# Fanciful Units of Measure

Little-used measurements:

• 1.2096 seconds ≅ 1 microfortnight
• π seconds ≅ 1 nanocentury
• 3.085 centimeters ≅ 1 attoparsec
• 2 mm square ≅ 1 nanoacre
• 2.263348517438173216473 millimeters ≅ 1 potrzebie (the thickness of MAD magazine issue 23)
• 20 terabytes ≅ 1 Library of Congress

After Jurassic Park came out, some paleontologists started measuring Tyrannosaurus rex food consumption in lawyers. If the average attorney weighs 150 pounds, they figure, a warm-blooded T. rex would eat 292 lawyers a year. A cold-blooded one would eat 73. I guess that means they were cold-blooded; there’s certainly no shortage of lawyers today.

# Irrational Slumber

In 1610, Ludolph van Ceulen died of exhaustion after deriving 35 decimal digits of pi.

They’re engraved on his tombstone.

# Photon Finish

I’ve been sleeping badly this winter. I’m dead tired in the evening, but I wake up unaccountably at 3 a.m. I’m not positive what the reason is, but I’m going to blame daylight saving time.

I had to do some research even to understand why we follow this barbaric practice. Some people think farmers are somehow to blame, but farmers actually hate DST, because farm animals, pretty sensibly, don’t observe it.

The real point is supposed to be that when the days are long we shift an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. That way, there’s still plenty of daylight after work, so everyone uses less light, TVs, VCRs, etc., which together use 25 percent of our energy. In the winter, pitch-black mornings start to take their own toll, so we shift the clocks back again.

That’s the idea, but it doesn’t make sense. I may use less light if the sun’s up, but I’ll still be watching Scrubs. And now I’ll have my A/C on. I guess they figure I might go out and play football instead, but is that really happening? Two-thirds of this country is overweight.

Worse, the time change zonks people out. This country loses \$56 billion a year to sleepiness, plus 24,000 deaths, 2.5 million disabling injuries and 52 million work days. Sleep deficits contributed to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Challenger disaster, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. We’re actually sleeping 2 hours less each night because of Edison’s light bulb.

So what’s the answer? Just drop it. Arizona, Hawaii, and most of Indiana stay on standard time year round. And having lived in Indiana, I can tell you it’s wonderful.

In 1947, the magnificently crotchety Robertson Davies wrote: “I don’t really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.” Hear, hear.

# In the Stars

My horoscope today on astro.com says “this is a good day for a short recreational trip to indulge your desire for beautiful surroundings,” “you should be able to negotiate in business to your advantage,” and “anything that you buy today should prove to be a worthwhile investment.”

Now, let’s think about that. The current world population is about 6.5 billion, and a twelfth of us are Pisces. Can 540 million people all negotiate favorable business deals on the same day?

Astrologers would say no, those general predictions are worthless, what really counts is a personal reading. Okay, then astrologers should be able to match a person’s birth data with a personalized questionnaire, right? Well, no: A 1994 experiment showed they might as well flip coins.

Even if you accept astrology’s tenets, its reasoning doesn’t make sense. For one thing, the stars are drifting. Due to the precession of Earth’s axis, the stars have moved by 24 degrees during the last 2,000 years. Following the old charts, astrologers are now placing planets in the wrong signs.

For another, that 2,000-year starting point is arbitrary. The heavens change all the time. Four thousand years ago Taurus was the constellation of the vernal equinox. Six thousand years ago it was Gemini.

Anyway, if you’re into this stuff, the rather creepy Horoscopes of Our Time lists precise birth dates and times of various famous people, so you can practice.

# Pi A La Mode

Where can you see pi expressed to 1 million decimal places?

Some questions are pretty easy.

# So Long, Khufu

We need some new wonders. The old ones wore out some time ago, as you may have noticed. Of the seven wonders of the ancient world — the Pyramids of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria — only the pyramids are left. The hanging gardens may never have existed.

Well, there are lots of wonderful things in the world. Can’t we just choose a better list? That depends on who does the choosing. In 1994 the American Society of Civil Engineers took a shot at it and proposed these modern replacements:

1. Empire State Building, New York
2. Itaipu Dam, Brazil and Paraguay
3. CN Tower, Toronto, Canada
4. Panama Canal, Panama
5. Channel Tunnel, United Kingdom and France
6. Delta Works, North Sea protection works, Netherlands
7. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Not so great. I mean, you can’t compare the Chunnel with Zeus.

Fortunately, now we can all vote on it. In 2001, the Swiss filmmaker, adventurer and explorer Bernard Weber founded the NewOpenWorld Foundation to reach a global consensus on seven new wonders. It hasn’t made a big splash in this country, but it’s been huge in China and in India, which is lobbying hard for the Taj Mahal.

With 17 million votes in, here are the current leaders:

1. Wall of China (11.01 percent)
2. Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet (8.52 percent)
3. Taj Mahal, India (7.70 percent)
4. Colosseum, Rome (7.00 percent)
5. Pyramids of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (6.33 percent)
6. Statues of Easter Island, Chile (6.03 percent)
7. Tower of Pisa, Italy (5.98 percent)

So that’s looking pretty good. They’ll announce the final list next January. I figure if we can get 2 million Americans to vote, we can push Wal-Mart to the top of the list.

# Can We Start Over?

Big Numbers gives real-world examples of various orders of magnitude, from the number of Earths that would fit into the sun (106) to the number of fish in the world (1012).

The only trouble is, once you get past 1042, it’s hard to find things to count. There are 1057 atoms in the sun, and 1066 atoms in our galaxy. An octovigintillion (1087) is a lonely number — outside of pure math, it has almost nothing to do.