Daily Archives: 06/11/2005

Daily Bit O’ D.N.A.

I was sitting outside reading most of today, but an afternoon squall has forced me inside. Inspired by the recent release of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I am working my way through all my Douglas Adams material. I read all the Hitchhiker books last month, and I am currently reading The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of Adams’ writings released posthumously in 2002.

Just before the rain forced me inside, I read this little snippet, which Adams reproduces almost exactly in his fourth Hitchhiker book, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, as a misadventure of Arthur Dent, the hero of the series.

by Douglas Adams
This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person is me. 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 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, helicopter 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 punchline.

From a speech to Embedded Systems, 2001

It was a truly a shame when Douglas N. Adams died of a heart attack in 2001. He was only 49 years old.

This Parking Lot Scam

A rash of arrests at the Guam International Airport occurred this week, as a scam by parking lot attendants came to light. So far seven parking lot employees have been arrested and charged with stealing $70,000 in parking lot fees over the last several years. Apparently these guys were just pocketing the parking lot fees and submitting fraudulent reports to their supervisors.

This comes after allegations of bid tampering and kickbacks earlier this year by another airport employee. While the woman no longer worked at the airport, she was in another GovGuam agency which decided not to terminate her employment. After all, can’t have thieves walking the streets unemployed can we?

And the beauty of this? Nothing’s changed. “So far, all of the employees arrested remain on the job assigned to other divisions at the Airport pending the findings of the police investigation.” Yes, Guam’s airport, proudly employing thieves to ensure your comfort and ease in travelling.

Bolivia In Turmoil, South America The New Blue State

Bolivia has a new president, the country’s third in two years. Bolivia is wracked with protests, strikes and blockades by the impoverished masses and left wing workers rising up against the rich elite and their transnational corporation allies. The current crisis revolved around demands by the left to nationalize the country’s natural gas supplies. A good source of background information on the situation in Bolivia is this article from ZNet, which is reprinted from the Socialist Worker. So it is a bit over the top with the struggle of the workers, but it does lay out the facts that have gotten so little press in the United States.

While the U.S. slips further and further under the control of the conservative right, a significant portion of Latin America is becoming a bastion of the liberal left. The U.S. is most concerned about Venezuela and Hugo Chavez (or at least Venezuela’s massive oil reserves), but other Latin American leftist leaders include Brazil’s Lula, Argentina’s Kirchner, Ecuador’s Palacios, Chile’s Lagos, Uraguay’s Vazquez and of course Cuba’s Castro. The situation in Bolivia is quite volatile and the country could go either way. The interim government of Eduardo Rodriguez has to walk a careful tightrope between the powerful, rich elite and the protesting masses of the poor and defuse the situation.