Two Solutions Are Better than One

Have you ever noticed that there are two ways (or often more) to accomplish nearly anything? If not, you're missing out on many solutions to problems.

I can't think of really good examples, but these will have to do. Say your kitchen table is uneven. You can either shorten a leg or lengthen a leg. If you have to end a relationship, you can either end it or act so the other person ends it. If you need more money, you can try to earn more or you can just spend less.

I really think that almost every problem we have has less-obvious solutions that we may not consider.

I can't think of any really good examples. I can keep thinking, or I can end the post.
See how it works?

Miscellaneous Etcetera Incorporated

Wouldn't it be fun to be able to hire somebody to do those little jobs around the house that you either can't do or hate to do? You could probably start a company like that. That would allow conversations like the following to take place:

"Hello?"
"Hello, is this Miscellaneous, Etc. Inc.?"
"It sure is, ma'am. What can I do for you?"
"I'm having trouble opening this jar of pickles. Can you have somebody come help me?"
"Sure thing, ma'm. We'll have someone there in a jiffy."

Wouldn't that be great? You could call somebody to get that box off the top shelf in your pantry without having to use a stool and risk breaking your leg. You could get someone to take out the garbage if you couldn't get your husband to do it. For a small monthly fee, you could get a certain number of visits. There would be a time limit of 5 minutes per visit, though. You wouldn't want to end up having to mow people's lawns.

What little things would you call MEI for?

C-3me0

I read an article yesterday discussing the possibility of granting human rights to robots once artificial intelligence is sufficiently advanced. The article mentioned society getting closer to the kind of thing Asimov wrote about. Personally, I don't think we'll ever create an autonomous robot that is capable of human behavior to a degree that we will consider it sentient. But that's just me.

Have you ever noticed how much society falls short of technological predictions? 20 years ago the world was convinced that by the year 2000 we'd all be cruising around in flying cars. In the late 80s and early 90s we were worried that virtual reality would supersede the real world and we'd all end up living out our lives plugged into VR machines.

There are a couple of books by Raymond Kurzweil detailing what he calls the Singularity, or the point at which technological advances happen at a geometric rate, transforming society as we know it. I read the Age of Spiritual Machines, in which he gives detailed predictions about what the future will hold at given points of time. It's a fascinating book, and I enjoyed the optimism he displays. The problem is that the time has elapsed for some of his earlier predictions, and virtually none of them have come true.

I don't think that such advances are impossible. I just think we're all so busy fighting each other that we severely stunt our growth as a society and a species. In another book, Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clark gives us a glimpse of what could happen if we stopped trying to kill each other and worked together.

This wasn't really where I intended to go with this post. But once I started, my mind just went off in its own direction. I'd like to see a robot do that.

As the World's Germs

Since we're not really sure, biologically speaking, of what constitutes intelligence, how do we know for sure that other organisms don't have their own?

Think about a group of bacteria living on your skin. They eat and reproduce and all that. When we wash them off our hands, that's a lot like the earth having a flood that washes some of us away. When we have an allergic reaction to something that we come in contact with, isn't that a lot like an earthquake or a hurricane?

Just something fun to think about.

Quality

While shopping for a car recently, I spent some time looking at the ratings they were given on the Consumer Reports website. It lists the quality of a number of components and systems of a car. The ratings are poor, fair, good, very good, and excellent. It gives this information for several model years. I would think that every year every component would get better, or at least stay the same. But this isn't the case; the quality seems to fluctuate over time, which doesn't make too much sense to me. It would seem to me that the thing to do would be to work to perfect every part of the car before making any sweeping changes. Clearly, manufacturers don't do this. They are so concerned about getting the new model out that they sacrifice continued improvement for new features. For example, the new model year might have a cupholder that cools your drink, but they didn't take care of the bugs in the electrical system from the year before.

I would like to see one automotive company produce a car that stays the same from year to year except for trying to perfect the formula. Then, once that is taken care of, they could worry about making overall improvements. This would also result in a lower-cost car, since they wouldbn't have to change much in the manufacturing plants every year.

But, alas, logic is often sacrificed when there is money to be made.

On my way to work in the morning I have to cross train tracks. The road gets narrow as it crosses them, so it requires a few seconds of slightly-increased concentration. This morning as I approached the tracks I was momentarily alarmed to see an SUV coming towards me veer sharply over onto my side of the road and then back to its own side. I figured it was swerving to avoid someone on a bike or an animal or something similar. As I crossed the tracks I saw that what it was in fact avoiding was a sprinkler spraying out into the road.

I didn't realize that the Nissan Armada is not water-resistant. If any of you are shopping for a car, take that into consideration.

Universal Wealth Care

This morning in the shower I was thinking about health care. (Incidentally, I find the shower , and the bathroom in general, to be the best places to think. If anyone ever gets writer's block, they really should take a nice long shower.) People want a universal health care system, but that comes at a price. It add a socialist element to our economy, for one thing. The single guy who never goes to the doctor ends up paying some of the cost of his neighbor's children's braces. It's forcing economic equality on us all, and in a sense denying our right to keep our money for ourselves. People think it's "free," but they simply have the money taken away before they can decide how to spend it. In addition, with the government's finger in the pie even more than it is now, competition could potentially be stifled, which could result in fewer medical breakthroughs.

No, the government paying for health care is not the answer. What we really need to do is stop suing every pharmaceutical company and doctor we can lay our hands on. From what I understand, malpractice insurance is ridiculously expensive. Of course doctors are going to pass that cost on to us—they have to eat, don't they? Plus, it's ths patients who are taking the money away from them in the first place. In addition, there are so many lawsuits regarding drugs that it almost seems like nobody will be making them anymore. No wonder prescriptions cost so much—these companies are paying millions of dollars to settle class-action suits because their pill may or may not have caused some other disease. (Heads up people: every pill cures one thing and causes another. The best you can hope for is to choose the symptoms you will live with.)

There are certainly cases of deliberate incompetence in the health industry, and in such cases reparations must be made. But I'm convinced that only a small fraction of the lawsuits out there are a result of legitimate complaints.

Here's the bottom line: let's stop being jerks. Boom. That simple. Stop trying to get something for nothing, because that settlement check is coming out of your own pocket. As some very wise men once said: "Be excellent to each other."

The Best Things in Life Are Free

I like to think that those who know me would consider me reasonably witty. I enjoy trying to spontaneously think of clever comments. It is occasionally useful, however, to have a stockpile of standard comments, particularly insults. So I got to wondering what the best insult in the world would be.

There are two kinds of insults that particularly intrigue me. First, there is the over-the-head insult. This uses vocabulary or word structure in a way that is incomprehensible to the recipient. Here is an excellent example from "Calvin and Hobbes":

"Your simian countenance suggests a heritage unusually rich in species diversity."

Brilliant!

The second type is the insult so blatant that it can be utterly devastating. This can be as simple as saying, "You are an idiot," speaking slowly so it is even more insulting. Or, of course, you could also give a long involved explanation of their stupidity, which can be very therapeutic.

Let's see if any of you can come up with an award-winning, totally original insult. I'll work on one too. The winning comment will be immortalized in a post in a few days.

The Other Side of the Equation

In the interest of balance, today I present a list of little annoyances of life:

The gunk that builds up on the nozzle of a bottle of lotion or hair gel
Getting to an intersection just as the light turns red
Cigarette smoke
Tapwater that tastes like chlorine
Waking up 15 minutes before my alarm goes off
Hangnails
Brown lettuce
Roosters crowing at 4:30 a.m.
Shopping carts that veer to one side
Wind
Rocks in my shoes

What would you like to add?

Relaxation Technique

This morning I was reminded of the joy of using a bar of soap for the first time. It really is one of life's little joys. So I thought I'd compile a short list (in no particular order) of other little joys of life:

Putting on a brand new pair of socks
Fixing something using improvised tools
Tying my tie at the perfect length
Eating a perfect french fry
Making an especially witty comment, even just to myself
Answering the phone to find it's the person I was just about to call
Grilling meat
The feeling of being done exercising
Cool sand sifting through my fingers
The smell of cut grass
Putting on a freshly ironed shirt


Thinking about these things actually seemed to relax me. Try it. Also, you may notice that I haven't put anything on here like spending time with my family. That's because that belongs in the big joys of life category.

So what are yours?

It's usually pretty easy to spot unwanted email, not only because you don't recognize the sender but because (at least for me) certain words in the title set off a little red warning light in your brain. these words include "special offer," "free," "exciting," "opportunity," and "win."

I wonder if these words will eventually change their meaning because of the negative connotation they are acquiring by this use. We're already so cynical as a people that the words "special offer" always seem like a scam. I would never tell a friend, "Hey, I've got a special offer for you!"

On the other hand, spammers are continually changing tactics. Now they run words together and use other symbols that trick the eye into viewing it as the same word but without getting caught by the spam filter. So maybe this will never happen.

All I know is I want to impose the death penalty for anyone who generates the stuff.

Prevarication or Profundity?

Most people with any sort of morals have felt conflicted regarding lying in certain situations. The most obvious is when someone asks about their appearance. So today I present a guide to lying honestly.

Now, this won't work with everyone. You must have some knowledge of the intelligence of the person you are dealing with, particularly in terms of vocabulary. The secret is to use words that they are unlikely to know, in order to achieve the desired result.

Example 1
You have a bad cold and feel you need to call in sick. But it seems unjustified to call in if it's just a cold. You know, however, that you will not only be fairly unproductive, but you will also probably get others sick if you're at work. The solution is to call in and tell them that you have contracted a severe rhinovirus and that it should run its course in a couple of days, but you don't want to expose anobody else to it because it's highly contagious.

Example 2
This example is especially for men faced with the dreaded question: How does this outfit make me look? You must have the answer prepared in advance, as any hesitation will mean certain death. If you are squeamish about saying she looks thin and gourgeous in those paisley capris, when in fact she looks as though a furniture builder had used her rump as the workbench on which to construct a sofa of record-breaking size in an attempt to be immortalized in the Guiness Book of World Records, you might consider telling her that she is the picture of porcine loveliness, or the queen of corpulence. Just make sure she is unfamiliar with those words and is not the type to try to remember them so she can look them up later. Failure to do so may result in a fate worse than death, for which I can not be held responsible.

So remember: not only can an extensive vocabulary make you seem like a snob (fewer people ask you to help them move if they think you are a snob), it can also provide a solution to morally ambiguous situations. Now get rid of those Sweet Valley High books on your nightstand and read the dictionary before going to bed.

Goodbye Money Problems

I just had a great idea. I could legally change my name to Comcast. Then I could steal the checks from people's mailboxes when they mail their bills (some people still do it) and cash them; after all, they would be written to me.*

*This post is in no way an endorsement of illegal activity; it's just an acknowledgement of a theoretical crime someone somewhere could possibly potentially think about maybe committing.

Control Freak

Science goes to great lengths to explain natural phenomena. This often allows us to accomplish something worthwhile, such as curing a disease or warning us of a hurricane. There are some instances, however, in which I must admit I prefer the illusion of magic. Take wind, for example. It may be caused by differences in temperature of masses of air, but that's no fun because there's nothing I can do about it. But if you pretend that there is some giant blowing the air around you can at least yell at him to stop. Not only does this make you feel better about something you have no control over, but it makes you look crazy, which has surprising benefits we'll examine another time.

Another example is traffic lights. How many people have some ritual they perform when coming up to a light to make it turn green or stay green? Well, probably not that many. But I'm sure some people do. It may not help, but it makes them feel like they have a measure of control in the situation.

Those are obvious examples, but how often do we fool ourselves into thinking we have control over a situation when in fact we are completely hellpless? Particularly in our jobs and some of our relationships with others (haven't you ever known someone who disliked you no matter what you did?), there is really nothing we can do to change certain things, but we convince ourselves that we do have some say.

I'm not saying that this illusion is a bad thing. It's comforting. Realizing our helplessness in some areas of life could be psychologically damaging. So I guess you should just forget this whole post.

Ambiguity Is Sort of Like Something

Our society is pretty demanding, in terms of manufacturing. Just look at today's consumer products, particularly personal electronics and automobiles, and you can see how a small miscommunnication in a single measurement would make the product unsable.

The same thing can happen when we speak to each other. The imprecise use of a word or two can permanently damage our relationship with someone. So I am starting a campaign for lexical precision.

First on the chopping block are terms such as grundle, oodle, and scad. When dealing with concrete terms, these should be replaced with a numerical estimate.

Bad: There were scads of people there!
Better: It looked like there were a couple thousand people there!
Best: There were 2, 631 people there!

Okay, maybe the whole idea needs oodles of improvement.

Have you ever noticed how inanimate objects, and even intangible constructs, seem to have a personality? Obviously, it's just the way we react to things, but take the days of the week, for example. most people would say Friday has a little party hat on and a swimming suit under its slacks. Monday trudges in to the office bleary-eyed with a cup of decaf. Tuesday sits there daydreaming of far-away Friday. Wednesday sighs and gets its nose to the grindstone. Thursday also works hard and tries to keep itself from thinking about Friday. Saturday is wearing shorts and a hawaiian shirt, sipping cool tropical drinks from a coconut shell. And Sunday is scatterbrained, but laid back, wearing shorts and a necktie, at a loss as to what it should do with itself.

At least, that's how it seems to me. Cars are another obvious example. What else can you think of that has a personality but shouldn't?