Tag Archives: Albany

Remember When We Didn’t Need A Planetary Protection Officer?

When I saw NASA’s advertisement for “Planetary Protection Officer,” I knew that it was the job for me.  I have always been concerned about interplanetary missions accidentally bringing alien germs back to Earth.  Although I did not have the required degree in physical science or math, I hated being around sick people, especially people who are sniffling or coughing, and I knew that this trait would make me the most qualified candidate.

My first task upon being hired was to install hand sanitizer dispensers on all spacecraft, with a sign stating that all personnel were required to use it on their hands before entering the spacecraft.  It seemed easy, until I realized that the alien life forms would probably not be able to read English.

So instead I drew several diagrams of aliens placing their hands underneath the dispenser, their hands filling with foam, and then the aliens rubbing their hands together.  But then I realized that the aliens might not have hands.  So I added a few more diagrams that were exactly the same, except in each one the hands were replaced with a different extremity: tentacles, claws, wings, hooves, fins.  I thought I’d covered every possible combination, until some staffer asked, “What if the alien is a gelatinous blob?”  I replied that gelatinous blobs would obviously be far too weird-looking to be allowed on Earth.  I then arranged to have the staffer transferred to a less challenging department.

Next, I drew diagrams demonstrating how aliens should cover their mouths if they coughed or sneezed.  This was a much larger project, since not only did I have to cover a wide range of potential types of hands, but also types of mouths.  Then it dawned on me that some aliens might have more mouths than extremities capable of covering them all.

This problem really had me stumped, until I realized that the thing to do was draw several diagrams, one showing the cough coming from one mouth, then another showing a sneeze coming from another mouth, and so on, with each drawing showing the hand or fin or tentacle covering just the mouth that was coughing or sneezing.  It came out very clear, and I marveled at my success in communicating with extraterrestrial life.

My third task was the most challenging.  I have always considered it my mission, and a difficult one at that, to convince people who have runny noses to grab a tissue and blow their noses, rather than sit there sniffling all day.  We all know what it sounds like when someone with a runny or stuffed up nose chooses to sniffle it back rather than expel it into a tissue.  And then makes that same choice again, and again, and…again, all day long, day in and day out, when there are plenty of tissues right there for the taking, especially when a well-meaning co-worker is holding the tissues out and offering them for free.

With it being so difficult to get humans to use tissues, I knew it would be even harder to convince lifeforms from other planets to blow their noses rather than sniffle?

I struggled with the problem, until I realized the truth was staring me right in the face: sound doesn’t travel in space.  The aliens could sniffle all they want, for no one would ever hear them.  I patted myself on the back for solving a problem with no cost to the taxpayers, and thought about tackling my next big project: extraterrestrials abusing cough syrup.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Space Travel, Uncategorized

Remember When We All Had Chips Surgically Implanted?

When my employer approached me about surgically implanting a microchip in my hand so that I could get into the office without having to take out my key fob, I was little reluctant.  But then I read that other people had done it, so I knew it must be safe.

Having a computer chip sitting inside the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger was a bit strange at first.  But I quickly got used to it, and being able to get into the office with just a wave of the hand was both convenient and futuristic, and I was thankful to live in a time when such technology existed.

The following year, my employer offered a new chip that could not only unlock the doors, but would also allow you to purchase food from the company cafeteria. We normally used a special employee card for that, and although the card was very light, there were a few times that I left it in my pants from the day before, and had to beg for food from co-workers.  I immediately wanted the new chip, and I could not rest or enjoy my lunch until this chip was part of my anatomy.

So I signed up to have my old chip surgically replaced with the new chip.  But the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger had been stretched during the first surgery, and so the doctors were afraid that yet another surgery to the same spot would cause the fleshy web to lose all elasticity, leaving me with my thumb permanently left hanging off to the side of my hand, and people would perpetually think I was giving their ideas the thumbs down.

So they had to implant the new chip in my other hand.  I was a little upset having now two chips in my body, especially after they told me that the old chip would have to be deactivated per company policy.  But this discomfort was more than offset by the convenience of being able to unlock the doors and buy lunch or a snack with just the wave of my hand.

The following year they released a chip that included a tiny receiver/transmitter so that it could also be a cell phone. I hesitated not one nanosecond before putting my name on the list that had been posted in the cafeteria.

Being able to make a phone call by talking into your hand – can you imagine?  I was so excited, that I did not foresee that there would be any problems.  So I was quite shocked when the head of HR told me that I could not have the upgrade done because both hands had already been operated on.

I begged them to reconsider. Was there another part of my body into which they could install this latest of chips?

Having a chip surgically installed in my upper leg was not as bad as I’d feared.  The surgery was simple, the scar tiny, and making calls by talking into my leg was better than I’d imagined. I could just hunch over like I had dropped a piece of food on my lap and was looking to see where it landed, and say “Dial” and then the number.  The volume of the chip was amplified so that I could hear the speaker easily from my leg. And when I received a call, the chip would vibrate, a nice sensation that had the unexpected effect of massaging my leg, and was quite welcome, especially at the end of a long day.

Naturally they had to deactivate the second chip, again per company policy.  So unlocking the office doors, which I had to do now with my upper leg, was a bit more challenging.  But hardly impossible. The real issue was buying food at the cafeteria.

It was disconcerting to my co-workers standing next to me on line when I suddenly kicked my leg straight up in the air so that the cashier could charge my meal to my thigh.  I am not the most coordinated of people.  Sometimes I jerk my leg up quickly and I can’t always avoid trays that are nearby. So people learned to avoid me when they saw me on the line.

I’d be lying if I said that this minor ostracism did not sadden me.  I’ve always thought of my co-workers as friends first, and co-workers second. But when your employer offers you the chance to become a cyborg, friendship stretches only so far.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Politics

Remember When You Couldn’t Get a Head Transplant?

Last month a doctor said that he was planning to undertake the world’s first head transplant.  The operation is as simple as it sounds.  Take the head of one body and surgically reattach to another.  The articles discussing the planned operation, which is apparently going to take place in China despite all of the interest that Western countries have in seeing this real-life Lego project, seem focused just on the source of the head.  No one seems to be discussing where the body will come from.

Maybe there will be no body at all.  Perhaps the idea is to reattach the head to a mannequin’s body, like the kind you see modeling clothes at the mall.  Imagine how many more outfits will be sold when the customers, looking for the right size or for something that will match their Kindle Fire, notice one of the mannequins moving its eyes to follow them throughout the store.  It will certainly put an end to shoplifting.

Or maybe the head could be reattached to the body of a large kid’s toy.  Imagine how popular the toy would be?  No need for batteries or pulling a cord.  The head just speaks.  The box that the toy comes in would have to detail what the head was going to speak about.  The toy manufacturer would have to interview the head and find out what it knows.  Maybe the head comes from someone who majored in physics or chemistry or ancient history.  Think about how much kids could learn.  On the other hand, the head may have come from someone who watched nothing but HBO programming, and parents will have to censor the doll and get to tone down its language and imagery, perhaps by making it watch whole seasons of Downton Abbey, until the head-doll starts addressing the kids that play with it as “M’Lord” and “Your Ladyship.”

Or maybe they will locate a body that is fresh and available enough and comes with few enough questions asked as to be ready to receive a new head.  But who is to say there will be only one head needing a transplant?  What if there are two?  The surgeon will have to sew two heads onto the same body and hope they like the same kinds of movies.

Of course, this is all fantasy.  No head transplant is going to take place because no insurance carrier is going to pay it.  It doesn’t have a procedure code.

Leave a comment

Filed under Medicine

Remember When You Could Send a Spaceship to Mars for Only $75 million?

So I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the orbiter that India sent to Mars for only $75 million, and seen it compared to the U.S. Mars orbiter that cost $672 million. Whatever the reasons for the difference in price, my main concern is that the two orbiters will start orbiting the planet in the same path at the same time, and they’ll be fighting over the armrest, and we’ll have to turn the spaceship around.mission to mars

The more I think about it, even $75 million starts to sound like a lot. Maybe the first space trip would cost a lot.  But that was decades ago, back when there was an evening paper and people had milk delivered to them in a glass bottle.  There should have been more cost-effective innovation by now, like what they’ve done with coffee.

There are plenty of places where money can be saved on the Mars orbiter. I hope they didn’t bother installing air conditioning.  I’ve found that a good fan well-positioned can cool as quickly, if not more quickly, than central air conditioning, albeit with a plug that can be a trip hazard, especially when one is using a plate with a turkey sandwich on it to balance a large glass of soda.

We shouldn’t be paying for ice either. Space is very cold.  All the spaceship has to do is hold a pitcher of water outside the cabin for a few seconds, and poof!  Instant ice cubes.  The ice cubes would, of course, be in those annoying half-moon shapes that come out of refrigerators.  You can’t have everything in life.

The biggest cost-saver would have to be cable and internet. The price that NASA pays to have cable and internet on every one of its spaceships was probably, in the beginning, quite modest.  And after a few months, NASA got accustomed to the price, and the astronauts were too tired from walking in slo-mo in those bulky suits to read the monthly cable bill very closely anymore.

In fact, I’m sure that NASA at this point feels rather powerless to do anything against the cable company. But the company is expecting you to do nothing! I wish I could say.  Just call up, and say that you heard that other large and inefficient agencies are paying less for cable and internet, and that you as a loyal customer demand the same low price.  The cable company will grant your wish.  And do you know why?  Because they don’t want to lose you as a customer.

Friends, it has been over two days since I shamelessly plugged The Issue Box on this blog, and I suspect that many of you have not had the opportunity to check it out. I know, I know.  They’ve been showing episodes of Roseanne. I get it.  TV marathons happen.  But still there are commercials.  So feel free to stop by during a commercial break.  Unless it is one of those commercials that is better than the program you were watching.  It’s fun when that happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Money, Space Travel

Big Announcement

Instead of writing something that purports to be funny, I want to let you know about a website that I’ve been visiting recently. It is called The Issue Box. And you can find it by typing theissuebox.com into your browser’s URL field. Or you can Google it. Or you can follow this link.

The Issue Box allows users to post and vote on an infinite number of political and other public issues, without requiring any personal information – no names, no financial information – save for an email address that is used solely to verify that you are a human being and not a bot or toaster oven.

So, for example, you could say something like, “There are not enough restrictions on pollution,” and then vote “Agree” or “Disagree.” And then that issue, with your one vote, will be available for any other users to vote Agree or Disagree.  As the votes tally, you will be able to see a pie chart showing the split of yeas and nays, and how each voting user voted.

Now let’s say that you are a user of the site, and you didn’t create that issue, and you don’t want to vote on it either.  You think the issue misses the point.  So now you create the issue “We need to enforce the pollution restrictions we already have,” and vote Agree, and now your newly-minted issue is posted on the Home page for all to see and vote Agree or Disagree.

Now let’s talk real controversy.  What information do we require to sign up? A valid email address. That’s it. The email address is your username for logging in, but on the site you are identified only by a random assortment of words that we assign to you.   The password is a random combination of numbers, also assigned.  So your presence on the Issue Box will be totally anonymous. There is zero chance of us sharing your information with others because we don’t have any information to share.

An email address and the issues created and voted on by that email address, and that’s it.  If your email address has your name in it, and you’re not comfortable sharing it with us, then go use another email address, even one created just for the purpose of authenticating that you are a human, which is done once and never again.  But regardless of whether your email address has your name in it or not, to other users and to the public, you will be identified by only the randomly generated handle that is assigned to you at registration.  No one need ever know how you vote…unless you decide to tell them.

In case you are wondering, I have more than a passing interest in the Issue Box. I helped create it and am hoping that if enough people go on it, I will be able to sell the website for billions of dollars, and retire to a mansion with its own movie theater, where I can watch the movie they’ll make about how I screwed over my friends to take control of the company, and hope that the screenwriter is nominated for an Academy Award.

So if you get a chance today and you want to do something that’s 100% risk-free, costless, and permits – nay, encourages – you to simply say, yes or no, how you feel about an issue, and see how many people agree with you, then go to theissuebox.com and get your issues out there!

Postscript: You should know that, strictly speaking, we are still in the Beta-testing phase of the Issue Box. So if you encounter anything that looks like a glitch, please be patient and, if you have a few moments and are so inclined, send us a note about it and we’ll take care of it.

4 Comments

Filed under Technology, The Issue Box

Remember When the Internet Was Anonymous?

Today marks four years since I started this blog. Seems like just yesterday. Thank you all who have read this blog and taken the time to comment. I know that I don’t post as often as I used to, but I’ve got a few big projects I’ve been working, and I’m going to share one of them with you very shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this post.

The Director was sitting in his office, enjoying a pumpkin spice latte. He did not like pumpkin flavor, but it was the law of the land that pumpkin flavor must be consumed in the fall.

There was a knock at the door and an intern entered.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. But do you remember when we demanded that all social media websites turn over all of the personal information and preferences of their users? Well now they say they are not producing the information.”

“They’re not? I was afraid of this. All right, time for Plan B.”

“Sir, you don’t mean…”

“Oh, yes, I do. House calls.”

The media at first was skeptical of the government’s new program, whereby they sent government agents to canvass the neighbors, door to door, asking the inhabitants for their personal information. Many pundits thought it an intrusion on people’s privacy, while others thought it a patriotic duty and a chance to expose themselves to some new germs.

Analysts on both sides, however, agreed that people would not want to reveal their personal information to an agent of the government who showed up at their doorstop uninvited and in most cases without even a bottle of wine or piece of fancy cheese wrapped up in nice paper.

So they were really surprised by the responses. People provided their names and ages, of course, and their email addresses and phone numbers, and where they like to shop, and what they think about the things that other people’s kids do, versus the things that their own kids do. They asked about music tastes and food tastes and whether they were more likely to choose a table or a booth when offered both at a diner.

The program was so successful and the responses so thorough, that the government turned it into a reality tv show.

“You know, usually I go for the booth. If I’m offered both, I go for the booth.”

“So you’d classify yourself as booth in response to question 19a?”

“Well, now, sometimes I don’t feel like a booth. I gotta be honest, I like booths. But sometimes – I don’t know – I just feel like a table.”

“So would you classify yourself as a hybrid booth/table? There’s a choice for that.”

“Well, you know,” he says with his finger in his mouth, and looking up at the ceiling. “Now that I think about it a little more, I’m not sure if I ever chose a table over a booth when offered both. I think I was thinking of something that happened to my mother. Maybe I really am a booth guy after all.”

In fact, so effective was the government program that the social media websites started offering the government money for the personal data of the citizenry, in hopes of offering content that would attract more viewers. The official answer was no, but then some Congressmen and Senators got into a bit of hot water over selling of personal data to social media companies, and had to do penance by reciting the 80s pop hit single “Safety Dance” a cappella, including all of the instrumental sounds, before every session of Congress.

5 Comments

Filed under Government, Social Media, Technology

Remember When Your School Got Its Own Tank?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of the school district that obtained an armored vehicle – actually, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle or MRAP if you want to impress someone – from the United States military through its Excess Property Program.  The vehicle was free, and the district had to pay just the cost of transportation, which was $3.95 for regular ground, or $5,000 for 2-day express.Tank1

I remember when my school got its first tank, the graduating seniors’ class gift to the school they loved so much.  At the dedication ceremony, the Class President, Class Vice President, and Class Risk Assessment Manager spray painted the sides of the tank with “Woo Hoo Class of Awesome!  To Thine Own Self Be True!”  There was an after-party, mainly for those three people, where they ate pizza and discussed what they were going to do with all their Barron’s review books.

Some concerned parents managed to have the tank classified as dangerous, so the school had to keep it under strict lock and key in the A/V room, along with the televisions on those tall skinny carts.  The School Tank, as it came to be called, was taken out for special events like Homecoming, where the Homecoming King and Queen would ride atop the military vehicle, holding flowers and wearing their crowns, and waving to the crowds in the stands.

The following year, a neighboring school district, a rival in football, basketball, and Monopoly, got its own tank. It was larger and shinier than ours, and at the Memorial Day parade, at which all high schools in the region could march in whatever formation they liked as long as it met federal safety standards, their tank got more cheers from the crowds of parents and siblings.

Over the summer, the school diverted some funds earmarked for social studies books and ordered up another tank. This one was bigger and shinier than even the tank that our rival had obtained. Next to our first tank, it was a giant. We started calling them Big Tank and Little Tank. At lunchtime now, the school paraded the two tanks, sometimes Big leading, sometimes Little, around the track. All students could look out the window and see the two tanks parading.  The tanks were driven by students, and for some reason this job attracted the same students who were in charge of the audio/visual technology.

At the Memorial Day Parade, Big Tank and Little Tank rolled down our town’s main thoroughfare in triumph. Parents and siblings cheered loudly and the day appeared to be ours. But then a sound…a buzzing chop-chop sound filled the air and all were quiet.

And then we saw it. A helicopter with a bad drawing of a wildcat – the mascot of our rival school – spray painted on the side.  The tank was rolling on the street, directly underneath the helicopter, with balloons floating from the nozzle of the gun.

This was absolutely the last straw. Classes were cancelled for a week while school officials sold books and some desks where the chair and desk are fused together to get another military vehicle. As we sat at home and wished we could be back in English class reading Wuthering Heights, we speculated on what the new vehicle would be. What could be more impressive than a helicopter?

The Warren G. Harding High School Air Craft Carrier was delivered via overnight courier. Since our physical school building was not that near the water, we had to be relocated to a coastal town on the bay. It was a lot windier but we didn’t get as much snow.

One night our radar caught a few blips off the coast of Madagascar. Our commanding officer, who was also the official wearer of the school mascot costume at home football games, ordered our battleship and guided missile cruiser – gifts of the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, respectively – in for a closer look.

“Identify yourselves,” Kevin said into the microphone, which no one except him seemed to know was not connected to the unknown ships.  “Prepare the guns,” he said to the crew, who were making posters for a pep rally. “This could get ugly.”

Our ships were moved into position and guns aimed. Now we were worried about the math test in third period and the possibility of war.

“Man the cannon!” Kevin said. “Ready, aim…”

“Wait! Wait!” said the Class Gluten-Free Bake Sale Coordinator. “What’s that on the side of the ships? I think it says…Go Wildcats?”

Yes, it was our dear rivals from the neighboring town. Looks like they had obtained for themselves a navy. Had it not been for the unsteady block printing and pathetic drawing of a wildcat on the sides of the ships, we would have launched on them and probably have had to make up our math test.  The near risk of war marked a turning point in the relationship of our schools, and I can safely say that today we are not rivals but allies.

Editor’s Note:  It turns out that the San Diego School District has returned the armored vehicle.  I hope they kept the receipt.

3 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Government, School