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Heroes and Zeros (Lots of Zeros)

Originally Posted: March 22, 2007

Lon S. Cohen

Look down at your computer after you read this sentence.

William Henry Gates III
Photo courtesy of Microsoft Corporation

What kind of computer are you using? Most likely it's a PC of some brand or another. When you look back up, you are probably using a Windows Operating System. No matter what program you are running or website you are searching, in all likelihood, odds are, nine time out of ten, you are running some version of Windows.

If you look at a Forbes 500 list, take a gander at Mr. Number One. That's right, William Henry Gates III, age 50. He has an estimated fortune of fifty-six billion dollars. That is a five and then a six and then put nine zeros after it. Then if you want to really cry, stick a decimal and two more zeros. BHG3—as I like to refer to him—is a Billionaire fifty-three times over. $56,000,000,000.

Savor that number: $56,000,000,000. Or if you like: $56,000,000,000.00.

I'm sure there are websites out there that can tell you how much he makes per second, per hour, all that jazz. I guarantee that it will be inconceivable to us mortals.

Reconnect this in circular logic. The reason BHG3 is worth $56,000,000,000 (All those zeros!!!) is that when you look at your computer screen, you are looking at a Windows Operating System. Or if you're not technically savvy, it is everything you see when you turn on your computer. Almost all personal computers in the world run on Windows. This is why the guy is filthy rich.

Compare that to your cable company or your cell phone. Most homes in America do not use the same exact service for their utilities or their entertainment except the computer's, which, as I said before, is most likely some version of Windows.

AT&T was broken up because it was too big. It was a monopoly. Most people used their service and that meant they had too much power for the government's taste. Microsoft controls about everything you do on your computer. The basic platform is based on its software. Millions upon Millions of people use Windows and therefore use Internet Explorer to surf the web. As a man once said, "A fool and his money are soon parted."

Steve Jobs
Photo courtesy of Apple

Face it, despite what your company's corporate policy says, Internet Explorer is like the Swiss Cheese of software. It's a hacker's dream. Why do you think viruses are such a problem? Nobody writes viruses for Macs because not enough people use that computer system. Kids in high school and college write viruses for Windows and Internet Explorer because it's easy and so many people use them. As a hacker, write a good virus and you become famous in your own mind because you've affected so many people in the world.

You'd think that there'd be better protection on your computer against this sort of thing.

Despite bug, errors, holes, security risks and just about everything else that makes a lousy program, Windows and Internet Explorer still go on like the Energizer Bunny, making BHG3 richer and richer. And they are not stopping. Next Microsoft has or is planning to have software in Television set top boxes, cell phones, more games, toasters, catalytic converters and electric razors. (O.K. I exaggerate but imagine getting a virus in your Food Processor? It will happen one day.)

With growth opportunity like that, BHG3 can give away money to half of Africa and still be on top of the list year after year.

I say, good for ole BHG3. Good for him. People probably made fun of him in high school and he never even finished college. But he's a billionaire. He's a role model for teenagers everywhere who tell their parents that they don't need to go to college because Bill Gates didn't and he's a billionaire. Thanks Bill.

Science Fiction Hall of Fame founder Paul Allen is #19 on the Forbes riches people list with $18 billion dollars, which is up from last year. (He happens to be a co-founder of Microsoft as well.)

I use a Mac. So my guy is Steve Jobs. But he is only ranked #132 with a paltry $5.7 billion dollars. I bet he's running out to get those florescent light bulbs to save a few bucks because of it too. To make his little bitty stash he had to have two companies: Apple, which makes the Macintosh Computer and the iPod, and Pixar, which made digitally animated classics such as "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story".

I think Apple has the model for the way electronics will be designed in the future. Once we get Apple to design the electronic utensils and bathroom items we'll all be cool. I can't wait for the day when my iRazor networks wirelessly with my iToilet Brush. The ultimate is going to be the day when I can sit in my bathroom and listen to my MP3 library through my toilet paper dispenser! I may have to quit my job when that happens.

H. Ty Warner
Photo courtesy of AP

A few billionaires even hail from the Hamptons, or they at least spend part of their summers here. That illustrious list includes investor Warren Buffett at #2, king of the leveraged buyouts Carl Ichan at #71, news icon Rupert Murdoch at #73, Ronald Perelman at #104, Mayor Michael Bloomberg at #142, designer Ralph Lauren at #158, financier Stephen Schwarzman at #249, director Steven Spielberg at #287, real estate mogul Donald Trump at #314, the New York's Daily News' Mort Zuckerman at #323, and Standard Oil heir David Rockefeller Sr. at #349.

In all honesty, those guys are not the real heroes of the Forbes 500 list. Computers and software are great and all, but the real hero is Mr. H. Ty Warner at #140. His company produces and sells Beanie Babies. He made $4.5 billion dollars selling Beanie Babies. They are the silly plush toys that people go crazy collecting and use to line car dashboards. You've seen them and wondered who the heck that person is and how much money they might have saved if they just put that Bennie Baby money to therapy.

Yes. That guy's a billionaire. Yes. A billionaire. Beanie Babies. Yes.

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