Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Buttons

A well-coiffed ragamuffin asks:
Why isn't there a Moot button on all office phones? I think it would be handy during conference calls.

A fine question. I am answering it from this fine airport waiting lounge while I wait to board a plane. And I am doing fine, just fine. I can see outside and the rain is carving chunks of sky out and I can see that the plane is arriving. Fine. Just fine. Everything is fine here.

Your question is strangely prescient. While we did not call it a moot button, I have done work to develop a similar technology. However, it seems that the world is not yet ready for your moot button.

I recall my days working in research and development at a large international organization which I am contractually obliged to avoid naming. I do recall those days. We were like cats in the window, staring at the taunting blue jay that was just out of reach. I woke in the morning just a-raring to get to the office and start churning out research, or perhaps development. I seem to recall that it was research on Mondays and Fridays and development all other days. I could be wrong. It was all a delight, just a delight I tell you.

We, me and Andy, the fellow with the peculiarly long left pinky, had developed some algorithms which would allow for contextual language disposition. We were inspired based on a meeting that we had attended. After an hour long conference, Andy and I compared our notes. Yes we did. Compared them. Apart from the doodles (Mine were a little bit neater. His pinky sometimes gets in the way when Andy draws.) we had both captured only one actual note.

Stop leaving paper coffee cups and empty cigarette packs on the basement steps.

We realized that the hour-long meeting was largely, well, moot. Everything that was said was patently obvious.

Yep. There is the ticket person. Yep she just might announce boarding any time. All my bags are packed, I am ready to go. Standing here outside your door.

Yep. So Andy and I got to thinking. If we routed all inter-office communications through the Cray, did some contextual matching, created a dynamic category engine, and put every little timestamped tidbit into a database, we would have a record of what we knew. Of what, if stated in a meeting, would be, as you put it, moot.

Then, all we had to do is run some real-time voice-to-text software, compare the output to our new database, and see what kind of matches came up. Yup. that is what we did.

The results were mind expanding. An average meeting is 90% moot. 100% mootness occurs with shocking frequency, particularly in scheduled weekly meetings.

Now, I was going to stop there. File a report and call it good. But Andy took the Moot Engine (I call it this in honor of your question, for we were not so concise. We called it the Contextual Importance Relevance Identification Device.) yes he took the Moot Engine and wired it to some supercharged noise canceling headphones. When statements were flagged as moot, Andy's headphones would essentially put the room on mute. He would mute the moot.

Passport is right here. I have my passport. Will tell them it is for business. I am traveling for business. Research. Consultation with local experts in their field. Yes. Got it. Atlas, good to have. Map of city. Right here. OK. doing fine. Might have to cut the answer short a bit, but doing just fine.

Poor Andy. He knew not what he did. He lived in a silent world, devoid of human voice. He found that even his own voice was muted. Taking this as a challenge, Andy strived for relevance. It is a difficult row to hoe, having a monitor that will cut you off should you say something redundant or obvious. It did not take long for Andy to condition himself to speak only relevant and new statements.

As you can imagine, he was checked into a rest home with exhaustion after two months of constant pertinance. An undisciplined human mind just can not sustain that.

We scrapped the Moot Mute project after poor Andy got sent away, yes, sure enough we did. Yup. The world just is not ready for constant relevance. We need space filler, white noise, pleasantries, and statements of the obvious. Our life must have chorus and refrain as well as verse. So do not do as Andy did, and enjoy the moot.

My gate is boarding. I must go.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cool Beans, sir

A sound travels across a wet, chilly spring morning. It is the sound of an Australian tenor opera singer gargling garlic juice while ripping haute couture petticoats into bandages for the victims of a sudden and bloody European civil war. However, the scene is America and there are no vocalists of any nationality within range. The sound emitted from The Answer Phone's curious beverage maker. The insulated reservoir, which was apparently under a great deal of pressure, has split open. A shredded complex of bamboo lattice work once contained in the mysterious device has been blown across the counter, a set for a miniature production of Les Miserable's barricade scene.

An idea man ("an idea man, see? I deal in ideas, see?") with a bamboo cane, smelling of freshly paved highways and duck feathers, asks:

How did "cool beans" enter and establish itself in the American vernacular?

The Answer Phone is glad to answer your question. However, I am currently on hold with an important supplier's technical support line.

The irony of the situation is not lost on me, I assure you all.

I can fully dedicate myself to this question while I am listening to the droning asian hold music that is apparently the preferred choice for corporate image of this sort of business. I would not know, having never found it necessary to call them. The situation, however, is quite dire and so I am here, a phone on the phone. Tapping my fingers, drinking water. Plain old water. Nice pure clear water. The Universal Solvent. Just fine.

I will address as much of your question as I can until someone comes on the line to help me out with this situation in which I find myself bound up. Should I be interrupted before coming to a stopping place, it may be up to The Answer Phone Cloud to chime in and complete this answer. Please, if you are qualified, feel free to chime in.

And so: Cool Beans and the American Vernacular:

Upon landing on the Amerigan (as he preferred to call it until his dying day) mainland, Amerigo Vespucci came upon a large rodent grasping in its cute but clawed hands a small shell. He recorded in his letter to his Medici patron that the rodent then wandered off into the forest. Amerigo thought little about the incident until

Oh, hi there Komiko. Thank you for taking my call. I am calling from America... yes yes America. I understand. I I I understand Komiko. Yes, well, it is a special situation and I need your understanding. I am certain we can find a way. That treaty has not, as I understand it, yet been fully ratified by all parties...

(I am going to have to leave it at that for now. Once again, I call on The Answer Phone community to fill in the rest of this response.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

The News Conversation

I wonder if the text scrolling by on Fox News and CNN are having a conversation. Now it is my turn to ask the question. How would that dialog go?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Economics of the Idle

A boxy but good gentleman with a barely discernable foreign accent -- perhaps European, perhaps Japanese -- asks:

Hello Mr. Phone,

Driving into work today I got hopelessly stuck in traffic while listening to an NPR piece about the dire state of our economy. The story continued about how unemployment is through the roof and, basically, no one is working anymore. So my question is: if no one is working (except for me, of course) then why am I stuck in traffic on the way to work? Where are all these people going? Have they been conditioned, through years of work, to just get in their cars and drive between 7 and 9am every weekday morning?
Thanks for listening! PS- are you a rotary phone or a conference room-worthy, multi-lined digital jobby?

I would be a well built phone of classic lines and time-proven features, were I a phone. I am a man, all in all.

The economy functions on the collective random acts of a community. Looked at as a whole, these random acts tend to form patterns over time. Thus, it is possible to add "-ics" to the end of economy and write about it on chalkboards and poorly laid out periodicals. At the root economics is a collective prayer for logical predictable activity from people. Like drug prohibitions and speed limits, we can see that this prayer has not yet yielded compliance by the population. Perhaps it is time to give up.

Give up, my friend, give up on dire computations that may or may not correlate your traffic experience to employment rates.
  • As I squat on the sidewalk and rattle a few sparse coins in a tin cup I ask not what the larger patterns are and how they have affected me.
  • As I pace an empty board room idly wondering if my new tailored suits have come in from Hong Kong, I do not consider the correlation between unemployment trends and my ability to dress myself.
  • And when it comes time for me to pick up that severance check and head out the door of the shuttered factory one last time, it is not for me to compute the relationship between my situation and the trends that are tugged along by the persistent scroll of text at the bottom CNN and Fox News screens.

I call on you to stop driving yourself mad with economics and adopt Economology. With Economology we can think of ourselves as separate from the economy, just as when we study herpetology we are separate from newts. My morning tea is ruined if it is always a self-conscious act that proves or disproves an economic theorem. I would rather that I am a newt in someone else's study and they are a newt in mine.

While this is not the best discipline to work from to derive actionable scientific results, let's be frank. The result we desire is happiness. Let's choose a school of thought based on what can create more individual happiness. On that criteria, the dismal science certainly falls down.

I apologize. I try to only create one new science every six months and I have just surpassed my quota.