Fun With Numbers

Recently I heard a couple of news items that started me thinking. The first was a comment that the US Gross National Product (GNP) is in the vicinity of 13 trillion dollars. That’s $13,000,000,000,000 ! A tremendous sum of money in any terms. The second news item was that sometime this month the population of the US will reach 300 million.

Being a mathophile I couldn’t resist dividing the GNP by the population. The result; $43,333. That is the amount of wealth produced by every single US citizen, assuming that they all contributed equally.

Of course it’s not that simple for a number of reasons. One reason is that not all people work. Children, the elderly, invalids, the unemployed and others reduce the real size of the work force. In 2006 the actual number of people employed in the US was around 144 million. Using this number gives $90,277 as the average value produced by every worker.

I’m not suggesting that every worker contributes the same to the GNP nor do I believe that the wealth produced should be distributed on a per capita basis. These numbers are only averages.

Yet I can’t help compare that $90,277 with the 2006 average workers income of $29,000. That simply points out the tremendous difference between the rich and the poor in this country. It makes me wonder how long the average worker can continue to believe in the American Dream when they share so little of the wealth they help produce.

Income and employment statistics from The Bureau of Labor Statistics

Signs of Winter

Less than four weeks into the Fall season and already the signs of Winter are showing. Our walnut trees have lost almost all of their leaves, along with a bumper crop of nuts. The maples are in various stages of color change and leaf loss. SnowThis morning I was greeted with an unwelcome (though expected) sight – a dusting of snow on the lawn. It won’t last. The ground is too warm, still it is an early notice of things to come.

But I’m not ready for winter! I haven’t cleaned the chimney, put away the hoses, shut down the pond, raked leaves, split firewood or any of the other tasks that need to be done before Winter really arrives. It’s so easy to put those things off when the calendar says it is two months before Winter arrives. No doubt next week it will warm up and we’ll have some more of those wonderful Fall days. I’ll probably go back into denial and procrastinate more.

At times I envy those who live in places where the change of seasons is not so pronounced. But when I visit the warmer places I realize how much I would miss the yearly pageant of change. I still enjoy all the seasons too much and I’m not yet ready to become a Snowbird and flee Winter.


Vista – Why?

vista2.jpgWhy would anyone upgrade to the newest Windows version – Windows Vista? I can’t see any reason to do it and wonder how many others will. Here is why I feel this way.

Right now the Vista release candidate has around 1000 known bugs in it. When they finally ship it to computer manufacturers it still could have as many as 500 known bugs. How many unknown bugs will it have?

Most of the real improvements planned for Vista have been dropped because they would delay the release too much. The original plan was for a new, improved file system, WinFS, but that was dropped in 2004. PC-to-PC synchronization was dropped but may be made available in the future (for what cost?). The scripting shell from Windows Vista and Longhorn Server (code-named “Monad), was cut last year.


Over the last year or so I’ve gotten interested in podcasts – on demand audio programs which usually focus on a single theme or subject. Gradually my list of subscribed podcasts has grown to almost 9 hours of listening per week! Right now I concentrate on current technology news or astronomy related podcasts.

If you are not familiar with podcasting you can look at this Wikipedia article. There are thousands of podcasts on almost any conceivable subject and the numbers are growing exponentially. If you have some special interest, no matter how obscure, just Google for – podcast “your interest” – and I bet you’ll find at least one, probably more, related podcast.

The name podcast tends to make many people think that you must have an Apple iPod to listen to podcasts. This is absolutely not true. Anyone with a computer can listen to podcasts – you don’t need a special mp3 player, though that does allow you to listen while on the go. You don’t even need to have a special program like Apple iTunes to download podcasts. Nearly all podcasters have multiple ways to download their shows.


Moon and Pleiades In astronomy, an occultation is when one closer object passes in front of another farther object. Most commonly, our Moon is the closer object and a star or planet is the more distant one.

Tomorrow night (October 9 in the US) you’ll get to see this phenomena for yourself. Starting around 11pm CDT (4am GMT on the 10th) the nearly full Moon will pass in front of the Pleiades star cluster (Messier 45) in the constellation of Taurus. The stars of this cluster will disappear behind the bright edge of the Moon and reappear later from the dark edge.

Because of the brightness of the Moon you’ll need binoculars or a small telescope to see this best. It’s rather amazing to see the stars pop out almost instaniously from behind the dark limb.

At my location the Moon will rise around 8PM so it will be well above the eastern horizon by the time the occultations begin. You can check your local paper for the time of Moonrise in your area. If you click on the thumbnail you can see a timeline of the Moon’s position relative to the star cluster. This chart is only strictly valid for my location (Central Iowa). If you want to get accurate information for your own location you can go to this link for details. Otherwise, just go out and look up at the sky around the times indicated (adjusted for your time zone.)

Political Spam

An election is coming up – can’t you tell? The politicos conveniently excluded themselves from the National Do Not Call List. As a consequence anyone in a district not completely locked by one party or the other will get calls at inconvenient hours. Calls purporting to be “surveys” but which actually are meant to scare you into voting the way they want. They are looking for fresh meat – people they think might be persuadable into voting their way.