Remember When You Could Have a Private Email Server?

I am going to make a confession right now. When I was a cashier at 7-11 one summer years ago, I had a private email server. There, I said it. My actions were wrong and I am sorry.

When I commenced employment in that position, I had been provided with an email account on the store’s server installed right behind the Slurpee machine. But I hardly ever used that account. At work I had to stand up and sell people coffee, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and, of course, Slurpees. It was usually so busy that I had not any time to check email, and at the end of my shift at 10 p.m., I had to quickly bring that day’s leftover doughnuts to my friends who were starving and had money only for beer.

So it was a matter of circumstance that I hired a consultant to set up an email server at my home. Do not think that it was easy. I was still living with my parents and in the same bedroom I’d had since childhood, with the Disney character wallpaper, Superman sheets on the bed, and Thundercats light switch cover that I’d obtained as a favor in a Happy Meal. There was not a lot of space in the closet and I had to relocate my comic books and Boy Scout uniform at considerable inconvenience both to myself and my staff.

After a long day at the cash register I would return home to conduct my business. As you will see from the more than 40,000 emails that have been turned over to the State Department, I never discussed anything classified or that would compromise national security. The Saudis were interested only in some Power Bars, and the photos of potential drone strike targets were in fact from a particularly tense game of Battleship that to this day I swear I played with integrity.

Much has been made of Protocol 32, which mandates, in pertinent part, that all 7-11 business must be conducted on 7-11 servers. I do not deny the text of the rule, and since that time my staff and I have worked tirelessly to come up with a decent excuse. The reason I did not strictly follow the rule is that I did not read it. The package of materials that I received during orientation was shoved under my bed, and in the midst of all my duties and feeding my drunk friends free stale doughnuts I forgot about the rules, until my mother last year served me with a demand to take all my “junk” out of my old room or else I would face environmental clean up costs.

Nevertheless, my conducting of 7-11 business on a private email server was a violation of the rules, and for that I am sincerely sorry. But I assure you that at no point was the nation put at risk. I never told anyone how long the hot dogs are left on those rotating cylinders or who was really responsible for the irritating music that was always playing over the loud speaker. You can all sleep easy, and I hope that we can now all move past this, into a brighter future where my campaign for register clerk at Pita Pan will not be dogged by distractions that have nothing to do with the real issues.

Remember When People Liked Gluten?

The Scheisskopf Gluten Company was not having a good quarter. None of the recent quarters had been good. Brayden Scheisskopf, the current president, sat in his office, at the large desk made entirely of gluten resin, and pored over the figures in the latest financial sheets that the Chief Financial Officer had emailed him. The numbers were terrible. Sales of gluten had been plummeting for years, and were now so low that even the illegal offshore shell companies were having no effect.

Brayden rubbed his face and stared at the wall of portraits, showing four generations of Scheisskopfs as they oversaw their empire of gluten. He felt their looks of disappointment. “I’m sorry,” he said to them.  But what could he do against the tide of history?  Gluten was just not being consumed anymore. “You know how these things go,” he often said to the shareholders. “First one person decides to go gluten-free, then another. Next thing you know all the restaurants have the letters ‘GF’ on all the items on the menu.”

He opened his top drawer and took out a large bag of gluten chips. He always thought better on gluten. He chewed slowly, savoring the elasticity and springiness of the wheat-extracted protein. Why couldn’t people appreciate that?

Suddenly he sat up. “That’s it!” he shouted to the stern faces in the portraits.

Converting the Scheisskopf Gluten Company’s gluten factory into a theme park took nearly a year and more than a few clever maneuvers in the company’s accounts. But once it was done and “Glutanica” opened for the first time, the critics were silenced.  No one could have anticipated the success of the theme park.

There was a gluten rollercoaster. And kids could have their picture taken with “Glutus,” a giant fluffy grain of wheat, who was really two undocumented workers, one standing and working the legs and the other sitting on his shoulders and working the arms and head, and both dreaming of a better life and a parking space closer to the entrance.

There was also ride where people were strapped into a giant raft and sent down a river of gluten-extract. The substance was far thicker and bouncier than water, and the smell was not altogether unpleasant, somehow combining the odors of corn flakes and cow manure.

In the center of the theme park was a big pit of gluten where the kids could swim and play while the parents could have a few minutes of relief to play with their smartphones, and a ride where people rode on a little carts through a fairy tale castle and shown all the different ways that gluten is used around the world, with mechanical puppets singing, “Gluten glues the world together/Good in nice or stormy weather.”

And there was a large chamber with long elastic bands of gluten, arranged in crisscrossing patterns and in many layers from floor to ceiling, so that kids could climb in it like spiders on a web.  There was a height requirement for adults, too, although this came under some criticism as being age discriminatory, and a lawyer was able to make a name for himself by arguing at the Supreme Court that there was no rational basis why an adult could not enjoy hanging upside down from large bands of gluten as much as a child.

The park’s ticket sales more than offset the loss in sales of edible gluten.  Until the company was sued by Disney.  Apparently, Disney had bought the rights for turning gluten into an amusement park from Michael Scheisskopf, Brayden’s father, in exchange for a trip to Disney World for his whole family.  Brayden remembered that trip, and although it was a shame that Glutanica had to close its doors, no one could argue that the Scheisskopf family had not gotten something valuable in return.

Remember When Presidential Campaigns Did Not Go On Forever?

Presidential campaigns were going on forever.  No sooner would one president be sworn in than people would already start talking about the next president.  It was theorized that the problem was that the campaigns lasted so long that people got bored of all the candidates, including the candidate who eventually won.

So it was decided that the Presidential campaign would last one day.  No one was allowed to do any campaigning – no speeches, no debates, no visits to factories or bakeries or diners or ice cream parlors – until Election Day itself.

Several weeks prior to Election Day, anyone who wanted to be a Presidential candidate could sign up by paying a $2 fee to put their name in the hat.  Then, the day before Election Day, the Chief Justice of the United States would mix up all the names in the hat, and pick two.  These were the two candidates – one Democrat, and one Republican.  It did not matter what these candidate’s real positions were, or what party they had been affiliated  with during their career leading up to the Presidential race.  One had to be the Democrat, and the other had to be the Republican.

These two names were picked at midnight on Election Day, and the first debate was at 5:00 a.m.  The two lucky candidates had to quickly familiarize themselves with the platform that they were supposed to adopt.  The main task was to make sure that they didn’t agree on any issues.  So as they studied their positions from midnight to 5:00 a.m., they often called each other up.  “Hey, so are you against starting that war in whatever that place is?  Oh, you’re for it?  Okay, then I’ll be against it.  Glad I checked.”

After the 5:00 a.m. debate it would be time to raise money and run commercials slinging mud at the other candidate.  Given the little amount of time available to raise funds, checks could not be accepted because of the time required to clear.  Only credit cards, debit cards, and transfers between PayPal accounts would work as valid campaign contributions.

Then at 9:00 a.m., with all the money raised, the two campaigns would set out making TV and radio ads that would cast the other candidate as a totally incompetent and unethical hypocrite who cared more about himself or herself than the American people.  Because there was so little time to produce these ads, there was only time to take an existing ad and splice in the names of the candidates.  The ads were really identical except the two names would be in one order in one video, and the in the reverse order in other video.

Then at noon the two candidates would go on their book tours.  They would appear on talk shows with their new books where they discussed how their simple backgrounds and professional adversity had molded them into the perfect President.  Since there was only one day to appear on the shows, the candidates would have be guests at the same time, sitting at opposite sides of the host’s desk, each holding up their book and sipping from their mugs of coffee.  The host’s main job was to prevent the two candidates from talking at the same time, so the host would turn to one and say, “Now you talk,” while holding up a hand to the other, and then would turn to the other and say, “Okay, now you go.”

At 2:00 p.m. there would be another debate, usually featuring at least one scandal that had been leaked at some point during the day, and the targeted candidate would have an opportunity to look grim and admit that “mistakes were made.”  At 3:00 p.m. the candidates would eat a late lunch at a local restaurant, serving locally grown food on plates manufactured in China.  And by 4:00 p.m. the candidates would be shown at home with their spouses and children so that the American voters could see how ordinary and down to Earth they were.

Finally, at 5:00 p.m. the polls would open.  Americans could vote until 10:00 p.m., at which time the vote tallies would be open to legal challenge.  At 11:00 p.m. any legal challenges had to be ended, and at midnight the new President would be announced.

Everyone would watch the announcement with great excitement.  It would have been a very exciting 24-hours.  And just after the announced winner gave the speech thanking supporters and offering best wishes to the loser, the TV stations would automatically switch to a regularly scheduled program, and no one would speak of campaigns for the next four years.

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.

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.

Remember When You Couldn’t Get a Head Transplant?

Last month a doctor said that he was planning to undertake the world’s first head transplant.  The operation is as simple as it sounds.  Take the head of one body and surgically reattach to another.  The articles discussing the planned operation, which is apparently going to take place in China despite all of the interest that Western countries have in seeing this real-life Lego project, seem focused just on the source of the head.  No one seems to be discussing where the body will come from.

Maybe there will be no body at all.  Perhaps the idea is to reattach the head to a mannequin’s body, like the kind you see modeling clothes at the mall.  Imagine how many more outfits will be sold when the customers, looking for the right size or for something that will match their Kindle Fire, notice one of the mannequins moving its eyes to follow them throughout the store.  It will certainly put an end to shoplifting.

Or maybe the head could be reattached to the body of a large kid’s toy.  Imagine how popular the toy would be?  No need for batteries or pulling a cord.  The head just speaks.  The box that the toy comes in would have to detail what the head was going to speak about.  The toy manufacturer would have to interview the head and find out what it knows.  Maybe the head comes from someone who majored in physics or chemistry or ancient history.  Think about how much kids could learn.  On the other hand, the head may have come from someone who watched nothing but HBO programming, and parents will have to censor the doll and get to tone down its language and imagery, perhaps by making it watch whole seasons of Downton Abbey, until the head-doll starts addressing the kids that play with it as “M’Lord” and “Your Ladyship.”

Or maybe they will locate a body that is fresh and available enough and comes with few enough questions asked as to be ready to receive a new head.  But who is to say there will be only one head needing a transplant?  What if there are two?  The surgeon will have to sew two heads onto the same body and hope they like the same kinds of movies.

Of course, this is all fantasy.  No head transplant is going to take place because no insurance carrier is going to pay it.  It doesn’t have a procedure code.

Remember Shopping on Black Friday?

The CEO took a few deep breaths and repeated his mantra silent to himself, and then addressed the shareholders.

“Esteemed shareholders, I know that our Black Friday sales were quite a bit lower than anticipated,” he said.  “Believe me when I say that this is a greater shock to me then it is to you.  No one could have predicted that people would be sick of Black Friday, and would choose to stay at home with their families rather than run out in the dark night and participate in a stampede for televisions.  Clearly there are forces at work here with which we are unfamiliar.”

The CEO took a sip of water.  The water went down the wrong pipe, and there was a coughing fit for a few moments.

“But do not despair,” the CEO continued upon regaining control.  “There is hope.  We and the other big stores have a plan.  Instead of waiting for the customers to come to us, we’re going to go to the customers.”

At 4:00 a.m. the following morning, employees from all of the major retailers lined up at the home of one of their rewards club members who had failed to show up at the Black Friday sale.  Someone pushed the doorbell, and when the groggy homeowner in his bathrobe opened the door a crack to see who was ringing the bell at such an hour, the employees rushed into the house with all sorts of wares – on sale, of course.

The homeowner was bewildered, but he was so tired and desperate to get back to bed that he bought a few items.  Then the employees left and went to the house next door, where the process was repeated.  And so on until the end of the block.

A lot of people complained about the invasion of privacy and overly aggressive sales tactics.  But it was hard to argue with the results.  It turned out that the real reason people didn’t spend on Black Friday was because they didn’t want to deal with the parking.  Once that was taken out of the equation – along with the traveling, the waiting on lines, the crowds, and the having to wear pants – people were happy to spend money.

Sales not only rebounded, but exceeded all the estimates and set a record for the holiday shopping season.  Soon all the stores were doing it.  People could expect a visit from the employees of a store at least once a week.  Not only was it unnecessary to visit the store in person, but it became unnecessary to shop online.  Why waste time on goods you can’t see, when the goods will be physically in your home within the next few weeks?

Online sales dropped so much that the Internet began to suffer.  Shopping websites that had gotten millions of hits per day during previous holiday seasons, now saw just a handful of visitors.  The brick-and-mortar stores had folded up long before.  Now they were joined by the digital stores.

The stores would do their best to tailor the goods they brought to households.  But it was still guesswork, and some people lamented the loss of personal choice.  Others, however, didn’t care about personal choice, because something else was taking its place.  People were finding that they could learn to like the goods that the stores brought to their homes.  The holiday wasn’t about breaking one’s neck to get the best deal.  It was about learning to be thankful for what one had.

Remember Smallpox?

I read in an article (“Resurrecting Smallpox? Easier Than You Think”) that the smallpox virus that killed about a billion humans and almost as many characters in The Oregon Trail video at my middle school library, now lives in a computer as a single sequence of 185,000 letters that scientists are now working diligently to pronounce as one word.

Smallpox stored on computers. And now the professional worriers are worried that someone is going to download and print-out, I guess, the smallpox virus and introduce it into the population via direct mailings or flyers posted on those bulletin boards at the supermarket, looking for a cat or a drummer, with little strips of paper hanging off for interested folk to rip off.

The goverment would have to implement a national system of paper management. The IRS would offer a tax credit to every household that purchased a quality shredder, one that shreds the paper vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, so that not even the Penguin from Batman Returns would have the patience to glue the pieces back together.  Unsuspecting households would be taken in by unscrupulous merchants of inferior shredders, that would choke after five minutes of shredding, or one try at those directions for household appliances that are given in three different languages.  A bureau would have to be created to develop a standard for shredders to meet in order to receive the tax credit.  A team of federal shredder inspectors would be trained to inspect shredders, and issue certifications of quality, and soon no one would buy one without asking to see a certificate of quality.  At some point they will start forging the certificates of quality, and another bureau will be created to inspect the authenticity of the certificates after the first set of inspectors reviewed them.

Maybe they won’t print the smallpox on paper. Maybe the virus will be transmitted via telephone.  Using the spreadsheet on the network titled “CELL PHONE NUMBERS – ALL” the government will call people up one by one, and when the people pick up, a recorded message will say, “Please hold for your free vacation,” and then, using a Casio PT-87 synthesizer, the 185,000 letters of smallpox will be sounded as the corresponding note on the scale.  Whoever hears more than ten notes of the virus will contract it and have to be quarantined.  For years the sound of a telephone ringing will bring shudders and flashes of the evil eye and spitting on the floor.  People will go back to communicating using cans strung together and will find it adequate, even though they will all be forced into long service contracts by the can-and-string companies.

Of course the real way that smallpox will be spread will be by the internet. All the bioterrorists will need to do is put the sequence of letters on a website and tell everyone to check it out.  People will go there and stare at the page and not be able to take their eyes off of the letters until the disease was well inside them.  And there the disease would end, for none of these people would have contact with any human beings.

Remember When You Could Go to Mars for Only $75 Million?

So I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the orbiter that India sent to Mars for only $75 million, and seen it compared to the U.S. Mars orbiter that cost $672 million. Whatever the reasons for the difference in price, my main concern is that the two orbiters will start orbiting the planet in the same path at the same time, and they’ll be fighting over the armrest, and we’ll have to turn the spaceship around.mission to mars

The more I think about it, even $75 million starts to sound like a lot. Maybe the first space trip would cost a lot.  But that was decades ago, back when there was an evening paper and people had milk delivered to them in a glass bottle.  There should have been more cost-effective innovation by now, like what they’ve done with coffee.

There are plenty of places where money can be saved on the Mars orbiter. I hope they didn’t bother installing air conditioning.  I’ve found that a good fan well-positioned can cool as quickly, if not more quickly, than central air conditioning, albeit with a plug that can be a trip hazard, especially when one is using a plate with a turkey sandwich on it to balance a large glass of soda.

We shouldn’t be paying for ice either. Space is very cold.  All the spaceship has to do is hold a pitcher of water outside the cabin for a few seconds, and poof!  Instant ice cubes.  The ice cubes would, of course, be in those annoying half-moon shapes that come out of refrigerators.  You can’t have everything in life.

The biggest cost-saver would have to be cable and internet. The price that NASA pays to have cable and internet on every one of its spaceships was probably, in the beginning, quite modest.  And after a few months, NASA got accustomed to the price, and the astronauts were too tired from walking in slo-mo in those bulky suits to read the monthly cable bill very closely anymore.

In fact, I’m sure that NASA at this point feels rather powerless to do anything against the cable company. But the company is expecting you to do nothing! I wish I could say.  Just call up, and say that you heard that other large and inefficient agencies are paying less for cable and internet, and that you as a loyal customer demand the same low price.  The cable company will grant your wish.  And do you know why?  Because they don’t want to lose you as a customer.

Friends, it has been over two days since I shamelessly plugged The Issue Box on this blog, and I suspect that many of you have not had the opportunity to check it out. I know, I know.  They’ve been showing episodes of Roseanne. I get it.  TV marathons happen.  But still there are commercials.  So feel free to stop by during a commercial break.  Unless it is one of those commercials that is better than the program you were watching.  It’s fun when that happens.

Big Announcement

Instead of writing something that purports to be funny, I want to let you know about a website that I’ve been visiting recently. It is called The Issue Box. And you can find it by typing theissuebox.com into your browser’s URL field. Or you can Google it. Or you can follow this link.

The Issue Box allows users to post and vote on an infinite number of political and other public issues, without requiring any personal information – no names, no financial information – save for an email address that is used solely to verify that you are a human being and not a bot or toaster oven.

So, for example, you could say something like, “There are not enough restrictions on pollution,” and then vote “Agree” or “Disagree.” And then that issue, with your one vote, will be available for any other users to vote Agree or Disagree.  As the votes tally, you will be able to see a pie chart showing the split of yeas and nays, and how each voting user voted.

Now let’s say that you are a user of the site, and you didn’t create that issue, and you don’t want to vote on it either.  You think the issue misses the point.  So now you create the issue “We need to enforce the pollution restrictions we already have,” and vote Agree, and now your newly-minted issue is posted on the Home page for all to see and vote Agree or Disagree.

Now let’s talk real controversy.  What information do we require to sign up? A valid email address. That’s it. The email address is your username for logging in, but on the site you are identified only by a random assortment of words that we assign to you.   The password is a random combination of numbers, also assigned.  So your presence on the Issue Box will be totally anonymous. There is zero chance of us sharing your information with others because we don’t have any information to share.

An email address and the issues created and voted on by that email address, and that’s it.  If your email address has your name in it, and you’re not comfortable sharing it with us, then go use another email address, even one created just for the purpose of authenticating that you are a human, which is done once and never again.  But regardless of whether your email address has your name in it or not, to other users and to the public, you will be identified by only the randomly generated handle that is assigned to you at registration.  No one need ever know how you vote…unless you decide to tell them.

In case you are wondering, I have more than a passing interest in the Issue Box. I helped create it and am hoping that if enough people go on it, I will be able to sell the website for billions of dollars, and retire to a mansion with its own movie theater, where I can watch the movie they’ll make about how I screwed over my friends to take control of the company, and hope that the screenwriter is nominated for an Academy Award.

So if you get a chance today and you want to do something that’s 100% risk-free, costless, and permits – nay, encourages – you to simply say, yes or no, how you feel about an issue, and see how many people agree with you, then go to theissuebox.com and get your issues out there!

Postscript: You should know that, strictly speaking, we are still in the Beta-testing phase of the Issue Box. So if you encounter anything that looks like a glitch, please be patient and, if you have a few moments and are so inclined, send us a note about it and we’ll take care of it.