etc. using the internet--has expanded from 12-digits to 32. This means we have just jumped from 4.3 billion device identifiers to 340 undecillion... or 340 trillion trillion trillion for the simple minded. That is because of all the watches, cars, eyeglasses and other devices that will soon be on the web-enabled market.

Speaking of watches: Guy rushing for his train in Grand Central Station in NYC is running late. He stops a person huffing and puffing as he struggles to carry two huge suitcases that seem to stretch his arms to the floor.

"Hey friend," asks our commuter, "can you tell me what time it is?"

The man stops, grateful to be able to put his monstrously heavy suitcases on the floor and rest. As he wipes sweat from his brow, he looks as his watch and tells the harried commuter, "It is exactly 5:17.26 1/2 pm on the 365,276th day, 4th hour, 38th minute and 52 1/2 second past the birth of Christ, a Thursday in leap year 0, when the sun warmed the day to 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 27.777778 Celcius."

"Wow!" said the commuter who was literally stopped in his tracks. "Your watch told you all of that? Where can I buy a watch like that"

"Oh," says the watch owner, "you can't. You see, I invented this watch and it does EVERYTHING... but it is one of a kind and it is mine."

"But I'll give you anything for that watch," says the commuter.  "I must have that watch."

After 5 minutes of intense haggling, the commuter convinces the watch inventor--with the help of $2 million dollars--to sell him the watch. Happily, he straps it on his wrist, says "Thank you so much," and starts to run in hopes of catching his train.

"Wait... WAIT," hollers the watchmaker, pointing to the enormous suitcases sitting on the floor, "Don't you want the batteries?"

So... what could possible be bigger than the internet? Well, there is something that makes 340 undecillion seem like a walk across the street... and no, it is not our national debt.

Cosmologist at work
Cosmology (not to be confused with cosmetology, which is quite different) is the academic discipline that seeks to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large. And cosmologists (not to be confused with cosmetologists) have come together to believe we are but one of billions and billions of universes, many of which are billions of times bigger than our own. I guess that puts the Empire State Building in its place.

Cosmetologist at work
Our Voyager 1 spacecraft,  launched from earth in 1977, is nearing the edge of our known universe where the million-mile-per-hour solar winds slows to about 250,000 miles per hour. (Take that, Katrina!) Both Voyagers 1 and 2 have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to operate at least until 2020. By that time, Voyager 1 will be 12.4 billion miles from the Sun and Voyager 2 will be 10.5 billion miles away. Eventually, the Voyagers will pass other stars. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will drift within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. In some 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will pass 4.3 light years (25 trillion miles) from Sirius, the brightest star in the sky . The Voyagers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wander the Milky Way.

No, I really didn't understand it either... but you have to be impressed by the numbers. I once heard that if, on earth, the size of our planet was represented by a grain of sand, there would not be enough earth to depict, in scale, our solar system. Now eternity... that's yet another big deal!

Yeah, I am impressed by big numbers. So there.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

I shrewdly stayed out of the market...

Smartly chose NOT to buy IBM, Apple, Google, and a few other flash-in-the-pans. Too clever for that. I was waiting for the big one.

So call me a tycoon if you wish, (or a greater fool) I swam ahead of the tidal wave to buy one gazillion shares of Facebook... which is, so far, only a tad in the red (translation: an arm and a leg). But who couldn't be happier for Mark and Mindy... er, I mean Priscilla. If he can smile after loosing $6 billion (it would take the average person years to earn that much) then who am I to complain?  He can always fall back on Priscilla's income. She's a doctor, you know.

Always did say, "Buy high, sell low"... or is it the other way around? Us dyslexics thank our lucky rats and praise doG for being able to get it right. And thanks to Wiley Miller, creator of the Non Sequitur comic strip, for validating my retirement strategy... and offering more fun here.

                                                                  (Sign says "Take Advantage of my IPO!")

PS: The good news for all who bought Facebook... it probably will turn out great because I lied... I really didn't buy... just loved the cartoon... which means, you are golden because I'm what you call a negative indicator... my record of getting it wrong is near 100 %.

Monday, June 4, 2012

OK. If you are so smart, let's hear you use hoosegow in a sentence.

Don't you love that word? It's just fun enough to say without caring what it means. Words like anomolous, toupee, octopi, garibaldi and crotchety (a personal favorite)  just ripple off the tongue. Oh, I saw a hippopotamous the other day... it was hippopotamusing.

I could go on and on: orthogonalization, unctous, mysoginist, huffnagle, phlebotomist, wankle, fandango, oligopoly (no, not the game)...

But back to business... using hoosegow in a sentence:

"If I were younger, maybe I'd be spending time in the hoosegow." 'Big Hy' said that.

Well, if you knew what hoosegow is, then you are OLD! And maybe you watched too many of those black & white westerns starring Tom Mix or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry... and hoosegow would have been said by Gabby Hayes or Andy Devine or some other old but wise sidekick.

Hoosegow means slammer, stir, calaboose (another good one), pokey, can, clink, roach motel (you can check in but cannot check out)... get it?

"Big Hy"
Today's hero (and winner of my esteemed "Shinola" award) said hoosegow. He is 92-year-old Hyman Stachman, a World War II veteran who, according to the NYTimes, may be the most prolific bootlegger of Hollywood DVDs... and subsequently, their Enemy No. 1.

"Big Hy," as those who have received the benefits of his work affectionately referred to him, decided that he had to do something to keep busy after the death of his wife. So, having an affinity for those serving their country in far away places, decided that he could supply them with entertainment. "Big Hy" illegally copied more than 80,000 discs of movies a year  (The Hangover, Gran Torino, The Artist, Moneyball, The King's Speech, etc.)  for six years,  putting in 60-hour weeks dubbing, packaging and mailing them--over 4,000 boxes holding 84 discs--at his own expense ($11 per box), to the troops.

To be as 'clean' as possible, he kept none for himself.

And he was beloved. He received many, many letters of "Thanks, Big Hy... " you made a difference.

Then there is Rankin Paynter... a 77-year-old Kentuckian who earned another "Shinola." Rankin jumped at the opportunity to buy all the inventory of a local Kmart store that was closing. He turned the whole store into a 'blue-light special' paying  $200,000 for the everything in every size, color and style, which he donated to local charities for those in need. (Me? I would have kept all the Rollos for myself, but then I'm not Rankin.)

"We've all been put on this earth to help each other through," he said. "If I can help people through, I'm happy."

Isn't it a pleasure to read stuff like this? Blessings to you, Shinola winners. You make the world better, one starfish at a time.