Monthly Archives: November 2006

How do you make a Venetian blind?

Poke him in the eye.

Philtrum Filtering

In last Friday’s article (
Deckchair of Death
) I used the word Filtrum (or Philtrum it depends on your personal spelling preference) which is a pretty interesting word.

The Philtrum is the small groove that sits underneath your nose. And it’s interesting mainly because of what it means for search on the web*.

During perhaps 2000 / 2001 there was an advert made by British Telecom that was aimed at promoting the internet. In the advert a young girl walked into the center of the coliseum and was faced with millions of different people sitting there looking at her. The girl then piped up with a question which was, “What do you call the thing between your nose and your mouth”. Everyone in the coliseum goes quiet and then a guy stands up (wearing a lab coat) and says “It’s called a Philtrum”. And then the advert went on to extol the value of the internet as the place where you can find the answer to anything.

The interesting thing about that advert to me at the time was the at that precise moment there wasn’t a way to find the answer to that question on the internet. In fact it’s still the pretty much the case now. One of the hardest things to find information about on the internet is the collective group of “thing’s you don’t know the right name for”. It used to be joined by “things you don’t know how to spell” but Google solved that one so well that I know people who use Google as a spellchecker.

The big problem is that with this and many other things if you don’t know the exact right question then you won’t find the answer. Basically your only chance is if there happens to be an article which is titled with the question.

So say we actually plug “What do you call the thing between your nose and your mouth” with or without quotes into the major search engines. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live all say no-way to it, with quotes they all say “no pages found” and without quotes they return answers which are equally useless. However ask does have the answer to the question the only article it returns whether you’ve put the question in quotes or not is the exact right one and bizarrely is an article about how best to search for an answer to the question. Actually to be fair to Yahoo the answer is the third one in the list if you don’t include quotes but that may just be because the page is actually on Yahoo!

My main point is that while they’ve got better in many ways no search engine other than ask have really dealt with this problem properly. Ask, unfortunately, still doesn’t return for me the best results in a normal search. So I wonder if the answer really is to have to recognise this is a special kind of search and return a different kind of page? I don’t know, but the problem remains as difficult as it once was – at least it does for Google.

*There’s another interesting thing too. According to Jewish tradition, in the womb every baby is taught all of the wisdom of the world by an angel, and then just before the baby is born the angel touches the baby on the upper lip (to shh the baby) which makes it forget everything it has been taught. Sadly the Talmud is silent on why this occurs. Maybe because it is bonkers.

Dander Gander

In last Friday’s article (
Deckchair of Death
) I used the word “Dander” which is interesting (I think, but then what is this site other than things that I find interesting?).

To get one’s dander up means to become angry. But the word dander doesn’t really mean angry unless the “get my/his/her/their/ones” and “up” are wrapped around it. The rest of the time dander describes scurf* shed from the skin. It has the same root as dandruff, which is a specific form of dander. Dander is more often used to describe the kind of animal skin dust that causes people to suffer from allergies.

So what on earth has this got to do with being angry? Although I don’t really have any allergies (except I am allergic to skin contact with Christmas trees – but it doesn’t come up much) I would imagine it would make you pretty angry – but that isn’t it.

So where does it come from? Well it seems most likely that saying somebody is getting their dander up is to suggest that they are becoming redundant. And although people do get mad when they get fired it isn’t that either. Basically redundant means to have too much of something and a certain time it was used to mean “to overflow” (as in the extra liquid is redundant it is overflowing). And it’s fair to say that a an angry person is one who is overflowing with emotions. So that seems to be it, although how the word mutated is still a mystery.

*Scurf? No? Really? Well that’s kind of scaly matter, skin cells or scales etc.

Deckchair of Death?

We wheeled around the corner and then came to a sudden stop. There was a man, a young man sitting in a deck chair by the side of the house. The most important thing we knew was to discover if he was a stranger. That was paramount. Because if he was a stranger then we would have to cycle away as fast as we could.
Now I must admit that our curiosity was piqued. And because of that there was a slight bias in our questions to each other. If there was even the slightest hint that this young man wasn’t a stranger then we would be free to investigate.
“Have you ever seen this man before?” I decided to cut right to the core of the situation.
“Well define seen?”
“Well the Oxford English dictionary defines seen as…”
“No no not all that again. I mean. I mean…”
“What can you mean? Either you’ve seen him or you haven’t. Simple logic there, no gray areas, nice and clear.”
“Well no it isn’t that’s the point. That’s why I started all of this.”
“So what prey is the point then”? I tended to get more fruity in my language when my dander was up.
“Well I haven’t seen him per-say but I have heard talk of him from my Aunt. She was talking about a man very much matching his particulars just yesterday and I would say that she must have been talking about him”.
“How sure are you that this is the same man?” My interest was piqued, we might have a chance.
“Well she was talking in shock about his shoes, and she was telling my cousin (your sister) in no uncertain terms not to trust him because of them”.
“Why shouldn’t you trust these shoes”? I asked, they seemed to me to be perfectly ordinary shoes.
“Well,” my cousin said, “just you look at the lining of the shoes, it’s purple. That, your mother said, was a sign of an insatiable appetite”.
“But he’s not a fat man, he’s pretty slim”.
“Well that’s just what your sister said, but apparently, your mother said it wasn’t that kind of appetite.”
“Well I’m sure I don’t know what she’s talking about”.
“Neither did I, but your sister and your mother started giggling when they said it. I felt it best to clear out”.
“Good move”.

We both just stood there looking at this insatiable thin man sitting possibly dead in the deckchair, wondering at things that had been said that we couldn’t understand. And knowing that there were so many unknown unknowns out there that we knew we’d never know. And while we were standing there looking at him, a fly flew down onto his top lip and wandered along and walked right up his filtrum and into one nostril. A second later the chap sneezed and the fly flew out again.

But the sneeze had proved one thing at least this chap was still alive. And so just in case his mysterious appetite involved eating small boys we were off, cycling away into the sunset.

Why isn’t Cinderella any good at tennis?

Because she keeps running away from the ball.

Free Willy

Does Free Will exist?

Free Will doesn’t exist and does exist at the same time because it is a definition of a thing we don’t really have words for yet. Let me go all tangential for a moment and come back.

How do you know when I see something green and you see the same thing that we aren’t looking at different colors? If you’ve been told your whole life that red is green because that’s the color you see when you see things that the world calls green then how do you know the difference? And does it make a difference at a traffic light? Of course not because you are looking for the color that you associate with the label that you associate with stopping or going.

People’s view of the world is always colored (can I get away with that) by a wide variety of assumptions and rationalisations similar to this one which make no difference to the outcome of their actions. To take it to the next step people might think the sun rises every morning because they pray that it does. It would be such a terribly risky thing to not pray for the sun to rise that nobody would test the alternative. And if by some chance they missed their praying slot because they had been locked in a bunker by a crazed no-free-will proving person they would rationalise the situation by saying that their god had made the sun rise anyway to torture their captor.

So back to free will. You may think that you are responsible for your actions and that you control your own destiny but how do you know that? What is your outside proof? How can you prove that the color you see is the same color others see? The feeling you have that you are controlling your own actions is a biased piece of information as it comes from the place that you are trying to test. This means any attempt in yourself to prove that free-will exists is a flawed scientific experiment because you are attempting to decide if you are right by asking yourself. And you can’t ask anyone else either because you set up the same problem (you are asking them to decide if they have free will).

Essentially the problem is that you can’t really prove that Free Will exists. And therefore for all scientific purposes it must therefore not exist. But the assumption ingrained in people is that what we are perceiving is free will is so strong that free will is how the world operates and I will be punished if I do something wrong.

And this brings me back to my original point which is that Free Will as a concept is useless scientifically because it cannot be proved, and is useless to society because it cannot be disproved. So asking “is their free will” is a nonsense question similar to asking “is green green”? The answer is always simultaneously yes, no and it depends.

Down at the nursing home

Bob’s a big hit with the ladies at the nursing home, because there are only a few men. Doris asks Bob out on a date.
Bob: I can’t go out on a date with you. I’m going out with Gloria.
Doris: Well, I can take you out another time.
Bob: I’d prefer to go out with Gloria.
Doris: Why?
Bob: Gloria will take me out to dinner.
Doris: I’d be happy to buy you dinner.
Bob: Gloria will take me to a movie afterwards.
Doris: I can take you to a movie.
Bob: Well, Gloria will hold my penis during the movie.
Doris thinks about this minute then says “I can do that too.”
Bob: I’d still rather go out with Gloria.
Doris asks frustrated, “What does Gloria got that I don’t?”
Bob: Parkinson’s

Twenty Pounds

I was on a train the other day when I saw a woman who was asking for money. She was doing that thing that is now very common which is that you stand at one end of the train and ask very loudly for the attention of the entire train. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry to have disturbed you this evening, but I need just 12 pounds to be able to get in a hostel this evening and so that I don’t have to sleep rough again tonight”.

It is strange that this speech is now standard across a wide variety of people asking for money. I wonder how that happens? Although I suppose it might simply be that when people have managed to get themselves into shelter for the evening that they then exchange war stories of how they scraped up enough money for the evening.

On this particular occasion a woman who was sitting next to where I was standing gave her twenty pounds. It seemed an incredible amount of money to give. And I wondered both about why she gave so much, what was going on in her life so that she would give that much and also what twenty pounds would mean to the woman asking for money.

I was pleased to see that the woman who had received the money did get off of the train at the very next stop and didn’t ask anyone else for any money. She didn’t want to be greedy I guess. Also though as I was getting off of the train at the same point I was able to see that she wasn’t a professional beggar as so many Daily Mail readers would believe. As she was walking along the platform, twenty pounds in her pocket, she picked up a fag butt off of the floor. It had clearly been smoked up to the bitter end but she clearly thought there might be something there so she put it in her pocket (after testing it in her mouth).

But what was it that made the woman give the twenty pounds. Had she never heard anyone tell this particular story? Was it that she felt solidarity for the beggar as a woman? Or was it simply that she decided to give something and a twenty was the smallest thing that she had but felt that it would be rude to ask for change?

I will never know. I really did feel moved to strike up conversation with the benefactor but I decided against it. I felt that she’d be charitable enough without testing her patience as well. And I really didn’t want to discourage her which I felt I could have done when in fact I was simply curious.

A small light in the distance…

A small light in the distance appears providing you with the first sensory input you’ve had in… Well you’re not sure. It feels like a long time. The floor is soft or something when you rub your hands against it you can only vaguely feel resistance. Sort of like a non damp mist. What seems like a few hours ago you rubbed it for a while just to feel something. Everything else is dark and silent. But now this light. That was something. Something to focus on. But as it starts getting bigger your only fear is that it might be Them… coming back.