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February 23, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 8


CEI marks Mendeleyev's 170th birthday

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Washington, D.C., has pointed out that Feb. 7 was the 170th birthday of Dmitri I. Mendeleyev, "the Russian scientist who developed the modern version of the Periodic Table of the Elements." CEI notes that the Russian's feat "tends to be little noted by the general public--his 169th birthday was largely a bust."

CEI bills itself as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government." This credo seems a mite internally inconsistent, especially the "nonpartisan," but it's a free country. Be that as it may, CEI notes that Mendeleyev could not have predicted how some of his elements would stir up the troops. Examples:

  • ◾ Chlorine--blamed for everything from failing sperm counts to five-legged frogs.
  • ◾ Carbon--the basis of life, not to mention global warming alarmism.
  • ◾ Hydrogen--tomorrow's fuel, financed by today's taxes.
  • ◾ Francium--soon to be renamed freedomium.

CEI names more than a dozen such elements in its "Politically Correct Periodic Table of the Elements Mouse Pad."

Googol invented by nine-year-old

Wolf Karo writes from Huntingdon Valley, Pa., that he ran across the origin of the word "googol" recently while looking through his book collection. He found it on page 23 of "Mathematics and the Imagination" by Edward Kasner and James R. Newman (New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1940).

Googol reminds many people of Google, the company that runs the well-known search engine that probes the Internet on demand. Googol is a real word, however. It was invented by Kasner's nephew, then nine years old, when he was asked to dream up a name for the number 1 with 100 zeros after it.

The nephew settled on googol. At the same time, he suggested "googolplex" as the name of a number composed of 1 followed by as many zeros as you could write before growing tired. Googolplex apparently has not caught on.

Karo complains that the Kasner-Newman book does not give the name of Kasner's nephew. "Who is he?" Karo asks. By now he must be about 65. "Surely, considering the ever expanding significance of his invention, his name should be discovered and memorialized."

Google Corp. recognizes the word googol in the first sentence of a one-page corporate information sheet, as "the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros. It's a very large number." Google devotes the rest of the sheet to its marvelous advantages as an online data service.

China reasserts weather monopoly

The South China Morning Post said in its Feb. 6 edition that the government of China "is clamping down on unauthorized use of weather forecasts to prevent public panic and to reassert its monopoly in the sector." The Post's Nailene Chou Wiest reports from Beijing. Violators will be fined up to 10,000 yuan.

The move dates from last year's outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which spurred fear that changes in the weather would trigger more cases. Media experts, Wiest reports, also think that China's meteorological administration has "long coveted the potentially lucrative market for providing weather forecasts."

The concept of a "meteorological economy" has sprung up. The idea is that market research links weather changes to sales of consumer goods such as beer, air conditioners, cold remedies, and ice cream. Wiest reports that weather forecasts also jostle economic measures such as air travel and the futures market in agricultural products.

Meanwhile, the Post reports, the Ministries of Public Security, Education, Information, and Technology and the Information Office of the State Council have launched a campaign against electronic junk mail. The targets are subversive, pornographic, and gambling material, as well as computer viruses.


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