The Other End of Sunset

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A slow speed chase

Hello again, my friends. Yes, it’s true, another day, another plane flight.

My dogs have long since learned to hate luggage. And they don’t mind making sure I know that fact. I remember a trip, a while ago, where both JR and I were packing. Both of our suitcases were out in the bedroom, while we ran back and forth from closet to closet, gathering clothes like a bird gathering twine and sticks.

Minnie – my mendacious Dalmatian – decided that (at least) one of us was not allowed to leave.

She figured, I believe, that if my suitcase couldn’t leave, then neither could I. So she chewed up my suitcase. Yup, abracadabra, Kenneth Cole bag becomes pile of leather scraps.

And then she sat there, in the middle of the pile, waiting patiently for me.

Sigh. At least she didn’t eat my clothes. And my ability to yell at her was drastically reduced by JR’s hysterical laughter at the sight.

As I walked up, hearing JR’s wonderful laugh, I saw Minnie, sitting proudly on the wreckage of my suitcase. Her paws were precisely in order, as she sat at attention, awaiting her punishment, calmly, sphinx-like.

I didn’t punish her. And, yes, I went on the trip anyway.

Now, when I travel, the dogs don’t disturb my suitcases, they just sit near me, with their ears down and tails between their legs. They are resigned to it.

I feel something akin to single-parent guilt. Times of high travel like the one I’m in now wear me down, and make me miss them.

There is another feeling there as well, on top of the sadness. I worry that someday they won’t notice that I’m leaving; instead, my absence will be the normal element of their lives, not my presence. They will know, absolutely, that their parent is not there for them, that they must count on others for their safety, their food, and their love.

The circle of life has to repeat, I guess.

OK, enough of that, let’s move right along to irony. The guy next to me on the plane is reading a devotional book – something about “living life like Christ”. Me? I’m still reading The God Delusion. Almost like some warped couple. Or a bad Chekhov play, “Infidel and saint, on a 737”. Think our kids would be some average of our books? Godless and Full-of-Grace, hmm, I guess that would make the averaged-out kids agnostics? He appears to be unsure about my book – he keeps looking over at it with a wondering look. I know I’m uncomfortable with his choice of reading – does he think he needs intercessory prayer to keep this plane in the air? Yikes. Anyway, I won’t judge him, unlike Richard Dawkins, who feels free to do so. Dawkins is smarter than I am, he can get away with it. Me? I’m fixated on the beam in my own eye first.

This flight has been full of good blog material. There is a guy in the row behind me, directly behind my seat. He’s on cell yell, to his friend, talking about two topics – over and over again – how he’s had a few drinks in the airport (and how expensive the drinks were), and how “some guy Achmed” has made it harder for people to fly (and how he wanted to bring his cologne through onto the plane).

Apparently, when he got to security, he had to argue with the TSA people; he wanted his toothpaste, and his shampoo, and his cologne on the plane with him. They made him throw them away, I guess (why he didn’t just check them, I can’t say.) However, I’m not sure he really threw them away -- as far as my nose can tell, he just poured ALL the cologne on himself. This makes sense, why waste all that cheap cologne when he can torture his fellow passengers for an hour?

He’s in the window seat of his row. There is a woman on the aisle. She’s wearing a lot of makeup (think Tammy Faye as an exemplar of the class). She’s married, I gather, from her cell phone calls. And does something related to mortgage default investigation, or so.

// Side note: I just made up that phrase. She does some investigation stuff when someone defaults on their mortgage, so I have defined the noun class “mortgage default investigator” although I have no idea if, indeed, such a class exists, or who would pay them. I needed a noun phrase, although I wonder if I shall need the gerund form as well “mortgage default investigating” at some point in this story. Who knows, time will tell. Tick tock, wasting words, back to my story. //

Smelly-guy started chatting her up, while we were still on the ground. He started about as soon as the flight attendants made them both turn off their cell phones. At that moment, I was in bliss, because I didn’t have to listen to them both yell – the bliss was but a tease, as they immediately thereafter started yelling to each other. Anyway. They talked about her work. They talked about face products – she carries three different products, if you are following along at home. And I don’t think that counts the 27 different kinds of makeup that she seemed to have paved her face with. But what would I know. I look like Lurch.

They were having a lovely time. I was trying to ignore them. My iPod helped. But couldn’t quite block them out, the annoyance was still there, kind of like the feeling of an ant bite, even after you put some cortisone cream on it.

But the guy got what he wanted. At the end of the flight, as we were getting off the plane, suddenly his voice dropped. This interested me – what was worth talking QUIETLY about, after the dude screamed the whole flight?

Well, what would you guess? Yeah, me too. I assumed he was asking her out.

We assumed correctly.

She said yes. They did some information swapping, and planning, there in the aisle, hidden from husband by the thin skin of a plane, and a thinner skin of lies. BTW, the guy was not wearing a wedding band, but I don’t know if that means he was single or not.

So, what’s the object lesson from this parable? Dunno, but I think it has to involve lots of cologne and off-the-charts extroversion yields success with women? Perhaps.

Me, I’d like to make a different point. To paraphrase Willie Nelson, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to date tools…” Really. Teach your children well – be at least somewhat discerning in dating cheese balls. Please.

When we live such fragile lives
It's the best way we survive
I go around a time or two
Just to waste my time with you
I'll keep you my dirty little secret
(Dirty little secret)
Don't tell anyone, one night you'll be just another regret
(Just another regret, hope that you can keep it)
My dirty little secret
Who has to know
--All-American Rejects

On the general topic, why is it that people engage in cell yell? Many, many years ago, I did some user studies of early cell phones, and the human-device interactions that we saw. In that context, the phones didn’t have “side tone”, which led to strange phone behavior. Side tone is common in wired phones. When you speak into the microphone part of a wired handset, some of the sound is carried back into the earpiece of the phone (or was at the time, haven’t looked at phones in a long, long time). I have no idea WHY this was done, but it seemed to have the effect of lowering people’s voices on the phone (we did a little experiment where we added and removed it to a strange pseudo-phone, and it affected people’s volume). At the time, with no side tone, people engaged in cell yell a lot. But they also engaged in cell yell because analog cell phones, especially at the time, had a constant level of static that crowded out some of the voice signal.

In today’s phones, I have no idea if there is side tone or not, and I can’t figure out a way to test it in my own phone (remember, you carry some of your own voice back to yourself through the bones of your head, and it’s VERY hard to tell the difference with a small signal from a phone, and your brain is smarter than you, it will fill in details that may, or may not, be there.). So I don’t know if that factor matters anymore or not.

The level of static seems lower in today’s phones. I notice myself speaking more quietly on a headset than on regular phone. Headsets tend to have higher perceived gain than handsets – it’s in your ear, it sounds louder, there’s no hair in the way, etc. So maybe it is the absolute gain on the received signal that yields cell volume?

I don’t know, but really can’t SOMEONE make a phone that extinguishes cell yell? There are fewer and fewer places that cells are unwelcome, we need to fix the behavior, not count on people’s politeness. This does, indeed, seem like a partial violation of Merrill’s Law (there are no lasting technical solutions to social problems), in that I am arguing for a technical change to address a social problem (cell yell). But I think it’s a corollary – if you make it easy to do the right thing (speak more quietly) and harder to do the wrong thing (scream), most people will generally do the right thing.

A shout out to my colleagues in the cell phone industry: Please attack cell yell.

And do it loudly, otherwise, they might not hear.