Archive for March, 2010

See No Evil

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Videophones have been predicted for just about as long as we’ve had phones. They’re one of those obvious extensions to existing technology that’s just never managed to really catch on, despite decades of prototypes and proofs of concept.

God blames cavemen for this. Well, he blames the part of us that’s still our inner caveman. We spent millions of years learning to communicate with a few grunts and a lot of hand waving and chest thumping, and we’ve spent a paltry few tens of thousands of years refining speech.

Now, I thought that the depth of body language and the shallowness of speech would have been the best argument in favor of videoconferencing but God told me that videophoning actually gets it wrong. It’s not just that the screens tend to be so small that you can’t make out much of the body language but that the two dimensionality of the images masks a lot of the most important cues. What really matters isn’t just things like the crossing of arms and looking each other in the eyes, but more subtle things like the pushing out of a lip or the angle of an elbow. Not to mention the equalizer effect that sometimes happens, when a pushy negotiator finds it hard to take a dominating position and still stay on camera.

So do we just need holographic systems to make video calling successful? God told me it would help, but then he said not to forget the value of smell in evaluating a business proposal. I’m still not sure if he was kidding.

A Whiff and a Smile

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Larry Niven, in his Ringworld novels, created the term rishathra as a name for having sex with other species. Now wikipedia reminds me that in the Ringworld the practice was limited to sex between intelligent hominids, but I was recently reminded of the term when I had the common enough encounter of a dog sticking its nose as deep into my crotch as I would let it.

Dogs, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are very fond of sniffing sexual organs. They greet each other not with a handshake, but with a quick, and sometimes not-so-quick, sniff of each other’s butts. I’ve already noted that they tend to greet humans much the same way. So do they consider this sex? Is it foreplay? We all know that there are many dogs that will happily practice frottage on a human’s leg and clearly they consider that sex. But what about the sniffing? Do they just like to use their sense of smell and our genitals just happen to be at a convenient height? Is it interesting because being one of the most sheltered parts or our bodies, and one with an expulsive function, it tends to exhibit a wider variety of scents than the rest of our bodies?

Okay, they’re stupid questions but I was wondering. So I asked God. He pointed out that flowers are the sexual organs of plants and humans go around shoving our noses into flowers and sniffing as deeply as we can. Do we consider that sex? I agreed that we didn’t. But it does make me wonder a little about giving flowers to someone on a date.

Don’t Stop Believing

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Anyone that’s spent much time dealing with kids knows that they don’t always do what they’re told. They misbehave. They get in trouble, they get punished, and life goes on.

That, according to God, is basically what happened with Adam and Eve. The story famously tells how Eve decided to break the rules and eat an apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but, like so many kids since, she didn’t want to break the rules alone, so she convinced Adam to join her. That’s another thing that’s common with kids, they often end up getting punished together, and that’s no accident. As the saying goes, misery loves company. And what misery wants, misery gets.

But what about that “life goes on” part of things? I asked God if it wasn’t a little harsh that we’re all still paying today for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. She looked at me and sighed. She told me that was one of the things that the Bible got wrong; being kicked out of The Garden of Eden wasn’t their punishment, mostly they just got a scolding and sent to bed without supper.

So then what happened? Why don’t we get to visit The Garden today? God reminded me of what they did to get in trouble. They ate from The Tree of Knowledge. They learned the difference between good and evil. God told me that actually they never left the garden, they just stopped believing in it.

The Sands of Time

Friday, March 5th, 2010

A certain famous soap opera opened every day by intoning “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” It’s a clever enough notion and even made for a funny moment in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” when it’s uttered by Socrates, but it often seems to me like there’s better metaphors we could be using.

One that occurred to me is that the days of our lives are like the crumbs in a toaster. Some are tastier than others, and some have been burned to a crisp.

So I told my clever new metaphor to God and he told me to go back to the hourglass. He pointed out that as the hour goes by the sands fall through the choke point at the same rate, but as the level in the glass starts to run low the level also begins to to go down faster, because the width of the pile is smaller at the bottom than it is at the top. This, he told me, is why when we are young a day seems to take forever to go by, but when we get old even the years seem to pass in the blink of an eye.