Archive for October, 2010

The Seminar Entitled “Coping With Loss” Has Been Canceled

What is the longest it has ever taken you to get a joke? Well, while driving down the frontage road today, the full irony of an 8-year-old quip hit me. When I was a sophomore high school, I started a club… we attempted to call it “The Cynics’ Club.” Despite my clarification that it was to be based off the Greek philosophy of cynicism, the administration wouldn’t let it fly. Not at least with that name. Yeah, they were ok with the concept of a club forming around the ideal that humans are primarily motivated by greed and that pessimism equals realism… we just couldn’t name ourselves as such. That’s not the joke.

Here’s, the joke: A teacher of mine suggested we call ourselves “The Misanthropy Club.” I gave it a hearty chuckle at the time, but only today did I recognize the potentially hidden ridicule in that comment. Here it is:

Club: (n.) a formal association of people with similar interests; (v.) to unite with a common purpose.
Misanthropy: (n.) hatred of mankind; a disposition to dislike and mistrust other people.

I’m not sure if this instructor was trying to point out that it foolish to try to unite a group of people to celebrate how much people suck. It’s like trying to put together an agoraphobics’ camp out. A bake sale for diabetics. A Tye-dye party for Strafe’s birthday. Not only does it not make sense, but it also implies that the very person whose idea it was is also particularly unqualified to be a member.

Fans of Futurama may recognize this as essentially being a real-life version of Fry’s attempt to join the Apathy Party (the second-best political party featured on Futurama).

Above: The Best

One can only imagine how disheartened I was when our club meetings quickly decomposed into 90-minute sessions of pseudo-political arguing.

Now, if I’d been paying attention to my own supposed ideals, the behavior of our eager members should have served as a proof of concept for our ideals. Instead, I tried to recruit more members. The immediate effect of this effort was possibly the most-hilarious string of advertisements ever featured on our third hour student-anchored “news” (that didn’t involve a subsequent apology to the student body). But few joined the club.

Clearly, the club was smarter than me, right to the end. We never agreed on any real rules, never held elections of consequence, and technically never ended. We just sort of stopped meeting eventually. And no one asked why. And the whole time, it never occurred to me that anyone motivated to join a club was probably not a true cynic and therefore wouldn’t enjoy the club, any any true cynic wouldn’t have shown up in the first place.

It’s one thing to miss the point. It’s quite another to bleed to death because you can’t see the point because it poked your eye out. Jesus said something like that, right?

By the way, we settled on the name “Black Lantern.” The now-retired administrator who approved the name over “The Cynic’s Club” almost immediately tried to renege on it. That makes it worth it. I’d be willing to accept that our cheesy news program at one point ran a funnier ad. But no one will ever beat our logo:


Black In Back: A Serious Look At Discriminatory Toilets

Last Christmas season, we were treated to a “product defect” so hilarious it bordered on the unreal: a certain line of Hewlett Packard webcams, featuring face-tracking algorithms (i.e. its focus follows you around the room) was demonstrated via YouTube that it didn’t work with black people. The greatest kick I received from this was that yet another previously unthought-of Google search term became popular: racist webcam.

Well, lately, I’ve run into a similar defect in my personal life. You see, in keeping with the corporate paradigm that it is unwise to let commoners do, or touch, anything for themselves, my employer has installed a line of self-flushing toilets. And boy do they ever. I take it they use an infra-red beam, or something similar, to detect whether the seat is occupied or not. Apparently, I’m invisible, or else I enter some quantum-like state of being in the bathroom, wherein my existence is conditional, because during the course of the average… um… visit… I am treated to about 4 unasked-for flushes.

As with all troubleshooting, I recognized the importance of testing for reproducibility; I needed to know who’s end (pun absolutely intended) the problem was on. I made an attempt to see if anyone else was being treated to these courtesy flushes. Gathering data proved to be a bit of a challenge, because asking the kinds of questions I needed to ask in a professional environment becomes an HR issue real quick. However, from what I could gather, no one else is having this problem. But what makes me unique among my coworkers? Conceding (reluctantly) that these toilets do not posses a bias towards good looks, prodigious senses of humor, or undeniable technical savvy, I figure the next best candidate is my monochromatic wardrobe.

To summarize: I think the commode, or rather, the sensor above it, has trouble seeing you if you’re wearing black.

Now I don’t know how HP solved their problems, but I think I see the most obvious solution: get rid of those stupid unusable seat covers and replace them with construction-crew reflector vests.

Together at Last

A final word on HP—I wonder what kind of HR problems they had when searching for a solution to the webcam problem? Is it legal/ethical to grab all the black guys on hand to test a particular problem? Or, in the name of political correctness, did they have to somehow make participation in the webcam fixing an equal-opportunity deal? Frankly, it seems that would be worse: