wafting your way along the slipstreams of the Info Highway

from Bubbles = Tom Digby



Issue #15

New Moon of Mar 19, 1996

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.

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A check of the almanac shows this year's northern hemisphere Spring Equinox is less than 24 hours after New Moon: Three minutes after midnight on the morning of March 20, to be exact. That means it's still March 19 in zones west of California, such as Hawaii. So if you went strictly by the calendar date and otherwise didn't know better you could say California gets one more day of winter than Hawaii this year.

This is being written on Saint Patrick's Day, known even to those of us who grew up Protestant and had no idea of the concept of saint's days in general. It was just a generic "Let's all wear green and celebrate Ireland" day. No politics, no controversy, just innocent fun with shamrocks and leprechauns. "He drove the snakes out of Ireland" with no hint of any symbolism or anything other than that I was growing up in a part of the country where rattlesnakes were a possibility, and Ireland was a safer place in at least that one small way. So it kind of bothers me when people read other stuff into it, and say that whatever you do or don't do on this day is a political statement of some sort.

Another St. Patrick's thought: If you must politicize it, turn the green into environmental stuff? Since "green" has become a code word for "environmentally friendly" we might use that association. Turn it from celebrating any particular religious or political system into celebrating life on Earth. Start from the physical beauty of Ireland, and the green of photosynthesis, and go from there.

Life, the universe, and everything. 42, for fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe 42 in base 13 = 54 decimal, according to some sources. But isn't that equal to 36 hex, or ASCII "6"? So answering The Question thrice gives "666". Another ominous portent.

I've noticed that sometimes when I'm driving late at night and the place I'm going to or from has a large parking lot that's mostly empty I sometimes get an urge to take shortcuts, ignoring the painted lines. It seems to be an innate urge to now and then break the rules.

And that brings up the allure of certain classes of adventure stories. Some are set in the Wild West, some on sparsely-settled colony planets, and some in a lawless wilderness of dragons and sorcerers. But they do seem to have a common thread of low population density and little organized law and order. Is this a manifestation of some inherent drive to be free of rules? Or is it just a statistical distribution of story settings, and maybe I'm seeing patterns where there are none? There are other stories, such as mysteries, set in areas where the rule of law is stronger. So how real is the effect? Is it a separate genre just because some readers have a preference for societies on the unstructured end of the spectrum?

But if it's just that I'm noticing one end of a spectrum, how come we don't have as prominent a genre of stories at the other end, where everything is very orderly and lawful? Where characters do things primarily because there's a rule that tells them to, and they succeed by following rules? Those seem rare. We do have some prison stories and such, but not all that many, and in those few the rules often get broken.

So does that kind of orderly restraint not have the same inherent appeal as chaotic freedom?

And as I write this a helicopter is flying over. Or maybe it's a UFO pretending to be a helicopter. If so, it's fairly convincing, at least if you don't look. I didn't look, so I don't know how convincing it is if one does look. Probably pretty convincing, or too many people would spot it and blab. Since I haven't heard lots of blabbing about fake helicopters, it's probably a pretty good imitation. Or maybe it's actually a real helicopter. I wouldn't put it past those UFO space aliens to fly around in real helicopters to fool people.

If a tall building has upper-floor windows that open, and there's a truck marked "ANVIL DEFENESTRATION CORP" parked outside, Watch Out! Look up as you walk by. Be alert for shouts of "Look Out Below!!!!"

Speaking of falling anvils, do people really say "Ouch" all that much nowadays?

How about some future world where the word "Ouch" is considered archaic because nobody gets hurt any more? That's the kind of thing somebody might have put in a 1950's "World of the Future" article. But those things never seem to work out. So people in the far future will probably be saying "Ouch" as least as much as nowadays.

The dictionary gives a first-use date of 1837. What did people say before that? I assume people did get hurt before 1837, what with the Spanish Inquisition and all those wars and all. So they must have said something before "ouch" became a word in 1837. But what?

I see by the papers that a plant that makes brakes for GM cars is on strike, and as a result GM is shutting down other plants that make the rest of the cars. But this wouldn't happen in a cartoon world, where laws on things like product safety and product liability are Different. The other plants would keep right on going, and when the brake-makers finally went back to work the cars built during the strike would simply be recalled to have brakes put in.

Of course no recall is perfect, and a few always get missed. So if you're buying a car in that universe, count the pedals carefully.

That's the way they'd do it in cartoons.

And of course it's not the safest or most efficient way to do it. But it would be funny. That's the main criterion there. And that could bring up major philosophical questions. In our world we do things because it's the efficient way to do them and we're lazy, or it's an inefficient way to do them to create jobs, or it's the only way we've thought of so far. But outside of show business we rarely do things some certain way because that's a funny way to do it. But in cartoons that seems to be the main driving force. That would make life quite different, perhaps even more different than those of us who've tried to imagine it have so far been able to imagine.

For one thing, the "observer effect" that our world's quantum physicists talk about is peanuts compared to the observer effect in the cartoon worlds. There, whether something is done on or off camera, or on camera but just outside the frame, is paramount (no pun intended, and no obligation to try to work in other studio names).

For example, you've seen cartoon characters sawing holes in walls and ceilings and floors, always with what looks like a regular carpenter's saw. But you never see them start sawing. That's because in our world you need to drill a hole first to get the saw blade in to start the cut, or do something else messy and slow and noisy. So they can't start the cut, or at least they couldn't in our world. But in the cartoon world they can start the cut off-camera so long as they don't try to explain how. The observer effect lets it have been done while we weren't looking, even if it couldn't be done otherwise.

Or consider the pocket from which just about anything can be pulled. There's no "inside" there, just undifferentiated void from which anything can create itself. But again, only if nobody is looking. If somebody looks, the void becomes ordinary space that you can't do much with unless there's stuff already there.

And don't forget the character who walks off a cliff but doesn't fall until he looks down. Again, a much stronger observer effect than here.

So what must it be like to be a scientist there? We see some glimpses of scientists working, but not much of their actual day-to-day life. But whatever it's like, the underlying philosophies and methods must be quite alien to what we think of as "normal".

In addition to Equinox and New Moon, there's a comet coming by in a few days. I don't have any poems about comets handy, but how about a planetarium?

                       Incident Along Fantasy Way 


Last night I went to the Planetarium.
They were doing a travelogue:
"The heavens as seen from Oz, Trantor, Middle Earth,
     Lankhmar, Hollywood,
And other legendary places."
As an added attraction they had images of UFO's:
Lights, disks, streaks, and various other forms
Of mysterious heavenly apparitions.

But something departed from the script --
A spot of light grew and grew and grew 
Until a door opened and a Thing emerged.
"Our home planet is overcrowded," it said,
"And we want you to put a brighter bulb in your projector
To make our world larger and roomier."

"But that would exceed our budget
And besides you don't have tickets."
A bureaucrat forever.

Suddenly, with a flurry of tentacles into a projector
     previously unnoticed,
The attendant was extinguished
And with a quick change of slides
A more cooperative one created.

Request granted, farewell, and off into the artificial night
Leaving me to wonder:
Which projector am I coming from?

                                   Thomas G. Digby
                                   written 0200  8/01/74
                                   entered 1205  4/09/92

                                -- END --

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