Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

May 2011

There are limits, you know?

Speed, for instance. One limit is the speed of light, I’m told.

Using that ultimate speed, smart folks come up with some pretty fancy definitions of limits.

A light-year is the distance that a ray of light travels in a year. So while it takes light from the sun to tan my ankles only a good eight minutes to begin their rusty work, to catch a glimpse of what’s happening in the Andromeda whatsis today, be prepared to wait 9 million years.

If you have the right telescope and don’t live next door to an all-night gas station, you can get an idea of what was going on there those many million years ago — so ... yesterday.

More interesting, up-to-date, relevant, and applicable to today’s economic doings is horsepower.

Horsepower was a concept used in sales pitches for steam engines and muscle cars. The deal is that one horse could generate the equivalent of enough energy to evaporate 34.5 pounds of water in an hour. (James Watt figured that out, as he wanted to substitute his boiler for old Dobbin to turn the wheel at the gristmill.)

Therefore, 348 horses could propel a Pontiac GTO down a quarter-mile track faster than a Volkswagen with only 49 horses could go.

Here’s the extra point: For all the hoopla given to the steam engines, atomic energy, and dual-barrel carburetors, the last labor-saving device that actually helped advance civilization was the horse collar.

That’s right — one horsepower at a time, a domesticated horse tethered to a plow, thresher, shaker-in-season gave folks time to read, do folk art, go skiing, get cleaned up, and go dancing on the weekend.

Since then, most labor-saving devices have just cost jobs. 

Footnote: Google horsepower and go to www.wikipedia.com.