What’s left after booze,

What’s left after booze, guns, and body parts? Me!

I stayed up waaaay too late last night, writing an eBay auction page for the Remploy military-surplus “bag, casualty, chemical protective” that I bought as a Christmas present at Archie McPhee in the fall (but then couldn’t think of anyone to give it to.) I listed it as a “terrorist-proof sleeping bag.” I’m hoping that some gen-Z playstation junkie will want to plunk down ten bucks for it to go into their rave kit. Or, maybe, that a William-Gibson-reading cubicle junkie will buy it to use as their new apartment in Megatokyo.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that my listing ended up on BidBoy, the short list of the weirdest items on eBay, and a daily part of my Internet reading. My listing is just below “Jet Car” (starting bid: $300,000.00), and just above the assets of a Maine-based professional wrestling company.

Of course, this is only slightly more dignified than the last foray into print.

What’s left after booze,

The Secret Bhodisattvas of Consumer

The Secret Bhodisattvas of Consumer Production

Ask any urban resident to sing the car alarm song, and they’ll all do the same thing:

(Chorus, repeat)

I wonder who developed the sound chip, which seems to have been used by every car alarm manufacturer across every model line. It’ either a testament to the perfection of that particular alarm signal, or a sign of how little importance manufacturers put on the actual pattern of the noise. The quick, immediate uptake of the ubiquitous car alarm song seems to point to the latter: I can’t remember any period of genetic competition between different alarm noises, can you?

Anyhow, it’s fun to think about the industrial designers that have left their mark on the world, people who can walk into any hotel lobby and see a plastic palm tree they designed. People who have covered the world, literally, in their particular pattern of acoustic tile. Which they may have sketched out in a hurry before leaving early on a Friday afternoon. There’s a school of Buddhist thought that the fate of the world lies in the hands of seven individuals, but that those seven don’t know who they are. Who knows when your seat-cover-fabric project will end up in passenger planes fifty years from now?

I was remended of the secret bodhisattvas of consumer production by the LED announcement screen on the Amtrak train this morning. The car lost power, and the sign reverted to demo mode: “Introducing [pause] Beta-Brite! [pause] With… [snowfall of pixels] state-of-the-art [rainbow wipe] display technology!” The demo was the exact same one that came with the LED sign I purchased for the Oriental World Martial Arts Studio in Richmond, Indiana in 1992. Like the car alarm chip, the Beta-Brite demo had obviously been burned into the ROM of every sign manufactured since, including this brand-new one mounted in a 2002-vintage Amtrak car. “No Sm0king!” said the sign, a curl of red LED smoke wiggling from behind the circle-and-slash that made the “O”. Next, a car smashed into a martini glass, and a five-pixel stick figure cartwheeled through the windshield. “Please: [another snowfall] Don’t drink and drive!”

How long will some of these ROM patterns live? Unlike plastic palms or seat-cover fabric, ROMs are just patterns, and have the theoretical ability to live forever. (Okay, unlike seat-cover fabric; plastic palms can live forever.) Unless your beta-brite sign demo features the Twin Towers, will it still be used in new LED signs twenty-five, fifty years from now? News radio stations still play recorded noises of teletype machines behind their announcements, because everybody knows that teletypes are the Sound of News. Will the Nokia ring live forever? The Car Alarm song may be replaced by voice chips (“Stand back, citizen! This vehicle is transmitting your retinal pattern to the Homeland Security department!”), but I’m guessing that some small, unimportant things will live forever. What forgotten designers will be immortalized?

The Secret Bhodisattvas of Consumer

Cal-a-DON-yuh! What makes your big

Cal-a-DON-yuh! What makes your big head so hard?

I had a hacking cough on Thursday, which — ugh! — blossomed into the flu on Friday and over the weekend. I stayed home from work, hit the NyQuil bottle, et cetera. Kate shoveled snow, fetched cereal and replacement tissues, produced chicken noodle soup. Now, she’s on the downward slope and I’m on the upward, so it’s my turn to take care of her.

While searching for information on this year’s flu bug, I came across the Centers for Disease Control’s kickass flu website. It’s a fun site to look through, if only to see the sinister seasonal sine-curve of the flu unfurling over the eastern seaboard in a menacing mathematical progression. And it’s full of interesting tidbits about the particular strain of flu that you are likely to be having right now. According to the site:

The 2002–2003 trivalent vaccine virus strains are A/Moscow/10/99 (H3N2)-like, A/New Caledonia/20/99 (H1N1)-like, and B/Hong Kong/330/2001-like strains.

According to the CDC’s weekly bar chart, it’s the B (New Caledonia) strain that’s spiking in the midatlantic region right now. Which means that my personal flu bug came from a sun-scorched French penal colony in the South Pacific. I spent some time looking at these ominous postcards, imagining the oppressed Kanak natives cooking up a nice present for the French occupation forces in their Stratego uniforms. Yeah, thanks for that, guys.

Cal-a-DON-yuh! What makes your big

It’s the Quiet Car, not

It’s the Quiet Car, not the Luddite Car

The first car of each Amtrak train, these days, is set aside to be the “quiet car”: no cellphones, no loud talking, no electronic devices without headsets. It’s a great rule, mostly because the ethics of cellphone use aren’t very nuanced yet. For example, I personally feel that if someone is talking on their phone at a conversational volume, it’s fine: it’s only when people develop cell-phone yell that things get annoying. Particularly if they turn out to be stupid: “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job? I’m not arguing that with you!”

So the quiet car gives people that hate cell phones somewhere to go, which reduces the amount of glaring on the train. And, if the big ox in the seat next to you persists in shouting for forty-five minutes, as sometimes happens (“Artie, I know he can get the job! But can he do the job?”), you can always move to a seat in the front of the train.

Rush hour complicates things, as there’s not enough room for everyone to choose their car, and a Venn diagram of hard feelings results. Friday evening, the train is packed, and the Nokia ring elicits a circle of turned heads, irritated frowns, and immediate shushing, just like an irritant in a big aluminum oyster. The conductors are often asked to repeat the quiet car announcement several times during the trip, and (since the policy is new), the words sometimes vary:

Ladies and gentlemen, if you can hear the sound of my voice, you are in the quiet car, the first car of the train. Please, no cellphones, no electronic devices without headphones, no loud talking, thank you.”

Opinions differ, I guess, about just what constitutes appropriate behavior in the quiet car. I spent twenty minutes finishing The Menace From Earth on Tuesday night, then I pulled my laptop out of its sleeve to check mail. The previous Metroliner had been delayed, so the train was packed, and I had found a seat in the first car.

The guy next to me — forties, five ‘o clock shadow, rolly suitcase, single-trip ticket to Washington — stirred immediately. “I’m sorry, this is the quiet car”, he said to me, and I could see the whole conversation playing out in my head. Unfortunately, he stuck to the script. “It doesn’t matter if your computer doesn’t make any noise, this is the quiet car!” I continued to demur, and he threatened to get the conductor. Then he got up and left in a huff, leaving a Cone of Silence in the two-seat area around us.

Sure enough, he returned to his seat triumphant, and the conductor repeated his announcement in a tired tone: “Ladies and gentlemen… no electronic devices… no loud talking, thank you.” Crap! He forgot to say “without headphones!” I got up, not meeting the victorious glare of my seatmate, and found the head conductor Don*, who came in and explained to the guy that yes, “Quiet car” referred to noise, not to the simple presence of consumer electronics. Luddite Man sulked, then huffed (“No, frankly, I don’t understand!”), then picked up his overnight bag and stormed off to another seat when we reached Trenton (passing about five other laptops on the way down the car.)

I have a hot temper when it comes to stupid stuff like this (viz. my stupid, stupid decision to CONQUER AND OCCUPY the seat that a horrible mother-and-son couple had been defending with passive-agressive sighs and eye-rolling), and so I had a standing order to myself to remain calm, to speak to the issue and only to the issue, and not try to pull rank by waving my monthly ticket or ostentatiously referring to the conductors by name, then wiggling my eyebrows. Check, check, and check; I felt like I managed to avoid acting like Pissy White Man. But I found myself wondering why a “Quiet Car” ban extended to laptops, in my seatmate’s mind. Was it the clicking of the keys? The anticipated loud, nerdy laughter when I check in with my friends on the FurryMUD BBS?

Maybe the guy’s train was an hour late, he heard “electronic devices” over the loudspeakers, and was attempting to restore some control in an otherwise crappy day. Any ideas?

* cleanshavidens hairy-skinnidae

It’s the Quiet Car, not