STRANGEBUTTRUE- French hens: Cheapest of the 12 days of Christmas

Q. Looking for something really special for your true love this holiday season, you consider buying her all the items mentioned in the classic "The Twelve Days of Christmas." But what might this cost? What do you discover? S. Corbett

A. Financially speaking, "You may take it on the chin for a peck on the cheek," sums up Jim Dunigan of PNC Wealth Management, which tallied the costs ranging from the single partridge ($20) in a pear tree ($200) all the way to the 12 drummers drumming ($2,500 per performance), purchased repeatedly over the 12 days as the song states.

This last point is critical, for the first stanza specifies "On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree," but that same partridge and tree are sent again at the end of every one of the 12 stanzas. On the second day, two turtle doves are sent, and then again 10 more times. That's 2 + 20 = 22 turtle doves. So instead of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12 = 78 items, the number balloons to 364 items altogether.

Fascinating are some of the prices ferreted out for PNC's whimsical "Christmas Price Index," such as $350 for gold rings, $55 for turtle doves, $30 for French hens, $240 for geese, $600 for calling birds (canaries). That's birds aplenty, even more so if the gold rings refer to ring-neck pheasants, as some Web sources suggest. Apparently, all these birds were for feasting.

Total list price for the dozen inclusive days comes to about $90,000, more if purchased online for convenience!

Creative cost-cutting consumers might consider a few modifications, suggests Dunigan, such as two Dove chocolate bars at about a buck each and a $25 Riverdance DVD instead of the pricey lords-a-leaping. Then they can save a couple grand more by replacing the 11 pipers piping with a CD of Scottish bagpipe music for less than $20, and so on, for merrier gift-giving.

Q. What's the ultimate in Virtual Reality? S. Freud

A. It's got to be our nightly dreams–- and not just sugarplums. What other simulated experience is so convincing you don't know it's unreal until it's over? This is what makes rare and remarkable "lucid dreams" so compelling, where you as dreamer can fly above the clouds, make love to famous people, talk with loved ones long dead even as you become aware "It's only a dream." And for peak involvement, you can "steer" the events, becoming dream director.
Just how compelling is all this? Perhaps English physician Havelock Ellis said it best: "Dreams are real while they last. Can we say more of life?"

Q. On Christmas Day 1990, a truly wonderful gift was presented to us all, ultimately changing the way we go shopping, listen to music, read the morning paper, get in touch with old friends. Can you unwrap this one? A. Gore

A. That's the day Tim Berners-Lee first implemented what we now know as the World Wide Web, says Michael Moyer in Scientific American. A computer scientist, he was at CERN, the particle physics lab near Geneva and one of the largest Internet sites in Europe at the time, home to thousands of scientists using a variety of computer systems that made tracking down information clumsy and slow.

The problem was, information was stored hierarchically in a treelike central repository with documents at the ends of branches. "Finding a file meant crawling up the trunk and out to the right leaf, Moyer says, but researchers new to CERN had a hard time figuring out which branches to venture onto to find the right information."

Berners-Lee suggested instead a multiply connected "web" whose interactions would evolve over time, creating a forest of linked nodes, like the circles and arrows used in designing complex systems. It was this agnosticism regarding content that gave what became the Web the power it has today: The Christmas Day system had flexibility at every level; any file could be identified by its unique address, or URL. Better protocols were established for better connections among computer systems and, equally important, the components were made available free of charge to everyone.

"Two decades later, Moyer says, the World Wide Web has proven itself to be the most effective information dissemination platform ever created."
So make that a Merry Christmas and Happy Web Anniversary all wrapped into one!
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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.
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1 comment

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