Friday, June 29, 2007

Sam versus the nice, well-intentioned people



"Hello Sir, I'm calling from the American Red Cross. First of all, thank you for your donations with us in the past. I'm calling you today to let you know that the Athens area blood supply is currently in a state of Ultra-Turbo Crisis. And at the current rate, . . . "

"No it isn't"

" . . . um, I'm sorry?"

"Nothing, go on"

"Oh, well, at the current rate, the Athens area will be out of blood in abouuuuut . . . tweeenty minutes."

"No it won't"


"The blood supply won't run out in twenty minutes, or in two days or a week. You guys say that every time you call me, and do I see any "Nation Out of Blood" stories on the news? No, never happens"

"But at the rate that hospitals are using blood, our current supply . . . "

"Your current supply' doesn't take into account the blood drives you run every day of the week. The daily intake has to fluctuate, so there's no way you could be accounting for that. I don't think you even try to factor it in. You stick your head in the ol' blood freezer, ballpark it, and divide by the "current rate" of use, which itself is a load of crap since the usage rate has to fluctuate also, and based on that you call me up and make it sound like we're running on fumes. Your logic is specious, and I will not stand for it."


"Are you an English major?"


*indiscernible mutter*

"Well . . .regardless of the time it will take to run out, I assure you that the supply IS in a state of crisis"


"YES, Ultra-Turbo-"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. I'm telling you, I get these calls every year. It's always 'a critically low condition' or 'mega-terminal shortage' or 'like, seriously dood, we're so low on blood that this morning we had to pump a guy full of ranch dressing! You need to get in here quick cause Doc's eyeing the thousand island!'. Sorry, I'm not buying it."

"But, Sir, that just goes to show how bad the crisis is."

"No, because see, if you're always in a crisis, then that's not really a crisis is it? 'Crisis' implies that there's a normal state of being, and that the current state is a negative deviation from it. You can't be in a 'crisis' constantly because at some point the 'crisis' BECOMES the 'normal'. So how come don't I get any calls like that, huh? Where's my "things are just fine, donate if you've got a minute" call?"

"Well . . .so you're not going to help us save lives just because you think . . ."

"No, that's not it at all. I believe in the blood donation system. I donate a least a couple of times a year at your drives, and I think it's an important part of our society that every capable person should take part in. Anyone tries to preach to me about voting as a 'civic duty' had better be coming straight from the juice table."

"Then, what's the problem?"

"The problem is" *deeper voice* "the problem is that you are lying to me, sir. You have been trying to frighten me into believing something that isn't true and like any other person I eventually stopped taking you seriously. You want people to donate? Then stop making things up. Just call and say "Hey, everything is ok, but it's ok only because people like you are making it ok. So get off your couch, turn off the 'Friends' rerun*, and come down here. We got Nutter Butters tomorrow, it's all good'. That's all I want, Mr. Red Cross-caller-guy, I want just-one-honest-call."


"So, would you like to make an appointment?"

"No, your appointments are worthless. I make one, then when I go up there they've never heard of me. You just pretend to make appointments so people will feel obliga . . ."


"Until next time then, Red Cross . . . until next time."

*Unless you are Superman, in which case our needles can't penetrate your skin. Plus you've probably got weird alien blood anyway.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Athens as Best I Remember It

The town of Athens is divided in to five basic geographic regions, according to the "Houses for Rent" ads in any local newspaper. These regions are: the Five Points area, the Five Points/Campus area, the Five Points/East Side area, the Five Points/Downtown area, and of course the Five Points/Highway 316 area. That may sound complicated, but navigating your way around town is quite easy, once you understand the layout of a few basic roads. First, there's Atlanta Highway, which becomes Broad street, which then turns into Oconee street for about nine feet before turning into Oak st, which then turns BACK into Oconee street before becoming Lexington, which then becomes Legion, for it is many.

Next, there's Milledge Avenue, a long road that arcs through several diverse areas of Athens. If you get lost on Milledge, there are some simple ways to figure out where you are. If you smell poop, you're on the East Side. If you smell sewage, you're closer to south campus. If there's a pickup truck in front of you that's full of guys who still think it's cool to wear a baseball cap backwards, you're on the road's "Greek" section. If you see a Baskin Robins/Dunkin' Donuts, you're at the end of Milledge, and you should pick me up a Mint Chocolate Chip shake. Note that the entire time you're on Milledge, you're still, somehow, in Five Points.

Then there's Lumpkin street. You'll find that Lumpkin is easy to recognize because it is completely undrivable. This street was once in terrible shape, but the city has fortunately decided to fix the traffic problems it created by keeping it constantly under construction, thus routing all traffic around it. This brings me to an important point about the roads I've mentioned, you should never drive on any of them. "Legion" road's identity crisis is complicated by a large amount of mall traffic, most of which stems from cars trying to turn left out of the Best Buy parking lot. Milledge is either clogged with sorority girls who can't bother to go an extra twenty feet to a crosswalk, cyclists who ride in twenty-bike groups because that makes it harder for anyone to pass them, or cars trying to turn around because they accidentally passed the Botanical Gardens entrance. In fact, the key to getting around Athens is knowing which roads will let you avoid all these major roads and any intersection between them.

The heart of Athens is, of course, the University. The leadership structure of this institution is modeled after the United States itself, using a system of checks and balances between three governing bodies: Parking Services, the Athletics Department, and the Coca-cola company. Parking Services has veto power over the Athletic Department, because at any time they could ticket the starting quarterback's car for no reason, deny his appeal to that ticket for no reason, and have his grades withheld until he paid it. The Athletic Department, in turn, has authority over Coca-cola because their football games are largely an excuse to sell Coca-cola products. To complete the circle, Coca-cola has power over Parking Services because their "attendants" would never be able to drive around in the southern heat, ticketing people for no reason, without something to drink. Coca-cola, then, maintains power by having exclusive rights to sell their beverages on campus.

The last thing you need to know about Athens are the town's highlights. The Botanical Gardens facility, full of native flora, is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon, which is unfortunate since it will be night by the time you stop passing the entrance and getting stuck behind groups of Milledge cyclists. The famous "Tree that Owns Itself" actually doesn't, so don't bother. You can pick up some local culture by visiting the Five Points/Downtown area and seeing one of Athens' 17,000 bands play. It doesn't matter which one you see, since they all play "sort of like alternative-reggae with kind of a blues vibe plus some folk and ska mixed in."

If you require any help getting to Athens, simply save up enough MyCokeRewards points to pay for tuition to the University.* Then you'll be on your way.

*MyCokeRewards points cannot be used to pay for parking tickets.

Friday, June 15, 2007

With a Nod to Hari Seldon

Do a little thought experiment with me. Imagine that far into the future, say a few hundred years, mankind finally develops time travel. The technology to do it isn't advanced enough to send a whole person back, but sufficiently powerful to transmit messages, information, that sort of thing. There would be, of course, a great deal of hesitation about using it. If "Back to the Future" taught us anything, it's that time travel is dangerous. Even if you opened a portal to Ford's Theater and shouted "Excuse me Mr. Lincoln, is that your penny on the floor?" so that Abe bent down at just the right moment, as good as your intentions might be, you could still cause some horrible chain reaction that would prevent the creation of anti-gravity skateboards.

But what if there was a crisis? What if time travel was going to be the last great achievement of the human race before complete destruction? Then those future-people would HAVE to use it in hopes of saving the world. The cost of NOT using it would simply be too great.

This situation would pose a difficult question: how does one use the past to save the present?

For the sake of this thought experiment, let's say that the crisis is something unavoidable, so you couldn't just send back a note that says "Hey, Steve, that thing you were gonna do in the lab today? Yeah, not such a good idea after all. Here are some stock tips, take them in payment for NOT creating Super-Jaundice."

And yet, this crisis would be solvable if only there were more time to work on it. Then, the real debate would be: How do we give ourselves more time?

"Wait a minute!" someone would say, "What would the world be like if we'd discovered the smallpox vaccine ten years earlier? Or if we'd had the atomic bomb at the start of World War II? Couldn't we take plans for our greatest inventions of today and send them a few hundred years into the past? That would let the great thinkers of those times move on to other problems. By the time history wound it's way to this place again, we'd have already solved this crisis!"

And the debate would begin again. What to send? Who to send it to? And after much discussion, another voice would speak up.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is getting us nowhere. The last few hundred years have brought us many great inventions, particle beams that can shoot down nuclear attacks, the green foam we used to repair the moon hole, the hybrid horse-aroos most of you rode to this meeting, but the fact remains that no single invention would have enough of an impact. Even if we had time to send all the data needed to create those things, it still wouldn't benefit EVERY great mind of the time. We need a simpler design."

"Learning, my friends, is about information. And not just the information itself, but the way we organize and access information. The people who design communication satellites, build computer databases, and train monkey messenger-bots have as much to do with scientific discovery as anyone in this room. Information. That is where our focus should be. The way to help ourselves is to help the past help itself. The best thing we can teach our ancestors is how to organize the world's information, make it accessible and useful to everyone. Only by doing that will the past arrive here with the answer."

And so the great project would be founded, the great plans laid out. The message would instruct it's recipients to form a company, use their futuristic technical knowledge to amass a fortune, use that fortune to implement their knowledge. It would tell them to begin by simply organizing data, but then spread into managing and archiving the communication between people, then create powerful tools and make them free to anyone who wants them.*

And in the last paragraph of this message, this call of desperate hope, the authors would write "We have given you all you need. Undoubtedly you will achieve great wealth and success, and don't feel bad for enjoying any of it. Just keep in mind that your first job is to further humanity and help us overcome our great challenge. We hope that you will do well, as we hope that we are right in contacting you. Please use what we have given you wisely, and don't be evil. Your friends, the future-people."

So see, I'm not crazy. Google COULD have come from the future.

*This post was written in Google Documents.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Yes, I know, like Seinfeld

Ants love Corn Pops.

I have seen a line of ants walk across a yard, up a tree, down one of the tree's branches, into a house, and then around other open boxes of cereal just to reach Corn Pops. It's like crack for ants.

I love Corn Pops too, which is why this time two years ago I spent an afternoon putting new caulk around all my kitchen windows. Stupid ants.

So recently, I was telling a friend about those ants and what they enjoyed as "part of a complete breakfast", and he joked about how I must have learned that ants love Corn Pops "the same night you learned why you shouldn't sleep in a bathtub full of cereal."

And that made me think.

If you had to sleep in a bathtub of dry cereal.

I mean if you HAD to.

What kind of cereal would you chose?

My first answer was Rice Krispies, it seems like they'd be soft, like sitting in a bean bag chair. But then I realized that they'd never hold up, even a little pressure is enough to crush Rice Krispies to powder, which is why you can't eat the last little bit in the box or you'll just wind up making brown paste in a bowl. I can't sleep in that. They'd have to vacuum the dust out of my lungs the next morning.

Honey Comb seems like it would be good and stable, and since it's basically made of Styrofoam anyway, you'd think it would cushion well. (that capital "S" is intentional, apparently Styrofoam is a registered trademark) But Honey Comb doesn't work either:
Too sticky.

It was a conundrum.

It made almost no sense.

I had to talk about it with everyone I knew.

I wrote the problem up in a Facbook post, and asked my friends for responses. The responses came, and they were amazing.

First of all, a significant portion of the respondents assumed I was talking about giant pieces of cereal. I have no idea why.

Second, the reasonings my friends came up with were fascinating, many of them aspects of the problem I hadn't even considered. No cereal would be comfortable if it's surface is too scratchy, period. It doesn't matter how many Frosted Mini-Wheats you put in there, it would still feel like sandpaper.

And what about smell? You're going to be smelling that cereal all night. You'll be smelling like that cereal the next day, too. You can't wash it off because you can't take a shower, your bathtub is full of cereal! Wouldn't you want it to be a good smell? That's a big selling point for Froot Loops camp. (Did you know it was spelled "Froot"? All these years I never noticed. What if it's secretly a subliminal thing where your subconscious gets stuck on the misspelling so some part of your brain is always thinking about Froot Loops. Wouldn't that be weird?)

There were a lot of good responses, but this is a case where the simplest answer is the best. Cheerios. Not sugary or sticky, strong enough to hold up under pressure, and each one with a fairly smooth surface. Like thousands of tiny beads.

Discussing a topic like this, one that's completely ridiculous, is an oddly intimate experience. With strangers, you talk about the mundane, the simple, the literal. You can only talk about meaningless things with good friends. So I never miss an opportunity to talk about nothing. It's a reminder that these are the people I let my guard down with, these are the people I trust.*

*Some of them made reference to the idea of eating the cereal they were sleeping in. That's gross. I'm not sure if I trust those people anymore.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Those Quotes Are Real, Too.

An Open Letter to that Crazy Lady Who Keeps Trying to Ban Harry Potter-

First, let me say this, I'm not going to argue with your reasoning. It's not that your logic is too iron-clad, or that your points are too eloquent, or that I'm simply not smart enough. It's that your perspective is so askew, I would lend you undue credibility if I bothered to challenge your ideas. Does that make sense?

Let me put it this way: what if someone walked up to you and angrily tried to convince you that Wednesday tastes like purple? How would you respond? Would you convince that person with "logic"?

"Well no, see purple isn't a flavor, it's a color. A thing can't 'taste purple' because those are linguistic artifacts of different sensory phenomena. And even if they weren't, Wednesday is just a vague temporal convention, a concept that we, as a society, agree to recognize for convenience's sake. Ideas don't have tastes, sir, nor ways of being tasted."

Do you really think that person would stop, look up for a moment, and say "Ah, yes, I see what you mean. Thank you madam, you have shown me the light"?

No, he'd probably just scream, "YOU DON'T KNOW BECAUSE YOU'RE ONE OF THE LIZARD PEOPLE!" and run away.

Similarly, if I tried to argue with you about Harry Potter being a device to lure children into witchcraft, I'd only be lending your argument some small amount of legitimacy that it doesn't deserve. Your ideas are senseless, I won't try to make sense of them, even to show that you're wrong.

Instead, I will make a more useful argument:

Point One - The Things You Are Saying Are Stupid

Point Two - Please Be Quiet

Point Three - What The **** Is Wrong With You Anyway?!

But if that is my only argument, why am I bothering to write this letter? It's because Point Three has two corollaries, which I'd like to discuss now.

Corollary One to Point Three - You Are Embarrassing the South

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but some people think the Southern U.S. states are full of ignorant, backward, inbred people. As a southerner myself, I'd prefer that the nation recognize how many bright, reasonable people live in and love the south. And you are not helping my case.

Corollary Two to Point Three - You are Embarrassing Jesus

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but some people think that Christianity is full of ignorant, backward, inbred people. As a Christian myself, I'd prefer that the nation recognize how many bright, reasonable people know and love Jesus. And you are not helping my case.

As luck would have it, I can provide evidence for both corollaries at once:

1. You haven't read the Harry Potter books because "they're really very long". That one speaks for itself.

2. You argued in court that witchcraft is a religion, so the books should be banned because reading them in school violates separation of church and state. You then stated your dream "that God will be welcomed back in our schools again." You did both of these things without irony.

3. According to you, the children of today "don't want the Easter Bunny's power, they want Harry's power." Now, I'm assuming that by "Easter Bunny's power" you weren't talking about the power to be a mammal that lays eggs*. Instead, I think you were referring to the power of your religious beliefs. But, since Easter was once a pagan fertility ritual that Christianity commandeered, and since the Easter Bunny itself is derived from pagan myth, you are actually telling children to embrace the power of a pagan symbol.

So in conclusion, you are accomplishing nothing, you are wasting a lot of people's valuable time, and you are actively hurting the groups you claim to represent.

For your consideration,


*making them some sort of, oh I don't know, LIZARD PEOPLE!