Monday, November 17, 2008

Seasonal Potpourri

What Use is a James Bond Blu Ray Boxed Set that features 6 Completely Random Bond Movies?
This happens all the time. You get six random Bond movies, jumping across decades, with no unifying theme. No particular reason for the pairings. You don't (with this set) even get a sample of one movie with each Bond actor. It's totally, bafflingly arbitrary.

If you're a completist, then you're screwed. How how are you supposed to assemble a complete James Bond Blu Ray collection? Even if the other 17 or so movies do come out later, how do you make sense of the scrambled order? Why do they do this? Why?

It's not just Bond, it's any multi-movie boxed set. They all do it. I've seen Woody Allen box sets that have a collection like "Annie Hall, Hannah and her Sisters, Interiors, Another Woman, Bullets over Broadway and Small Time Crooks. And I'm like... "Wha?" I mean, you could do "The Comedies of Woody Allen". You could do "Woody Allen: the 70's". You could do "Woody Allen: the Mia Farrow Collection". There's lots of way to creatively package his 80 feature films. But to write each of his films on a ping pong ball and then have a lotto machine serve up a random six... that's just infuriating.

I guess maybe the strategy with these blender-style collections is that you get to package a couple of stinkers in with a couple of known favorites, but man - my logical collector's brain just starts steaming when I see these boxed sets.

Ladies: Please Put Away the Goddamn Camera

What is it with women and their need to take a thousand pictures? Why must every fun or spontaneous moment be stopped for documentation? Let me distinguish between female photography and male photography, since both kinds exist and there's a distinction I'm trying to make. Guys who are into taking pictures are different. These are loner guys with full beards and an unkempt appearance. They get up early to take pictures of the sunrise and they carry thermoses. They have one of them fancy cameras and they can tell you about the lens. They would much rather get a candid photo of you putting on your shoes than get you and two others to huddle in for a group picture. They like working in black and white and they have their own darkrooms. These guys are inoffensive and they aren't the problem.

The problem is the women who actually make everyone stop what they're doing in order to get a group picture. Not once, or once a day, but every 30 freakin minutes. "Oh oh! Can we stop for a picture!" So you stop, and you pose. And you force a smile. Then you have to wait to make sure she likes the photo, cause if not, well then you do it again. And again. Then she wants to get in the photo too and you have to "Ask the Stranger". I hate asking the stranger. And I hate putting other, innocent pedestrians in the position of having to pause and walk around us so they don't get in the picture.

And all for what? To create a scrapbook? Who cares? Who's going to look? Why not just do what the rest of us do and rely on your brain to remember what happened? Sure, take a few pictures - but keep it low key. Don't interrupt the momentum of whatever's going on to get a group photo.

When Did 5 O'Clock Shadow Get so Hip for TV Professionals?

The other guy that comes to mind is the cop from Heroes, the telepathic one who does everything in his life: work, leisure, family time, with a perfectly unchanging coat of 18-hour stubble. I couldn't find a good picture though. Watch the 1st season episode where he plans the perfect date for his wife, and he's dressed to the nines and serving a candlelit meal - but he still doesn't shave! Are other cops besides him allowed to show up for duty with a 1-day beard, let alone a perpetual one?

Try showing up for work at your job with a 1-day beard and see what happens.

Wait, looks like someone has beaten me to the punch here and is already chronicling a list of TV characters who sport perpetual 5 O'Clock shadow. Here's the link.

My Secret Vestibule Trick

For anyone reading this far, I'd like to offer you a little secret bonus that is guaranteed to make your life a little more pleasant. I've been doing this for years and it's never let me down. It's my secret vestibule trick. Say you are walking towards the entrance to a place of business. A restaurant, a hotel, a Starbucks, whatever. You notice another person is on a trajectory to arrive at the door at roughly the same moment as you will get there. Whichever one of you gets there first will clearly end up getting served first, and the second person will have to wait in line. Furthermore you know that the other person is perfectly aware of this too.

Now traditionally, there are 2 things you can do in this situation. 1) You can preemptively forfeit. You don't want a confrontation, you don't want any bad blood, so you hang back for a minute and let the other guy get there first. 2) You speed up, pretending not to notice that it's a race. You get there first, but the punishment is that both of you know that you're an enormous prick.

These are both bad choices. Here's what you can do instead. Look inside the building and see if there's a vestibule. That is - a small space with a second set of doors after it. You've probably never considered it, but many, many businesses have these vestibule entrances. If there is a vestibule, here's what you do. Allow yourself to awkwardly arrive at the front door simultaneously with the other guy. Give him a smile full of brotherly love, and graciously open the door for him.

My friends, you'd better believe you'll be sampling ice cream flavors with the little sampling spoon first and that other guy will never know what hit him. To him it will all be a blur of politeness and smiles and vestibules, but the next thing he knows he's standing in a line, and you're getting served. That is the secret vestibule trick. Share it only with those you trust.

Now, if there's no vestibule, you're back to square one. I would suggest whipping out your cell phone and pretending to be engrossed in a call. It makes your fast-walking seem more plausible, and you can pretend to be totally oblivious to anything around you.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Scientists: Lets Move a Little Faster on Immortality

Why is no one talking about immortality? How come it isn't on the agenda? How come all this progress on decoding the genome and sequencing our DNA is going on all around us, and the cutting edge of speculation on future gene therapy all revolves around changing our babies eye color, and stuff like that? Aren't we really close, theoretically, to being able to fool the body into not aging?

My layman's understanding of aging is that our cells are all capable of regenerating, but after age 25 or 30 or so, some genetic instruction kicks in and tells the cells to start failing at reproduction every once in a while. Eventually, the failure rate increases and we start to show visible signs of aging. Finally, some major organ fails catastrophically and we die. In theory, if we could suppress the genetic instruction that causes aging, we could generate healthy cells forever and be perpetually 25.

Is it really that simple? Probably not. But where the hell is the research? Where are the foundations? Where are the charitable trusts? The clock is ticking over here. I need this now.

Here's the truth of it, and it's been bugging me for a while. For some strange reason, there's a social taboo against pursuing this goal. The pursuit of immortality - it's uncouth. It shows poor character. It's a moral failing.

Well no. No it's not.

At what point does "I don't want to die." go from being a reasonable and universally shared feeling to being a tragic character flaw? 60? 70? 80? You know those movies where the old man on his deathbed has a twinkle in his eye and comforts the child by saying "Don't worry son, it's my time." That's some Hollywood bullshit right there. I think Woody Allen had the right idea when he said "Rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I’d prefer to live on in my apartment."

There is nothing wrong with wanting to keep living. The naysayers caution "Do you REALLY want to live FOREVER? Wouldn't that be boring? Wouldn't life lose all meaning?" Well, I'll let you know. Or probably I won't, cause you'll be dead. Suicide is always there if I change my mind, right? Let me tack on another 100 years to my current lifespan, and then I'll reassess the situation.

Again the naysayers: "What about the overcrowding of the earth?" Me: If a vasectomy is the price, then sign me up. No problems there. After those two arguments are rebutted, the anti-immortality guy realizes most of his ammunition is gone, and the remaining arguments he tries to field are really vague and wishy-washy. "What about the hubris? What about tampering in God's domain? What about the need to refresh the species with new blood? What about death giving meaning to life? What about..." And here is where I just slowly turn the volume dial down to mute. So, really, there's no ethical problem with a pursuit of immortality.

Which brings us back to the original question: why aren't we all over this shit? Why isn't there a Newsweek cover story on this all the time? Shouldn't we be talking about it? Do you have any idea how significant a development this would be? This is a real monkey-throwing-a-bone-upwards moment in the history of our species. Conquering death! This is evolution man! If we achieve immortality, (and don't just insist, categorically, that it isn't possible) then I will argue that it is the third most important moment in the history of mankind, after 1) the dawn of civilization and 2) Enlightenment. This would be the third milestone on the road to wherever it is we're going. And theoretically, it's within sight. It could happen in our lifetimes. And no one's talking about it! All because of this foolish social taboo.

I've looked online in the past for any guidance on this, and the difficulty is separating the legitimate thinkers from the cranks who want to sell you miracle tonics and stuff like that. Here is one organization that I think is fairly legit, and it provides links to other good sources.

The champion of the current legitimate immortality movement seems to be this man, Dr. Aubrey de Grey.

You see, immediately, my pessimism. To me, his beard and shirt say only one thing - that I may as well shop for a casket and burial plot now. And this is his publicity photo! Do you realize that he appears to be lying down? I'm screwed, man!

Look, Dr. Aubrey de Grey could be a genius, I don't know. But if he wants my donation, if he wants to get his act together, he'd better take some cues from 1960's NASA to set my mind at ease. How about a lab coat? A starched shirt? A tie? A shave? A crew cut? A clipboard? Anything!

I'm not usually in the habit of making predictions. My political predictions for this year (see the January 2007 archives) were spotty. My digital piracy prediction (that one day all music and all film will be free and there's nothing anyone can do about it) is still in the balance. But I'm ready to make a new prediction: immortality will eventually be the most important issue on the planet. Because the power to achieve this isn't in some distant future - it's coming soon. Mother nature never anticipated humans achieving this level of fundamental meddling. We're going under the hood of human existence and we can make whatever changes we want.

You heard it here.