Hopelessly Homeless

For the past several weeks I’ve been trying to figure out how to get a house. I’ve been looking at different kinds of mortgages, and I’ve been looking all over for houses. There are a lot of nice places to live, but we can’t afford any place that’s very nice. In the past, the strategy has been to save up for a down payment and then get your mortgage. I’ve been thinking we would try that, and wait a few years until I’m more established in my career and making more money. In ten years I will probably be making close to twice what I am now. The problem is that almost every zip code in the valley is experiencing double-digit growth in housing prices. That means that when I can afford a house at today’s prices, it will be tomorrow. It’s all one frustrating round.

Of course, prices may level off soon. They also might skyrocket. I might experience some financial windfall within the next few years, but probably not. Interest rates may go up or down.

Does anybody know any rich old people who need someone to leave all their money to?

I'm Going through a Tunnel! I'll Call You Back!

On the way to work this morning I was annoyed at the bozo in front of me who was talking on his cell phone and driving 22 MPH, when I had to stop and wonder who he was talking to and what he was saying. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to carry on deep and meaningful conversations before 9 or 10 a.m. I remember frequently seeing college kids talking on cell phones well before sunrise as they walked to class. I prefer to have a quiet, contemplative morning.

This prompted me to wonder if cell phones are changing what we share with each other. If something interesting happens to me, I can immediately call somebody and tell them all about it. If I had to wait hours or even days to see the person, I might have filtered my thoughts or forgotten the incident completely. So I wonder if we offend each other more now as a society, given instantaneous conversation. On the other hand, we can also apologize immediately, if the other person will answer the phone.

One thing that amuses me about cell phones is that they were supposed to make it so anybody could contact you at any time. That pretty much means that if you call someone and they don’t answer, they didn’t want to. For some reason, I find that really funny.

People Who Need People...

For a long time now, I’ve felt that I prioritize my life differently than most people do. From the time that I was in high school, if not sooner, I realized that I was more interested in the connections between people than the events of life.

This perspective has led to good and bad consequences (as does everything else in life). I never put as much effort into school as I could have, for example. I could always get about a B+ average with relatively little effort. I simply didn’t view school as my focus in life. I never understood people who studied for 8 hours a day. I was far more interested in spending time with my friends and dating. Now that I have a family, I haven’t had to change my thinking to make sure I spend time with them. Rather, I have to spend time going to work, which is the departure from my default state, which is being with them. I’m sure that many people feel that work is their “life” and that their family is ancillary to that. My personal opinion is that in the long run, it’s the people who matter. It’s the people who will remember us.

This brings me to what I originally intended to discuss. We all have friends who, at the time, we were convinced would remain friends forever. But as the years pass, we slowly drift apart until all contact ceases. We tend to think of this as a tragic part of life, and there are times I am convinced that this is the case.

There are other times, however, when the reason we cease contact is that we are simply done with each other. Friendship is symbiotic; each party gains something. Our friends are determined in part by where we are in our lives. We help each other get through tough times, and then we may not need each other anymore. This is a natural part of life. Think about how hard it would be to keep in contact with every friend you’ve ever had. You wouldn’t have time for anything else. We need to focus our energies on the relationships that are important to us now.

(For my friends who are reading this, I’m not trying to cut off contact or anything. It’s just something I was thinking about. Go ahead and send me that email. Make that call. I still care!)

"Shop!" Goes the Weasel

As a linguist, I feel a certain responsibility to communicate as clearly and precisely as possible. So naturally I am amused by the weasel-ese so prevalent in certain areas of society, particularly advertising and television. So, today I present an excerpt from my Weaselese-English dictionary.

Inspired by a true story: Somebody once wore a similar hat.

New and improved: Mediocre (And if it’s new, what did they have originally to improve upon?)

Better-tasting!: If you liked it before, you’re going to hate it now.

Low-fat: Extremely high in sugar

Our best deals of the year: The rest of the year we have tremendous markup.

No payments until…: We plan to make you forget that you bought it and then bankrupt you with finance charges.

Call in the next ten minutes: Call whenever you want.

You won’t find this in any store: Nobody is willing to carry such a stupid product.

What examples of Weaselese have you come across?

And the Wiener is...

So I was wondering if Al Gore was planning on running for president at the last minute, and then I heard that he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not sure why, but I think I’d rather win the Nobel Prize than be president. For one thing, winning the Nobel Prize means you’ve really accomplished something, whereas becoming president might just mean you’re accomplished at lying to strangers. While that is an important skill, I’m not sure it should be publicly venerated. Also, people rarely look back on a Nobel Prize winner and think, “Why did that jerk win?” But revisionist history is often less kind to presidents.

Plus the cash prize is nice… (Yes, I am aware that being president could potentially get you a lot more money, but the stress of the job isn’t worth it.)

When Life Hands You a Lemon-Shaped Rock

I have rediscovered an interesting phenomenon. Well, it’s interesting to me, anyway. It’s the idea that if you have two cars and one breaks down, it’s always the one with the full tank of gas when the other one is running on fumes. Having experienced this exact thing twice in the past month, I hereby claim authority to name this principle. I think I will call it… the “Stupid Crap Breaks at the Worst Possible Time” principle. I know, it’s a breathtakingly eloquent name, and you’re all thinking you could never have come up with it yourself.

I suppose this could fit under Murphy’s Law, but that’s just “anything that can go wrong, will.” This is a little more specific. Perhaps we could call it Paragraph 2 of Murphy’s Law.

I think my favorite illustration of this is that the night I always get the least amount of sleep is Sunday night, which sets me up for exhaustion the whole rest of the week.

What’s your favorite example of this?

Commence Bioduplication!

While blowing my nose repeatedly this morning due to this nasty cold, I thought about how nice it would be to have a redundant set of breathing passages that I could use when the usual airway is all stuffed up. Of course, there are plenty of other body parts that would be handy to have a spare set of. Extra arms or legs, for example, could really help you in a lot of situations. A spare heart could save your life. I think if I could have any extra body part, I would choose to have one extra arm.

What would you choose?

You Make Me Sick!

Last night I was watching PBS and saw a story about a molecular biologist who discovered how bacteria communicate with each other. Through transmission and reception of certain chemicals, they are able to detect how many of them there are. When a critical number is reached, they then do whatever it is they do, whether they light up by bioluminsecence or make us sick.
This knowledge might help us manage bacteria when antibiotics inevitably become totally ineffective. We may be able to inhibit their communication and prevent disease that way.
Not to be outdone, however, the cold virus in my body decided last night was the time to remind me that viruses are around too...

Bull about Dozing

So I was wistfully thinking about sleep, as I am wont to do, and it’s startling that we supposedly spend 1/3 of our lives asleep. That’s a lot of time! I personally think that if you get the proper amount of sleep you’ll be healthier and live longer, but maybe that’s just because your waking hours are drawn out longer. What if we have a preset number of waking hours to live, and we can either burn ourselves out faster be sleeping less, or make it last longer by sleeping more?

Here’s something else I was thinking about. Suppose you could rest part of your brain at a time (I read somewhere that dolphins can do this), and thus be mostly awake all the time? If we spend 2/3 of our life awake, would it be possible to be 2/3 awake all the time, but never need to sleep?

Perhaps I should be asking questions instead about the quality of my posting relative to the amount of sleep I get.

Suppose you are contacted by advanced being from another planet. They want to learn all they can about our species, and specifically our culture.

What’s the quickest way to give them the most information on our culture and our society?

You could give them a set of encyclopedias, but that just gives information without any commentary, and it’s about the mechanics of the world in general, as opposed to the nuances of our culture.

You could point them to the Internet, but it’s not really something they could take with them, and there’s too much useless information to filter out.

I would hook them up with DVDs of The Simpsons. It is loaded with cultural information and would, provided they understood the nuances of humor, give them a pretty balanced view of us as a people.

What would you do?

The Tipping Iceberg

I got my hair cut last night (I’ll discuss my personal barbophobia, a word I just made up, another time), and at the end there’s always the awkward moment during which there is the question of a tip. I chickened out and tipped $3 on top of the $15 cost of the haircut (which, given the amount of time the cut took, makes $70 an hour, while I, as a college graduate, make the tiniest fraction of that), even though I had to wait 35 minutes to get in the chair despite the fact that I had an appointment. But the point is, the concept of tipping is too complex for me to handle. I can’t even balance my checkbook, let alone decide what situations merit a tip and how much.

First, there are differing tip obligations. I think that at a restaurant you should tip your server 15% as a base, and add or take away depending on the service. But I also think that when getting a haircut you shouldn’t tip unless the service was exceptional. But you also need to keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to anger someone who wields sharp metal instruments in the vicinity of your head (which makes me wonder why we don’t feel obligated to tip dentists). Then there are tips for valet parking, bellboys… the list goes on and on.

I don’t mind leaving tips in theory, but it makes more sense to me to include that in the cost of the service initially. That way, they get stiffed less (it’s true that they wouldn’t get the occasional huge tip that way, but I’m convinced they’d still be ahead) and I wouldn’t have to agonize over whether a tip is required and how much it should be.

On another note, how many people do you think would be afraid of having their hair cut by a clown?

The Joy of Lying

Have you ever noticed that there are some things we say that are pretty much always lies? The best example I can think of is when we use the word “busy,” as in the following context:

“Did you read the email I sent you?”

“I haven’t had time. I’ve been so busy.”

“Um, it was only one sentence.”

“I’ll try to get to it this weekend.”

“But it’s one sentence.”

How could anyone possibly be so busy that they don’t have time to do these little things that only take a few seconds? What it really boils down to is that we don’t want to do something. How many times have you been invited somewhere, and you don’t want to go, but to avoid risking offense you made up an excuse? I know I have.

I’m not saying honesty is necessarily preferable in this situation, but it is funny to me that we are willing to ignore blatant lies.

The Tide© Has Turned

Yesterday my wife did a load of laundry containing a pair of my shorts that had a pen in the pocket. In the dryer the pen exploded, leading to quite the unintentional tie-dye job. It's really no big deal, and I certainly didn't blame her, but I got to wondering if a case like that went to trial, who would be convicted? I left the pen in the pocket of the shorts, but she didn't check the pockets before putting them in, and I didn't know she was going to be washing them so they weren't in the hamper. But still it was my pen and my shorts.

So if laundry-related crimes were punishable by death, which one of us would get the chair?

Better Oil Your Hamster Wheel

I’ve always known that I thought a little bit differently than other people did. One day in fifth grade, my teacher asked us all what animal ability we would want. One boy said he’d like to fly like a bird; a girl said she’d like to run fast like a cheetah. When it was my turn, I said, “I’d like to transmit parasitic disease like a mosquito.”

Okay, that didn’t really happen. But those who know me would probably think it sounds like something I’d say.

One creative outlet I have always enjoyed is Mad Libs. I tend to choose words that are very different from those other people come up with. I actually did one this morning. Just for fun, fill in these blanks before reading what I chose:

Plural Noun:

Noun:

Noun:

Noun:

Adjective:

Verb:

Adjective:

Person in Room:

Noun:

Part of Body:

Adjective:

Noun:

Adjective:

Adjective:

Adjective:

Adjective:

Noun:

Verb Ending in “ing”:

Adjective:

Plural Noun:

Now, here were my answers:

Plural Noun: tumors

Noun: slop bucket

Noun: shelf paper

Noun: piano bench

Adjective: unbearable

Verb: probe

Adjective: corpulent

Person in Room: me

Noun: dog food label

Part of Body: third cervical vertebra

Adjective: aromatic

Noun: bingo card

Adjective: oily

Adjective: weasel-brained

Adjective: unfinished

Adjective: goal-tending

Noun: giblet

Verb Ending in “ing”: melting

Adjective: shiny

Plural Noun: sock garters

Now, here’s the text (From “Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Libs”). And yes, I am too lazy to label the blanks.

The Oscars
Thank you ladies and _____. I’m so nervous. My _____ is beating a mile a/an_____. I never expected to win this _____ Oscar. I have so many people to _____. First and foremost, my _____ co-star—_____—who was always in my dressing _____, held my _____ when I was in trouble, and never failed to compliment me or give me a/an _____ pat on my _____ when I did well. I also want to thank my _____ director, my _____ producer, and of course, the _____ writer of the screenplay. Most of all, I want to thank you, my _____ fans, and all the members of the Motion Picture _____ who were responsible for my _____ this _____ award. Bless your _____.


As I’m sure you can see, my strange responses don’t really end up being any funnier than anyone else’s. I’d like to know what words you chose, or what funny sentences you ended up with.

The Devil Made Me Chew It

My friend Todd sent me a link to an article about our behavior being influenced by evolutionary factors, such as why men are attracted to women who have certain characteristics. I also saw a t.v. program the other day which reported research that determined certain genes which cause obesity. According to this research, people have a weight range determined by certain genes, and it would be nearly impossible to maintain a weight outside of that range.

I don’t dispute the facts presented by this kind of research. It certainly seems likely that many aspects of behavior and appearance are predetermined. Or, rather, there is a predisposition to look and act a certain way. What is important is the gap between potentiality and reality.

The thing that separates us from the animals is not our ability to use tools or speak French. It’s our ability to reason. (By the way, there is also research purporting to prove that free will does not exist, but we rationalize our actions after the fact. The information I have seen about this theory lacks credibility.)

When we can determine more accurately what makes us tick, it can help a lot of people with certain problems. It will, however, cause additional trouble. I foresee a time when people seek to absolve themselves from all responsibility for their actions. We have already seen the beginning of this (i.e. temporary insanity), and it will only get worse. Well, if we’re not responsible for our actions, why does our behavior get so much worse after learning of that “fact”?

What do you think?

Zap!

Suppose you woke up late tomorrow because your alarm clock didn’t go off. Then you notice that the power is out. Eventually you come to realize that nothing that uses electricity will work. Something fundamental changed and electricity simply doesn’t work anymore (we’ll ignore lightning for the moment, and bioelectricity, as well as the fact that this would only happen if the fundamental nature of the universe changed).

Obviously society can thrive without electricity, as it did for thousands of years. But being reduced overnight to such a so-called “primitive” state would result in some serious trouble for the world. The entire economy would collapse. Your bank account would no longer exist. I know I don’t carry cash these days, and I doubt the banks have any paper records anymore. We’d be back on the gold standard instantly.

So you’d have no money and no car because the electrical system, including the starter and sparkplugs, doesn’t work. We would be reduced to steam power. The internet would be gone instantly. We would have to go back to hand-operated printing presses. There would be no movies or computer games or even radio. We’d have to read for entertainment!

Assuming we didn’t all starve or kill each other off, I think we’d eventually overcome most of the problems, though. People are resilient. I’m sure we’d still be able to annoy each other sufficiently without blogs.

Snakes Flying a Plane

For some reason, while eating breakfast this morning I got to wondering what breakfast would be like if the dominant life form on earth ended up being a reptile, fish, or bird. Instead of Froot Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, cereals might have names like Wormy O’s and Dead Baby Mouse Delight, or even Slimy Bunches of Maggots. Doesn’t that sound appealing?

Suppose for a moment that snakes were sentient. How would motorized transportation be developed? Would they look around at other species and decide that they needed limbs? Or would they just develop technology that could be manipulated by the mouth? These are important questions. Why aren’t philosophers dealing with that kind of question instead of things like “What is existence”? Then maybe they could sort of actually contribute to society…

Twice the Fun

I decided to start a personal blog for those who are interested in what goes on in my life in addition to (or instead of) what goes on in my brain.
The Hopping Hiller Blog

Focus, Group!

Several months ago I sent an email to a company that makes shaving products. I told them I would like to see a depilatory product for beards. Such products exist but are not widely available or, from my understanding, very comfortable to use. I would love to be able to rub a little of this cream on my face, wipe it off, and not have to worry about facial hair for a couple of weeks. I really think there is a good market niche for it, although it runs the risk of becoming so popular that it could hurt razor sales (which probably explains their response).

Well, I received a letter from them in the mail(!) a few days ago explaining that they were sorry but they never took suggestions from anyone outside their own research and development department. Um, wouldn’t it be a good idea to, you know, maybe listen to your customers? I’m not really business savvy, but it seems to me that if you produce things people want, you might sell them and make money.

But far be it from me to tell them how to conduct their business.

The Porcelain Marvel

I was out of town for a few days (hence the lack of posting), which always gives me a fresh perspective on things when I come home. This morning in the shower (still the best place to think) I started reflecting on the marvel that is the modern bathroom.

When you think about it, there are so many little things that really improve the quality of our lives, but we don’t often stop to appreciate them. The shower itself (in conjunction with the water heater, of course) is one thing I greatly appreciate. I love being able to have hot water spray down just by turning a knob. I’m not a big fan of taking baths, since you end up sitting in the dirt you just took the trouble to wash off.

The toilet is another wonderful invention. I am amazed at how well it works without electricity, assuring that even in a power outage you can still fulfill bodily needs. Think about how good modern bathrooms smell (due in part to bathroom fans—a greatly underrated component of the bathroom) compared to outhouses. If you’ve never used an outhouse, consider yourself lucky.

Then there is the mirror, allowing us to improve (and fret over) our appearance. Many a date-night-pimple-related embarrassment has been avoided because of mirrors.

Then there is the sink. Much like the shower, this allows us to wash our hands (or whatever else we can stick under there), get cold drinking water, and wash bugs down the drain. We owe much of our health to the sink, I bet.

I could go on to mention towel racks, bath mats, and toilet plungers, but I’m sure you get the idea. So take a moment to stop end silently acknowledge your gratitude for the bathroom.

Note: I started to get spam comments on the blog, so I'll have to approve comments before they are posted. I'll still post all comments, unless they're spam, so rant all you want.