by Peter Zelchenko November 20, 2009


Brig. Gen. Mitchell "Skip" Mundeyn (Ret.)
c/o Federal Reserve Bank
New Opportunities Preassessment Survey Division Group Subgroup
2 Provisional Barack & Michelle Obama Drive, Floors 14-17
Hillsdaleville Heights Estates, VA 22198-4888-11

Most Excellent Gen. Mundeyn,

Your loyal subjects, which is to say your devoted contractors in the Gapers Block boiler room here in Chicago, have completed the report you commanded. We're locked and loaded, to use your manly Beltway vernacular, and lovingly submit to you our preliminary report, attached.

Your task for us -- if you can recall at least the salient parts of that evening we met you on Rush Street -- was to predict the Keynesian macroeconomic impact of your imposing the new 872 area code on Chicago. What we've learned surprises even us!

We examined one-time factors, including the energy exerted in reprogramming all cell phone contact lists to add the extra digits to existing seven-digit entries (9.4 million phones x average 25 entries x 1.64 joules per change = 385.4 megajoules, which is the energy required to lift 385.4 million apples the height of about a meter, or to send one apple the distance from the earth to the moon, though we can't imagine why anyone would want to do those things).

We also examined the long-term factors, such as that people or their machines will have to dial three to four extra digits each and every time they need to dial a phone, for the rest of eternity. Even if it is their next-door neighbors. This has staggering economic effects.

It would be even more economically powerful, if it weren't for the advent of that pesky thing known as a cell phone dialing list. We're pining for that ancient age when everything was rotary dial and there was no such thing as autodial. When the fine-motor operations of a single call required the caloric equivalent of two sugar cubes. (Thank god the CIA killed the automatic rotary dialer!)

Today, we're talking about a few light taps of the thumb. That's negligible energy in comparison, and since numbers are stored, there's also fewer mistakes. That's why this 872 thing was so important to set up. And, fortunately, dropped calls and other signaling problems are also helping make up for it. (We've got a proposal out to T-Mobile to tweak their cellular firmware to expand the dropped-call "events" in the region, which will lead to increased calls.)

Still, there are astonishing gains in human energy expenditures with your new 872 overlay, and we think you'll be pleased. Here are just a few examples (all figures are expressed in terms of megajoules citywide, per year, forever):

  • initial entry of additional 3-4 digits for new calls: 147 megajoules
  • increased attention to verifying area code, even among near neighbors: 34 megajoules
  • increased chance of inverting digits: 22.6 megajoules
  • miscellaneous added cognitive load: 11.7 megajoules
  • opportunities for confusion between 872 and 847: 3.4 megajoules (!) annually (forever!)
  • added energy to write down numbers, also factoring in additional supply-demand uptick of pencil lead and pen ink: 1.2 megajoules
  • the look of despair on their mortal faces: priceless

And there are other goodies in the report. Know those annoying condo doorbells that are actually telephones? Those yuppies are screwed! That'll be 38 megajoules to reprogram them all, and an additional 2.5 megajoules annually in extra current draw and so on. Ka-ching!

Note that most figures are per year, every year, until way past the time we check out.

So, what we'll see is that an annual average of up to 350 megajoules of added energy will be exerted by telephone consumers dialing Chicago numbers as a result of this change. For the rest of their days. Till their grandchildren's grandchildren's dentures have been reduced to dust.

Without getting into the gory math, what this amounts to is that on average each man, woman, and child in Chicago will need to consume 11.4 more calories per day per capita to make up for the extra energy used in accommodating this seemingly tiny change in their lives, for the rest of their lives, world without end, Amen.

That may not sound like a lot at all, General. Maybe a Chiclet per day. But recall that the careful addition of area code 773 and other overlays nationwide, way back in the pre-cellular 1980s, created spectacular Keynesian shifts of their own. The added dialing effort alone is now known to have sparked the Whole Foods and Wal-Mart phenomena. And that was a dietary increase of only 3.2 added calories per day. Just from the addition of some new area codes. We're onto something four times as large, thanks to cellular technology, and economies grow exponentially, and yet it appears to the innocent eye like a subtle little inconvenient blip in people's lifestyles. Oh, thank heavens for technology!

This is something huge, your Excellency. We're talking mega-economic complexes: an added food intake spark that will drive stores from big-box to huge-box scales; travel lifestyle pattern changes that will rock the area and finally link Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit into one great megalopolis; and a general prosperity that'll make the 3,000-square-foot homes of the last decade look like dollhouses.

This may be just the economic shot in the arm the Commander-in-Chief has been looking for. You can mention that the custodians in the Gapers Block basement first quantified it.

It's brilliant, by the way, how you get the telephone companies to make these area-code additions seem inevitable, kind of like the CTA makes it seem as if Transit Doomsday will come as regularly as Christmas. Frankly, we're surprised that consumers have never noticed that the proliferation of new area codes is a function not of real need, but of the greed of the phone companies, who make more money the more phone numbers there are. Imagine if some commie had come up with a switching model in the '80s where your home phone was 555-1212 ext. 1, your data line was 555-1212-2, your fax was 555-1212-3, your cell phone was 555-1212-4, and so on. Can you imagine the shattered macroeconomic dreams? We'd still be walking to the corner store for a bag of oats for our horses! Today, thanks to big telecom, we drive SUVs from here to heaven and back for big-box savings on heavily packaged commodities from god knows where. Hallelujah.

But, Excellency, we digress. We bow to you from the ankles and await our commission. Our bank doesn't allow us to deposit checks larger than $10,000, so please send as many as it takes.


Gapers Block HQ Building Maintenance Engineers
-- and --
Proud Part-Time U.S. Government Contractors

ATTACHMENT: FRB_New_872_Report.pdf (1757 pages)

P.S. We see very few pipe-smokers in the Chicago area anymore and we think it is very elegant. Please come visit again soon.

P.P.S. May we call you "Skip" yet, please?


TO: Gen. Mundeyn
FROM: Gen. Leach

Skip, who's this "Gapers Blot"? I don't see it in the codebook. Let's get these idiots off the contractor list ASAP, or maybe even have someone shoot them. Their bill for this nonsense was $3.6 million. And what if this leaks out? --JL


TO: Leach
FROM: Mundeyn

Jack, be patient. Let's talk about this on the back nine. I'm priming the pump; we've got a higher purpose for these jerks. --Skip

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