wafting your way along the slipstreams of the Info Highway

from Bubbles = Tom Digby



Issue 3

Mar 30, 1995

Contents copyright 1997 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of "fair use". In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I get a cut of the profits.

For more background info, details of how the mailing list works, etc., look at issue #Zero.

If you email me a reply or comment, please make clear whether or not it's for publication.

I sometimes think the Christian shepherd analogy takes too little account of human autonomy. A typical shepherd doesn't really want his sheep to do anything much in the way of free will. If you must use an animal model, I'd take the relationship between "owner" and cat.

And I may someday make up a little wall hanging with the motto "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive our cats."

"So there they were, first down and goal to go, which is usually a pretty enviable position, except this time the ball was right on their opponents' 4 1/3 yard line. That's thirteen feet in the old measure, which is unlucky, and when that happens there's some obscure rule requiring them to punt. And wouldn't you know it! More than ninety yards of clear field behind them to punt into, and it goes right into the path of the Zamboni! No, I don't know what the darn thing's good for. Chews up the grass something fierce. Groundskeepers hate 'em. But it's a relic of Old Earth, whose ways we follow faithfully even when we do not fully comprehend."

"But that's what marching bands are for, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's what saved the day while they were sending out for another ball. And that's when the talent scout saw me playing third theremin and gave me my Big Break."

Have you ever noticed that some seemingly silly questions aren't really all that silly? They're not asking the silly thing they say they're asking, or aren't really even questions at all.

For example, I once saw a magazine cartoon ridiculing people who walk up to the key-making machine in some place like a hardware store and ask the nearest employee "Do you make keys?" when the machine was plainly visible along with racks of key blanks and a large key-shaped KEYS sign. But I don't think the question was as silly at it looked on the surface. It actually was a two-part thing. The first part might be rephrased as "Is the key-making department open?" Possible straight answers might be "Yes," or "The key-making person is out to lunch, try again at [time]," or "The machine's broken, try again next week." The second part wasn't really a question at all, but more like "Allow me to introduce myself as a potential customer for keys." "Do you make keys?" was a sort of shorthand way of bundling both concepts.

Another not-so-silly non-question silly question I've noticed is "Can you do X?" instead of "Please do X," when the person's ability to perform is obvious. Instead of the politeness of (at least in theory) asking someone to do X if it pleases them, you have the politeness of (at least in theory) giving them the option of making up some excuse for declining. Is either form better than the other? That's a matter of cultural assumptions and preferences.

Anyone else have interesting examples?

One reader tells me that making a point by storytelling is more effective than trying to make the same point by lecturing. I can sort of agree with that, but I don't have that much control over my Muses. So you'll just have to take what I can get.


My friend had been sort of wilting lately, 
Turning pale and faded and a little blurry around the edges. 
Regular doctors saw nothing in particular wrong,
So I took him to the local guru.  

"Needs problems," said the guru with only a quick glance. 

"Of course he has problems," I replied,
"That's why I brought him to you."  

"I didn't say he HAS problems.  I said he NEEDS problems. 
His problem is that he doesn't have problems, 
And not having problems can be a very serious problem." 

"Huh?" say I, and he explains again. 

After a few more rounds it sinks in:  
Man is a problem-solving creature,  
Evolved, or created, or whatever, to solve problems,
And a problem-solver without problems is nothing.  
Some instinctively know this, 
As sales of puzzles show.  
But others need to have problems thrust upon them.  

"You mean I should let the air out of his tires, 
Hide his morning paper in the bushes, 
Or invent foolish errands for him to run? 
Or should I get more serious, 
Hinting of rumors of downsizing at work, 
And asking his landlord to make noises about eviction?" 

"Professional opinions among gurus differ, 
But even if threatening problems are better than none at all,  
I'd try happy problems first."  

Happy problems? 
Those are the ones we face gladly,
Like a painter needing to choose colors for a sunset 
Because she chose to try to capture it on canvas.  
Or being out on the lake in a boat with your fishing pole, 
Wondering exactly where they'll be biting
And how to sneak up on them without scaring them off.  

Some, like scientists, get paid to solve happy problems. 
Others must seek problems elsewhere. 
But they're easy to find.  

Was there something my friend could do to help his other friends?
Some way he could contribute to making a better world? 
Or even something as trivial 
As suggesting a closing line for this poem? 

The prognosis looks quite good. 

                                   -- Thomas G. Digby
                                   written  19:00  03/15/1995 

                                -- END --

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