What was this guy doing?

Leaving my office for lunch today, a guy bumped into me.  He apologized, and I checked that I still had my wallet, and was about to leave it at that, when he struck up a conversation:

“Hey, I saw you leave XXX [my company] building.  Do you work there?”

“Yes,” I said, warily, since on-the-street conversations in Chicago usually result in being hit up for cash.

“I just ask because I recently applied for a job there, but didn’t hear anything.”

“Oh, what department?”

“Oh, um, I forget what they called it.  I was trying to be a developer.”

“Well, I don’t remember of any open spots in my department, so I don’t know who you’d be working with.  Sorry I can’t be more help.”

“No, its cool,” he said with a wave and started to walk off, “oh, hey! Do you have a business card?”

“Sorry, not on me.  Good luck though.”

We went in separate directions after that, and I went to the deli and got a sandwich.  Sitting at the counter, I watched people coming and going, and noticed someone familiar leaning against the column of the office building across the street.

Weird Dude was back.  As I watched, he left the column and walked towards the door of the consulting firm, just as one of their employees was leaving.  Just as he had with me, he “distractedly” ran into the consultant, and then struck up a conversation.  It was obvious he was doing the same thing he did with me.

So my question is this: what was the point?  Was this an attempt to find out about hidden jobs at various companies?  Had he applied at my company and the consulting firm, and trying to find a non-invasive, if creepy, way to inquire about his application?  Was it the oddest approach to building a LinkedIn contact list ever?  What was the goal?  I can’t figure it out.  But I’m glad he didn’t get my name…

The Ludicrosity of Alien Invasion Movies

I just read Roger Ebert’s review of Battle: LA.  Its fun to read, I’d recommend looking it over and then coming back: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110309/REVIEWS/110309992

Back? Okay, so its obvious that he finds it less than great in the same way that I find my dog’s “I just ate a brick of butter and left you a present in your shoe” habit to be less than great.  I can’t say whether he’s right, as I haven’t seen the movie.  But I can say that it already had a major strike against it: it’s an alien invasion movies, and alien invasion movies are almost always shit.

The problem is the basic motivations of the genre.  They don’t make sense.  First off, the movies all have some convoluted reason for the invasion that is just dumb:

  1. They need our resources:  This is dumb.  Imagine you wanted some gold, and you knew there was gold in Fort Knox, so you decide to invade.  Now imagine that every single road between you and Fort Knox is bumpy and hard to traverse because they are just littered with TONS AND TONS OF GOLD.  So far, we have yet to find, on Earth, any resource that isn’t very prevalent in space, with the possible exception of life.  So the only reason for aliens to invade is if they wanted us – which you can sort of assume they don’t, what with their wanton random killing and all.
  2. They dislike us for some reason: Also dumb.  This is the equivalent of deciding there was some guy you’d never met who happened to live in the Gobi Desert, and your response to this dislike was to walk all the way to the middle of China, just so you can punch this guy in the face, without, of course, telling him why.
  3. They are afraid of us:  I am afraid of Brown Recluse Spiders.  I find it sort of wiggy that something the size of my fist can kill me.  But the thing is, they live in Australia.  No matter how wigged I am, I really feel absolutely no need to get on a plane and fly to Australia just to kill little wig-inducing spiders.
  4. They want to kill us because we cannot communicate with them: I don’t speak dolphin, and yet, that has never caused me to, you know, kill one.  And I don’t think elephants speak English, and this doesn’t seem to cause them to kill us.

Just as bad as the motivations are the ludicrous reasons for why the humans win in the end:

  1. We pluckily outwit them: Let’s make this clear: our new alien overlords have figured out how to build gigantic spaceships that can cross at least dozens of light years, find us, invade us, and kick our asses for the first 85 minutes of our 90 minute flick.  The best we’ve done is launch a Volkswagen-sized personal calculator out to about the distance of Pluto.  We are not going to outsmart them.
  2. They were ill-prepared for what they’d find here: When I go out on my front porch after a snow storm, I wear boots and gloves and all the basic cold weather accoutrement one would expect.  When an astronaut goes to the moon (which, face it, is the outer space equivalent of a front-porch, at best) he manages to get suited up in a nice bit of kit that happens to protect him against heat and cold and pressure and Buzz Aldrin’s craziness. Yet we are expected to be believe that aliens who can somehow build city-sized interstellar spacecraft would land on a planet covered with toxic substances in their alien birthday suits (asexual cellular separation suits?) – aka The Signs approach, or without any sort of prophylaxis – the War of the Worlds approach, or decent anti-virus software – the ID4 approach.
  3. They learned the value of humanity: Shit.  We can’t even learn the value of humanity.  Yeah, it makes for a nice sickly sweet ending, but it’s not real.
  4. It was all just a big allegory for the invasion of The Americas, Apartheid, The Mandarin Resistance, the 1979 Knicks, etc etc: Yeah.  Okay.  Sure – I guess I am fine with this – but only if it gets nominated for an Oscar.

So the lesson here is simple:  If your movie is about aliens coming and taking over Earth, its almost certainly going to be shit.

We Need Emotional Fonts


I am not Pablo Neruda.  This doesn’t bother me because, well, you aren’t either.  But our non-Pablo Neruda-ness does cause a problem in that we are constantly use text more and more to communicate.  Email, Texting, Twitter and blogging – we write more that your average Austinian heroine.

But we’re not very good at it. Most studies of electronic communication (all of which I am too lazy to look up and link to) have shown that people are invariably bad at properly communicating or interpreting the emotional context of a message.  More accurately, most people interpret emails according to their own emotional state at the time – if you are in a bad mood, you are certain that the email you just received from your boss has an angry tone, even if she’s congratulating you on a job well done.

So I think we need to start using the tools at our disposal, and I have a ridiculously stupid idea how: Fonts.  I want a sarcastic font.  I want a “just kidding font” (Comic Sans, obviously).  I want a  “I am asking nicely, but that doesn’t mean the wrath of god will not be visited upon you if you interpret this as anything less than an order” (useful for texts to my son).

Now I just need to figure out a font for each emotion, and figure out how to get this scheme to catch on.  Since I can assume that my charm and magnetism will make the latter trivial, I better get working on the former.