Category Archives: Unvisible

Neoteny is a scam; resist animalistic marketing!

The standard meanings of “neoteny” are

  • the retention of juvenile characteristics in an adult of the species
  • premature reproductive maturity.

I adopt the word because I know no other term for this concept: the appearance of youth, sexuality or novelty applied to a person or thing that lacks those characteristics. A few common examples are

  • face makeup
  • rapidly changing fashion trends
  • logo, label, and web site redesigns
  • irrelevant images of attractive people, children, animals or things.
Lovely but irrelevant photo of young girl smiling
Lovely but irrelevant

Due to the work of Sigmund Freud and his nephew, Edward Bernays, the field of marketing has specialized in controlling your attention by one simple and devious trick: manipulate the subconscious. This is as easy as placing an attractive object next to the product. You buy without knowing how far your decisions are influenced by the fallacies of association by proximity and animal attraction.

Be on the lookout and do not fall for deceptive neoteny in any form. It is a way of taking advantage of your animalism (instinctive behaviors and tendencies you have in common with animals). Do not consider yourself too advanced or enlightened to be so easily manipulated. Vestigial it may be, but you can’t unwire it. Anyone who says you’re above this instinct is getting ready to take advantage of you.

When you notice deceptive, artificial neoteny–you must train yourself and try hard to notice it–count it as a strike. It does not mean they have acted immorally. Still, you must even the score before you can make a fair evaluation. The only way to balance the indelible marks they have made on your subconscious scoreboard is to penalize them consciously.

Gratuitous imagery may be its most obvious incarnation but deceptive neoteny isn’t only about sex. Its other face is novelty. Just as thoughts of sex stimulate changes in your brain chemistry, any unfamiliar visual element can awaken and arouse you. Any novel color, shape, or arrangement has a chance to draw your attention. From neon-colored “Sale!” stickers to actual flashing neon signs to drastic web site redesigns, everything that was once new and exciting becomes old and boring after a while and must be refreshed.

When you see a box on the shelf touting its new label design, or a web site that brags about its new style, or a clever new commercial, first acknowledge their success in grabbing your attention and tally the penalty. Then ask whether the actual product has been improved, or has the quality or economy of the product actually suffered to accomodate the new design? Are you the type of consumer who would opt to pay extra for your usual brand of soap so the producer could redesign the logo every year?

Invariably, all novel designs in any profit-driven enterprise are aimed at benefiting the producer or publisher. Whether its function is to attract new customers or to affect the behavior of loyal users, its purpose is to increase profit. The question that should be foremost in your mind is whether it benefits you, the customer.

So beware of allegations of freshness. Learn to discriminate between the sexy and the allegedly sexy, the new and the allegedly new, the improved and the allegedly improved. Cultivate suspicion against those who pull the lever of neoteny for they have shown their willingness to lie to you.

None of this is meant to call you a fool, nor to say you should always be jaded. However, if you wish to wear wool over your eyes from time to time, at least you can know about it.

Disclosure: It should be plain that the message above in no way works to my personal advantage. However, you can choose to advantage me financially by shopping at Amazon after following this link to my favorite detergent. [sexy photo goes here]

The Case of the Surfacing Effluent

We bought an old house in the country in 2009. The septic system was so old that no documents could be found describing the locations of its underground components. A professional inspector found one small tank and assumed that the drain field must be close by in the general direction of the outlet pipe. The system passed a flow test which the bank found reassuring enough that they issued us a mortgage to buy the house.

Recently we noticed a small puddle near the septic tank. This was surfacing effluent. Effluent–the watery discharge that normally flows from the tank into the drain field for natural purification by the soil–had stopped flowing through the underground pipes and found its way to the surface.

Yesterday we had the septic company come out to pump the tank so we could begin working on the problem. The technician found a surprise. The inspector had gotten it wrong. The tank he found was only the first of two. The effluent had been coming up through a gap in the lid of the second tank which was set slightly lower than the first.

We still don’t know what is causing the stoppage. It could be a collapsed line, some other kind of blockage in the pipes such as tree roots, or the soil may be suffering from reduced hydraulic capacity for any number of reasons. Not only is the cause a mystery but we don’t even know where the drain field is. I suspected there might be one about 60 feet away where two or three strips of grass thrived even during last year’s drought. However, that area was not in the direction that the outlet pointed. I decided to dig in and see what I could find before asking for professional help. Here is the hole I dug:

Septic pipes

Of interest are the terra cotta fitting, the gaps and loose joints, and the 90ยบ elbow. (Incidentally, near the surface in the corner of the hole I found a dented wheel hub. I have no intention of moving it. Knowing this property, it would not surprise me to find it attached to a complete automobile buried upside-down.) The elbow turns the flow in the direction of the grassy patch, suggesting that our drain field actually is all the way out there.

After all of that digging by hand, I threw up my hands and called the professionals back. Tomorrow we should have a digging crew to unearth and inspect enough of the line to confirm the cause of the problem. If we get our wish, they’ll be able to fix it on sight and leave us with a reasonable bill. We really don’t want to pay for a new drain field or anything more major than a bit of digging and 4″ PVC.

Wish us luck.

Whiskey Halloween

Zoe and I had a nice trip to New Orleans for Halloween. Her friend there is the publisher of a food magazine so we ate at some excellent places and enjoyed a private Halloween party. We spent a total of 30 seconds on Bourbon Street during the crush of the night’s festivities, which was long enough for a reveler to bump into me, apologize, and plead for his life. (I wasn’t in costume. Am I really scary?)

We stayed around the corner from the Canal end of Bourbon Street. I’m a bourbon enthusiast. My current obsession is the Antique Collection, five small-batch whiskeys released once a year from the Buffalo Trace distillery. I already had bottles of all but the most difficult to find, the George T. Stagg bourbon. When Zoe and I toured that distillery this summer we found none for sale within 100 miles. When I tried to pre-order Stagg from my local store I learned that the distributor’s entire allotment was already allocated.

Bourbon hunting is a serious game. It’s like Pokemon. So when we sat down for a late dinner Friday night at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House I had to ask for Stagg. The waiter asked the bartender and was told they were out. I shrugged and had a Sazerac cocktail instead.

On the way to lunch the next day we stopped again at the Bourbon House for a drink. This time I sat at the bar and scanned the bottles myself. I saw antlers. I was going to get my drink!

The bartender picked up on my enthusiasm and we talked about this and other bourbons. She put the bottle on the bar for my inspection and handed me the distillery’s letter of pedigree. Then she gave us the name of a liquor store in the French Quarter that might carry it.

After lunch we found the store. They had three bottles of Stagg on the shelf. I asked whether they limited the sale of rare whiskeys. Nope, just buy what you want. So I got a case (three bottles) and walked straight back to the Bourbon House to thank the bartender. She made my day and then some.

I later found out via Google and Wikipedia that George T. Stagg is nicknamed “Hazmat” when it is more than 70% alcohol (140 proof) which is the maximum concentration allowed by the FAA on commercial flights. The 2009 proof is 141.4. Stop by for a taste but let’s not talk about how I got these bottles back home.

Nothing says life like the ticking of an intergalactic clock

The sort of people I trust to extrapolate conclusions from data tell me that our universe is 13,730,000,000 years old, give or take 120 million (one percent error). The same universe holds observers who insist it began fewer than 10,000 years ago, just off the mark by six powers of ten, which factor also describes how much less credible they are due to their typical omnidirectional spray of similarly inflexible hogwash. Take inventory of the evidence in favor and against the notion that we were put here by a higher form of life: nil versus nil. Surely if we could travel through space to visit other planets we would bring enough of Earth’s forms of living matter to mingle down through remote generations with others we might encounter; perhaps during their efforts to fling their own apples far from the tree our forebears, who would have settled a branch office here had the climate been nicer in those days, sowed their sundry crops in our oceans and plan to return when they estimate our evolution will peak, like a brewer fermenting wort or a baker preparing dough; will we be drunk like beer or eaten like bread before we can fling our own apples to great numbers of planets so that such a harvest would not threaten to end every instance of our form of existence? I can imagine it on any magnitude of size: microscopic alien ancestry is as likely as mega-sized alien monstrosity; or of time: it could have been only thousands of years ago that we were culled from our livestock pens aboard an interstellar craft into this gravity well because we had bred too enthusiastically despite the food pellet ration formulated by our captors to keep us fat and drugged and delicious; or of frequency: interstellar microscopic biological packet delivery and long-term observation might prove to be the most accessible foray into uncharted environments, whether they be barren or inhabited with edible life forms or giant sharks or robotic soda jerks.

The reason I bring all this up is that it would be great if the people with alleged physical evidence of the age of the universe could nail it down to a precision of picoseconds. It might take a while so in the meantime let’s guess how many seconds have passed since time began and broadcast in all directions the estimated serial number of each second at the borders of its duration. When our scientific discoveries let us measure the duration with greater precision let us reset the clock. Other life forms that have similarly estimated of the age of the universe and are able to receive our signal might infer from the magnitude of the encoded numbers and the frequency of their arrival what the signal intends and thereby know that life exists at our distant star; we should be lucky enough to find a binary clock pulsing away across the galaxy to make us sure.

At least then we wouldn’t have to deal with negative timestamps because our 32-bit clocks are based on the number of seconds since 1970. At least, not until we try to represent time before the theoretical Big Bang singularity.

Hofstadter makes me think…

How will we build artificial intelligence if the need for massive arrays of simultaneous analog sensory and computational networks precludes the use of binary Turing machines? The ubiquity of binary machines in our cache of inventions blinds us to other possibilities.

If we had first evolved as pure Turing machines and then copied our neurophysiology for the basis of inorganic computing, this would not be a problem; either we would simply reverse engineer ourselves or we would never be so inventive as to wonder how we work.

If you want a computer with real intelligence you will not be satisfied by waiting for computers to evolve into higher life forms. You will give it any push you can. You will try to make it in your own image.