Friday, January 30, 2009

train whistles

Train whistles are a way in which the operator of a train (the "engineer", in train whistle parlance) is able to pronounce his or her superiority over all other beings.

At a typical train vs. road intersection, you'll notice a series of gates which drop should a train consider getting within several miles of said intersection. There are typically a few flashing lights and noises to accompany the gates, which are meant to warn cars that there is, in fact, a train in the general vicinity.

So you'll note we have a physical warning, a visual warning, and an audible warning, all self-contained within the hallowed intersection. Engineers, or conductors, or whoever it is who has a hand on that whistle, do not trust said mechanisms.

At or around sixteen miles from the intersection, the whistle specialist begins to blow the whistle, in a series of random bursts. This continues until about a mile from the intersection, where the whistle specialist then blows the whistle constantly until a safe (16 km) distance has passed, asserting to the sleeping community around him or her that he/she has the right to wake them up whenever he/she passes, and has a right to do that EVERY MORNING AT 3:00 AM.

Train whistles are also useful for studying the Doppler effect. In bed. At three in the morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Weightlifting is the practice of developing muscles which are completely useless in real-life scenarios.

If you actually needed/used those muscles, either you would actually strengthen them through real-life activity, or you would have evolved with them larger than the minuscule things that they are. Or, if you're a creationist, God would have made them larger. Either way, they'd be bigger on their own.

Go to a gym. You'll see dozens of people engaged in completely unnatural acts, trying to build meaningless muscles. Holding a barbel up high, then lifting it up and down behind their head. Stretching their arms out in a flapping motion while holding weights. Laying down, pushing up a bar with some weights attached on the ends.

In what alternate reality are you going to suddenly need to push hundreds of pounds up to arm's length while laying down? "Oh no! Uncle Ned just dropped dead on top of Jimmy! Good thing Jimmy's been bench pressing. He'll have no problem whatsoever raising Uncle Ned's body to arm's length so that we can easily pick him up and carry him from there!"

It's not like you hear people at parties talking about how happy they were that they did those flapping exercises, because the other day I found myself encased in a jar of peanut butter and the only way out was by flapping. Upside down.

I can't even imagine a scenario in which curling would be necessary. Unless it involves lead gloves you need to raise to chest level to protect yourself from ion rays.

On second thought, that is a completely valid real-life scenario, so I retract my complaint with curling.

Not that I want to diss on exercise, what with people so fat these days. I just don't understand the purpose of making sure you have a nice trapezius (is that how you'd even say that?).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

busy work

Of all of the creatures on God's green earth, I think you'll find that I abhor busy work more than any of them. This is mainly due to the fact that I abhor being busy, and I abhor work. Surprisingly, possibly, is that I love abhor. The word, that it.

Actually, I shouldn't brag so much. I'm sure there are others out there who abhor busy work more than myself. That's one thing I learned a long time ago--no matter what it is, you're just not the best at it. There will always be someone better. Or, in this case, more abhorrent.

I used to feel guilty about being the cause of busy work. I used to pity people who were put through it. However, I think I'm losing that empathy.

There is a not-so-small segment of the population that doesn't mind busy work.

(I was very close to insulting knitting at this point in time, but I believe I shall save that for a later day)

Just the other day, I was sitting in class with dozens of overachieving students. The professor had begun to talk and write on the board, and they were nervously scribbling on notepads, somewhat akin to a few dozen hamsters strung out on caffeine. The professor noticed this, and turned around to mention that all of his notes would be provided on the class website. In fact, I think he said it twice.

This revelation did not deter any scribblers. They kept right on, duplicating every drawing, every word. I was floored. Flabbergasted. dumbFounded.

Therefore, I will no longer feel guilty about being the cause of busy work.

shoplifter-detection gates (revisited)

I'm sorry to revisit a sore subject, but there was one thing I neglected to mention in my last post on shoplifter-detection gates:

They are viciously vindictive.

Just yesterday I stopped by a library, and on my way out, minding my own business...


Okay, well, that's fine, I understand that I insulted you the other day Mr. Gate, so I can see why you'd want to beep at me.

A librarian scurried over to interrogate me, and she suggested I remove any computer chargers from my backpack. So I took it out, and walked through.


She asked if I had any large metal objects. I took out my stapler.


She then asked me for any books, which I gave to her.


This was entertaining the other patrons. I should have charged them for the show. The librarian then took my backpack in custody, and I walked through.


At this point, I was ready to go into airport-prep mode, and started to remove my belt, keys, wallet, loose sweaters, shoes, sharp objects, etc. She stopped me, and told me it was probably just my pants, and
(with a raised eyebrow, and one hand on the phone, ready to call me in for shoplifting) did I remove any shoplifter-detection devices from my pants?**

I gathered up my various items, and left dejected, humiliated, and beaten by the gate.

So, if you're still listening, Terman Library Exit Gate, I love you. You are perfect, noble, loving, kind, and beautiful. There is nothing wrong with you. I understand why you would be mad, but please don't dress me down like that in front of everyone again. It's embarrassing.

*No, really, I didn't make any of this up. I even left out the twice that I walked through, just hoping for the random gate beeping to toss me a bone to no avail. I think I ended up going through eight times. On the eighth it still beeped, but she unlocked the second gate (more a horizontal post) and let my sorry self free.

**A former coworker suggested later that day that perhaps the problem was the combination of me and the pants; that for anyone else, nothing would have happened, but I was the secret ingredient to an explosive combination.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

golden globes, oscars, emmys, etc.

Throughout the course of your life, you'll notice a variety of award shows emanating from Hollywood. These all follow a similar format: roll out a red carpet, bring all the currently cool people, allow in a few cool people from ages past so they feel better about themselves, and get someone (or a series of someones) who are close to being cool (yet not cool enough to get an actual award) to say funny things and give out some sort of physical trophy so that the awardee can put it on her or his mantle and point it out to grandchildren when he or she is no longer cool, as a reminder of how cool she or he was.

I've got no problem with this. Many occupations and organizations have awards they present, though more common is a certification program which is similar in inflated titleness--my personal favorite of all certifications is that of six-sigma black belt, a ridiculously named certification for quality engineers. Seriously. Black belt? Engineers dream about having black belts to stop the physical pain inflicted on them as youths, but going as far as to make your own black belt which requires absolutely no physical exertion? Please.

I digress.

It's cool that Hollywood gives out awards, but why do they force the rest of the nation to watch them do it? You don't see the American Dental Association rolling out red carpet and presenting awards on national television to excellent toothbrush designs. No. They do that in the privacy of their own dental chairs, or wherever it is dentists meet.

But no. Hollywood feels it necessary to first broadcast their work around the nation, then, having done their job, need to pat themselves on the back and broadcast it around the nation.

Actually, it doesn't bother me that much. But my roommates and I back in college decided we were going to host the Apartment 38 awards, and broadcast them across the nation as a show of defiance.

We really didn't have the resources to do that at the time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

shoplifter-detection gates

Some time ago, stores noticed that, on occasion, people would pick things up and neglect to pay for them, for whatever reason. Sensing this could hurt their bottom line, managers, in their infinite wisdom, tried a few different approaches to solve the problem.

First, they hired people to profile people by age, race, and accessories and follow them around, pretending to be innocent shoppers, who just happen to be innocently interested in every single item in which you are interested. Young black men, I'm sure, are familiar with this practice, and if you happen to not be young nor black nor a man, you could try wearing a backpack into a store. Gets you followed every time.

As this practice didn't fare so well with the average customer who goes to a store to shop and not to re-enact spy thrillers, managers determined to beat the problem with technology, hence the birth of the shoplifter-detection gates, now omnipresent across our great nation. These gates are meant to deter shoplifting by beeping when an unpurchased good is moved through them. You'll see a primitive form of such gates in Indiana Jones and the Second-to-Last Crusade, as the Holy Grail is protected from removal by the destruction of the entire facility, in a very slow fashion, such that anybody carrying it with just a slow shuffle should have made it outside without any sort of problem, and I still don't understand why Elsa was unable to perform such an obviously easy task when my own grandmother could have made better time across burning hot coals with the aid of her walker.

Ancient examples aside, apparently (and this was supremely unfortunate), the people constructing the gates ran up against a serious problem: they don't actually work. For two reasons.

On one hand, should the gate beep, at most it provokes several sheepish and embarrassed glances by the unfortunate passerby. If several people are walking through at once, they immediately eye each other like sole possessors of the ring of power, convinced their neighbors are common thieves. In any event, no matter how many people are walking through, there is rarely a clear action to take. Typically, it is a large store, there are dozens of employees, and each one, sensing the awkwardness of the situation, has removed himself or herself outside of earshot.

Instead, you're faced with two choices. Either pause, look around, and try to find someone to whom you may proclaim your innocence, or you assume nobody is nearby, and traipse through with an inner confidence, thereby convincing any fellow shoppers you have just enacted a fraud.

Now, this by itself would be bad enough. However, there's one extra element which fate threw in, just to torment mankind (mank and ind, as Jack Handy would say).

The gates themselves don't actually work.

Instead of beeping when contraband is passed through its pearly beacons of honesty, it beeps randomly, without warning. It could beep when you walk in. It could beep when you walk out. It could beep when you walk out wearing a backpack. It could beep when you walk out wearing nothing but an empty backpack. It's either a random algorithm, or a possessed demon.

This has the unfortunate effect of making me paranoid of walking past the demon gates. No matter where I am, or what I'm carrying, or what I'm wearing, I approach the gates as a man condemned, furrowing my brow, and praying that the gate gods will look upon me kindly today.