Monday, May 14, 2012


by Douglas Adams (author: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy")

This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person was me. I had gone to catch a train. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I'd gotten the time of the train wrong.

I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table.

I want you to picture the scene. It's very important that you get this very clear in your mind.

Here's the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, packet of cookies. There's a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase.

It didn't look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.

Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There's nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies.

You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would have very quickly been gunfire, helicopters coming in, CNN, you know. . . But in the end, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do a clue in the newspaper, couldn't do anything, and thought, what am I going to do?

In the end I thought, nothing for it, I'll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought, that settled him. But it hadn't because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie.

Having not mentioned it the first time, it was somehow even harder to raise the subject the second time around. "Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice . . ." I mean, it doesn't really work.

We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away.

Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back. A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies.

The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who's had the same exact story, only he doesn't have the punch line.

(Excerpted from "The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time" by Douglas Adams)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How to avoid getting stung by bees this summer

A beekeeper on reddit posted the following:

I'm a beekeeper who's never been stung by bees (only wasps). We're taught strategies to avoid attracting their attention. Some of them may help reduce the amount you're bothered:

  1. Wearing neutral/light colors is less likely to attract attention. If you are wearing bright/neon colors, they may mistake you for a very large flower and come over to investigate.
  2. Using cologne/perfume/scented products or not showering frequently gives you too much smell, and they'll come over to investigate. Bees especially love floral-note perfumes (huge surprise). Not wearing scents and showering frequently are good ways to avoid their radar.
  3. Bees (not wasps, there is nothing you can really do about wasps because they're predatory) will always warn you before they sting, unless you are crushing them with your body. They warn by headbutting. If a bee is bonking into you, it is not confused, it is giving you a warning to run away. If you do not heed the warning, it will then attempt to defend its family.
  4. Bees only sting when they are threatened--either their hive, or their person. Therefore flailing around screaming "GET AWAY GET AWAY" is a guaranteed way to get stung, as an animal 8 bajillion times your size mimicking a Ninja blender is, indeed, threatening. If a bee is investigating you or lands on you, the best thing to do is to stand still or continue going about your business in a non-spastic manner until it leaves.
  5. Bees are curious. Carpenter bees and bumble bees are especially notorious for just wanting to check things out. Unfortunately, their favored method of trying to figure out what kind of creature you are is hovering at face-level approximately 5 inches away from your nose and zipping a few inches from side to side until they are satisfied. My dog bites them in half. If you are not as fast as my dog, you may want to follow the instructions in Step 4.
  6. Flowers are usually easier to come by than water. Therefore, in the summer heat, bees may frequent pools, picnic beverages, or come after your sweat. Sure it's gross, but it's better than dying of dehydration. You can prevent this by leaving a hose dripping, watering a bed of flowers, or upending a jar of water with holes punched in the lid in some out-of-the-way location and refilling it often. Then they will gather their water from those sources rather than coming near people as an act of desperation.
  7. The sting of a bee acts as a pheromonal "target" for other bees of the same hive, to help them coordinate their attacks. If you are stung by one bee, while leaving the area make sure to scrape out the stinger. This will help remove the "target" which will attract further stings.
  8. If you are being stung by multiple bees, do not jump into a pond or other body of water like you see in the movies. The bees will wait. They will usually wait longer than you can hold your breath. The best thing to do is run. Bees will not pursue after about 1/4 mile, and will return to their hive. Putting a relatively short distance between you and them is the quickest and most effective way to escape.
  9. Lots of bees nest in the ground, in holes that are difficult to detect even if you know how to identify them. If a bee is stinging you for "no apparent reason", odds are that you have just collapsed its home and are continuing to dance gleefully atop it. Please move a few yards over, and it will return to freeing its entombed family (priority 1) when it decides the immediate source of damage is gone from the area (priority 0).
  10. If it's actually wasps that have been getting you, not bees (a bee will die after it stings and leave the stinger embedded in your flesh, a wasp will fly away unharmed, come back, sting you again, and laugh evilly), then please do not claim you've been stung by bees. People who have not properly identified the yellow and black flying things stinging them make other people nervous about responsible beekeepers in their area, which is super lame.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Paul Romer's radical idea: Charter cities

How can a struggling country break out of poverty if it's trapped in a system of bad rules? Economist Paul Romer unveils a bold idea: "charter cities," city-scale administrative zones governed by a coalition of nations. (Could Guantánamo Bay become the next Hong Kong?)

Real Tracking and Shooting Portal Turret

The True Frontier - Cordwainer Smith

The following is a transcription of Extra Sci-fi’s episode “The True Frontier - Cordwainer Smith” What if I told you that one of the great...