CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

5 Fictional Companies Owned by Microsoft

Original image
Getty Images

Microsoft runs an entire corporate empire you might not know about, but are probably hosting somewhere on your computer. They are the companies of Access and SharePoint, of Excel and SQL Server, and comprise all of that sample data included to give you some idea of how the software works.

1. Contoso

According to Businessweek, Sony has a financial services division that mostly sells life insurance policies. This division is worth more than the rest of the company combined. As one analyst put it, “Sony is a life insurance company with a money-losing TV business.”

Clearly, then, a company like Contoso Ltd. is not without precedent. There’s Contoso Bank, with divisions in the United States and Australia, and an arm in Singapore called Asean Bank. Contoso Pharmaceuticals is spread across the United States, with offices in Denver, Chicago (where its IT center is located), Atlantic, Sacramento, and its corporate headquarters in New York City.

The IT department of Contoso Pharmaceuticals alone supports 195,000 users, which suggests a total headcount somewhere in that area, including contractors and interns. (For comparison, Verizon Communications employs a total of 193,900 people; Disney “only” employs 156,000.) It’s hard to estimate how many people fall under the combined corporate empire, but it likely blows United Technologies—which builds both elevators (as Otis) and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the U.S. Army—out of the water.

2. The Volcano Coffee Company

The Volcano Coffee Company is renowned not only for its blends, which continue a legacy “reminiscent” of ancient Mo’a Mana tribal ways, but also for its forward-thinking embrace of technology. Its owners have developed an InterNET Home Page for the World Wide Web. They’ve even accepted sponsorship by way of a rectangular animated Compuserve GIF.

The company’s name derives from a little known botanical fact that coffee plants grow natively only in the volcanic region of South Sea islands. The Volcano Coffee Company wants you to know that the coffee fields “yield the plumpest, most flavor-filled coffee beans in the world.” Coffee mugs are available from the online gift shop for a mere $25, which means 20 years after Volcano set the web standard, nobody’s figured out how to make and sell a cheap mug online.

3. Northwind Traders

GeeksEngine

According to its business plan, the mission of Northwind Traders is “to become the premier provider of adventure vacations for 25- to 35- year-old professionals.” And the company seems to be well on its way. It started as a clothing store employing seven people. (Last year, the retail arm of the company earned profits of $200,400 on sales of $1,419,500.) Today, Northwind employs 200 people, with a goal of adding another 420 employees in its first year as a travel agency, and raising the total to 1400 the following year.

Before fully divesting itself of the clothing store, the company intends to raise $83,500 from outside sources, making it the most efficient company in Seattle. Still, before investing, one really ought to consider the area. Because Northwind is located in a technology hub of the nation, one has to wonder how the company plans to make everyone forget about the Internet and companies with William Shatner as their front man, to say nothing of Margie’s Travel, another Microsoft baby.

(Those of you downloading your business school essays from the Internet should be warned that ABN Traders has a suspiciously similar business plan to Northwind, as does Aussie-One Travel Agency, which in a twist has a partnership with Margie’s Travel.)

4. World Wide Importers

Just as its name suggests, World Wide Importers imports things from around the world. The company specifically focuses on clothing, which is then sold to U.S. retailers. World Wide Importers employs 4500 people, which is just about the same number as Groupon. Really. (I have no idea what those people are doing all day.) World Wide Importers has locations in three cities: Chicago, where marketing, research, and HR operate; Boston, for sales, shipping, and inventory; and Denver, for customer service.

5. Blue Yonder Airlines

Frequent flyers should go ahead and bookmark Blue Yonder Airlines. It is “the leading adventure charter airline in the US!” with “the industry’s best safety record.” More importantly, though, it has an on-time-every-time guarantee, which has to be the worst business decision in the history of enterprise, but the best deal a traveler is ever going to find. There’s no hedging here, either. Their guarantee reads: “If we fail to depart or arrive on time, we will pay for your accommodations.” Before you start eyeing a Skyloft at the MGM Grand, however, you should probably take note that Blue Yonder has a 100 percent on-time record.

Original image
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
arrow
Lists
5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
Original image
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

Original image
AFP/Getty Images
arrow
History
5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
Original image
AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.

1. THE GERMAN ATTACK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.

By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.

2. ONE FRENCH WORD WAS BURNED INTO WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MEMORY: “AUCUNE.”

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

3. HITLER MADE A FATAL MISTAKE.

On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.

4. GERMAN DIVE-BOMBERS WERE EQUIPPED WITH SIRENS TO SPREAD TERROR.

Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”

5. THE FRENCH FOUGHT A HOPELESS BATTLE TO COVER THE EVACUATION.

By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios