The difference between snowboards and nuclear bombs
February 2, 2004
I know that talking about the weather usually indicates that you have completely run out of topics---which, in my case, indeed happened roughly 2 years ago; why are you still subscribed to my mailing list?---and it is time to move on and find yourself some new friends. (Or get married if you weren't yet, or get kids if you haven't got them yet. Just do something new.) In this case, however, I'd like to be unconventional and start out by telling you something about the weather. It was c-c-c-cold. In fact, it was so cold that the weather forecast carried the following ominous warning:
[...] These winds chill values will make it dangerous to be outside for extended periods. Exposed flesh may freeze in as little as 10 minutes. If you must go outdoors...cover any exposed skin. Wear a hat...mittens or gloves...and several layers of loose fitting clothing.
At first I thought they meant a steak. Exposed flesh. In other words: your steak will freeze if you take it out of the package and bring it outside. But no. They mean me! Exposed flesh will freeze! I don't usually think of my body as composed of flesh, but alright. For your information: it was roughly -20 degrees Celsius, but with wind chill it was actually -40 degrees Celsius. Now try biking through that. The hard part isn't actually the biking itself; no, it's the bike. At these temperatures a bike doesn't really work well anymore. The gears, freewheel, ball bearings, and other moving parts all broke. The massive amounts of salt on the road probably didn't help my bike either. The other complex problem is breathing. Especially when it's windy. It basically feels like someone is stuffing ice cubes into your mouth.
So did you see Janet Jackson's right breast? I did. On dutch television, in fact. I spent the whole day desperately trying to find a video clip of what had happened. In case you have no idea what I'm talking about: it was SuperBowl yesterday. Now, don't feel bad, I still don't exactly know what that is, but it comes down to a bunch of gorillas in big suits fighting over a ball that really isn't shaped like a ball, which makes you wonder why they all want it so badly in the first place. And because the attention span of the average football fan doesn't cover more than five minutes, the match is interspersed with (expensive) commercials and, here it comes, a music show, featuring Janet Jackson. Michael's little sister. [Insert comical paedophile joke in here.] Apparently something went "wrong" during the show and Janet Jackson's boob was uncovered by her singing colleague, who, apparently, is also famous and, who knows, may be also a paedophile. Anyway, the end of the story is that it all lasted long enough to actually see that under her bra, she was wearing a silver star-shaped object on her breast. 140 millions American jaws probably hit the floor at that point.
Oops. It was an accident, she claims.
Well, honestly, I can't really remember the last time that I had to remove star-shaped silver objects from a woman's breast---even if the uncovering was consensual and premeditated. Fortunately Janet was wearing a star-shaped silver object on her breast when HUNDRED-FORTY MILLION people ``accidentally'' saw her breast. Right. The saddest part of it all, is that I had to watch dutch television to see it.
Hey, I've been in the Netherlands a while ago. Funny country, that. Full of pleasant surprises straight from fairy tales. The thing to notice first, is that the fashion has gotten pretty abominable. Girls wear short, green skirts and boots that go up to their knees. Or worse, they wear plaid skirts that just about cover their underwear. Most girls have long, fairly blond hair that they tie in a quasi-messy knot behind their head. The casual/classic look. They wear lots of makeup and spend most of their time sending each other messages by phone. Smoking is organized suicide that permeates all corners of society. It's crowded and infested with tourists. Shopping streets are brewing places for agoraphobia. Shopping seems to be the national obsession. Dutch movies: sex, foul language, more sex, naked women, more sex, a bad plot, worse actors. Television. I've watched a bit of television and most of it is shitty. When I left there used be only a eight channels of crap, but I think there's a few more now. Lots of reality TV, where one person carries a camera with him/her and we get to see what a shitty life (s)he leads. It's depressing. Newspapers. I used to think some of the dutch newspapers are quite good, but they so blatantly lost their objectivity that I think they should now be used to light the fireplace or sold as opinion magazines. Dutch intellectual media are judging the rest of the world by some sort of hypocrite standard, while the last remains of the welfare system (that we're oh so proud of) are crumbling down. Crime. It's a punishable crime not to have a light on your bicycle, but if you smuggle less than 3kg of cocaine into the country, you get sent back to the place of origin because there aren't enough cells. It's considered politically correct to beat up on the US and, last but not least, 70% of the country considers Israel a greater danger to world peace than North Korea. Somehow, somewhere, something went wrong, but I can't really tell for sure whether it's my different perspective or something else.
So there's a strong hissssssssssing sound in my office at MIT. I always attributed that to the air-conditioning, until someone told me that it is actually a white-noise generator. I kid you not: there are white-noise generators in my office building. Apparently it allows the human ear to filter out voices (and, therefore, distraction) more easily if there's white noise. In other words: it's a cheap substitute for office-wide insulation. Rather than spending money on thick walls, they just generate so much extra noise that it doesn't really matter what material the walls are made of. Personally I think it's a big conspiracy. I paid Bose a hefty amount of money for noise-filtering headphones to filter out the white noise that is being generated to filter out people's voices. The deep irony is that with those headphones I can't really hear computers, air-conditioning, and white noise, but I can suddenly hear people really well. So many dollars later, nothing much changed. Hence my conspiracy theory.
Ricin. Have you heard? They found ricin in the US Senate. According to a CDC article, half a milligram is enough to kill a person. Uhm. Alright. Half a milligram, times, uh, two thousand, is one gram for two thousand people, so, uhm, times one thousand, is, uhm, one kilogram to kill two million people. That's a better kill/mass ratio than an atomic bomb! Now, surely it can't be so easy to produce a kilo of ricin, but neither is obtaining a kilogram of plutonium. (Unless, of course, you have Abdul Qadeer Khan telling you how to do-it-yourself.) Never mind that ricin is made from stuff you can grow in your own garden. It dissolves in water---wink wink---and it is not affected by extreme warm and cold. Good thing I stopped worrying about this stuff after my second panic attack two years ago.
Snowboarding. I learned it this weekend. I knew how to ski, and yet I decided to snowboard. The reasoning was simple, but, as it turned out, deeply flawed. I thought that since skiing involves two sliding objects and a snowboard only involves one, the latter must be roughly half the complexity. This in itself is probably true, but doesn't take into account that snowboarding involves four times more falling. So, basically, the price for learning how to snowboard is huge; and it is paid in pain. I have pain in places I didn't even know had nerves. I must have fallen 200 times over the course of three days. Most of these falls were on my tail-bone, a silly leftover from the time we were monkeys. Every seen a monkey on a snowboard? My point exactly. Anyway, snowboarding is easy once you know how to do it. In that sense, snowboarding is very much like building a nuclear bomb. Boom.
Anything else? Uhm. Not really. So much for an email full of nonsense.