Monday, June 27, 2016

Numerous numbers

     Increasingly, our lives are documented, categorized, and controlled by numbers, which are most often coded to impart more information than you may be aware of.

     A driver’s license in New Jersey encodes name, gender, birth (month and year), and eye color.  The first six digits of a credit card indicate the card type.  Visa, for example, always starts with 4.  (You can find out if a card is legitimate by doubling every other number and adding that line of individual digits.  The total should end in zero.)  The first three numbers of a Social Security card indicate the state in which it was applied for.  ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan.  Numbers begin in the northeast (Manhattan is 212) and after meandering around the lower states, end in Ketchikan, Alaska (99950).  The CIA in Langley has the exclusive ZIP 20505. 

     Vertical Interstate highways are numbered from west (I-5 in CA) to east (I-95 from FL to ME) while horizontal Interstates start in the deep south (I-10 in TX) to north (I-90 through Chicago).  Exit numbers start at a state’s southern or western edges generally.  In some states an exit number is the distance from a border, rounded down.  A Vehicle Identification Number encodes the vehicle description, model, engine size, country of origin, model year, and plant of manufacture.  NFL jersey numbers indicate position (for example, 01-09 for quarterbacks and kickers, 60-69 and 90-99 for linemen, and so on).  And no player wearing 50-79 can catch passes without declaring himself eligible.

     Those mysterious bar codes you see everywhere impart much more info.  Maybe one day they’ll just auto-tattoo one on each of our foreheads at birth and dispense with all the rest.



Monday, June 20, 2016

City of contrasts

Naomi and I just got back from a trip north, which included a few days in New York City.  We did all the usual stuff.  Took a bus tour around lower Manhattan and a boat tour around the entire island.  Highlights included zooming to the top of the new World Trade Center on one of the planet’s fastest elevators while viewing a surround video presentation of the growth of the city from Native American times through the present.  The 360-degree view from the top was stunning, revealing the curvature of the earth and reaching out 100 miles.  The memorial near the base of the new skyscraper is moving and sobering and well-done.

We spent almost a day in the Museum of Natural History, which includes dinosaur skeletons, excellent astronomy and nature programs, and fabulous exhibits, from the two-billion-year-old Star of India—world’s largest blue star sapphire donated by J.P. Morganto a full-size replica of a giant blue whale, to a massive iron meteorite that’s so heavy it has a custom support system extending down to bedrock.

It’s a fascinating city of superlatives and stark contrasts.  Condos at the new super-opulent 432 Park Avenue tower near the Empire State Building start at $7 million and range up to more than $100 million, and you have to purchase an entire floor.  You can pay monthly rents as high as $50,000 for apartments in town, and a common motel room goes for $400 or more a night.  Yet there is a shadowy population of homeless people with few possessions and grim prospects occupying the same streets.  Billionaires and bums.

Only blocks from busy canyons filled with honking cabs and trucks and buses and hapless terrified tourist drivers out of their depths, there is the cool and leafy peace of Central Park.

Ethnic and social groups still tend to congregate in defined areas, Asians in Chinatown, arty types in Soho or Greenwich Village, blacks in Harlem, Italians in Little Italy, Hispanics in Spanish Harlem, and so on.  The city has a diverse population as large as the entire state of North Carolina, augmented daily by thousands upon thousands of visitors from all over the planet.

We can enjoy it for about three days before it somehow becomes too much, despite all the pleasures.  Too many people.  Too expensive.  Too much stress.

It was a nice visit, but it’s good to be home.