Watch Out Alien Babes


It’s not just Captain Kirk who’s gonna be seducing sexy sirens of the stars, it could be you too. Introducing the Axe body spray of the 23rd Century. “Set to stun, these fully licensed fragrances boldly go where no scents have gone before.”

If the bold smell of Tiberius is just too much for your milquetoast self, consider a little dash of Red Shirt. Let your lady know you probably only have about 10 minutes to live, and you know how you’d like to spend them.

For the ladies, consider boiling your overly logical boyfriend’s blood with a little Pon Farr. Nothing says “I love you” like killing your best friend in a dual to the death.

Isn’t it nice that it’s still August, and already you have something in mind for stocking stuffers and those pesky office Christmas party gifts?


Tumor Trepidation

Here we go again. Just when you thought it was over, here comes another study linking cell phones to brain tumors. The study poo-poos earlier studies saying the risk was minimal to non-existent for a variety of reasons and ramps up the freak-out-o-meter by claiming that EMR (electromagnetic radiation) from cell phones accounts for a significant increased risk of brain tumors, as well as increased risk of eye cancer, salivary gland tumors, testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia.

But before we all go screaming for the hills and petition to join an Amish sect, let’s consider that your body can’t tell EMR from a cell phone from EMR from any of the other multitude of sources in your life. Non-ionizing radiation (that’s the frequency range we are talking about here) is significantly less dangerous to cells than radiation from x-rays, radon under your home, or even sunlight. While non-ionizing radiation can heat up objects (that’s how your microwave works), the paltry few hundred milli-watt levels of energy emitted by your cell phone are hardly enough to melt a Hershey bar, much less cook your brain.

Still, it’s possible that EMR has effects we don’t know about. But even if that’s true, your exposure from WiFi hotspots, radio and TV broadcasts, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, power lines, cellular towers, and other sources all add to the cell phone effect. Blaming the cell phone is like blaming french fries for trans-fat. It’s just one source of many.

Besides, if you could see all the equipment in my office you would see that I sit all day pretty much bathed in EMR. I am the proverbial canary in the coal mine. And you don’t see me having a brain tumo… hey, wait a minute!


Feeling Simple

In engineering, we often talk about the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). It’s a reminder to not create overly complex solutions to simple problems. Although Einstein clarified that things should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler. This is more a reminder that there are just some really complicated problems out there for which we will not find a simple solution. But of all the solutions, we should choose the simplest.

Today’s politicians find themselves in a situation where these guiding principles apply, but with an interesting twist. Some of the most pressing problems at present (e.g. the economy, healthcare) are hideously complex. Simple solutions do not exist. But their constituency, by and large, has an appetite only for simple.

Let’s face it, the majority of us couldn’t care less how the universal gas law is exploited to make our refrigerators cold. We only care that they are. We plug ’em in, and the milk stays cold. When that stops, we throw it out and get a new one. The complexities of what makes that function are of no interest. Now imagine if for some reason you had to choose among several refrigeration technologies, but had to purchase several years before actually getting to see or test the final product. How would you make the choice?

In all likelihood, you would not opt to study up on thermodynamics. You would more likely get advice from neighbors or family members, or be influenced by clever marketing campaigns for one method or the other. In other words, you’d keep it simple. The upshot being that competing cooling technologies are no longer the issue. Rather, it is the marketing of competing cooling technologies that are paramount. And marketing is not about thinking through complex issues, it’s about reducing complexity to a good feeling. It’s about emotion rather than rationality. It’s simpler to feel than to think.

Hence the conundrum of modern politics. It’s not a debate over ideas, it’s a battle over emotion. It’s not about what makes more sense, it’s about what feels better, or what frightens less. The Republicans understand this. They are masters of marketing. They make people feel good about being patriotic and “true Americans” and make them afraid of those they claim will pull the plug on Grandma. They aren’t debating technical merits, they are manipulating emotions. On the other side, we have Democrats who have yet to understand the true game they are playing. They seem to somehow think that they can rationalize their policies to the people. That somehow they can make people logically see through the emotional smoke screen of their opposition. While I’d like to believe that’s true, that people are ultimately rational beings who are not driven by their emotions, I think that’s sophistry.

If the Democrats have any chance of selling their ideas and their policies, they need to compete and win on the emotional front. They need to clearly and simply appeal to people’s inherent greed. Tell them what nuggets are in it for them. How do they directly benefit. And more importantly, why they should be afraid of the other guy. They need to instill the fear.

As an example, the stimulus program is unpopular because it was designed to stop something bad from happening. It appears to have abated the worst of what likely would have been a major economic depression. But it isn’t apparent to most people what it is they avoided. Faced with a choice between having your house burn down and having your basement flood, a little water in the cellar doesn’t seem so bad. But if I never really feel that having my house burn down was likely, then I’m seriously torqued when the Christmas decorations start to float. The current recession is actually a good outcome, but people don’t feel good about it because they were never sufficiently terrorized about the depression.

On the flip side, the Iraq War was sold as avoiding certain Armageddon. Chemical and biological weapons unleashed, mushroom clouds over our cities. People were seriously afraid, and they rallied to the cause. Disingenuous? Sure. But effective.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to recognize that sometimes the ends justify the means. You can’t win a game when your opponent is playing by a different rule book. The Republicans remain deftly skilled at manipulating the citizenry. The Democrats seem to think they are better than that. The end game being they may lose with honor… but they will still lose.


Left Behind – WOOF!

This is not a joke, yet it still feels ethically questionable. A couple guys have started a service whereby you can contract with them to have your pets cared for after the Rapture. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets promises that their atheist agents will come to your house after Jesus has taken you home and adopt your pets and care for them in a post-Rapture world.

I suppose this could provide some peace of mind for those convinced they will ascend while furry ones they love will be left behind. On the other hand, I have to believe these guys are not doing any actual planning, but rather are just cashing checks. After all, depending on the nature of “God’s wrath” that Jesus promised as part of the Great Tribulation, this planet could be a pretty chaotic place to be. It might be hard to assure someone would get to your house in time to save Fluffy. There’s no reasonable way to plan for that short of keeping a few extra bags of Alpo in the basement and hoping for the best.

Nonetheless, it does bring to light some of the more practical questions about the post-Rapture world we are left with. For example, what about the rest of the possessions of the risen Christians? I’m assuming their last will and testament doesn’t come into play as they are not dead, but they are not coming back either. The legal system is clearly not set up to handle the Rapture. On the one hand, I’m surprised the Evangelicals haven’t started lobbying for better Rapture legislation to work some of this out. But then again, they are counting on the fact that their God will wipe all pain and suffering from them as they are risen, so I guess they figure they aren’t really going to care. Ironically, that leaves it to us heathens to start making policy for what happens at the Rapture. It would seem that since the Christians won’t be here, they really shouldn’t get much of a say about it. Although it would be interesting to hear the outcry from the faithful if non-Christians introduced Rapture based legislation. Hmmmm…