Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Universal Doubt

"At precisely 2.27pm New York time on February 13, 2001, the universe suffered a crisis of self-confidence. Should it go on expanding indefinately? What was the point?"
- Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Notes of an Aspiring Evil Genius

In the mid 1990's, after participating in a lengthy Secret Agent / Kung-Fu movie marathon, a group of nerds in Arizona created a ridicilously extensive list of villainous Do's and Dont's. Presented here are my favorite 25:
25. I will be an equal-opportunity despot and make sure that terror and oppression are distributed fairly, not just against one particular group that might later form the core of a rebellion.

24. All repair work to my secret fortress will be done by an in-house maintenance staff. Any alleged "repairmen" who show up at the fortress will be escorted to the dungeon.

23. If I have equipment which performs an important function, it will not be activated by a lever which someone could fall on when fatally wounded.

22. I will not make alliances with those more powerful than myself. Such a person would only double-cross me in my moment of glory. I will instead make alliances with those less powerful than myself. I will double-cross them in their moment of glory.

21. Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.

20. If an advisor says to me "My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?" I will reply "This" and kill the advisor.

19. My Legions of Terror™ will be an equal-opportunity employer. Conversely, when it is prophesied that no man can defeat me, I will keep in mind the increasing number of non-traditional gender roles.

18. I will instruct my Legions of Terror™ in proper search techniques. In particular, if they are searching for escapees and someone shouts, "Quick! They went that way!" they must first ascertain the identity of this helpful informant before dashing off in hot pursuit.

17. The deformed mutants and odd-ball psychotics will have their place in my Legions of Terror™. However, before I send them out on important covert missions that require tact and subtlety, I will first see if there is anyone else equally qualified who would attract less attention.

16. I will hire a talented fashion designer to create original uniforms for my Legions of Terror™ as opposed to some cheap knock-offs that make them look like Nazi stormtroopers, Roman footsoldiers, or savage Mongol hordes. All were eventually defeated and I want my troops to have a more positive mind-set.

15. I will classify my lieutenants in three categories: untrusted, trusted, and completely trusted. Promotion to the third category will be awarded posthumously.

14. If I decide to test a lieutenant's loyalty and see if he/she should be made a trusted lieutenant, I will have a crack squad of marksmen standing by in case the answer is no.

13. I will make sure I have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in my organization. For example, if my general screws up I will not draw my weapon, point it at him, say "And here is the price for failure," then suddenly turn and kill some random underling.

12. If I ever talk to the hero on the phone, I will not taunt him. Instead I will explain that his dogged perseverance has given me new insight on the futility of my evil ways and that if he leaves me alone for a few months of quiet contemplation I will likely return to the path of righteousness. (Heroes are incredibly gullible in this regard.)

11. Since nothing is more irritating than a hero defeating you with basic math skills, all of my personal weapons will be modified to fire one more shot than the standard issue.

10. When I've captured my adversary and he says, "Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?" I'll say, "No." and shoot him. On second thought, I'll shoot first and then say "No."

9. If I am fighting with the hero atop a moving platform, have disarmed him, and am about to finish him off and he glances behind me and drops flat, I too will drop flat instead of quizzically turning around to find out what he saw.

8. If I am ever dangling over a precipice and the hero reaches his hand down to me, I will not attempt to pull him down with me. I will allow him to rescue me, thank him properly, then return to the safety of my fortress and order his execution.

7. If I am escaping in a large truck and the hero is pursuing me in a small Italian sports car, I will not wait for the hero to pull up along side of me and try to force him off the road as he attempts to climb aboard. Instead I will slam on the brakes when he's directly behind me. (A rudimentary knowledge of physics can prove quite useful.)

6. If an attractive young couple enters my realm, I will carefully monitor their activities. If I find they are happy and affectionate, I will ignore them. However if circumstances have forced them together against their will and they spend all their time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions when they are saving each others' lives at which point there are hints of sexual tension, I will immediately order their execution.

5. I will maintain a healthy amount of skepticism when I capture the beautiful rebel and she claims she is attracted to my power and good looks and will gladly betray her companions if I just let her in on my plans.

4. If I am using the hero's girlfriend as a hostage and am holding her at the point of imminent death when confronting the hero, I will focus on her and not him. He won't try anything with his true love held hostage. On the other hand, the fact that she has been weak, slow-witted, naive and generally useless up to this point has no bearing on her actions at the moment of dramatic climax.

3. If I find my beautiful consort with access to my fortress has been associating with the hero, I'll have her executed. It's regrettable, but new consorts are easier to get than new fortresses and maybe the next one will pay attention at the orientation meeting.

2. If I have children and subsequently grandchildren, I will keep my three-year-old granddaughter near me at all times. When the hero enters to kill me, I will ask him to first explain to her why it is necessary to kill her beloved grandpa. When the hero launches into an explanation of morality way over her head, that will be her cue to pull the lever and send him into the pit of crocodiles. After all, small children like crocodiles almost as much as Evil Overlords and it's important to spend quality time with the grandkids.

1. I reserve the right to execute any henchmen who appear to be a little too intelligent, powerful, or devious. However if I do so, I will not at some subsequent point shout "Why am I surrounded by these incompetent fools?!"
Thanks to Peter Ansbach who long ago compiled the exhaustive list from a multitude of contributors.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Cellular Dilemma

Cell phones: Everybody has one. Everybody except me that is. I've doggedly held onto my retro belief they're frivolous at best, and quite possibly represent absolute evil. They often seem either unjustified- as counterfeit status symbols, or unnecessary - as electronic leashes that chain otherwise free souls to the unyielding demands of an all-consuming employer or spouse.

It's not that I believe that everyone who has a cell phone falls into these categories. I know a lot of people find them useful in limited situations. My wife has one which she usually only keeps in the car in case of emergencies, and more than a few of my friends use them to keep in contact with eachother on the move. But they at least are intelligently selective about when they carry/answer them and when they don't. I guess I don't believe they're always bad, simply that I never saw myself as needing one. Once I realized I didn't need one, it became easy to see how I might be happier without one at all.

But times are always changing. It used to be that I could always find a pay-phone if I was out and had to make a call. I figured the $1.50 I'd spend in a month from phone booths was cheaper than any cellular plan I'd have to pay for, and I really didn't mind the extra effort of walking to a booth (at least there's never a queue anymore). But now finding a booth is becoming nearly impossible as pay-phones are going the way of the dodo. The few that are left always seem to be out of service, and I secretly suspect I'm the only one who notices.

I'm sure it was wisdom that initially turned me away from the cell phone trend, but I'm doubting it's wisdom any longer. I'd come to hold my lack of a cell as a unique badge of honor, something to set me apart from the mindless masses obliging commercial consumerism. But that rant wears thin when I conclude my explanation of 'why I don't have a cell' with, "by the way - Can I borrow yours for a sec? I need to make a call." I'm realizing that I borrow other people's cells a lot lately. It's gotten so bad I actually get calls on other's cells sometimes. I've ridden my moral high-horse across the ridge of discernment and into the valley of hypocrisy. It's time to get off the horse.

The proverbial camel snapping straw came a short while ago, when my wife became seriously sick at work and needed me to come get her. After I left she realized she'd given me the wrong location to pick her up at. She had to call a my mom (who was at least much closer) to pick her up, and then detour to meet me at the wrong location so I wouldn't search in vain. Ever since then I've decided I could probably use a cell phone of my own. Now the only trouble is actually getting one.

I started shopping on Friday, and was overwhelmed by the different plans/ phones/ options/ distributors available. It made me think about an old former-East-German lady who spoke of the paralyzing fear she felt when she went shopping for the first time after the wall came down. She talked, quite entertainingly, for ten minutes about toothpaste and how she had no idea there could be so many different types of toothpaste or which one she was supposed to buy. She ended up shopping for an hour and then leaving the cart - buying nothing - and never shopped again without a 'helper' for months afterwards. I'm sure it won't go quite so badly for me, but it does seem I'll have to do a bit more research before I commit to a purchase. It's strange because I know plenty about buying computers or handhelds or cameras - just not phones. This must be how old people feel about technology.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Relative Logic

There are five houses in a row. Each house is a different color. In each house lives a person of a different nationality. The five owners each drink a different drink, smoke a different brand of tobacco and keep a different pet, one of which is a fish.

The question is: Who owns the fish?

1 The Brit lives in a red house
2 The Swede has a dog
3 The Dane drinks tea
4 The green house is on the left (adjacent) of the white house
5 The owner of the green house drinks coffee
6 The person who smokes Pall Mall has birds
7 The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhills
8 The man living in the center house drinks milk
9 The Norwegian lives in the first house
10 The man who smokes Blends lives next to the one who has cats
11 The man who has horses lives next do the man who smokes Dunhills
12 The man who smokes Blue Master drinks beer
13 The German smokes Prince
14 The Norwegian lives next to the blue house
15 The man who smokes Blends has a neighbor who drinks water
Note: This particular puzzle is purportedly so difficult that only 2% of all persons who attempt it ever solve it. While I'm doubtful of such statistics, it's certainly more difficult than it first appears. I eventually gave up on using a traditional logic table and resorted to making mental notes as I filled/switched information in five boxes while repeatedly going through the 15 steps until I zeroed in on the answer. Although I eventually solved it, I'm upset that my methodology was so sloppy, and I'm curious if anyone out there can show me a more elegant way of sussing out the solution.

To reveal the solution, click here: