Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Turning 11000

Our number system is believed based on us having ten fingers. If instead, humans had 12 fingers, today I would have turned 40. To have turned 30, humans would need to have 16 fingers and 24 fingers if I were to have turned 20. The latter number is in the realm of unrealism as there is no way to fit an extra seven fingers on each hand. Unless the palms had fingers, which is stretching it. But I am fine with ten fingers and am simply relieved we don‘t have 2 fingers as I would be celebrating my 11000 birthday today, an age that even vampires and Old Testament characters would find extremely advanced. And come to think of it I am also happy that we don‘t have just two fingers as typing novels would five times as difficult as at present. One would be good at pointing but pretty bad at about everything else. And numbers would be really long.

Although the Mayans did not have 20 fingers they had a 20 based numerical system that used dots and dashes. Maybe they wnet barefoot a lot and engaged their toes in the counting proces. In this system a dot counts for one and a dash for five. They also had a zero, which was a shell symbol. The system is really simple until you reach the number twenty. At this point the signage becomes a bit hard to grasp, especially considering the relevancy of the knowledge acquired weighed with the effort required.

Iceland’s ancestors the Vikings apparently had no numerals. This goes hand in hand with their image, when raping and pillaging phrases do just fine. You can’t really expect them to have been counting or conducting bookkeeping while so engaged. As an example, when running back to their longboats after a good day’s pillage, they must have asked each other: So how much havoc did you manage to reap? This can only be answered with words like: “a lot” or “hardly anything, my sword broke”. Not “three pieces of pillage and one rape.” This lack of at least writing down numbers implies that the early Vikings just went with general references, no specifics.

Because of my birthday I googled the Birthday song. In my defense for doing something so banal, I should note that I was delirious with birthday glee. This delirium did not last long as my research into its origins mostly provided me with articles regarding the copyright of the song, which is apparently still in force. Not exactly festive material. But interesting. The rights to this song seem to be a valuable commodity, have been the property of companies such as Time-Warner Corporation. They now belong to a group of investors fronted by Edgar Bronfman Jr. The copyright infringements mean that if singing "Happy Birthday to You" to a group consisting of others than family and friends one must pay royalties. I did not manage to figure out who pays them, the birthday boy/girl or whoever instigates the signing. Royalties supposedly amount to about $2 million per year. Somewhere it was mentioned that one run though of the song amounts to $700.

In Europe copyrights lasts for 70 years after the author/writer dies. Patty Hill who is accredited as the songwriter died in 1946 so these expire on December 31, 2016. Only then will one be able to go celebrate one’s birthday at a restaurant and have the table sing.
This does show the two finger scenario in another light. Signing the birthday song for a two fingered species in the presence of strangers would cost $1,010,111,100. Approximately the same as it would have cost in Turkish lira before they removed all the zeros in 2005. Before that they even had a 250,000 coin.

But I have to go, my family is gathering in a deep closet to sign “Happy Birthday” for me.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Happy Birthday, Yrsa, and may you have many more.

    It is interesting that Edgar Bronfman holds the copyright to the birthday song. His family has been making money off these celebrations for a few generations. The Bronfmans made their multiple bazillions as owners of Seagram's. Perhaps bazillions is too low an estimate of their wealth.

    Edgar made the family somewhat unhappy recently when he sold off their holdings in Dupont Chemical. How many gazillions did Dow add to the family coffers? Edgar sold a sure bet to create an entertainment company that lasted not much longer than a heartbeat. He should have just stuck with "Happy Birthday".

    I have absolutely no idea how you arrived at those numbers. I'm just really happy that the five and ten finger computers hanging off my hands encouraged me to learn to count by fives and tens. Anything more complicated is beyond me. Anything math makes as much sense to me as the word problem in LITTLE ELVISES. I'd tell you on what page you can find it but the stuff at the bottom of the page in an ebook doesn't make any sense to me either.

  2. HaPpY bIrThDaY YrSa!

    Maybe we should factor in both fingers and toes. That way you're 24 today! That's a good age, eh?

  3. Happy birthday, no matter how old you are. Do I have to pay someone for saying? Enjoy.

  4. Yrsa, this is a great piece, but I feel discriminated against and I need to figure out to whom I should turn for reparations.

    Many writers, myself among them, write with two fingers only. I think this post, beneath all its surface glitter and musings about Edgar Bronfman (the idiot every rich family eventually produces) is actually a smear of two-finger novelists and, as such, is defined as discriminatory under eight or ten laws America has undoubtedly passed in the last decade.

    You will hear from my lawyers as soon as I choose one. As I wrote this, a long line of them formed on my front lawn. And I'm pretty fast with these two fingers, or it would have stretched around the block.

    Oh, and happy birthday, one of the lawyers says, making a note.

  5. You to birthday happy!

    A well-intended atttempt to make you happy while cheating you-know-who (and I *didn´t* sing at all)

  6. Happy Birthday Yrsa,


    A two-fingered keyboard basher

    (My eight year old son seems to think we only need two fingers as we only have two nostrils...)

  7. I have a bone to pick with you, Yrsa. I am still trying to figure out 2:11000::12:40::16:30::24:20::10:?.

    Perhaps that's a mystery best left unsolved. Whatever, Happy Birthday!