The Other End of Sunset

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

12 steps along a road to nowhere

Well, here's a slightly more uplifting post than my last one. This one will be short, I should think, but definitely more uplifting than the last.

As usual, I'm at an airport, or on a plane. Probably not both, since usually when on plane-at-airport, I'm not able to have my technology turned on -- you know that whole "please power your brain off" bit at the start of flights? It impacts my ability to write, which means that I'm usually unable to make fun of the initial take-off routine, despite the fact it is full of funny things on which to comment. But let's move on, for now, shall we?

I'm currently sitting in the BA lounge at Heathrow. I had planned to check my email and do some actual work, but since both wireless networks I can reach have essentially no throughput, I can't actually get anything done. Very annoying. So, I'm writing to you...

The answers are... they are looking at you, not me. And, because she said yes.
--The American President.

For those of you playing the home game, SL said yes. I'm happy, although slightly terrified. And I'm looking forward to her being home. This cross-continental thing really (really) stinks.

But she said yes. So that's a good start. I may, indeed, be trapped like a squid in a dryer, but at least we are together in the dryer, which is... well... probably crowded.

Get thee to a nunnery!
--William Shakespeare

By the way, a "nunnery" is not a convent. And, while we are on the subject, "wherefore" does not mean "where". Juliet is not asking *where* Romeo is, she's asking something quite different.

Words matter, and their meanings are sometimes more subtle than you might expect. Now, if only our President (and some of our current crop of Presidential-wanna-bes) understood that.


I've been paying attention to funny wordings lately. Specifically, funny wordings at airports. Airports are not only an infinite source of security humor to me, but also a nearly inexhaustible source of funny expressions. Believe me, with as much time as I spend at airports, I need to laugh once in a while.

So let's go through the humor together, shall we?

At the Oakland airport, you are forced to hear an announcement repeated every few minutes about "our heightened security stance". First of all, why does the announcement have to happen every 5 minutes -- and why does it have to be so amazingly loud? Second, surely there's a statute of limitations on how long we can talk about "heightened" -- at some point, it must become "normal", right? But, anyway, the funniest part of the announcement is the end "Do not take packages from unknown individuals!" Ok, where to begin on the grammar fun... Can I take packages from unknown groups? For example, if a bunch of people who, as a group, are unknown to me, each wearing a shirt that reads "I'm a terrorist" offer me a box that is ticking, shall I carry it on the plane with me? Continuing in this vein, the key words are "unknown individuals". OK, what if I know the individual, and know him to be a terrorist? Can I then take a package from him?

// Side note -- I use the masculine pronoun because English doesn't have a good gender-neutral pronoun. And I can't get comfortable with "him/her" or any of those constructions. I guess I could alternate between masculine and feminine, but that also seems awkward, especially inside one paragraph, because it's then harder to figure out which pronoun refers to ... which noun. So I'm stuck, sorry. //

// Side note, 2, unrelated. It's almost my birthday. That means I missed my sister's birthday. Sorry, Sis. Happy birthday. You knew I was a flake anyway... //

Back to my airport giggles. At the Burbank airport, I noticed a set of signs over the urinals that read "Please do not throw foreign articles into urinals". To be honest, I can't remember if this was Burbank or LAX or any of the other airports I've been in within the last two weeks, but I think it was Burbank, so that's close enough. So, if I can't throw foreign articles in, what about domestic ones? And does a monograph count as an article? What about a sidebar? And, naturally, what if, instead of throwing it, I place the foreign article-not-monograph carefully into the urinal -- would that be acceptable? These are, indeed, the things that make you go "hmm..."

Airports are, of course, not the only places that have interesting wordings. For example, I was walking around the Kensington Gardens this weekend, and I saw a sign on a driveway. The sign was intended to keep people from parking in front of the driveway, and used a normal expression for doing so. However, the sign was labelled as a "polite notice". Well, the request was polite, indeed, but is there a "rude notice"? And, if so, what does it say? And how does one decide whether to use the polite or the rude one? Or does the rude one get put up after the polite one fails, or perhaps on particularly unpleasant days? Such things keep me up at night, wondering about the truth of it.

Bars are good too. You can order well drinks. But what if you have a cold? This is, indeed, a deep subject. Worse, what if you are hung over? Do you order a get-well drink? And do they price it differently?

// Side note, 3, I think -- have you noticed that almost every city has a two-level bar or dance club called "Heaven and Hell"? The decor is as you'd expect from the name. I almost always like them. But then, I'm partial to that theme, as my birthday party last year showed... //

Let us not forget sporting events. How many times have you heard the talking head on a sporting event say (at a basketball game) "there's a 10 second differential between the game clock and the shot clock." No, there isn't. Or, if there is, some piece of time-keeping equipment needs to be replaced, and quickly. There might well be a ten second *difference* between the two clocks, but I suspect each has a roughly similar definition of a second. The word differential implies that things are changing at a different rate, not that they have different values. Thus, the differential between the two should be vanishingly small, even if the two clocks have different values. Calculus is your friend.

// Side note, number n: No, I don't believe Newton got hit on the head with an apple.

But I am writing this on an Apple.

And oftentimes people want to hit me over the head, so, I guess there's some connection.

And, no, I am not sure why I went there. Back to work now... //

I watched a movie called "I am Legend" the other day. Really fun, all in all, although the scary scenes were a little bit dark for me -- not dark in the psychological sense, dark in the cinematographic sense. As in, literally, they were hard for me to see. But there were some highly effective scenes. A question to my dear OtherEnders: I didn't know what happened to the wife and daughter -- that scene wasn't clear to me. If anybody understood, feel free to leave me a comment, which I won't post, because I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the movie.

I've been watching a lot of TV on my iPhone lately. Well, it's not just lately, as many of you know. I watched the first season of Heroes, I watched the first season of Dexter, I watched the first season of Jericho, as well as Battlestar Galatica episodes, and scads of other stuff. I recently have been watching Bones. Bones was recently described as "a cheap copy of CSI".

That may well be correct, but I think of it more as a union of Remington Steele (from the 80's) and CSI. There is the god-like science magic of CSI, with the romantic tension and general social awkwardness of Remington Steele. I understand that juries are apparently now expecting forensic evidence of the sort that appears on CSI. And, true, any sufficiently advanced science appears to us as magic, but some of what is done on the show is... well... magic as far as I can tell.

My personal favorite is when they zoom in on a grainy camera image and then "the computer" makes the image totally clear, with lots of new detail added. I'm not an expert, but generally, information content is not added by reductions. That whole Claude Shannon thing applies.

Come on Barbie,
let's go party!

However, I'm quite happy to see shows where scientists are regarded as smart, helpful, and interesting. It was not that long ago that there was a Barbie who talked, and said "Math is hard!". Now, that's terrific messaging to girls. And messaging matters -- take a look at the percentages (in the US) of women who say they are good at math and science before high school, and the percentage that says so afterwards.

It's scary, and stupid, and bad for the world.

Why am I talking about Barbie? Because I got to play a game using "Barbie" cards this morning. Barbie cards bought for SL by a friend of ours in Dubai.

SL and I play cards. We play a card game that Jeanne taught me. I'm not very good at card games, because I just can't really pay attention to what's going on. I can count cards, if I put my mind to it, but I'm not very good at reading people. As far as I can tell, the strategy part of the poker-esque games isn't too hard, but the tactics involve making educated guesses about other players' behavior. Since that's not my strength, I can't really enjoy the poker-esque games. CarPool Pal is great at the games, and reading people; as a result, I've outsourced much of my thinking to him.

His rates are pretty good, as well; I'd recommend considering such an operation.

I am not particularly competitive in games. I save my competitive side for stuff that "matters". I discovered that Jeanne loved to win at this card game -- she'd giggle and clap her hands like a little girl. Just the memory makes me smile, and tear up.

So, I being a smart, adaptive chap, figured out that I could cheat, fairly easily. Not cheat in my favor; no, I could cheat to make sure she won. There are a few different algorithms for doing so. The simplest is just to do stupid things with your hand, biding time for her to do something smart with hers. This tactic, however, is too ham-handed, too easy to spot; JR noticed it immediately, and so it stopped being fun for her. There are two more complex tactics, but I won't explain them here.

Why not? Because I get to play cards with SL sometimes, and she likes to win too.

I like to make her smile.

So what if I cheat, a little, now and then when SL and I are playing? Surely my karma won't be harmed by a little lie that creates such happiness?

Smiles are precious. In my life, they have mostly been fake -- right before some bit of violence -- or related to the other person's pride in something I did -- "look how good you made me look!". Very few have been genuine expressions of happiness. When you see one, or, better yet, can cause one, pay attention. Store it in your memory. Notice how her eyes move when she smiles and what she does with her hands. Does she grasp at air, or push her hair back, or grab at you? Or all three? Does she laugh, or giggle, or just gasp a little. How does the light reflect off her eyes and skin and hair. Does she tilt her head back in a way that is special to her and to you?

Trust me, store them up. There are never enough such smiles. It's ok to displace some fact like the speed of light in a vacuum, or the formula for the instantaneous velocity of a point-elephant fired out of a point-gun. Make some room in your brain for that which matters. Her smile.

Remarkably enough, SL wins regularly at our card games, and smiles a slightly sly grin when she wins without me cheating. She doesn't complain much when she wins, even if she suspects I am cheating. But since she doesn't know the two more complex algorithms, I still come out ahead in coming out behind. She doesn't always know that I helped her.

And that's good enough for me. I'll always help. That's what I do.

And she said yes.