Cerebral_lobes

Brain Strain

Today’s post comes in the form of a letter from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden of Wendell Wilkie High School.

Hey Mr. C.,

Well it’s past the Fourth of July and the back-to-school sales are about to begin, which got me thinking about starting yet another sophomore year at Wilkie. Some years I wonder if it’s worth the effort. I know lots of people who say it’s a scandal how I keep getting held back in the tenth grade over and over again, but the standards there are high on purpose and there always seems to be a good reason why I shouldn’t advance.

A long time ago I became the poster child for the campaign to end social promotion. So for a lot of families at Wilkie I’m their guarantee that the school is serious about achievement. “As long as that Spamden kid stays a sophomore,” they say, “I’ll know my kid is expected to perform. Imagine! A sophomore forever!”

Anyway, holding me back is now something everybody has gotten very used to, which is maybe the most major reason of all why I’ll never get to be a high school junior. You know how it is when you get into a routine.

So that got me thinking that maybe I need to do something crazy and different to shake things up, which is why I’m writing to you to ask if you could forge my dad’s signature on a form that I have to fill out before I can be allowed to donate my brain to science.

I guess minors need the consent of a parent or guardian to do this, and even though I’m way, way NOT a minor anymore, as soon as they find out I’m a high school sophomore they INSIST I fill out the form. Don’t worry though, you won’t get in trouble because it’s probably not even a crime to pretend to be my dad on a permission form when I’m almost thirty years old!

Did I just say that out loud? Geez, now I’m even more sure there’s something wrong with my brain.

And scientists from all over the world are working right now on solving some of the most complicated mysteries that happen between your ears. So there’s lots of money in the field, and everybody’s arguing over how to spend it.. Some bunch of European brain experts have signed a petition to say the big Brain Project they have going on over there is “too narrow in focus,” which is an odd thing to criticize because when I start flunking tests my mom always TELLS me to focus in on one thing rather than letting my brain “squirm like a toad,” which is a phrase I think she picked up in the ’60’s when people’s brains were really weird. Because toads don’t squirm, they hop. At least they do these days. Maybe things were different back then.

So anyway, they’ll probably decide to do even more research just to keep everyone happy, which is great if you have lots of education in, like, neuroscience and stuff.

I don’t have that education, but I DO have a brain to sell. I’m willing to bet they’ll want to take a really close look at one that couldn’t get out of the tenth grade, just to see what’s wrong with it. I’d like them to take it as-is. I’ve done as much with it as I can and I think the timing is right. Besides, Artie Richter is the smartest kid in 10th grade and he says they won’t have to remove my brain or anything, but I do think if the researchers buy my brain I’ll get to lie around a lot inside MRI tubes, listening to music, which would be an awesome improvement over Mr. Boozenporn’s class this year!

So what do you say, Mr. C.? Will you help me shake things up and change the script this year?

Your pal,
Bubby

Of course I told Bubby that I would not help him avoid going back to school by forging his dad’s signature on a document that allows him to donate his brain to science. But the fact that he thought I might do it suggests there’s some weird chemistry going on inside his noggin, and it would certainly yield some interesting results if the researchers could only get their hands on it.

What could be learned if you donated your brain to science?

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Lightning

A Bolt From the Sky

Today’s post comes from Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty.

At ease, Civillians!

After all, it’s summertime – the season when lots of people dream of taking an afternoon nap in the soft grass beneath a shady tree. But before you relax remember this – the outdoor environment is dangerous and unpredictable, and there’s a good chance that just as you begin to drift off to sleep some backwoods cowboy will come riding through your peaceful glade on his ATV (All Terrain Vehicle).

And if you think that’s disturbing, just wait. Because I’m about to ride through your picnic on my ATW (Assume the Worst)-mobile!

Outside is NOT the place to be this summer. Sorry, but in case you missed it, my arch-enemy lightning has recently gone on a spree and is striking people at will.

Lighting is the safety maven’s nightmare – the Ace of Spades – a dealer of almost certain death striking randomly from the sky! This is the reason I became obsessed with security years go, and when it comes to lightning, no one A’sTW more vigorously than I.

People ask how they can be safe outside in a storm and I say don’t go outside! Stay inside! And while you are inside, keep far away from all windows, phones, television sets, reinforced concrete (including floors), electrical things, and plumbing.

Basiclly, if you can suspend yourself in mid-air without any physical support connecting you to the walls or ceiling inside a first floor room that is designed to be a place where you do Absolutely Nothing, then you might be safe from lightning!

Otherwise, you’re exposed.

Even people taking a bath or a shower can be shocked by lightning during a thunderstorm because current can be carried along by pipes and fixtures. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from the New York Times about being zapped in the shower:

Ron Holle, a former meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracks lightning injuries, estimates that 10 to 20 people in the United States are shocked annually while bathing, using faucets or handling appliances during storms. “There are a ton of myths about lightning,” he said, “but this is not one of them.”

Just thinking about that gives me the willies. Now I know the true meaning of “Naked and Afraid.

So my advice is to stay indoors this summer. Or if you go out, wear a fully insulated non-electricity conducting head-to-toe body suit.

And before you take a shower in the morning, check the weather radar! Sometimes there are good reasons to go to work smelling like you are a bit past your expiration date.

Yours in safety,
B.S.O.R.

I’m wondering if Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty begins each day mapping his paranoia on a worry chart – will it be asteroids or lightning today? After all, either one could strike suddenly and without warning.

Have you had a close encounter with lightning?

WellsFargo

Wells Fargo Wagon

In what will no doubt become a commonplace occurrence, a commercial space supply freighter was launched from North Carolina on Sunday with a bundle of goods destined for the International Space Station.

The Antares rocket is a product of a company called Orbital. Sending satellites into space is what they do, and this – delivering goods to distant, not readily accessed locations, is a growing part of the business. We tend to get bored when everything is carefully planned and what appears risky winds up going completely right.

Given that, this is probably the most boring video on You Tube.

The launch has lots of things going for it – #1 – lots of smoke and fire. And #2 – animation! Meanwhile, up in space, the excitement is building because there’s a visitor on the way – bearing gifts! And we’ve felt so alone, waiting for in the inky dark desolation of space for what seemed like ages!

What item could you NOT WAIT to have delivered?

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 8.07.33 AM

Polar Vortex Redux

Image – NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Today’s post comes from Unreliable Journalist Bud Buck.

Meteorologists and paranormalists are watching with great interest as conditions conspire to raise some serious questions about the true nature of the mysterious forces that propel our weather.

Although I have talked to at least two people and maybe three about this topic, no one has yet been able to convince me that there is not something spooky and ominous afoot!

In a bit of timing worthy of a vengeful and nefarious supervillain, the dreaded weather phenomenon known as the Polar Vortex is coming back at exactly the right moment to make Minneapolis’ All-Star summertime a bummertime.

Starting off what is normally one of the warmest weeks of the year, this Monday will see a high temperature of only 65 degrees with 25 mile per hour wind gusts driving a cold rain into the faces of Important Visitors From Afar – those cherished opinion leaders congregating in Minneapolis for Major League Baseball’s annual All Star Game Tuesday night.

Unseasonably cool conditions are also certain to mar the beginning of a seven day stretch that the city’s mayor has identified as Bragging Week.

Coincidence? I put that question to TV meteorologist Gust Hailstone, who said “What are you talking about?”

I proceeded to explain to the clueless Hailstone that some people are saying the Polar Vortex is actually more than a weather system. These individuals believe the Vortex is actually a sentient being – a roiling stew of temperature differentials and moisture, brought into consciousness by the electricity in lightning, and configured just perfectly to have a vendetta against the city of Minneapolis!

“That’s ridiculous,” Hailstone spluttered. “I’ve never heard anybody say that.”

“You’re a liar,” I replied, “because I just said it, and you heard me.”

The real question is – why is the Polar Vortex trying to ruin our reputation by making all of America and the rest of the world see Minneapolis as a place that is too cold to visit, even in the summertime?

I put that question to paranormalist Jade Seance.

“That’s already our reputation,” she said. “Through the thick mists that separate this life from the next one, I can sense that even the dead people shudder when Minneapolis is mentioned.”

The moment she said “Minneapolis,” I felt a deep, clean chill, almost as if a door had been left open, or a ghost had walked through my physical body. I quickly spun around, expecting to see the Vortex standing before me in the form of a living, breathing arch-fiend!

But no! It was an open door. Her receptionist had quit the day before and Seance propped a chair against the entryway so passers-by could see us gathered around the table, holding hands.

“People will pay you good money and put up with a lot of malarkey if you’ll just hold their hand for an hour,” she said. “Some folks are really desperate to make any kind of human contact.”

Still, I had to ask. “What does the Polar Vortex want with us?”

At that very moment, the lights came back on, the wind blew the door shut and Seance said “Time’s up! If you want more answers it will be another hundred dollars.”

Indignant, I marched into the street, found a cop, and complained that I had been bamboozled by a paranormalist. But as soon as the officer found out I was a local person, she detained me on charges of raising the stress level when company’s coming and violating the promotional ethos of Bragging Week.

The Polar Vortex strikes again!

This is Bud Buck!

Naturally, Bud is trying to make this as dramatic as possible so he can draw attention to himself. But I think he imagined this entire episode, or at least embellished it. I’m confident that weather does not have needs or desires when it comes to complimenting or ruining our events.

Or does it?

When has the weather undermined your plans?

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Ask Dr. Babooner – Start Seeing Billionaires

We are ALL Dr. Babooner.

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m the billionaire head of a massive corporation, so there’s no denying I’ve had some success in life. But I’m not just a money object. I think of my self as well-read and clever, and I have lots of ideas that surprise people, including me.

Recently I suggested that all our lives would be better if robots did more of our routine work because if people only had a four day work week, that would free us up to spend more time with our families.

It was an innocent suggestion, but boy did I get hammered for it!

Critics say I don’t understand the plight of the average person working an hourly job in America today who struggles to feed children keep a home intact.

They also say I’m a snooty, self-involved party boy.

But this should come as no surprise. In case you didn’t notice my first line, I’ll repeat it – “I’m the billionaire head of a massive corporation.”

For as long as I can remember, there has been an unlimited amount of money available to fill any need and satisfy every whim! Do I realize that many people work 60 and 80 hour weeks to make ends meet to support a family?

No, I don’t get that!

Can I comprehend the connection between time spent working and income for low-income people, namely that a shorter work week and fewer hours spent on the job means less money overall?

Of course not! Work is something I do to pass the time while my money makes itself.

I know this is pretty basic information, but being a billionaire today relieves you of any curiosity you might have about other people. I barely talk to my rich neighbor, so how could I be an expert on the lives of the poor?

The fact that so many people don’t understand how it feels to be the billionaire head of a massive corporation makes me wonder if there’s a market out there for Billionaire Awareness Training. With so many of us calling the shots in business, politics and technology, it seems to me that even a hotel maid would have something to gain from truly understanding the Billionaire mindset.

If nothing else, it might explain all those wet towels on the floor.

Like I say, I consider myself clever though my ideas have more to do with imagining the future rather than facing some other person’s reality.

I suppose critics will claim the poor don’t have time with all the hours they’re working to take a class about understanding billionaires. But that brings me back to my original point – robots can cover for them!

They can even take the course online, and if they don’t have access to the internet, I’m sure course materials could be delivered by drone to the front doors of their hovels!

But reaction to my previous brainstorm has made me a little gun shy, so before I put it out there I thought I’d better get a second opinion. Dr. Babooner, what do you think of my idea?

Hopefully,
Billionaire Head of a Massive Corporation

I told B.H.O.A.M.C. his idea is fantastic and he should move quickly to copyright and implement it. Even though the normal people of the world do not necessarily love billionaires on a personal level, they think the lives of billionaires are fascinating and most would jump at the opportunity to immerse themselves in details about the billionaire universe.

One suggestion – if Billionaire Awareness Training is offered as an evening class, why not have it catered at the poolside classroom?

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Spiral_Staircase

Up the Viral Staircase

About fifteen years ago I heard how blogging would change the world of journalism and transform the ways we consume information.

Someday every person would write a blog and traditional news gathering would soon give way to a million beautifully written first-person accounts of every important event and critical issue. Paid reporters would become obsolete.

I thought that was silly, and I was certain blogging was something I would never do.

Time made a fool of me on that last point.

But I’m not yet convinced that personal blogs can change the world aside from simply increasing the level of written noise. Although with so many computer users out there offering their precious attention to online articles, the potential seems great.

In a sense this is like playing the lottery – you don’t blog for very long without entertaining the fantasy that something you’ve written will “go viral” and lead to a situation where so many people are following you and reading your work, you can lounge around in your pajamas all day, making a comfortable living by sharing your interesting thoughts with an eager, easily transfixed world.

The power of massive popularity is potent! I started blogging in the Fall of 2008. Almost six years in, I’m still viral-resistant and massive-popularity free.

But the other day I read about a survey that explains what I have to do to score big. The researchers took a look at what it takes for online content to be widely shared, making the person responsible for said content an overnight sensation.

All you have to do is follow the steps upwards to glory, right? A sort of viral staircase. It turns out certain kinds of articles are shared more readily than others.

The problem is this: writing one of those articles sounds like a lot of work. I didn’t start blogging to put in any actual effort.

The survey, from BuzzSumo, is pretty clear about what succeeds. Long, in-depth, well-researched pieces (at least 2,000 words) are preferred by influential people who share lots of “content”. The most widely shared posts inspire feelings of “awe”, “laughter”, and “amusement”, in that order.

And if you don’t already know the difference between laughter and amusement, your cause is hopeless.

There were more viral content triggers listed based on interviews with people who were asked why they shared a particular story online.

The reasons were:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another
  • To define themselves to others (give people a better sense of who they are)
  • To grow and nourish relationships (stay connected with others)
  • For self-fulfillment (to feel more involved in the world)
  • To get the word out on causes they care about.

And one more thing – most of the top-shared articles were quizzes! This conforms with the theory that people will readily share a thing if they think it provides a window into their own personalities.

All very instructive, and of course I’d love to write a post that will be seen by millions. How am I doing on the checklist? Not so well. At this point I’ve written fewer than five hundred words – not even a fourth of the way to the required 2,000 word point for world-dominating status.

Sigh.

Clearly I will have to find a way to short cut this guaranteed-viral content process.

How? With a stupid poem, of course!

I’ve highlighted all the key words so there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m doing what I can to touch every important base.

Please please please share what you saw -
A blog that filled your heart with awe.
It’s deadly aim on social cues meant
you felt waves of deep amusement.
And when thinking of it, after,
you convulsed in gales of laughter.

Observations, so aligned
your personality defined.
A simple string of words has willed
that you feel fully self-fulfilled.
And if you don’t know what that is,
It’s too late now – this is a quiz.

A post that hits its targets well
and rings each viral content bell
except this heartless length command -
the word count must exceed two grand!
At seven hundred now – No dice!
Unless, of course, you read it thrice.

How good are you at following directions?

SONY DSC

City in the Clouds

As part of yesterday’s discussion of one’s most favored habitat, I neglected to mention this enchanting idea – colonizing the planet Venus.

The surface of Venus is too hot for comfort (or even existence), but apparently at an upper level of the atmosphere it’s cool enough to be habitable as long as we solve these thorny problems:

  • Nothing solid to stand on.
  • No lakes or beaches.
  • Certain death in a planetary blast furnace if you fall off the edge.

But on the plus side, you’re considerably closer to the Sun, and even if you can’t surf you can tell the suckers back on Earth that you’re having a fine time in Cloud City.

This would not be a friendly environment for those among us who are worst-case scenarists. All you’d have to do is look up to see the giant kevlar balloon keeping cloud city afloat to start imagining myriad ways in which things could go catastrophically wrong.

And then of course there’s island fever – a popular name for the syndrome where one feels hemmed in and limited even though one’s prison is Maui. Being such a townie, I don’t doubt a completely artificial floating city could be constructed that meets all of my work and entertainment needs – a desktop, some nice restaurants and a few stages and cinemas – but after I’ve boasted to my friends that I live in Cloud City, what would I do with the stark realization that I’m stuck forever in Cloud City?

I suspect the final design will have to include a safety net that hangs below, just like the Golden Gate Bridge.

You’re going away for good. Name your preferred prison.

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