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June 8, 2006

Annals of Truly Bad Ideas
Posted by Patrick at 06:46 PM *

Bookslut reports:

Poets read their work on Minneapolis-St. Paul buses during rush hour yesterday, apparently on the theory that if there’s one thing that public transportation needs, it’s crazy people ranting loudly about things that make little to no sense. […] Who sponsored this program? A car dealership? A bicycling group? The Society to Make Sure Nobody Ever Gets on Another Fucking Bus Ever Again?

I’m so with Bookslut on this. I hate being a captive audience. I don’t want to hear my cabdriver’s political opinions—or your loud conversations in elevators. I’m fine with live music in subway stations because if I don’t want to hear it I can just walk away, but I won’t give money to musicians who play on the trains themselves, even when I’m impressed by their talent and skill. Leaving aside the fact that busking is never legal on board, the heart of the matter is that, for us working stiffs, commuting time is often our only chance in a busy day for certain kinds of reading, or thinking, or important staring out of windows. Taking that time from people without their consent is, plainly and simply, abuse. This Minneapolis program is a bad idea for poetry, for public transit, and for the basic humane idea that civilized people don’t inflict themselves on the unwilling.

Comments on Annals of Truly Bad Ideas:
#1 ::: wrye ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:16 PM:

A much better method is used on BC transit buses in Vancouver (and probably other systems elsewhere)--local poets' work is printed on ceiling-level "ads" that people can read while riding on the bus.

That's it. Not so hard, really.

#2 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:17 PM:

Amen to that. I have commuted on an early morning bus, and you could watch each person get on, drop off to sleep, and then wake up right before their stop. If someone wanted to come on and declaim their poetry at that time of the morning, you would have found them in a bloody heap at the next bus stop.

Patrick and Teresa, Annals of Truly Bad Ideas is too important a title to use only on this topic. I would suggest that it would make a fine running feature, much like Open Threads. I am sure there are enough Truly Bad Ideas to keep it going.

#3 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:22 PM:

Maybe it's a Northwest thing. Which is to say, the poetry on Seattle buses is also restricted to the ad panels. Some of it is pretty good, too. But sometimes it's way more important to watch the weather over Lake Washington, or keep lookout for turtles and herons.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:25 PM:

Don't hold back, Patrick. Tell us what you really think.

#5 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:33 PM:

What's so new about crazy people ranting on buses?

#6 ::: mote ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:35 PM:

Wow, I knit on public transit because it makes the whole experience of having to get up at 5am a little more bearable. Public transit poets would break my concentration and that would make me grumpy at that hour, to say the least. Minneapolis needs to get a grip.

#7 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:36 PM:

I'm a daily public transit commuter - if someone started this on BART, I'd consider driving my car again. I'm already dismayed at the signature-collectors and canvassers who have realized that a captive audience is likely to give them what they want just to make them go away...

To me, buses and trains are a sort of "quiet space", like libraries. A certain aural privacy should be respected.

#8 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:38 PM:

I feel much the same annoyance at folks who insist I listen to television in public places. Hate hate hate that. Just because half the population can't deal with not having a TV going 24/7, the rest of us have to listen, too.

#9 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:41 PM:

EXCUSE ME, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN

I AM SORRY TO INTERRUPT YOUR DAY

MY NAME IS JOSH, AND I HAVE BEEN AN UNPAID POET FOR NINE MONTHS

I DO NOT TAKE DRUGS, OR SELF PUBLISH

I HAVE THREE SMALL ANTHOLOGIES TO SUPPORT

ANY DONATIONS NO MATTER HOW SMALL WILL BE GREATLY APPRECIATED AND MAY EE CUMMINGS BLESS YOU ALL

#10 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:44 PM:

What a horrible idea.

I recommend that all Minneapolitans do a little contingency planning. Find some embarrassingly bad poetry,* print it out, and keep it on your person at all times. When the Serious Poets start reciting on your bus, whip the piece of paper out, unfold it and start reading it aloud, stressing syllables at random.

* anything from this website should do nicely.

#11 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:45 PM:

Patrick, I'm with you. I rarely ride the bus these days, but when I do -- and there were years when I did, daily -- I protect my physical space and that of my intellect and soul fiercely. I loved it when the Muni in San Francisco stuck cards with poetry up in the buses, and I looked forward to reading new poems each morning. But if you force me to listen to poetry, even good poetry, or just make it difficult for me to get away on those mornings when I have not yet had my coffee, I will become exceedingly cranky. Irate, even. Not a good thing.

I don't like poetry readings, either.

No uninvited poetry on the public bus system! Aux armes, citoyen! To the barricades!

#12 ::: Michael Merriam ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:45 PM:

Makes me glad I stayed home and wrote instead of venturing forth. I might have been forced to whack a poet with my White Cane of Smiting. I have a hard enough time hearing the driver call stops without someone yelling incomprehensible verse in my ears.

#13 ::: Pat Kight ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:46 PM:

I wouldn't mind if the poets drowned out the cell phone conversations.

#14 ::: MaryR ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:49 PM:

I seem to recall hearing about readings on the trains in Boston. But it was the commuter rail, so people could go to another car if they weren't interested. I think one of the south shore community colleges offered a class that met on a commuter rail train, with the professor lecturing in the aisle. Again, you could choose another car, so it wasn't a captive audience.

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 07:55 PM:

Perhaps Mipple-Stipple fandom could provide a gang of anti-poets who, upon the detection of one of these posturing fools, would stealthily board the bus, isolate him from the innocent, and then sieze him in the literary embrace of a mass declamation of The Tay Bridge Disaster, as they hustle him off the bus to his inevitable doom.

And if you do that, please put the video on YourTube.

#16 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:02 PM:

I think we've had this in NYC for years.

#17 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:08 PM:

Abi, which? Poets paid by the transit system to interrupt your sleep/thought/daydream/eavesdrop/elaborate plan to take over the world (choose one) or Dave Bell's antidote?

#18 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:24 PM:

A potential quick cure, for those who are brash enough to do it: wait until the poet gets to the end, and then CRITICIZE. Do it fairly -- discuss the things you liked as well as those you didn't -- but if it's truly awful, don't spare them out of pity. Those who want a captive audience may have a different reaction when they themselves become the captives!

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:34 PM:

The Society to Make Sure Nobody Ever Gets on Another Fucking Bus Ever Again?

There's a group in the Cities -- the Rich Suburban Turds for What They Pretend is Tax Reform -- who would throw lots of money at that organization, at least as much as they pay our beloved For Sale Cheap governor to cut library funding and sign imbecilic videogame bills.

The capo of this gang announced, two days into the transit strike a couple of years ago, that since the city hadn't stopped cold (because people had taken days off and arranged carpools in anticipation) public transit was utterly unnecessary. This achieved the impossible: labor and management joined forces to call him an butthole. (Is that nicer than, you know, the other word? Because I'm sure not trying to be nice.)

And poetry on transit (and in other public places) is quite widespread; we've had it here, and I've seen it in other cities, including the London Underground (where I believe it was sponsored by London Transport, though I may misremember -- LT has a long history of giving people cool things to look at, including their posters).

#20 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:45 PM:

The Toronto Transit System has also posted poetry on busses and subways for some time. Much of it is, I fear, of minor interest other than for local connections (Isabel Valency Crawford, anyone?) and much of the rest that is contemporary is, ah, minor. THey had the perhaps ill-advised idea of putting up one of Shakespeare's Sonnets (I think, "Shall I compare thee") in the series at one time, which had the effect of pointing up the gulf in diction and control between that one piece and the other scattered all over the system.

The idea of keeping some Julia Moore on hand as a defence against live poetry has an appealing feel to it...

#21 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:48 PM:

Only if they promise to read Kubla Khan or the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. In costume. With props. And sound effects.

In a theater.

Far from the bus.

#22 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:49 PM:

This is one of the things I love about DC. We may be an uptight, ulcer-feeding city with no nightlife, but if you tried that crap on the Metro, MetroPol would shut you up but good.

I'm personally a big fan of spoken-word poetry, but bus-time is hush-time. I don't want to hear the annoying tourists whining about how they should be allowed to eat on the train; why would I want to listen to an amateur slam poet whining about how much he suffers for his art?

#23 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 08:54 PM:

It could be worse, frex mimes, accompanied by accordionists.

Also, I can't imagine any jury finding any fault with an angry mob forcibily de-busing a rush-hour poet.

#24 ::: Jackie M. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:00 PM:

Yeah, it's not just a Northwest/Canadian thing... they had poetry snippets posted on the ceiling billboards on the Paris Metro when I was there a month ago. It was an enjoyable distraction, trying to use high school French to decipher cryptic bits of verse between stops. I thought it was kind of nice.

... the boring, preachy, rhyming epitaphs they had posted all over the Catacombs, though, not so much. Ugh, shut up! The bones speak very well all by themselves.

#25 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:05 PM:

"A lot of people just don't understand how literary this city is"

Says it all really.

#26 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:13 PM:

... the boring, preachy, rhyming epitaphs they had posted all over the Catacombs

Le petit rhume
C'est dure et fort;
La toux, le goutte,
Alors, le mort.
Birmanie-Raser

#27 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:16 PM:

In Amherst MA we have physics problems on our buses. No audio, fortunately.

#28 ::: Michael Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:20 PM:

I dunno, this could be a guerrilla marketing campaign by Apple to sell more iPods to transit riders.

If you don't like it, there's always showtunes.

#29 ::: hk-reader ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:23 PM:

You think ranting poets are bad...? Here is a Truly Bad Idea whioh is a day-to-day for millions of people.

In Hong Kong, commuters are trapped by the bus companies and the KCR (Kowloon Canton Railway) who have screens playing info-adver-tainment.

The television screens run set programs in several places on the buses without any possibility of control by the commuters. After some complaints, the downstairs sections are now silent (but the screens still go).

I used to love sitting on the upper deck of a bus and looking out. I still do, but now I have to try and position myself carefully to filter out most of the TV screen.

On the KCR, the screens go in all the cars of the train (including first class) except one, the designated "Quiet Car".

Even some of the minibuses run them.

There is a group trying to stop this practioe, called Hush The Bus but so far they have not met with much success.

#30 ::: Amy Rye ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:26 PM:

And the earplugs I keep on my keychain find yet another use...how would a poet react to an entire bus conspicuously donning earplugs, Walkmen/ipods, etc. when he starts to recite?

#31 ::: Tully ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:42 PM:

From the original story:

Some riders gazed intently at her and applauded when she finished...

I'll bet.

#32 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:54 PM:

This is why the Quiet Car was invented. However, I have only found the Quiet Car on commuter rails, not metro trains. Nor buses, for that matter.

Lee, your suggestion is brilliant. Bravo.

Of course it IS Minneapolis. Why not board the bus with replicas of Crow and Tom Servo and provide your own commentary?

#33 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 09:56 PM:

hk-reader - Many of the newer U-Bahn cars in Berlin have info-tainment screens too, but no audio. I suspect that the otherwise good-natured Berliners would have ripped the speakers out with Teutonic efficiency.

#34 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:09 PM:

More Northwest love: Portland also has the ceiling adboards with poetry on their buses. What's more, it's actually good, interesting poetry. I've seen snippets from John Ashberry and Ted Kooser, among others.

#35 ::: Jackie M. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:14 PM:

Le petit rhume
C'est dure et fort;
La toux, le goutte,
Alors, le mort.
-- Birmanie-Raser

AuugGGhhGHh.

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:37 PM:

The LA MTA had posters (and bookmarks) one year with poetry. This year it's posters with artwork celebrating places you can (theoretically) get to on the bus. Some of the art is even decent.

I can live without the guys who sing, out of tune, in the subway stations and (sometimes) on the trains. (I also can live without the information-TV screens they're starting to install. The station acoustics are bad enough already.)

#37 ::: Northland ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:39 PM:

Reporting in from another city with poems, rather than poets, on local buses. What do they call the program? "Poetry in Motion," of course. There was a lovely couplet in French on the bus I took home from work yesterday.

Speaking of unwanted entertainment in Minneapolis: we drove down there with our children for the Easter long weekend. When we stopped to fill the tank on the way out of town, a television screen on the gas pump -- precisely eye level with my five year old son in the backseat -- blipped on with gory details of the most recent bombing in Iraq.

Thanks a LOT, Citgo. Like we're not subjected to enough random TV.

#38 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 10:57 PM:

I'd be interested to know if there were any fatalities during this dopey program. Road Rage Revisited: having to listen to poetry not of my choosing while dealing with someone else's elbow in my ribs and attempting to read something I actually want to read.

I also hate the screens that seem everywhere. I like TV, but I want to be able to choose when and what I watch. I have cultivated the ability to read while on the eliptical at the gym, just so that I don't have to watch ESPN, CNN, or the Soap Opera Channel while exercising; the fact that I'm at the gym is difficult enough.

#39 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:08 PM:

Madeleine - My gym has far too many TVs in the cardio area and I find that I need to avoid the right hand side of the room because that's where they have Faux News running. Unfortunately, I can't read because I start with the stairmill, which just plum tuckers me out too much to read while on board.

The most annoying TV placement I've yet seen was in an elevator in a Manhattan office building. Thankfully, I was only going to 6, otherwise I'd have been tempted to commit vandalism. (One of my NYC colleagues told me that someone routinely slaps a post-it reading "TV Kills" over the offending display.)

#40 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2006, 11:42 PM:

I rode a couple of buses this morning. Fortunately for the poets, they weren't there.

I have no objection to, in fact I approve of, poetry on signs (typically where they would put ads if they managed to sell them). I can choose to read them or ignore them.

But if you insist on inflicting poetry on me, you take your chances.

#41 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:01 AM:

Westjet (small Canadian airline, rather like Alaska) had a Poet of the Skies for a while.
She composed poetry to order on request. Apparently it was well received. Although I was flying via Westjet fairly often at the time, I never encountered her myself.
-Barbara

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:04 AM:

OK... I must have my pedant moment. The poem is said to be:

Le petit rhume
C'est dure et fort;
La toux, le goutte,
Alors, le mort.

But shouldn't it be?

Le petit rhume
C'est dur et fort;
La toux, la goutte,
Alors, la mort.

Otheerwise it doesn't make much sense. On the other hand, we are talking about poetry

#43 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:07 AM:

Melbourne too had poetry placards on trams and trains. They did no real harm, and some weren't all that bad.

Long ago we used to have a collective of street poets who would hand out mimeographed poetry on street corners. I still occasionally wake up screaming, having remembered the first stanza or the first Street Poem I ever read:

"There's insanity in my brain
Driving me insane.
All those voices in my head
They start talking when I go to bed."

#44 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:11 AM:

My pet hate (talkin' 'bout TVs in places I don't want a TV) is the television in the hospital waiting room. When I arrive in the room, I usually ask if anyone would mind if I turn the TV off. If no one minds, I do it. People say "Thank you." I have done this, oh, 20 times. No one has ever minded. The only place I don't do it is in the ER waiting room, because much as I loathe the tube, it does cut the boredom when you have been waiting as long as people sometimes wait in an ER waiting room.

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:14 AM:

How about having someone start reciting ancient Roman poetry in the original language at one end of the bus? And Greek poetry at the other end of the bus?

#46 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:14 AM:

Lizzy L,

That was in '84, right? One of those poems hit me so hard I copied it into a notebook. I think I still have it, somewhere.

(The demise of most of my mid-eighties notebooks is too sad and stupid a story to tell just now.)

Serge,

The day I knew I was in a poetry class taught by a great man was the day he gave us a piece of anonymous Elizabethan verse to explicate. After we'd struggled with it for a while, he suggested our difficulties might be due to the verse not being very good.

#47 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:20 AM:

adamsj... That is a possibility, but I think it might be a transcription error. Mike?

#48 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:22 AM:

Adamsj: it could have been '84, I don't remember. But some of the poems were wonderful. I regret I never copied any of them down.

#49 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:55 AM:

Serge,

Could be, but the verse was in Perrine's Sound and Sense, sixth edition (but not in the half of my copy I can find just now). Something about a dead infant, maybe a fountain, possibly in the chapter on simile and metaphor. '03, '04, I forget.

Lizzy L,

This was the one about the man fixing his roof. Umm...got it! "Neighbor in May". I think.

#50 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:31 AM:

Adamsj...

Le petit rhume
C'est dur et fort;
La toux, la goutte,
Alors, la mort.

translates literally as

The little cold
It's hard and strong;
The cough, the gout (*),
Then Death.

(*) or, the drop that makes the cup spill over?

#51 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:38 AM:

Serge,

Whoops! I thought you were replying to something I said, not what you were actually replying to. My bad.

#52 ::: Richard C ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 01:56 AM:

The poets, as public servants, should have a uniform. I propose a black windbreaker with a bright yellow "Vogon" embroidered on the back.

#53 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:01 AM:

IIRC, la goutte (the drop) idiomatically means 'a drop of blood.'

So, you start coughing up blood, and then you die.

So, TB? Pneumonic plague? Ebola? Or are even these too good for attack-poets preying on helpless commuters?

#54 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:12 AM:

It was meant to be "goutter" as "drip." I did cross-gender it.

#55 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:45 AM:

When a worker's out commuting to employment,
Or toiling to his boss's little whims,
There is nothing that can add to his enjoyment,
Half as much as poets left with broken limbs.
Our instincts we with difficulty smother,
For we know that such an action is a sin,
But, as warning from one poet to another,
May we tell you, rather loudly, "Pack it in!"

There are poets whose words stand through all the ages,
Such as Shakespeare, and the one who wrote the Psalms,
But, let's face it, you're not one of the great sages,
And you won't write very well with twisted arms.
For we like a verse whose lines with grace are written.
We's rather hear a verse with lines that scan.
You have with rhyme and reason not been smitten.
Can you tell yet we are not your greatest fans?

Hooray! We greet the slowing to the next stop.
Whoosh! The doors are open. What! You want to stay?
Pray, driver, summon hence the valiant bus-cop,
To drag this loathsome poet far away.
Constsble, now act to save enjoyment.
Let law, not tribal justice, guide our fun.
A constable engaged in his employment,
Now finds his duty is a happy one.

#56 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:40 AM:

Dave, brilliant! The only problem I see is that it's a little dense with consonants (especially in the second verse) to be sung at the correct tempo. (I tried.)

OTOH, the first verse alone gets the message across nicely -- and I wonder what the likelihood would be, if one person started it, of finding a few more G&S adherents aboard who would spontaneously become the chorus?

#57 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:53 AM:

There was a man on the tube in Prague a couple of years ago who used to post up beautifully poetic letters to his estranged girlfriend, typed up and Fablonned, every morning. Eventually, according to the letters, she forgave him for whatever he had done and the letters stopped. Did she ever exist? Who knows.

And this, from http://www.defectiveyeti.com/archives/000935.html:


Waiting for a bus in downtown Seattle, I see a disheveled and possibly deranged man with an enormous duffle bag sidling down the sidewalk, stopping to bellow "Are you going to the library?!" at each and every person in turn. Most ignore him until he moves on, but some -- out of compulsive politeness, or because they have somehow mistaken this raving for a sincere query -- begin to reply "No, I'm waiting for my --" at which point the man cuts them short with an impassioned and spittle-intensive "GO TO THE LIBRARY!!!"
I dunno. Call me cynical, but I just don't think Seattle's literacy program is all that effective.

#58 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:00 AM:

if thereís one thing that public transportation needs, itís crazy people ranting loudly about things that make little to no sense.

Presumably that should read "[...] it's more crazy people [...]".

And, Chris Clarke:

anything from this website should do nicely.

Somebody actually admitted to writing that? Like, put their name on the copyright notice? I mean: "Your/cavities and mounds ignore all/similes"? "One day the latitudes of everything/will change, but not your breasts"? "I am not in touch with/summer or some season thing"??

I am in awe.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 06:17 AM:

'la goutte' (the drop) idiomatically means 'a drop of blood.' So, you start coughing up blood, and then you die.

Of course, Vian. (As in Boris Vian?) How could I not think of that?

On the other hand, that reminds me of the ending of Moulin Rouge. No, not John Huston's great movie about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I'm talking of the so-called musical of a few years ago.

Hey, another bad idea for public transportation...

Poetry readings? Bah. Let's have people belt out arias from Puccini, or from Joe Green (as the SF Chron's Herb Caen was fond of calling Giuseppe Verdi).

#60 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 06:39 AM:

RichardC, that's lovely.
Dave Bell, that's even lovelier.

#61 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:39 AM:

As this thread's founding curmudgeon, I certainly agree about omnipresent televisions screens. They've made certain airport departure areas uninhabitable. I'm an avid news consumer but that doesn't mean I want mandatory CNN Headline News on ceilinmg-hung monitors every fifty feet.

On the other hand, I don't agree with the categorical dissing of mobile phone users. It's not mobile phones, it's people who thing they need to pitch their voices twice as loud as the ambient background in order to use them. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like this is a social problem that's been on the wane over the last few years, as people gradually get a clue.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:47 AM:

How about waiting in line at my bank and the damn TV is on to F*cks News? Maybe I should ask them to switch it to something else, anything else, even a Teletubbies show.

#63 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:50 AM:

"On the other hand, I don't agree with the categorical dissing of mobile phone users. It's not mobile phones, it's people who thing they need to pitch their voices twice as loud as the ambient background in order to use them. "

I often call people at random and read my poetry to them. sometimes just to their voicemail. While on public transportation. With my voice very loud.

This is a labor saving device.

#64 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:53 AM:

"The only problem I see is that it's a little dense with consonants (especially in the second verse) to be sung at the correct tempo. (I tried.) "

I sung it to the tune of "What keeps mankind alive".
What was it supposed to be sung as?

#65 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:54 AM:

If it's Vogons on the bus, would that mean they'll upgrade all the seats to poetry amplification devices? I mean, at least there would be new, unstained cushions, right?

Having ridden the #9 Bus on Cleveland's RTA for the five years I worked for E&Y, I can say that I was so jealous of my private time on the bus that I would only mumble good mornings/afternoons to the very beautiful women who'd sit next to me and wanted to strike up conversation (I guess I didn't look as crazy then as I do now). What hope does spoken poetry have then?

#66 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:57 AM:

New York's had poetry on the subways at least as long as I've been riding them. The bits are short and well-chosen -- someone out there knows what they're doing.

Another good MTA policy is that they hold auditions for subway buskers. You only get to perform if you're good, and you can only perform in the stations and on platforms, not in the cars.

#67 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:00 AM:

No. Kill the mobile phone users. I got stuck in a crowded elevator the other day with a young woman who was selling real estate, loudly, via her phone.

#68 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:09 AM:

For Christmas, I gave my father a TV-B-Gone, a universal TV turn-offer. If I understand the concept correctly, it cycles through the remote control codes that turn off every brand of television known to the inventors.

My father often travels for work, and says it has made airport lounges much easier to handle.

I wonder if a TV-B-Gone would work on hk-reader's Hong Kong telescreens.

#69 ::: Michael Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:19 AM:

TNH:No. Kill the mobile phone users. I got stuck in a crowded elevator the other day with a young woman who was selling real estate, loudly, via her phone.

No jury would convict you if you faked an orgasm right next to her.

#70 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:26 AM:

I so agree with Claude Muncey. Annals of Truly Bad Ideas needs to be a running feature, sort of like that book "Web Pages That Suck." Various features of the NYC Subway could keep the thread going for at least the first few months!

#71 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:35 AM:

But wouldn't being in a lift with a jackass selling real estate loudly in person be just as bad?

I'm with Patrick, the generation of truly obnoxious mobile users seems to be gone; the people who loved interrupting everything to yell into a mobile so that everyone could see how important they were have faded into the background now that everyone and their dog has a phone.

Hello? Hello? Who's there? Damn you, speak!

Woof!

#72 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:18 AM:

I hope someone gave them a scathing live critique in return.

#73 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:23 AM:

Lee

I know that I was chiming in with "cent enjoyment" and "culty smother" right away.

Ah, to be in the chorus of a G&S operetta!

#74 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:25 AM:

Has anyone heard the latest "Bud Light Presents: Real Men of Genius" spot on the radio? The honoree is Mr. Really Loud Cell Phone Talker Guy. "Because nothing screams I'm important! like a man screaming 'I'm Important!' into his cell phone." (I don't drink beer, but I really love those Bud Light ads.)

Behavior and social norms change around technology. Cell phones don't just communicate with the person you're talking to; how you use them also communicates things to the people around you. "I'm busy and important" is the most common message, but it can also say "Please leave me alone," or "I am so interested in what you are saying that I am texting a friend about it, and thereby including you in my social network," or "I may be utterly lost, but I have people right here, on the other end of this line, and if I disappear in this sketchy neighborhood you're getting yours, buster."

I find people who communicate that they're busy and important by talking loudly into their cell phones really, really annoying... but I also find them annoying when they communicate the same message by talking really loudly to their compatriots, or by complaining really loudly to the flight attendant about a ten-minute flight delay (no, really, they do that). The cell phone is just a tool that makes the behavior easier to engage in. (Confession time: if I'm trapped at an airport, and it's been a long day, and there isn't anyone else in immediate voice radius and a Mr. Really Loud Cell Phone Talker Guy is getting on my nerves, I will engage in retaliatory Really Loud Cell Phone Talking. Thus far none of them has gotten the point.)

#75 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:43 AM:

Letter to the Editor

Poetry while we're commuting
s'an idea that's not worth instituting.
We in Minne-St Paul
already have call
ers whose musings could really stand muting.

#76 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:53 AM:

I got stuck in a crowded elevator the other day with a young woman who was selling real estate, loudly, via her phone.

Just add your own (loud) commentary: "I heard that neighborhood has the highest level of termite infestation in the tri-state area."

Or just rip her lungs out.

#77 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:57 AM:

In Hong Kong, commuters are trapped by the bus companies and the KCR (Kowloon Canton Railway) who have screens playing info-adver-tainment.

Aagh! I hate those! The last year I lived in Milwaukee, they put those thrice-damned LCD screens in every frigging bus on the 10 and 67 lines and cranked the volume to a headache-inducing maximum. Whatever soulless wank of a bureaucrat thought those things up has surely earned himself an eternity in the deepest pit of hell, where demons wait to force-feed him LCD panels displaying ads for mass transit.

As for bus-poetry, the poets will be richly repaid with a heaping pile of soul-crushing despair. Consider the following scene as a bus-poet shares his heart-loved work with the public:

Bus-poet: "I awoke one morning, gave myself a hug/ To discover I had become a giant bug."

(The sound of seventy passengers simultaneously putting on headphones, starting iPods, dialing cell phones, firing up GameBoys, and cursing loudly.)


#78 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:04 AM:

Personally I wouldn't mind the poetry reading - but then, I wouldn't be listening, I'd be reading something else.

I can't help but feel, though, that if this was an attempt to showcase people's work, it hasn't been very successful.

Could the people at the back of the bus even hear the poet, or were they supplied with microphones?

#79 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:05 AM:

Not long ago I inadvertently discovered an effective method of loud cell phone talker guy brain jamming. FWIW.

#80 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:08 AM:

Annalee Flower Horne wrote "if you tried that crap on the Metro, MetroPol would shut you up but good."

And yet, the Metro's Korean hymn-singing guy roams free.

#81 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:12 AM:

TV-B-Gone is a great idea, but if you have a PDA with an infrared port you already have the capability -- you can download a program to use it as a TV remote. It contains codes for the most popular TVs. So you can sit, say, in the dentist's waiting room and look like you're playing solitaire until -- ah, blessed silence! -- you find the code that turns off their TV.

The thinking in library circles is coming around from "ban all cell phones" to the realization that it's simply another version of the noise problem, and if they're speaking as quietly as the rest of the patrons, there's no need to hush them -- as long as they turn off the ringer. Still, there's something about hearing only one side of a conversation that is more distracting than two voices murmuring back and forth...

#82 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Dave MB, I think the correct link is this. I make a point of riding the buses once in a while just to see if there's new ones.

I have been seeing mini tv-screens appearing on the gas pumps lately that play ads for junk food you can buy inside; since you can no longer legally prop the nozzle handle and have to stand there holding it, you are a captive audience. And they're LOUD.

When I spent a summer living in France, there were people who would get on the Metro trains and sit there quietly until the doors closed, then they would stand up and begin to rant loudly and passionately to the rest of the passengers, passing around a little can for donations. As soon as the doors opened again, they'd get off the car and get on the next one. Since I speak almost no French, I had no idea at all what they were going on about and generally found it entertaining. We'd try to guess who the ranter was before they stood up. At the time I assumed it was politics, though if it was poetry it lacked any discernible rhythm.

#83 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:24 AM:

Janet Croft: since I don't have a PDA, I resort to less technological means to turn the television off: I stand on a chair and punch the off button. I find it quite satisfying.

#84 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:29 AM:

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to commute from NYC to Englewood Cliffs, NJ on a bus which also had, as a regular commuter, a Jamaican 'warner woman'. This is a female person, of a certain age, who has taken it upon herself, or has been deluded into, sharing a fire and brimstone gospel with anyone in reach of her voice, which has developed force, depth, and projection from frustrating her children for years.

I occasionally suffer from a related phenomenon -- the black, male preacher to a captive audience -- on buses and trains in Atlanta.

Then there was the MARTA bus driver who would address everyone on the bus, and comment on every single thing that caught her eye....

#85 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:37 AM:

...A constable engaged in his employment,
Now finds his duty is a happy one.

/* Waits for applause to die down, and then strides purposefully to the front. Takes a deep breath, and ... */

"When I was a lad I used to busk as
Poet stationed on a metro bus.
I said my verses when they closed the door,
And I -- "

Ow! Hey! Quit pelting me -- Ma'am, I believe this is your purse -- alright, who threw that? -- Ouch! now that smarted. Look we're almost --

/* sound of air brakes */

"I rhymed my verses so carefully
That now I am the chairman of the D.O.T!"

Watch your step. Have a nice day!

#86 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:49 AM:
TNH:No. Kill the mobile phone users. I got stuck in a crowded elevator the other day with a young woman who was selling real estate, loudly, via her phone.

Michael Croft: No jury would convict you if you faked an orgasm right next to her.

I'd prefer to yell, "Hey, Real Estate lady! You want some more of this crack or not?"

#87 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:51 AM:

I loved the (printed) poetry on the buses in Seattle. One of my favorites was written by a local 8th grader.

I too resent the "captive audience" phenomenon. Ubiquitous, non-turn-downable ads are a prominent trope in Ursula LeGuin's fiction, and they never fail to elicit a shudder from me.

#88 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 10:55 AM:

it's people who thing they need to pitch their voices twice as loud as the ambient background in order to use them.

(into phone)

I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU PLAY AS LONG AS YOU PLAY IT LOUD!

#89 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:39 AM:

Last night I was driven out of a bus shelter into a cold breeze by a woman spilling her guts into her cell phone at high volume. Oh, well, at least it wasn't raining. The louder voice is all quite unconscious; the phones interfere with us hearing our own voices, so we talk more loudly when using them. And then there's the "bubble of privacy"; people concentrate on their conversations, and say the damndest things at high volume.

#90 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:43 AM:

At least Rhysling was below deck.

#91 ::: Northland ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:44 AM:

I don't remember where I first encountered these "Dear cell phone user" cards but I suspect it was in Teresa's Particles. In any case, they're worth a visit.

#92 ::: India ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:44 AM:
No. Kill the mobile phone users. I got stuck in a crowded elevator the other day with a young woman who was selling real estate, loudly, via her phone.

She wasn't the one who was practically shouting into the phone, "How much was it? How much was it?" then got disconnected because, duh, she was in an elevator, and then called! back! to say, "Sorry, I got disconnected. How much was it?" was she? Maybe they don't have offices, so they just ride elevators all day.

As for the auditioning of buskers, yes, it applies to those who play in prominent spots in the busiest stations, but I can't believe the MTA actually approved that guy who's always playing drums on the platform at Union Square. Gaaah! I'd be happy to take a dozen dueling poets in exchange.

#93 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:11 PM:

India, the (very) few legal ones have a banner over them that says "Music Underground." All the rest are breaking the law.

#94 ::: Pat Cadigan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:17 PM:

Every so often here in London, someone gets up on a tube or a bus and begins to declaim loudly. But it's not poetry, it's usually a rant about Jesus. Although there was this one old East European lady who treated us all to a lecture on proper marital behaviour, explaining that it would be necessary to kill the woman her husband was unfaithful with. She was pretty entertaining. But other than that, well--this makes me wonder if someone in Minneapolis-St. Paul is making an effort to wipe out all the poets in the area via mob action.

#95 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:24 PM:

I'm waiting for the technological solution to the cellphone problem. Try this: Pick up your landline. Don't dial, just talk to the dial tone. Now push down the hook but keep talking. Yeah, the dial tone will be gone, but your voice will sound different.

That's because regular, old-fashioned land-line phones feed your voice back to you through the earpiece, so you can hear yourself talking as you speak. It's a subliminal thing, but it really helps people to modulate their voices. Cell phones don't do that (it would waste bandwidth), and they should. The processors in phones are powerful enough now that it could be done completely inside the phone. This has the added advantage that the people who use cell phones the most - and who also tend to replace their phones the most - will get that feature first. And they're the ones that need silencing.

Also, I second the motion to do "Annals of Truly Bad Ideas" periodically. I might even borrow that myself, with appropriate attribution, for my humble blog.

#96 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 12:54 PM:

We have the 'Poetry in Motion' bus ad placards, too, and a corresponding 'Art in Motion' poster campaign (although I haven't seen new ones in either series for a while, so it may be discontinued.) I've never heard of anyone declaiming live poetry or anything else on a bus or train, though.

Nor on the platforms, most places and most times. Near platforms, though, appears to be fair game.

The closest Calgary gets to the sort of public literary display Patrick mentions occurs during Freedom To Read Week, which is a yearly pro-lit event. Along with the child and adult literacy drives and the library events and the fair and everything else that happens, there is a day for 'guerilla readings' in public spaces. Volunteers read aloud from banned or challenged books to (often surprised) downtown office workers, usually with a before and/or after explaination regarding what they're doing and why.

I hear the Harry Potter books are a popular choice.

#97 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:02 PM:

Thanks for the link fix, Suzanne -- I left off the http://

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:40 PM:

The ShopRite in Hoboken has little TV screens AT CHECKOUT. Mostly ads, but also recipe demos, helpful advice...all insulting and annoying IMO. There was one little cartoon ad where the "little girl" was voiced by an actress who attempted to make her voice sound kidlike by essentially screeching. Five registers over you could hear it, which meant that you heard it about 10 times while waiting in line.

I wonder if TV B Gone works on those things?

#99 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Xopher, I wish! The market I usually go to has those. Fortunately, either the volume is set lower or the ambient noise is greater, because it's still tolerable. (The recipes are amusing, mostly because they're useless - they go by too fast to write them down.)

#100 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 02:53 PM:

New from Reclamation Tech: DieboldBGone, an inconspicuous IR device that causes electronic voting machines to lock irretrievably, while displaying the message I LIE LIKE A [insert noun here] and dumping all data on recent . . . accesses to the hand-held and backup relays for future reference. Not sold in stores. You know why. You know where.

#101 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:04 PM:

TV B Gone: makes me pine for my old Toshiba Satellite laptop. It had an infrared port; there may have been a way to zap a TV with it.

Cell Phone "bubble of privacy": This is the most flabbergasting anecdote I know. Apparently, our hero gets in an elevator and finds it already occupied by a young woman who's occupied in earnestly giving a friend every intimate detail of her last night's date. Shortly after the doors close this twit turns to our hero and says, "Do you mind? This is a private conversation!"

(Our hero, in fact, would be Steve Rasnic Tem, who took writerly revenge upon the twit by sharing the anecdote with Melanie, who in turn shared it with her semi-monthly writing class in the form of an exercise prompt. In the five minutes allotted, we came up with all sorts of unfortunate fates for the twit.)

Captive audiences: Sometimes as the St. Charles street car makes its right turn onto Canal Street, you get "treated" to evangelistic ravings being shouted in at the always-open windows. One of these days I'm going to sit down and memorize "The Charge of the Goddess" to shout back on just such occasions.

#102 ::: kylark ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:07 PM:

Is there anything we can *do* about those annoying TV screens? Vandalism is starting to seem like the best option....

#103 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:13 PM:

I would love guerilla readings during Banned Books Week. Our library makes a big deal out of it every year and there are usually people browsing the display muttering, "Somebody banned THAT? I don't believe it!" Sending library volunteers to the coffee shops to catch people who don't go to the library very much could start a town-wide discussion.

It would also be kind of cool to be able to go to one car on the train to listen to, say, "The Frost You Didn't Get Every Year in High School." Or maybe get on the redeye and find out that the little headphones and DVD players you can rent have a channel with somebody giving a mellow reading of "Endymion." I might actually be able to sleep in those cramped seats with, say, Anne Murray murmuring "Endymion" in my ear.

#104 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 03:59 PM:

A year or so ago, I worked in a fancy office building with TV screens in the elevators. The saving grace was that they kept the sound off, and captioning on. This made it much easier to ignore. I use a coffeehouse that keeps some cable news or other on a tube up in the ceiling, captioning on, sound off. I find neither of these outrageously offensive, although I try to face away from the coffeehouse tube, just to keep from getting distracted.

This is in contrast to our gas station, which does not have TV screens yet (I'm sure they're imminent) but continually plays annoying advertisements at top volume.

Yet another lesson in the intrusiveness of sound.

#105 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:08 PM:

I have a sheet of removable labels for 3.5" floppies (remember those?) - I think they are just the right size to tag becoming-ubiquitous LCD TV screens with the phrase KILL YOUR TELEVISION.

The thing is, most people, at least based on their actions, aren't irritated by television sets. I was at my car dealership earlier this week (my car is having weird problems). There's a waiting room, with a large, loud TV. Everyone in there was just passively watching whatever was on TV - I'm sure no one considered changing the channel. While I personally can't imagine going to a place where I know I'll have to wait without my choice of entertainment - a book or, in this case, a laptop (the dealership has an open wireless network, bless its heart), there's little evidence to suggest that the majority of people actually mind. Otherwise, most of the waiting people would have vacated the Zombie Room (I'd say the ratio was about 15 people in the TV room, and three of us outside).

#106 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:10 PM:

The captive-audience screens in the elevators in my building are text-with-stills (except for the ads) and sound-free. It's possible to ignore the screen. On the other hand, it does provide some useful information (weather forecasts and some news headlines).

#107 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:41 PM:

Apparently, our hero gets in an elevator and finds it already occupied by a young woman who's occupied in earnestly giving a friend every intimate detail of her last night's date. Shortly after the doors close this twit turns to our hero and says, "Do you mind? This is a private conversation!"

At which point, our hero says, "No, it's an elevator."

I assume Twit said ... I don't know how that sentence ends. What could Twit have said?

#108 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 04:53 PM:

Blessings upon the person who set up the tv sound in the British Midland gate lounge at Heathrow so that if you want to listen to it, you sit close to it and can hear it clearly, and if you don't want to listen to it, you sit further away and it's quiet enough to ignore. *That's* the sort of tv news access I want when I'm waiting for a domestic connection after an international flight. It's ever so much nicer than the compulsory CNN in San Francisco airport.

#109 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:31 PM:

I remember the phrase, though not the source:

"There are two types of people at Open Mike Poetry Night: Those who brought poems. . .and those who didn't know it was Open Mike Poetry Night."
(Maybe a Life In Hell cartoon?)

#110 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 05:43 PM:

Northland, I'd like to use some of those "Shhh!" cards on people yammering away during movies.

#111 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 06:39 PM:

people concentrate on their conversations, and say the damndest things at high volume.

This week's winner was: "Fine! Then I'll just sell my twenty-seven inch TV! I'll just SELL my twenty-seven inch TV!"

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Turning off TVs... I remember the Max Headroom episode where the cops go into a suspect's appartment and one of them goes gasp! upon seeing that the man's TV set has one of those illegal off switches.

#113 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 07:57 PM:

Julia Jones: It's ever so much nicer than the compulsory CNN in San Francisco airport.

The SFO CNN monitors can be a bit loud, and annoyingly, there are lots of spots where the sound is blaring, but the TV is pointed the other way.

But for compulsory TV, it's got nothing on the Northwest terminal in Detroit.

#114 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:20 PM:

Xmas season before last, I was stuck overnight in the Cincinatti airport. Total shutdown, hotels full, & etcetera.

I made a nice nest of newspapers behind some benches, draped my towel* over some boots as a pillow, and settled down.

As things got quiet 'round 1 am, the formerly unobtrusive audio for the CNN news playing on the monitors overhead became unignorable. Man, that was an awful night; I got more sleep on the puddle jumper I completed my trip on the next day.


* Always carry a towel.

#115 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 08:23 PM:

Jen Roth wrote: "Northland, I'd like to use some of those 'Shhh!' cards on people yammering away during movies."

Jen and Northland: Yeah, me too. Preferably printed in raised letters on 1/4-inch steel plate. Hand grips near one end would be nice, but not really necessary.

#116 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 09:44 PM:

As an MTA tourist last weekend, I was charmed by a brazen fellow singing on a mid-afternoon 3 train -- nice lead voice with surprisingly rich bass rhythm notes, almost a completely different voice in that low register. (His two brief forays into falsetto were, alas, not a success.)

I was sitting next to a friend, who makes his living as a tenor; we looked at each other and he said, "He's really good." I asked, "Are they usually this good?" to which the reply was a stark "No." I felt kind of bad that I could only come up with a quarter when the singer passed the hat.

When I first realized the guy was about to sing, my reaction was dread. For once, I lucked out.

#117 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2006, 11:48 PM:

Patrick Connors: do you mean acoustic or electric feedback? IME, a typical fixed-base handset acts like a speaking tube, so no circuit juggling is necessary; cellphone designers seem not to have realized this. But why would it take bandwidth rather than internal wiring to fix this?

#118 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:25 AM:

TV:

I ate lunch today much earlier than I usually do at work (my contract client.) I was sitting in the lunchroom by myself, enjoying the beautiful view and my thoughts, when another employee came in. He looked at the turned-off TV and asked, in a horrified tone, "Is the TV broken?"

#119 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:48 AM:

Clifton, point of purely local interest: Lex Brodie Pearlridge has Fox on the tube all the time.

On the other hand, they did (temporarily, it turns out) fix my broken car door mechanism for free a couple of weeks ago.

#120 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 02:06 AM:

Bryan: Dave's song looks like it's TTTO "When a Felon's Not Engaged in His Employment". Of course, with filk, anything that scans will work!

I love the SHHH! cards, but I think they need one that goes on to say, "...and we're all laughing our asses off behind your back." And yes, those would also work very well for people who make noise in movies or during concerts or...

#121 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 02:11 AM:

"IME, a typical fixed-base handset acts like a speaking tube, so no circuit juggling is necessary"

Dear gods, no, that's not so; the sidetone is electrically provided. I think battery life is the reason cell phones don't do it.

#122 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 02:35 AM:

At which point, our hero says, "No, it's an elevator."

I assume Twit said ... I don't know how that sentence ends. What could Twit have said?

My 5-minute scribble went something along those lines, and Twit rolled her eyes, and then the elevator got stuck.

The guy sitting next to me, his Our Hero character turned out to be seriously creepy so that we actually were scared for Twit by the end. Things were presumably going downhill for her after he prevented her leaving the elevator two floors later.

The writing class devolved shortly afterwards into a discussion of privacy bubbles, cell phone etiquette, and how we sometimes get speechless in the face of breathtaking rudeness. (Second anecdote: upon being told that he ought not to pet the guide dog, what with the sign there saying "don't pet me," the guy petting the guide dog says, "Yeah, so?" True. Made her jaw drop. I am sure that she, being an excellent writer, thought of a million great comebacks within five minutes of leaving the 7-11.)

...and back to the ubiquitous TVs: I always turn the dang thing off at the car dealership where I have to take my car every 3,000 miles. It is a wonderful feeling to say to a roomful of people, "Is anyone actually watching that?" and watch them all shake their heads and murmur, "No... no, not me... how about you?" to each other.

#123 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 02:38 AM:

The electrical circuit of the traditional 2-wire telephone is a thing of beauty: no electronics, components doing multiple jobs, and speech going both ways.

Of course you hear your own voice through the electrical circuit.

#124 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 03:42 AM:

Chryss: Of course it IS Minneapolis. Why not board the bus with replicas of Crow and Tom Servo and provide your own commentary?

I would pay heavily if we could film this with Crow T. Robot doing The Tay Bridge Disaster and Tom Servo doing A Little Belgian Orphan.

Lizzy L: My pet hate (talkin' 'bout TVs in places I don't want a TV) is the television in the hospital waiting room.

There's nothing quite like visiting your mother in intensive care when the crash cart operators show up to work on her while the "ripping the heart out" scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is on the room's TV. Trust me on this.

Fragano: Then there was the MARTA bus driver who would address everyone on the bus, and comment on every single thing that caught her eye....

I once rode the bus from downtown San Francisco to the Exploratorium with a bus driver who made the same sound as the air brakes would make (and for the same duration) just before the brakes did. Not a lot of fun.

#125 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:15 AM:

Speaking of bad ideas... Remember that, tonight on the Skiffy Channel, people create a black hole near St. Louis.

#126 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:50 AM:

(Thanks to this thread I have just moved my TV-be-gone onto my keyring. And I'm now thinking about more permanent solutions -- A4 sized sheets of self-adhesive plastic printed with I DON'T WANT YOUR FUCKING ADVERTS spring to mind -- for retail establishments that use screens for pitching at a captive audience.)

While megaphone-on-the-mobile man is gradually dying out, a new pest is showing up, at least in the UK: textperson. Textperson is so focussed on destroying the cartilage in their thumb that they walk everywhere with head bowed over their mobile as they text approximately the word count of "War and Peace" to their friends in leet-speak. These people assume they have right of way over other pedestrians, street furniture, cars, trucks, etcetera. It's hard to avoid being run down by them on any sunny pavement in Edinburgh, and if you don't get out of their way in time they blame you.

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:53 AM:

And one of the reporters in the preview says "I think I'm looking at some kind of black hole." How many kinds are there? And you can't actually look at a black hole, can you?

Later in the preview someone says it will eat half the state. Um...it would eat the planet in short order, wouldn't it? And the solar system in due course?

The only good thing I've seen was that someone says that a black hole isn't something you can destroy by dropping a bomb on it. It's not enough. I'll avoid it like the plague it is...else I might get sucked in, watching in fascinated horror and howling in pain. This has happened before.

#128 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:54 AM:

Charlie: Trip 'em.

#129 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:00 AM:

Xopher: cameras everywhere. And some busybody who might construe it as assault watching them.

On the other hand, stealthily steering them towards loose paving stones might work.

This reminds me. Must do some SFnal extrapolation on the subject of future annoyances ...

#130 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:08 AM:

Once in Durham I ran into (literally) a group of four people, each talking on a separate mobile phone.

I still wonder if they were talking to each other.

#131 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:19 AM:

Oh, c'mon, no jury would convict you!

Oh, well, Britain...maybe they would.

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:43 AM:

Xopher... You know you're going to watch that movie tonight. Give in. It's much easier that way. Hear the siren call. Hell, it sounds like it's going to be worse than Disney's Black Hole, except that it won't have the stupid robots.

Meanwhile, wouldn't a black hole just sink to the center of the Earth and start chewing from the inside? Or maybe it'd start orbiting the center of the Earth, with some of its trajectory taking it way up from Earth, and other parts of it punching thru the Earth. Someone wrote a novel about that in the mid-Eighties.

#133 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:08 AM:

Serge: Or maybe it'd start orbiting the center of the Earth,
with some of its trajectory taking it way up from Earth,
and other parts of it punching thru the Earth.
Someone wrote a novel about that in the mid-Eighties.

You might be thinking of Earth, by David Brin.

It started with protesters shutting down the power
on a 'containment field' of a mini ( quantum? ) black hole
used in an experimental power station.

The black hole falls through the floor,
and starts orbiting around the center of the Earth.

The protagonist develops a method to track the black hole
( first step in a plan to 'eject' it from the Earth ),
and finds there is more than one. . .

#134 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:48 AM:

Rob Rusick... Hmm... No, not Brin. The book I'm thinking of had someone on the cover who looked like Joan Collins.

#135 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:09 PM:

I innocently went to ThinkGeek just to get a TV-B-Gone, and wound up spending...well, let's just say I got 1900 Geek Points.

I'm gonna have to be very careful of going to that site. To that end, I've signed up as a member and bookmarked it and everything.

I'm nothing if not a fool.

#136 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 12:21 PM:

I know I'm coming into the convesation rather late. However, I would like to point out that this is *not* an ongoing or widespread program. If you click on the link, "poets read their work", you will see that it happened on 18 buses on one day only, to promote a city-wide arts event. Some people seemed to be under the impression that the transit company was installing poets on public transit as a new feature.

We are crazy up here, but not *that* crazy.

#137 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:33 PM:

Xopher, don't go to Think Geek: it's almost as bad as an Apple Store. (I just escaped from our local one without maxing out my credit card, but it was a very near thing, dammit.)

Marketing. High end: makes you grateful for the privilege of being allowed to throw money at the object of adoration. Low end: vile and annoying spam.

#138 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Debcha: The thing is, most people, at least based on their actions, aren't irritated by television sets.

Or you may be seeing the phenomenon of passive endurance: most public places I go where there's a tv on, I do wish it would be turned off. However, I almost never ask if it can be turned off, and if it remains on, inevitably, my eyes drift to the light-and-motion I keep seeing in the corner of my eye. If I lack a book, I may watch more closely, all the while thinking things like, "I can't believe how bad this program is. I could come up with more entertaining things to think about if that stupid thing would just shut up and go away."

Most times, when you get the guts up to ask, nobody is attached to the TV being on. Once in a while, yes, someone *is* watching, or wants it to stay on, but they're usually not so much offended by you asking as astonished.

#139 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:41 PM:

slight correction to the last. "If I lack a book or a companion.":

This only matters to me because one of the places I run into public TVs is certain restaurants.

#140 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 01:55 PM:

Nikki: Once in Durham I ran into (literally) a group of four people, each talking on a separate mobile phone. I still wonder if they were talking to each other.

At my workplace, it's not uncommon to see a whole roomful of people busily pecking away at their laptops before (and sometimes during) a meeting.

And yes, they often *are* talking to each other.

#141 ::: Nikki ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 02:40 PM:

Larry: I actually have friends who do this, especially when they get hold of a new piece of technology - they certainly prefer to email each other rather than talk. Sitting in the same room, that is. And even when they're talking to someone else, e.g. me, at the same time.

Maybe everybody does it.

#142 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 03:30 PM:

From the Family Safe Media website, about TV-B-Gone:

"Side effect may include decreased anxiety, increased social skills, increased cognitive ability, increased sense of well being."

I may have to get one.

#143 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 04:38 PM:

Charlie - Hmmm, I don't actually mind the advertising screens in stores. Stores are a commercial environment, and the giant screens in Bloomingdale's or Macy's pitching fragrances or their current White Sale are pretty easy to ignore. Besides, I needed a new comforter (a.k.a. duvet) cover anyway...

#144 ::: Lux Fiat ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Marketing. High end: makes you grateful for the privilege of being allowed to throw money at the object of adoration. Low end: vile and annoying spam.

I am a marketer, you are a salesman, he is a propagandist?

#145 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 05:23 PM:

According to Flack Tower: The Journal of Marketing to Marks, sales of Gucci's "Essence Duvet" didn't really take off until models draped in Tom Ford* duvet covers were combined with the slogan "The Comforter is Come."**

*No relation.
*No double-entendre. Much.

#146 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 05:24 PM:

Lux Fiat - Not to be pedantic, but marketers (the work-tribe I belong to) drive the herd towards the cliff. Salesman pick off the ones that don't go over the edge on their own. Propagandists (the only one of the bunch whose social value I question) declare that the herd wanted to go over the cliff anyway.

#147 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 05:26 PM:

Mr. Ford - Perhaps we can find a way to pitch a tour of duvet-draped supermodels in department stores nationwide. That might just get me to willingly enter the mall.

#148 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 05:47 PM:

Screens in stores pitching their own products aren't usually too annoying ... until you get to the Post Office. Who -- at least in the UK in their larger branches -- operate a queueing system and don't staff enough counters at peak hours, so you end up queueing for a quarter of an hour. And while they can't staff enough counters, they can sure as hell position a TV screen to blare annoying insurance and double glazing ads at the queue.

Postman Pat is a shill.

Cable TV is, of course, even worse. I mean, I'm paying for this shit, why do I need to eat ads on top? It'd be enough to drive me to video on demand, if it wasn't for the fact that my TV is 11 years old, my cable box is at least 6, and and I don't want to blow a thousand quid on a new TV stack just so I can watch Discovery Wings for a couple of hours a week.

I'd be quite happy to live in a world where all advertising was constrained to by law to the exact format mandated for pharmaceutical product data sheets; a two page black-text-in-times-roman-on-white-paper factual description and operational specification for the product. With grotesque and terrible punishments for hype, spin, misdirection, or attempts to encourage inappropriate use.

#149 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 06:34 PM:

Charlie Stross -- I'd be quite happy to live in a world where all advertising was constrained to by law to the exact format mandated for pharmaceutical product data sheets; a two page black-text-in-times-roman-on-white-paper factual description and operational specification for the product. With grotesque and terrible punishments for hype, spin, misdirection, or attempts to encourage inappropriate use.

Print advertising is fine, as long as it isn't on billboards and doesn't blink at me. I actually like the art in some of them, and the wit in others, and find the notion of a world in which there had not been the vodka ad with all the pigeons in Piazza San Marco lining up in the shape of the vodka bottle to be absolutely blank and bereft.

#150 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 07:34 PM:

Oh dear God, a TV at the Post Office. That's real sadism. It has not yet been imported to the US, as far as I know... Anyone know different?

If anything could spark a riot in the Post Awful line, I think a TV could. But I think the employees might riot first. Should TVs start popping up in the P. O., I would definitely find and buy a TV-B-Gone, you betcha.

#151 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:20 PM:

@ LarryB: that horrid project display was at our gate for the DTW/SFO flight.

What cracks me up is the displays in the gates blare away, but the ones in the airport bars are silent since local/state laws require a 'performance license' in order to have sound.

#152 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 08:25 PM:

In my local Post Office, we have a big, blinky sign -- one of the programmed LED ones -- that tells us all about the Post Office. But it's a big Post Office; I haven't seen them in any other US Post Offices I've been in of late. (And unless I've got some reason I need to go to *my* post office, I do go elsewhere, to avoid the sign and the lines.)

The texting phenomenon that gets to me is when I'm walking around with someone -- showing them a campus, say -- and they spend the entire walk glued to their cell phone, texting people, and trailing five steps behind me. Drives me batty.

#153 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:09 PM:

I went on a first date with someone last year, and he spent half the meal texting with someone.

Needless to say, there was no second date. That wasn't the only reason, though it was certainly sufficient by itself.

#154 ::: anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:14 PM:

This reminds me of a scene from the Roman novelist Petronius's Satyrica. The bad poet Eumolpus starts declaiming one of his epics (one is about the fall of Troy and another about the Roman civil wars) and people start throwing rocks at him.

At least the subway poetry slamming is free, is it? The bad poets aren't pushing you to buy their books of self-published poems (50 pages with about five to ten lines of free verse per page, for $18) the way they do at community book fairs.

I am feeling particularly uncharitable towards self-published authors. I do temp work cataloging at school libraries, which are obliged to take most donated books due to lack of funds, so I had to catalogue these SFBs.

The Library of Moria, non-fiction section. Or perhaps the Library of Babel, only the books make a little bit of sense.

#155 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 09:15 PM:

Charlie - If you only have to queue for 15 minutes, you've just demonstrated that the Royal Mail has far more luxurious staffing levels than the US Postal Service. The last time I went into a Post Office, I stood in line for about 1/2 hour, and this was in suburban Bellevue, WA, a fairly affluent community.

When I lived in Brooklyn, our local PO was a hideous 1970's fortress with one or two surly clerks protected behind bulletproof plexiglass. 45 minute waits were the norm.

To be fair, if you drop something in a mailbox, it tends to get all the way across the country in two to three days, which isn't bad for $0.39. Just don't ask me to actually enter a post office. Ugh.

Oh, and many US Post offices have blinky signs and blaring television sets. :-(

#156 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 10:49 PM:

My post office has a TV and the long electronic sign thingy. The TV usually has a kids video on (the better to control the running-around), if the TV is on at all, and the long electronic sign thingy counts down to Christmas starting in October, and other than that just tells date & time.

#157 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:11 PM:

Re TV-B-Gon, one of my daughters had a high school classmate who provided himself with a universal remote and had no end of fun stealthily monkeying with the various TVs in school--his two favorite tricks being (1) turning on the classroom TV while the teacher's back was turned and stealthily edging the volume up from mute; and (2) walking down the hall switching off any TV he heard in a classroom as he passed.

I don't think he ever got caught.

#158 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:23 PM:

Bill Humphries, you might be able to get the tvs at the gates silenced if they play stuff with background music, because that requires a separate license for public performance, which I'm sure they're not paying for. Let the RIAA fight with the airport/airlines for a while.

#159 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:25 PM:

A black hole of any size likely to be makable by humans any time soon can't eat the Earth even if it escapes; it has to be a significant fraction of the Earth's mass before it will eat more matter than it spews (a small black hole will fall through the Earth, missing every subatomic particle along the way).

#160 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2006, 11:28 PM:

Charlie, I would just let textperson walk into me and bounce off (I could easily tense myself so that the effect is shoving him rather hard, while a camera would show that he walked into me).

Or I'd wait until he was about 6 inches away and yell "STOP!" I'm just helpfully keeping him from running into me, of course.

#161 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 12:25 AM:

Xopher, you didn't start juggling with his phone with the salt and pepper shakers?

Larry, unfortunately any package or envelope weighing a pound or more *must* be handled by a post office clerk for security reasons. So standing in line is frequently unavoidable.

#162 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 01:01 AM:

Andrew - That's why I send almost all packages via UPS or FedEx Ground. And I buy my stamps at the supermarket.

The only real temptation to use the Post Office is the new fixed-rate box. I have an acquaintance who received an entire set of letterpress type in one of those, and it was still only $7.50 or so to send.

#163 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 03:38 AM:

If your US post office has one of the new automated postal machines, you can place any package of any weight into it, as long as it fits into the metal drop chute thing. I guess I'm also luck that none of the post offices I have to stand in line at have TVs - I guess they haven't made it out to the west coast yet.

#164 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 12:56 PM:

Rob and Serge - I don't suppose that the old Choose Your Own Adventure book about the Earth having been hollowed out by a black hole and a whole bunch of strange creatures living on the inside of the planet could possibly be a candidate?

(Or, failing that, whatever novel it was ripping off?)

Child of the '80s, checking in...

#165 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 01:57 PM:

I've worked in an office where company policy was that everyone should use Yahoo Messenger, and we did often use it to talk to people in the same (smallish) room - in fact, this was encouraged as a way of keeping the general noise level down.

Sometimes someone would get up and walk across the room to continue the conversation in person. It was sometimes quite eerie to observe, because you knew you'd missed the beginning of whatever they were talking about.

#166 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 03:20 PM:

I'm just grateful there's a little, rarely-too-busy UPS outlet within walking distance, so I don't have to waste much time at the Post Awful staring at the cookie-cutter high school art displays. Last time I did have to go there, it seemed like Christmas in June. Why? Apparently there's a lot of eBay traffic in our little burg.

#167 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 06:31 PM:

I remember wishing they'd shut off the radio in my high school cafeteria one day. Then I realized I had my radio with me, and that the local oscillator frequency on FM was 10.7 MHz, so I turned it on (sound all the way down) and tuned to 10.7 below the station they were playing. Success! It blanked the signal out completely. I turned my set off and on, having the converse effect on the music blaring from the speakers. Very satisfying. Oddly, nobody else seemed to notice at all.

TVs in airports. Yeah, they're pretty bad. It was almost as bad trying to get some shut-eye waiting for the next bus in Fort Worth while the video machines kept up their "Hit me! Hit me! ""I'm due! I'm due!" chatter. Of course, it was just one incident on a trip rich with them. Hurricane aftermath, bus out of gas, fire ants, missed connnections, physical deterioration of the self, capped off with the discovery that an old friend was having a sex change. Well, actually it was capped off with my best friend deciding to break off the friendship, but that didn't come to fruition until the trip was over. I was put on double secret probation, but didn't know it.

Glad to hear the bus poetry was a temporary aberration, though. I don't even like having music I enjoy pumped in on me. Maybe they could make the buses free and try that. See what sort of riders they get.

The first thing that came to mind, though, was "Hi, I'm a poet, and I'm going to read from my latest epic. Unless I get $100 in the next ninety seconds."

#168 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 06:49 PM:

Andrew, if the post office workers know you, you don't have to stand in line. Just have postage on the package, get the attention of one of them, say "More than a pound" and they'll nod and you put the package on the counter.

I mostly use the APC these days, but for things that require customs slips, I have to stand in line.

#169 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 09:02 PM:

Heh. Sorry, Xopher.

(The only thing stopping me from going and doing likewise at ThinkGeek is the fact that the money is not physically in my account to be spent.)

(Not that money is physically anywhere, these days.)

#170 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 10:06 PM:

Seth Breidbart: A black hole of any size likely to be makable by humans any time soon can't eat the Earth even if it escapes;
it has to be a significant fraction of the Earth's mass before it will eat more matter than it spews
(a small black hole will fall through the Earth, missing every subatomic particle along the way).

Ah, but in the Brin story ( Earth ),
there had been some extra handwaving physics.

His black hole had not been a 'natural' black hole,
but something created by 'tuned strings'
( or something similar... I don't have the book handy to check ),
and therefore might have different behavior.

There had been an earlier Larry Niven short story ( The Hole Man )
where a quantum black hole had been dropped into Mars,
and the story ends with the possibility it might eat Mars.

It may be that real physists responded with the answer you've given.

So Brin may have adopted the synthetic black hole
to get around that objection.

As it was, his heroes discover
the black hole lost in the industrial mishap
was evaporating, and would disappear in a few weeks.

But the other black holes were getting larger,
and their orbits indicated their origins
had to have been off earth . . .


#171 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2006, 10:32 PM:

Randolph Fritz, Dave Bell: I said IME; I've had a ]repairman[ deal with too much volume in my ear by stuffing paper in the handle. I'll take your word that there's \also/ an electrical component, but this handset demonstrably had an acoustic component as well.

And wrt volume: I've had callers complain I was inaudible unless I put the microphone of my cell set right up to my mouth. Since the set is a clamshell \and/ has an effective volume control on the earpiece, I can usually keep a conversation going -- but I have some sympathy with people who can't. Do older units typically have an automatic gain control on the microphone, or is that also a drain on the battery? (Yes, cellphone shouters are annoying; some of them have reason. And probably I should just get another unit....)

Rob Rusick: that wasn't even Niven's first attempt. In a very early story a careless time traveler let loose a black hole in the Moon; when he got ]home[ the Moon was shreds too loose to continue collapsing and the Earth was a second Venus. (So this was after we discovered that Venus was very hot and pressured rather than wet; I don't know whether it's still thought that the Earth might have been the same without a moon to stir things up.)

#172 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 08:18 AM:

CHip: Rob Rusick: that wasn't even Niven's first attempt. In a very early story a careless time traveler let loose a black hole in the Moon ...

"Wrong-Way Street" (1965). That wasn't a black hole, it was a magic-tech alien disintegrator tool. Same effect -- the Moon eventually gets eaten -- but this was a few years before Wheeler coined the term "black hole". The idea of teensy black holes emerged in the 1970s, and Niven published "The Hole Man" shortly before Hawking showed that such holes would be short-lived.

#173 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 12:36 PM:

Andrew, no, I didn't. I lack juggling skills, and all three objects would have ended up shattering on the fl—

OH.

You're right, I should have.

Caroline, that's all right. I was upset right after making the purchase; I'll be happy as a clam when I actually get the loot!

#174 ::: Nick Brooke ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Poems on the Underground (the printed poetry posters in London tube trains) have been going for twenty years, I just learned. And there's a nicely-presented archive, too.

#175 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 06:55 PM:

Xopher: More right than I knew. :)

I remembered you demoing something akin to juggling in the hallway at the 2004 WorldCon; I guess the skillset doesn't completely transfer...

#176 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 07:34 PM:

I blame the sudden increase of cell-phones and unsought advertising for the fact that I seem to miss my train station/tram station rather a lot.

The iPod keeps the cell-phoners blocked(Good Manners straw poll: is someone giggling at a podcast noone else can hear as annoying as half a conversation? Should I stick to soothing music?), and the book means my eyes aren't on the ads. I've ended up in a few interesting new locales, but at least I'm spared the poets/people with Important Conversations/exhortations to buy something, NOW

Vian
(not Boris)

#177 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 08:42 PM:

Good Manners straw poll: is someone giggling at a podcast noone else can hear as annoying as half a conversation?

No more so than someone giggling at a book nobody else can read.

#178 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2006, 10:32 PM:

Here's what irks me: by my count, I stopped watching TV about 7 years ago. Right around the same time I started going on the internet nightly for many hours.

In the years since I stopped watching the zombie-vision, I have noticed ads popping up like daisies on the sites I go to. Example: the little ad-screen at the top of the aol instant messenger. Wasn't there a few versions ago.

Is it my duty as a member of society to put up with advertising, the only alternative being living like a hermit (which I've tried and don't recommend)? If there's another way, I'd really like to see it.

#179 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 12:44 AM:

Rebecca: I have noticed ads popping up
like daisies on the sites I go to.

Is it my duty as a member of society to put up with advertising,
the only alternative being living like a hermit
(which I've tried and don't recommend)?

If there's another way, I'd really like to see it.

If you're using Firefox as your browser
you may have some alternatives.

There had been an obnoxious ad
by the Discovery Channel on the Pharyngula blog
( a tornado that animated over the text on the page ),
so bad that PZ Myers posted an apology for it.

On the comment thread of his post,
someone recommended a Firefox extension named Adblock Plus
( and suggested using it with FilterSet.G )

Another one which was mentioned was Flashblock,
an extension which blocks Flash animations on a web page.
It seems the most annoying ads are done in Flash.

I installed both of these
after getting distracted by an ad
trying to read an article on another site
( purple and yellow and green things were animating about,
   catching my eye and making it difficult to follow the text
).

The downside is that if everyone did this,
then the advertisers would no longer sponsor websites.

But advertisers also have a responsibility
not overwhelm the pages they're put in.

Adblock allows you a fair bit of control.
You can disable the extension for a given page,
or for an entire site.

For instance, I have it disabled for nielsonhayden.com .
I thought that would be polite, if I was going to post this here . . .
and our hosts don't have any of the spastic ads
that compete aggressively with the content.

Flashblock by default blocks all Flash,
but leaves a placeholder
so you can play the ones you want or need
( a lot of sites use Flash for their interface ).
You can set up a whitelist
for sites you don't want it to block.

       Example: the little ad-screen
       at the top of the aol instant messenger.

Neither of these would take care of the ad screen
in AOL Instant Messenger, however.

In that case, vote with your feet,
and find another instancer messenger app.

I'm using GAIM,
which I found on this page
of open source windows software.
It would allow you to use your AOL account.
I'm using it with an MSN account.


#180 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 01:03 AM:

Andrew: Poi spinning! You were there? Cool!

No, the skills don't really transfer, alas. The poi LOOK like they're going all around and through each other, but they aren't really. Juggled objects really are; strings connecting them to your body would be hopelessly tangled in short order.

#181 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 02:42 AM:

Xopher: if you really think juggled objects are supposed to go through each other, no wonder you end up with jagged subdivisions of same.

"Cool" is exactly the right word to describe the poi spinning. So much so that we kept asking you for repeat demos...

Although at least as far from both juggling and poi spinning as they are from each other, one of the coolest things I saw in Ferrara last year was the flag-throwing games -- actually, I saw several of the eight teams rehearsing in advance of these games. Think precision marching combined with formation exchanges of flags (on poles maybe four feet long) by tossing them in a high arc to a partner fifteen feet away. Most teams carried two flags per thrower, but one used three each.

#182 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 04:16 AM:

Rebecca:

There's also Privoxy. It's an ad-blocking program that sits between your browser and the internet - and unlike Adblock, it comes with a pretty good set of filter rules built in. The Windows version, in particular, is very easy to install and use.

That having been said, I actually use Adblock and Flashblock as well, to catch the ads that get through Privoxy. O tempora, o mores and all that.

#183 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 04:19 AM:

Where did you pick up the poi Xopher?

#184 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 04:37 AM:

Keir

Try this site for poi

Pure coincidence that I came across it last night.

#185 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 05:25 AM:

On one of the lines in Tokyo (the Yamanote, I think) there are little screens with a combination of weather, news, ads, and train scheduling information. Most of it is rather inoffensive in the "Ah look at the wacky Japanese advertizements" sense, but the loop time on them seems to be less than a half hour and they seem to be changed weekly so I can imagine they get profoundly irritating to actual commuters.

One of the ads is by a language school (Berlitz I think) and is a short English conversation lesson. The first installment I saw got me thinking that the segment might actually be something useful. It was about the difference between the words "rest" and "break," which are often the same word in Japanese. It had a pretty, happy blond girl teaching her cute and energetic student. She asked her student the question, and her student acted it out with very good pronunciation and memorable pantomime. At the end, the teacher summarized the lesson and said her catchphrase: "Do you get it?" Hmm. Here was a train-media-thing where repetition and sound could help.

The next day was monday, the big ad switchover day. The second installment in the series would shatter my illusions. This one featured Piotr, and a smarmier, more condescending man you couldn't easily find. This lesson was about the difference between the words "handle" and "steering wheel". Instead of the teacher and student having fun together, this segment featured Piotr harassing an absent-minded-looking student. Piotr asked the student "when you drive a car, what do you grip?" and the student responded "I grip the handle". At this point Piotr shoots the camera a "god, what a moron" look and holds up a picture of a car. Pointing to the door handle he snidely says says "The handle???" The student furiously backpedals and says "No, no! I meant the Steering Wheel!" And then Piotr ends this horror with his catchphrase "Now Don't forget it!" Arg!

At first I thought the idea of cute language lessons was as beneficial and benign as onboard advertising could get, but after Piotr all I could think was "How did that horrible man get in front of a video camera? I'm glad I don't have to study at Berlitz. He should be fired."

#186 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:30 AM:

Andrew, I said that badly. I meant the lines between your body and the weights pass through each other. The line is imaginary with juggling; the passing-through is imaginary with poi.

Keir, a bunch of people were spinning firepoi at a Pagan gathering I went to. Then I went on http://www.homeofpoi.com/ and looked around, eventually finding some spinners in NYC. I went and learned a lot from them.

Dave Bell, your link appears to go to the NielenHayden.com "we can't find your link" page.

#187 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:31 AM:

And Andrew: thanks! It was fun. You should see it with actual fire!

#188 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:45 AM:

Gee, when I first saw that bit about spinning poi, I misread it as spinning koi. Anyone up for some fish juggling? (No, too cruel.)

#189 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 11:53 AM:

And silly me, I always thought that poi was sort of mushed, not spun.

#190 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 12:47 PM:

Rob Rusick:


Flashblock by default blocks all Flash,
but leaves a placeholder
so you can play the ones you want or need
( a lot of sites use Flash for their interface ).
You can set up a whitelist
for sites you don't want it to block.

Those short line lengths are really distracting: I keep interpreting it as some sort of free verse. I always have an image of you wearing a beret, pounding away on the bongos while typing your posts. (There's probably someone ironing their hair in the background.)

Are you using lynx or something similar?

dave "damn the electric fence!"

#191 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 12:51 PM:

Larry, not only that, but we spin it AROUND OUR HEADS. Without (usually) getting any on us, though I must admit I've burned myself almost every time I've done the real thing.

(Of course you know we mean the Maori kind, not the Hawaiian.)

#192 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 12:54 PM:

I don't know how the link I used got mangled.

www.neonhusky.com works from here.

Windows is weird.

#193 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 02:01 PM:

Xopher: Fire would be *really* cool.

I was probably the stick-in-the-mud who opined, when you mentioned flaming poi, that the Sheraton would probably object to the open flame and the sprinklers going off if you used real fire. With any luck I didn't then go into how Boskone (and, almost, Noreascon 3) lost the Sheraton as a venue after an excess of fire alarms and other alarums at a Boskone. :)

#194 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 03:03 PM:

dave: Rob Rusick [..]
Those short line lengths are really distracting:
I keep interpreting it as some sort of free verse.

I know I've tripped up a couple of people that way.

candle commented on it,
and I responded in detail in this post.

In less detail,
this is a style I like to use
when I'm not concerned with a printout
( and conserving paper ),
i.e, for documents to be read on the screen.

I like to 'chunk' the information into smaller bits;
a paragraph for each sentence ( usually ),
with line breaks to help parse the sentence out.

I like to think it makes for a quicker read,
but maybe it only works for me
because of how I read,
and because I broke the lines.

I have an image of you wearing a beret,
pounding away on the bongos while typing your posts.
(There's probably someone ironing their hair in the background.)

Beret and bongos, no . . .
although I like the notion.
My relatives think I'm a beatnik.

No one ironing hair in the background,
but there is a turtle in the bathtub.

I could come up with a couple more bona fides for eccentricity
( but I'm far from ready for the pro circuit ).

#195 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 03:36 PM:

The Army Museum in Honolulu has a great photograph from the Korean War, enlarged to poster size, showing a Hawaiian GI dipping into a can of Official Army Issue poi. It's rather a large can -- must hold at least a quart.

There's a very good, though not recent, book on military food (Chow, by Paul Dickson), but maybe it's time for a . . . . more philosophical one. Like, oh, If I Dine in a Combat Zone. Or The Book of Five Courses.

Well, not from me. Not now, anyway.

#196 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 04:26 PM:

Rob Rusick, you can add me to the list of people who find that your posting style *decreases* ease of comprehension. Note that in my case it decreases it to the point where I usually stop reading after about the first verse.

Something else: because I have RSI and scrolling can hurt after a while, I have a strong dislike of people deliberately creating unnecessary additional scrolling that adds nothing to the actual content of the post. Were this Usenet, I would have long since killfiled you for this, no matter how informative or entertaining your posts might otherwise be.

#197 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 04:36 PM:

Rob:

Beret, bongos: no,
Although I like the notion.
Per friends: a beatnik.

#198 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 04:52 PM:

Sorry, you said relatives, not friends. Revised:

Beret, bongos: no,
Although I like the notion.
Family says: beatnik!

#199 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2006, 06:03 PM:

Rob - I, too, find your style of posting incredibly hard to read. My eyes really want to scan across longer lines. In fact, I often read only the first line of each paragraph before I give up and move on to the next comment.

This is probably why I never saw the earlier explanation you gave.

Your basic formatting idea probably worked better in the days of fixed-width fonts.

#200 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 09:27 AM:

The mid-eighties novel you're thinkin of is Timescape, by Greg Benford. Our physicist heroes create a time machine (text-only) to tell their past selves not to let a massive particle accelerator get turned on as it will create a swarm of micro-black holes that will eventually eat the planet. It did contain the entertaining word "bugophant"--the size of a bug, and the mass of an elephant.

Why on earth can't I remember stuff that would result in financial recompense?

#201 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 10:58 AM:

*sigh*
Sorry Rob. I did read your earlier explanation, and while I understand your reasoning, and appreciate your willingness to discuss it, I normally don't read your posts, for the reasons others cited above. Usually I try to figure out what you've said from the context of the posts following. Now, if each of your posts were in the form of a Williams Carlos Williams pastiche, that would be cool. I am tempted to read them with that kind of rhythmn anyway, but the absence of the right number of syllables per line is really distracting - quite dissonant, really. If you are going to do this, please pick a poetic formula and stick with it.*

-r.
*I'll even take Anglo-Saxon alliteration

#202 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 11:06 AM:

There was another novel like that, where the micro-black hole was trapped in something, and released by accident, proceeding to drop into the earth and do orbits around and through it, putting holes in things. I don't recall an accelerator in it; I think it was in some kind of ancient object. It's been a long time, and I don't think I kept that one, because it wasn't that good a story.

#203 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Julia, re, RSI and scrolling:
I know some have modified the footpedal from electric sewing machines to talk to the mouse/keyboard port on their computers to make certain tasks easier. Someone sufficiently technically adept would be able to construct something that tells the computer that it is a scroll wheel, or a left mouse button. Here's a make it yourself version using regular radio shack switches. (via MAKE:blog.)

There is also a nifty usb device that is nothing more than a large (2.5" diameter) knob that can be mapped to different kinds of inputs on your computer - handy for musicians, artists, and those who do video editing. I'm told. Homebrew version here, for the technically inclined, requires the blood sacrifice of one (usb) mouse.

-r.

#204 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 12:20 PM:

P J, that's Niven's The Hole Man, and the hole was part of an ancient alien device on Mars, maybe a gravity wave communicator.

#205 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 12:26 PM:

Niall:
No, I'm thinking of a different one; this was supermarket-type mass-market (yeah, if I'm bored enough and something catches my eye, I might buy it). My mind keeps saying Bishop, but I don't quite trust it.

#206 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 12:37 PM:

Just to further confuse the issue, Greg Benford's Artifact unf n jrrafl vqqyr oynpx ubyr pbagnvarq vafvqr na napvrag negvsnpg (juvpu bhe bja naprfgbef unir, fbzrubj be bgure, znantrq gb genc vg va). Ng gur pbapyhfvba, Ubyrggr unf rfpncrq naq vf jnaqrevat nebhaq vafvqr, rgp. nybat jvgu bgure hasbeghangr riragf (gur ureb unf gnxra n onq uvg bs enqvngvba nsgre gur Qnexyrg ngr gur ivyynva).

Oooh, a jrrafl! They eat the leaves at the top of decision trees, you know.

#207 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 01:04 PM:

Mike: Ding, ding, ding! That's the one!

#208 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 01:10 PM:

As a counterpoint to the mini-pileon here, I feel I should say I've grown rather fond of Rob's freeverse posts; they read to me like lovely little postmodern Dao De Jing passages illuminating whatever subject's at hand.

#209 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 01:53 PM:

Mike: I thought jrrafls watered the roots of decision trees?

#210 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 02:29 PM:

Mike, I would love to see someone write "The Book of Five Courses", a book on the combination of food, philosophy and war.

#211 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 03:01 PM:

I also enjoy Rob's short-line posting style. If I were trying to read as much here as possible in the shortest time possible, it might bother me. As it is, coming to one of Rob's comments helps me remember to slow down in my reading to give things time to sink in.

#212 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 04:02 PM:

Just as an experiment I squnched up the window so as to read everybody's posts in short lines.

No diff.

But I'm not bothered by public musicians of less than concert quality, either, and I suspect I wouldn't be bothered by poets on the bus.

I figure, public space is noisy. People reading poetry is just more noise. It might be interesting to engage with, it might not. It might be irritating, but if I were irritated by everything that has a potential for irritation, I'd be a very irritated irritatee indeed, so it's my policy to give potential irritators slack.

#213 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 06:31 PM:

On the subject of intrusions on public transport: at a big multi-union rally against the Australian government's (then) proposed changes to the industrial relations laws, we were told of a young man who stood up on his morning train to give a five minute lecture on the implications of the legislation. Apparently his carriage-load of fellow commuters applauded and an animated conversation followed. Perhaps that was a special case: the Americanisation of Australian IR is a cause of huge concern here, and there are some routes where the same core group of commuters share a carriage every day for years. Perhaps we were given a false version of how the event actually went down. Or perhaps the exigencies of class war override the need for important staring-out-of-windows time in a way that the need for poetry doesn't?

#214 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2006, 11:33 PM:

Rob Rusick and Xopher:

Thank you kindly, especially for taking the time to track down all those links. I am currently using Firefox, Adblock, the FilterSet.G and GAIM, and they are working wonderfully.

Once again, I can internet without hurting my eyes! For joy!

The thing with pre-shortened lines: I find that it's hard to predict what's going to be the right information intake for many annoymous people, so better to let them decide on their own.

#215 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2006, 12:05 AM:

alex: the text-only time machine story sounds more like James P. Hogan's Thrice Upon a Time.

#216 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2006, 03:08 PM:

For what it's worth, Rob Rusick, I love your posting style. It strikes me as deliberately inefficient, like fetching paving-stones by unicycle.

#217 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2006, 10:28 PM:

I tend to prefer
being allowed
to parse the sen
tences I read on
my own (being
an editor and thus
reluctant to leave
such decisions
to the writer's
whim) and
besides that if a reader
prefers a narrow br
owse
r window and the Rusickian
post is in a layer or
two of blockquoting
then so much for
the pretty line lengths
anyhow.

#218 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2006, 11:53 AM:

Re: 'Blank verse' posting style

Well, I've read the nays and yays ( gratified to have gotten a couple of yays ), but I'll go with 'less irritating', and resolve to post with fewer line breaks. The stereotype of 'polite Canadian' is worth trying to live up to.

On my HTML projects, I'm using a stylesheet which gives the paragraph tag a 'whitespace' setting of 'pre'. Changing this would be enough to collapse the paragraph into a block. If and when I learn PHP, I expect it would be possible to design a page where this 'feature' could be checked on or off.

Julia Jones: I don't give scrolling a thought; although if I were using a scroll wheel all the time it would irritate me. The mouse I've been using ( a Logitech Mx700 ) has small buttons above and below the scroll wheel; holding the button above the scroll wheel scrolls up; holding the button below the scroll wheel scrolls down.

rhandir: putting it in a proper meter would be quite beyond me! ( cool if I could do it... ) As I was originally using it as a transcription method, I wouldn't be changing the original words.

Chris Clarke: Hey! I was never breaking words! As an alternative to re-sizing the browser window, you can ( at least in Firefox ) use Control+ to enlarge the font size ( Control- to bring it back down ).

In conclusion: New! Less Irritating! Fewer Linebreaks!

Thank you for your patience. I like this community, and endeavor to be a good citizen.

#219 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2006, 12:07 PM:

Chris Clarke: Hey! I was never breaking words!

Yeah, I know: Just riffing.

As an alternative to re-sizing the browser window, you can ( at least in Firefox ) use Control+ to enlarge the font size ( Control- to bring it back down ).

Font size is rarely the reason I resize a browser window: limited monitor real estate is more usually the case.

#220 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2006, 12:22 PM:

I would love to see someone write "The Book of Five Courses", a book on the combination of food, philosophy and war.

To cook a hundred successful quiches on a hundred occasions is not the acme of skill. To nourish oneself without having to cook the blasted quiche in the first place is the supreme excellence.
(Art of Cooking, 5th century BC - attributed to General Tse).

"Rommel has had his chips." - General Montgomery.

#221 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2006, 01:14 PM:

ajay: I would have written something on General Tso also, but I was too chicken.

#222 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2006, 01:35 PM:

alex: I think you are actually thinking of Thrice Upon A Time by James Hogan. Not a bad book; I re-read it recently.

#223 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2006, 02:10 PM:

Rob Rusick,
(re: blank verse) Good heavens, you are being so polite about the whole thing! I feel quite guilty for having complained.

Though I wonder if someone has hacked together a macro for Word that combines syllable counting with autocomplete. Hi! It looks like you want a word with three syllables that is a synonym for idiot...

-r.

#224 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2006, 08:16 PM:

Quiche? Piffle! Try cooking a two-egg souffle. With no whisk. Beating the eggwhites with a fork. Oh, my aching wrist.

It was delicious, but the next time I'm jonesing for a souffle I'm buying a whisk.

"To make a souffle without a whisk is to overcome adversity. To put oneself in a position of adversity is fckng dumb" - General Tso (He was a good egg.)

#225 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 07:01 PM:

While waiting in a jammed intersection yesterday, aslant from an advertising readerboard, I enjoyed:

"For a list of the ways in which technology

has failed to improve

the quality of life:

press 3."

twice. I should remember the author... Aimee Mann?

#226 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2006, 08:01 PM:

"The Dao of the egg-whisk is not a speakable Dao. The De of the fork is not a teachable De." -- General Tso

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