Zimbabwe’s Hyperinflation

July 20, 2008

Zimbabwe is introducing a 100 billion-dollar note so that people can buy, well, stuff.  Not that there’s much stuff to buy.

Zimbabwe’s inflation is pegged at somewhere between 2.2 million percent and perhaps 15 million percent – on the low side it means that something that cost 1 Zimbabwean dollar on July 1st will cost 22,000 Zimbabwean dollars next July first – or 150,000 Zimbabwean dollars, depending on which inflation figure you believe.  To put it another way, the cost of goods in Zimbabwe is doubling every 21 to 25 days.  (That’s not very good for any Zimbabweans hoarding their cash). The Zimbabwean government isn’t yet close to the record for hyperinflation, but by all accounts they certainly seem willing to hunker down and surpass it.

This is not the first time that rampant hyperinflation has gripped a country.  The German Weimar Republic of the 1920s is noted for hyperinflation so great that paper money was burned for warmth because it lasted longer than the wood one could purchase with it.  Hungary in 1946 and Yugoslavia during its disintegration in the 1990s are more recent examples.  I have about 100 cruzeiros of Brazilian money from my days as an exchange student in the 70s; today they are worth about 1 billionth of a penny, due to Brazil’s hyperinflation in the 80s and early 90s.

Those of us old enough to remember the late 1970’s lived through some tough times when the U.S. inflation rate hovered around 15% for three years.  Many pensioners lost half their buying power during that brief period.  That was pretty bad but nothing compared to what countries like Zimbabwe, Brazil and Yugoslavia went through.  Worthless money is money quickly spent.  There is no such thing as savings.  There is also no such thing as commerce.  Zimbabwe suffers from mass shortages of everything.

The Zimbabwean disaster is continuing with no letup in sight.  What’s going to happen after 84-year-old Robert Mugabe dies in the near future is anyone’s guess.  Hyperinflation and anarchy do not bode well for that country and its people and to date, there is little to indicate that other world powers will come to the country’s aid.  Read about current events and expectations here.


Bloggers Consider Forming Labor Union

August 5, 2007

I don’t know what to make of this article in AP News and the Huffington Post. Bloggers (mostly left-leaning, apparently) are considering forming a union for health care benefits, collective bargaining strength and maybe even to be able to set some professional standards. One key statement was that bloggers were entitled to the benefits brought about by union organization. Another was that bloggers need health benefits because of the damage that sitting at a desk all day in front of a keyboard and mouse does to the body. Oh yeah, and something about gaining weight and having your ass get wider and wider.

Blogging, which I always thought was the natural result of Internet anarchy, is the last thing I would expect to be organized under negotiated rules. I can’t imagine what creative writing in that environment would be like. I think I would immediately stay away from any web site that carried a union label. It would polarize the blogging community.

Conservative bloggers are less supportive of a union movement. On this issue I’m definitely on their side.

I hope this article is a joke. But it doesn’t look like one.


What’s Behind Those Eyes?

January 17, 2007

Al and Kathy Sanchez showed up to the Comptek/Barrister reunion party on September 29, 2006. I was going to go but decided instead to meet some friends at Curtain Up, the formal start of the theater season in Buffalo.

Kathy used to work at Comptek/Barrister, two companies that were one company but then split into two when Comptek went public (and Barrister soon followed). Comptek was purchased by Northrup Grumman and its name has been retired. Barrister has gone through several ownership changes and I believe still exists as a quasi-viable company somewhere in the South. Every year many of the employees who worked at these high-tech companies still get together to reminisce – we enjoyed each others’ company then, and still do today: the bonds are strong.

Al and Kathy supposedly had a great time there, and from the warm, wonderful shot of the two of them with another friend, they look like the great, happy, settled, couple that everyone knew them to be.

Comptek Reunion 2006

Only Al Sanchez has been arrested and charged with being the “Bike Path Rapist”, the person responsible for at least 5 rapes and 3 murders since 1981. He raped and killed his last victim, a mother of four young kids, on the day of the reunion. He looks great in the photograph.

He is the epitome of a normal guy. Only he’s not normal at all. There isn’t a lick of guilt in the photograph. No anger, no remorse, no paranoia, nothing but a normal guy having a great time with friends.

In the biochemistry of our brain we produce all kinds of chemicals that cause us to react in certain ways. Al’s biochemistry allows him to shelter away a horrific urge that must occasionally overwhelm him, and propel him to do things that virtually all of us find repulsive and wrong. Behind that warm, smiling façade is a killer.

Maybe he’s an innocent man, wrongly accused – which would explain the photograph. But the police and district attorney sure don’t think he’s innocent, and the fact that his DNA supposedly matches the DNA taken from 5 of his victims would lead me to think that he may have had a hand in their demise.

I am spooked by the existence of this photograph as much as I am spooked by the existence of this man.


28 Across, 47 Down

January 6, 2007

What’s a three-letter word for “pigeon”?  What’s an eight-letter word for “square figure”?

Over the years I’ve become a real Will Shortz fan.  He adds amazing wit to the New York Times crossword puzzle and as the NPR Puzzle Master provides other types of word entertainment on those rare occasions when I actually catch him on the radio.  Even as a little kid I was good with logic puzzles, and crosswords are merely an extension of puzzle-solving logic – mixed in with the subtleties of the English language.  New York Times puzzles are especially punny, and give you that “aha” feeling of satisfaction when you “get it”.

It also appears that doing mentally challenging things forestalls the onset of Alzheimers disease.  By the time I retire I intend to do nothing but mentally challenging stuff, unlike today where breathing is about as challenging as it gets.

Wife, 2025:  “What’s a three-letter word for “pigeon”?

Me:  “Ehhhhhh?”

Wife:  “What’s a three-letter word for “pigeon”?

Me:  “Yes-ss-ss-ss, it’s a beautiful day-yy-yy outside, dearest.”

Unfortunately, I’m slowly becoming hard of hearing so it won’t help me have a conversation with my wife.  But my brain will still be working even if my ears aren’t.

I wish I had more time to do crossword puzzles but as it turns out I’m usually limited to doing them at bedtime as a method of relaxation prior to turning off my table lamp.  I started a project over 20 years ago to write a crossword-puzzle creation program, first in Fortran, then Pascal, then Visual Basic and C++.  It is not a simple problem to solve, as there are very few rules you can apply to eliminating possible orthogonal words based on other trial words the program has already selected.  If you have an understanding of programming you can appreciate that without some way to trim back the list of possible words to test, the very best that you can do is to perform a binary search of your dictionary for anything that fits.  Laying down the possible words – and unwinding every time you hit a dead end – is at least an N2 problem.  The computational burden is not intractable but it might take considerable time to solve.  I’m still working on it and hope to complete it before I die.  That and learning how to play the piano are two challenging things I want to do yet in my lifetime.

By the way, the answers are “rat” and “exponent”.