Monthly Archives: October 2015

Remember When It Was Safe to Eat Processed Meat?

The President of the Happy Swine Processed Meat Company was not having one of his better days.  He sat at his desk, atop which stood an anthropomorphic plastic sausage, the company’s mascot, head in his hands.  There was a knock at the door and in walked the President’s assistant.

IMG_1065.JPG “Sir, I came as soon as I heard,” the assistant said.  “I knew we could never trust the World Health Organization.  And after all the nice things we said about it.  How dare they say that eating processed meats causes cancer?  That should be a matter of personal choice.”

The President shook his head.  “No, it’s over.”  He looked at the mascot, a sausage beaming a huge smile.  “We are just going to have to find a different way to bring people the magic of processed meat.”

The marketing campaign for the “Desk Sausage” was received initially with skepticism.  The idea of a having a real sausage on your desk to keep your papers from flying off was seen as rather unorthodox, especially since the sausage would leave little grease stains on anything it touched.  Yet thanks to a couple of intrepid celebrities, within weeks everyone had a Desk Sausage on their desk.

“I don’t know how I got anything done without it,” said one customer in one of those candid customer commercials.  “I can’t explain it,” said another.  “It just makes you want to do more work.”  Said a third, “The Desk Sausage has changed the way business is done.  We recommend it to all our clients.”

Soon the Happy Swine Processed Meat Company branched out into other products, making Desk Bacon, used to cushion one’s elbows from an especially hard desk surface, and Desk Salami, which was pulled out of dispensers like Post-It notes, and used as bookmarks, or placed between the fingers as a way to reduce stress during a hectic day.

One could travel the entire country and not find an office untouched by Happy Swine office products.  As people lunched on kale, beet greens and chard, they had sausage, salami and bacon keeping their work space organized and chic.  Desk Hot Dogs were particularly good monitor risers, and the gift that everyone wanted that holiday season was the 2016 Corned Beef Planner, known for its distinctive cover and briny pages.

By the following year, Happy Swine office products were global.  It shipped to more than sixty countries, and its products were known for surviving even the longest and most difficult journeys without a single change in appearance.  So successful was the transition, that people forgot that processed meats had once been sandwiched between slices of bread instead of staplers and paper clip caddies.  Happy Swine was more successful than ever, and it now praised the World Health Organization, for breathing life into a dying company.

And then the World Health Organization released its report on kale, and Happy Swine’s unchallenged domination of office gear was at an end.

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Remember When You Couldn’t Reconstruct a Rat Brain?

The day we all knew was coming is finally here.  Scientists have reconstructed a rat’s brain.  I immediately phoned my research assistant. “Are you reading this article?” I asked. rat

“Sure am, boss.”

“They’ve really ratcheted up the competition,” I said.  “Time to show the world what we can do.”

“You got it, boss.”

When this news about the rat brain came in, we had already been working on reconstructing a cat brain for some time.  We had hoped to announce our findings before Team Rat announced theirs, but had allowed laziness and a “Game of Thrones” marathon to distract us from our mission.  But time was of the essence now.  There could be no more procrastinating.  I asked my research assistant to show me where we had left off in our work.  He led me to a cardboard box filled with little folded up pieces of paper containing mostly sketches of cats.  I recognized the pen strokes as my own.

We borrowed a neighbor’s cat, a cute little gray and black striped tabby with green eyes, and observed her for a few days. We wrote down everything she did. My assistant and I worked in shifts.

The first step was to program the eating function.  Cats have a very distinctive way of eating.  They won’t eat just anything, and won’t eat it in just any particular way.  The rat brain decision tree, I’ve no doubt, had just one branch: Is it edible? If yes, then eat. But our decision tree had branches upon branches upon branches. Is it food? If so, then is it wet food or dry food? If it is wet food, is it from one of the premium brands or is it that generic store-brand stuff? If it is the generic store-brand stuff, then walk away with nose in the air. If it is the premium brand, has it been placed on a plastic lid not too close to the toe-kick on the lower cabinets?

Next we had to program the cat’s daily rounds about the house. After eating, go from the kitchen, to the dining room, to the living room, to the basement, then circle back along the perimeter. If there was a desk or table in the cat’s path, we had to program jump. If there was anything on the table, we had to program the cat to rub her face against it.

But the trickiest part was programming where the cat would want to sit or lay or curl up in the shape of a woven trivet during the day. There were so many places in the home, and this cat that we had observed seemed to go from spot to spot without rhyme or reason.  It was just impossible to decipher why the cat chose the back of the couch in one moment, and then the owner’s bed in another moment, and then the middle of the kitchen floor in another moment. Only by resorting to Heisenberg Uncertainty and related laws of quantum physics could we introduce enough randomness to simulate the perambulations of a real cat.

At last the reconstructed cat brain was ready.  Consistent with the ethical principles of our field, we invited an audience of actual cat owners and seated them before two screens: one screen showing a text-based description of the actions of the real tabby, and on the other screen was a text generated by our reconstructed cat brain.  We did not the audience which was which.  If we could fool these humans into not being able to tell the difference between the real cat and the computer cat, then our mission would be a success and we could brag to those rat brain scientists.

The programs started, and immediately both screens described the cats as going to sleep.  And when the text “wake up and stretch” appeared 14 hours later, the audience was gone.

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Remember When People Didn’t Grow Plants on Their Heads?

I was just settling down to another day at the office when I happened upon the startling flowersnews about a trend in China of people wearing plastic flowers on their heads.  Yes – taking a plastic flower and sticking the stem in the hair so that it looks as if the flower is growing directly out of the head.

The obvious question was, of course, why do the flower arrangements have to be plastic?  Surely there must be a way to grow real flowers on your head.  I went outside into my yard and got some dirt from the garden and sprinkled in on my head, and planted a seed, and watered it.  And within a few days, a sprout began to show itself.

The most difficult thing was washing my hair without damaging the fledgling flower.  At first I tried to put a small plastic bag over my head in the shower, and then shampoo around the plastic bag.  But the stream of water kept bending the small plant, struggling to grow.  So instead I went to the local florist, and was advised to just put my head under the sprinkler for half an hour every day.

As my flower on my head grew taller I thought it might be nice to add a few others, just for some variety.  Before long I had daisies and tulips and even roses.  A few dandelions showed up, but I got a good discount on a lawn service and the itchy scalp and dizziness from the pesticides lasted only a few days.

People started to stop me on the street and admire my head garden.  If I was standing in front of my house on a nice day, they would slow down their cars as they passed and look.  Often they would take photographs, and I always sure to ask that they not sell the pictures on eBay.

One day I noticed I was attracting bumblebees.  The bees would buzz in and around the flowers on my head and I was worried I or some passersby would get stung.  I went online to see if there were any methods to getting rid of bees, and I learned that the bees help the flowers grow.  So I learned to live with the bees, forcing some of my co-workers to start wearing body nets around the office.

Then there was the time the town water authority issued a warning that I was using up too much water to water my head.  I needed the water to keep the flowers looking fresh, and to reduce the watering schedule even a little would cause them to droop and bring less sunshine into everyone’s day.  I started an online campaign on one of those sites where you can raise money from complete strangers for valuable causes.  I told them about my head garden and what it stood for, and what it meant, and how I needed water to keep the flowers looking fresh and that the town was shutting me down.  The outpouring of aid was more than I ever could have imagined.  Within two weeks I had enough water money to grow my head garden for the next three years.

But then something happened that I had not expected and could not control.  The weather turned cold, and the flowers on my head started to lose their petals.  I found petals on my pillow when I awoke and in my bowl of breakfast cereal.  I kept the heat on in my home but it did no good.  Once I walked outside to go to work, the cruel autumn crept in and deflowered more flowers on my head.  By the time I was in the supermarket looking for “fun size” Snickers bars to appease the Halloween extortionists, my head garden was completely gone, leaving nothing but memories and a streak of yellow in my hair from the pesticides.

Some people ask me why I don’t just get a plastic flower, like they have in China, so that I can have my garden all year long.  I told them they didn’t understand; that what made having flowers on your head so special was that I had personally tilled my hair and watched the flowers grow, like little children into adults.  A plastic flower just wouldn’t be the same.  And the stores were all sold out.


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