Sunday, March 23, 2008

Two Paradoxes

I've identified two universal paradoxes. Both are fairly commonplace, but to my knowledge, no one has formally identified them yet.

The Weight-Training Equipment Paradox: If you can carry it into your house, you don't need it.

Years ago I purchased a barbell set, and was embarassed to discover that I couldn't carry it from the display shelf to the checkout area. They had to bring a cart for me, and two guys lifted it into my trunk. When I got home, I opened the box in my trunk and struggled to carry the weights into the house one by one. If a person is strong enough to lift that box, then the only reason they would carry it into their home is to gift-wrap it.

The Professional Forecaster Paradox: If you're any good at it, you don't need to do it for a living.

There are two professions I can thing of where someone works at making forecasts that they then sell as a product to other people. The first are stock analysts. If they're so good at picking stocks, then why aren't they rich enough to retire and buy an island in the Caribbean? The other are racetrack handicappers. If they're so good at picking winners, why do they need to sell their picks?

Can anyone suggest any other commonplace paradoxes?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lo and Behold

At my previous job, I worked with a woman who had an annoying speech habit. She would preface a sentence with the words, "Like I said..." She would say it 6 or 8 times in 5 minutes. I used to listen to her carefully, trying to catch her using it when she was not restating something. I had this fantasy that I could cure her of using it if I could just catch her using it improperly, but I never did. I learned to deal with it.

In this new job, I have a co-worker with whom I must work rather closely. She's not very pleasant to look at - bad skin, really bad teeth, ugly moles and a weight problem. But I can deal with it.

One of her weird habits is called "cueing." If she hopes I'll answer "Yes" to a question she asks, she nods her head while asking the question, as though prompting me for the answer she wants to hear. If she wants a "No" answer, she shakes her head and frowns while asking. I think I can deal with it.

She also has a really irritating habit of sending me an e-mail, then walking over to me and explaining, in great detail, the contents of the e-mail. I'm hoping I can deal with it.

What I'm having trouble dealing with are her incredibly annoying speech habits. One problem is her poor diction. She drops the "g" and the "th" that end words. For example, she said her husband is in "seven heaven" when he's "playin" golf. And, she seems incapable of pronouncing the names of foreigners. We work for an international company, so there are lots of foreign names being tossed around, and I'm forced to listen to her mangle them every day. This is going to be difficult for me, because it appears disrespectful if you can't learn how to say someone's name.

However, the speech habit that is already driving me insane after one week on the job is that she uses two prefaces constantly. One of them is "How should I say?..." For instance, she'll say, "I went into Jerry's office to ask him about that project. How should I say?...He hasn't made any progress." She uses this device constantly, which I find irritating, but it doesn't make me want to deal with it somehow - not yet, anyway.

The other preface is the one that will break me, I'm afraid. It's "Lo and behold." She'll say, "Yesterday I tried to log in to the server. Lo and behold, my account was disabled." She's said "Lo and behold" 20 times in the past week. It's like a stone in your shoe that you can't remove. It grates and irritates and I can't seem to create any mental lacquer that will turn it into a pearl. It's not funny, it's not cute, it's not charming, it's not even colorful or unique.

The problem, as I see it, is that she doesn't respond to mirrors. If she did, she'd have lost some weight, fixed her teeth, had those moles removed, etc. But since she hasn't, I can only assume that when she sees herself in the mirror, she doesn't see anything she wants to fix. The same must be true about her speech patterns. If she hears herself use these expressions, she must not think they're worth omitting. Somehow I have to convince her to omit them. I'm thinking of using something very persuasive, like a cement truck. See, I'm dealing with it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's the Little Things That Matter

Today was my first day at my new job. I showed up bright-eyed and enthusiastic, having managed to recover from the events of Friday night, when some buddies fed me beer like they were preparing me for the production of foie gras. I confess I was a willing participant in the experiment.

I was shown to my work area, which is not a typical cubicle. Instead of 6-foot high walls, it consists of low glass partitions. You may notice something else missing in this picture:


That’s right, there’s no computer. I was informed that it would take another two weeks to get one. I gave three weeks notice at my previous job, and they couldn’t prepare computer for me in that amount of time? It’s a big corporation, and the wheels turn slowly, but that’s FIVE WEEKS. I read the employee handbook in the first 20 minutes and spent the rest of the day twiddling my thumbs and playing games on my phone. As one employee put it, “At least you’re being paid to sit there.”

This is a big deal to me. It indicates a lack of corporate will to succeed. I don’t know why such incredible lapses are permitted, but they seem to be rampant in big corporations.

At one point, I wandered into the kitchen/cafeteria area to get a cup of coffee, and to my delight, I saw these three coffeepots:


They were labeled as containing Barnie’s coffee, a premium product that promises to make mornings a lot more tolerable.


Alongside the coffee area was a large refrigerator stocked with complimentary soft drinks and bottled water.


Things were looking up, I thought, and then I looked down - into the vegetable bin:


OK, now things are DEFINITELY looking up. I can’t wait till tomorrow!

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Legacy

Lately, I’ve been thinking about leaving behind some kind of pointless legacy. For example, I’m always curious when I go to some public place, such as a hospital, and discover a building bearing a label identifying the benefactors who donated it. “The Frederick and Marion Liebowitz Oncology Building” It will say. Then, I notice the cornerstone that indicates it was built in 1963. Frederick and Marion were probably older people when they donated the money, so they’ve likely passed away, possibly in the building they donated.

What value do Frederick and Marion realize from having a building named after themselves? Is it pure vanity? Does their son Freddy Junior drive by with friends and point out the family name with vicarious pride? Or is it purely about legacy? Perhaps Freddy Junior is a spoiled rich kid, spending his inheritance on fancy cars and fast women, contributing nothing to society. His father, recognizing that Freddy Junior is a waste of oxygen, chose to divert some of that inheritance to something worthy of the family name.

Well, I’m not rich, and my daughter isn’t a waste of oxygen, but I can still get something named after me if I try. Two likely candidates are mental conditions and scientific theories.

Timothy Syndrome:

These days, it seems as though every kind of chronic improper behavior is labeled as a syndrome, which is often used as an excuse for the behavior. So I’ve created my own name for one, which I’m calling Timothy Syndrome. This label applies to people who seem to exist in two universes: the one we all inhabit, and a personal universe, in which they are the only inhabitant. They phase between these two universes, sometimes existing in one, sometimes in the other. They are easily identified. For example, the person who stops their shopping cart in the middle of the aisle in a crowded supermarket to read the ingredients on a package, completely oblivious to the other shoppers who are unable to pass.

I’m naming that chronic inconsiderate behavior for posterity. It’s OK with me if you refer to such people as a “Timothy.”

The Timothy Point:

Science progresses at an accelerating pace, with new advances occurring within predictable periods. Because of this constant acceleration, it is possible to predict an advance that will occur so soon after a prior advance that development of the prior advance becomes irrelevant. For example, suppose a company is considering a large investment to produce some new commercial technology. However, another technology is predicted to arrive before the first investment is paid off. So the company never makes the first investment. Here’s another example: Suppose a spaceship was created that could reach the nearest planetary system within 50 years. Scientists predict that within 20 years after the launch, another spaceship will be developed that could reach the same destination in half the time. Thus, the crew of the first spaceship would arrive at their destination to find the crew of the second spaceship already planting the flag.

I’m putting my name on that point where technology stops advancing in anticipation of further advances. Textbooks will be written about it, unless the authors presume that better textbooks will be written later, so they don’t bother to write them.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

One Final Act of Defiance

As I prepare for my final week at my current job, I’ve been trying to clean up any outstanding projects so my successor doesn’t have to pick up the pieces after my departure. It’s been difficult, because as people realize that I’m leaving, they have suddenly discovered lots of little projects that they want finished before I leave. The few loose ends I meant to tie up have turned into a forbidding Gordian knot of too much work and too little time.

Some people are going to be disappointed. However, I’m in the enviable position of deciding who those people will be. I’m working on the projects given to me by people I like, and gleefully pushing the projects of the others to the bottom of the stack, where they will likely remain for all eternity. It’s a small victory, a way of telling those people that they should have treated me better over the years. Maybe they’ll get the message, maybe they won’t.

But there is one person who deserves a far worse fate. For that person, I’ve prepared a special treat.

About a week ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine about a Web site called ThinkGeek. This Web site sells lots of silly little toys and goodies oriented towards those who work with computers all day, and have consequently lost their ability to relate to other human beings in any meaningful way. I discovered one little item that piqued my interest: The Annoy-a-Tron.

This device, a bit smaller than a stick of gum, can be hidden anywhere in a victim’s office. It will emit a beep every 2 to 8 minutes. Because of the delay, it’s nearly impossible to locate the source of the sound. It will last for 3 to 4 months. I placed an order immediately.


As it turns out, my victim didn’t come to work yesterday, and made the fatal mistake of not locking their office. I slipped in and began casing the place for a proper hiding place. But nothing seemed right. I considered taping it behind a drawer: “Too obvious,” I thought. “That’s where spies hide things in movies.” Perhaps concealed inside a picture frame of their spouse. But that seems somehow out of bounds. Then, I thought I would tape it behind the whiteboard. But once again, I felt it would be too easily discovered. And then, just when despair was creeping up on me, I had an inspiration.

I took the whiteboard eraser back to my office. It’s just a block of black Styrofoam with a label on one side and a swatch of fuzzy fabric on the other.


I gently peeled back the fuzzy material and cut a cavity into the Styrofoam.


I turned on the Annoy-a-Tron, slipped it into the cavity, and glued the fuzzy covering back. Sorry, I was so excited I forgot to take pictures.

Then, I replaced the eraser.



Now, I get to spend my final week watching someone go slowly insane. By the way, just so you know – I bought two of them. So be nice to me.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Finally, the kitchen is finished. We had a last-minute holdup when we discovered that the bifold doors that enclose the pantry need a small bracket bolted to the floor. Apparently, the workmen who put in our new tile floor tore out the old ones and neglected to replace them when they finished. And my wife refused to let anyone see the kitchen until we put up the pantry doors. But of course, nothing is ever simple or easy.

It seems that bolting the hardware to the floor was going to be a problem, because you can’t use just any drill to cut a clean hole through porcelain ceramic tile. While the workmen were in our kitchen, I watched one of them drop a hammer from the top of a 6-foot ladder and it just bounced off the tile.

To drill these holes, I’d need something called a “Hammer Drill.” These drills oscillate the bit in and out as they spin, driving the bit through the tile without cracking it. I don’t own one. The workmen didn’t want to drive all the way to my house for a 5 minute job, so they talked me into installing the L-shaped brackets by connecting them to the doorframes only, letting them just rest on the floor. “Unless you got little kids ripping those doors open, they should hold just fine,” he told me.

So tonight I installed the brackets and mounted the doors. I took a bunch of pictures of the finished kitchen, which my wife has forbidden me to show you. That’s right, you can’t see it.

There are things I expect to see in what remains of my lifetime. I expect to see a cure for cancer. I expect revolutionary developments in electronics and computer technology. I expect astronomers to discover Earthlike planets in other solar systems. Perhaps those planets have a race of beings, divided into two genders, as we do here on Earth. However, it’s doubtful that in my lifetime, or in the lifetimes of those faraway alien beings, anyone will ever understand women.

I believe the logic here is that some of you know me and my wife personally. And you may come over to our house to visit sometime soon. And when you do, you will see our new kitchen. If I show you any pictures of the kitchen, it will somehow diminish the experience you will have when you see it in person.

In other words, you will be expected to utter “oohs” and “ahhs,” with genuine pleasure. And you will be expected to covet our kitchen with genuine greed and envy. Some of you may be inclined deliver harsh, accusing glares to your spouses, who have not shown any interest in transforming your current drab, outdated, awkward kitchens into the showcase kitchen we now have in our house. Life will be difficult for you for about a week following your visit.

And then, because I can’t help myself, I will start pointing out all of the flaws. The errors in design judgment. The needless expense. The installation mistakes. And my wife will deliver a harsh, accusing glare at me. But nothing like the look I will get if you walk in the door and say, “Oh, it looks just like the pictures Tim posted on his blog.” If that happens, life will be difficult for me for about a year following your visit.