…zzZZZZzzzz…ZZZzzzz…

21
Apr
2008

No, that isn’t the sound of sleeping, much as I wish it were. That is the approximate coming and going of a damn mosquito. Somehow one is in my room, waking me every few minutes as I hear the buzzing in my ear. And every time I turn on the light to look for it, it is in vain. It must be invisible or hiding somewhere, fat and engorged with my blood and most of my patience. I thought Mexico City was supposed to be at too high an altitude for this kind of bullshit.

The forty and one

20
Apr
2008

Since we are discussing interesting euphemisms, let’s talk about another I came across today.

I am still deep into the Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz. The book is truly amazing, especially Paz’s deconstruction of Mexican machismo (which is arguably and happily on the decline). In and among these descriptions and my subsequent internet research on the subject, I came across a fascinating (and now mostly out of use) euphemism for male homosexuality in Mexico. The number “41” has been equated with homosexuality in Mexico since a raid that took place in 1901 on a party (with 41 participants). Half of the guests were dressed in women’s dresses and were dancing with the other half. Although not so much in use anymore, for many years the number 41 was a highly negative euphemism for homosexuality in Mexico. The taint of the use of the number was so great apparently, that it would be avoided at all costs in the numbering of all manner of things, including hospital rooms, birthdays (men would skip from 40 to 42), public documents, etc.

You’re, um, fat.

19
Apr
2008

Linked from a fascinating Salon.com article about seating comfort (or lack thereof) on airplanes, I was led to a fairly interesting company called Thompson Solutions. They have a line of ergonomic airplane seating, and as I was perusing their “Cozy Suite” subsection called “High Comfort“, I came across this euphemistic gem:

The high comfort seat is particularly suitable for single aisle aircraft. A conventional seat on a Boeing 737 is 17.5″ wide; our seats are 19″. For an A320 a conventional seat is 18.5″; ours is 20″. These are valuable increases given the continued growth in average passenger size (particularly US nationals) and the remaining lifespan of the current generation of aircraft.

emphasis mine.

Street lifeVida de calle

18
Apr
2008

One of the things I have noticed here in Mexico City, usually beginning at about 8am, it the profusion of controlled yelling, whistling, long tones and other sounds emanating from various service vendors patrolling the neighborhoods. At first these sounded like nothing other than a twisted set of cris de coeur designed for no other purpose than to annoy me. Upon further investigation, it has become obvious that these are vital sales professionals, providing to-your-door services that have long since disappeared from wealthier countries due to higher labor costs. (Think of the milkman of old, or the profession of peddler, for example.)

Although each service provider seems to put their own jovial spin on noise making, with time I have been able to discern some distinctions:

1. The traveling knife sharpeners almost always use a plastic whistle.

2. The garbage collectors use a somewhat low pitched wail when shouting out “Basuuuuuuuuuuuraaaaahhhh“.

3. Competition is most intense among the water sellers. They will usually start with the brand name of their water (said rapidly), followed by a throaty and somewhat higher pitched “Aguuuuuuaaaaaaaaaa!”Entre otras cosas, he notado que en el DF hay mucho ruido en la calle desde las 8 de la mañana. Hay gritos y silbidos muy agudos. Al principio pensé que ese ruido existía solo para torturarme. Más tarde, vine a entender que hay gente que vende cosas y servicios en la calle, y cada uno tiene su propio sonido. Despues de estudiar un poco, he notado algunos sonidos distintos:

1. El afilador de cuchillos utiliza un silbato de plástico.

2. Los colectores de la basura gritan un poco bajo y profundo como “Basuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrraaaaaaaaaahhhhh!”

3. La rivalidad es lo mas intenso entre los vendedores de agua. Normalmente empiezan con la marca, seguido con un tono más arriba…”Agggguuuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaa!!”

The kindness of strangers

17
Apr
2008

It was raining this evening, and I ran out for a few minutes without an umbrella before realizing how bad it was. I tried to stay under awnings as much as possible, but sometimes you can’t help but be exposed. I was waiting for a light to change at just one of those exposed places, cursing the increasingly heavy rain and the seemingly endless stoplight, when out of nowhere the rain stopped falling on my head and I sensed a presence near me. I turned to my right to find a kindly older woman holding her umbrella to protect us both. She smiled at me and let out a little chuckle. I smiled back and said “Gracias, gracias, gracias.” Little things like this make my heart soar with a love of humanity.

Expensive. And crap.

16
Apr
2008

Travel tip to those of you unfortunate enough to have to use cell phone service in Mexico. In addition to having the highest rates in the world, the Telcel (near monopoly) network is also notoriously unreliable for sending text messages. They often arrive in a bunch, days after they were sent. That is, if they arrive at all.

The aesthetics of security

16
Apr
2008

The house I live in is fronted by a rather large metal door with 2 deadbolts. My roommate Julio showed me how to lock these when I first arrived, impressing on me the importance of locking both of them each night before going to bed for security. The top deadbolt takes no less that six complete turns of the key until it is completely cranked and the bottom, smaller one takes two turns. It strikes me that the “extra security” of turning the locks all the way is pretty minuscule, but I think it makes Julio “feel” safer to have to turn the locks a bunch of times.

I have long been fascinated by the aesthetics and illusions of security. We see this at work all the time (especially post 9-11) at the airport. How safe are we really being made by removing our shoes? How much of a threat is my toenail clipper or a lighter? These items and the senseless screening that goes on at many airports are providing nothing but an “aesthetic” and “illusion” of security without real benefit. But I suppose it makes people more comfortable that “something” is being done to protect them. (For an excellent discussion of the ridiculousness of current airport security, see this article from the NY Times.)

Cost / benefit and scale

15
Apr
2008

Given any endeavor, what is an acceptable level of risk? I think this question is difficult enough if there is only one person involved and he or she is the one taking the risk. But what is an acceptable level of risk where more people are involved, but have no say in the decision? What if the entire world is involved? The New York Times has a fascinating article this morning about minuscule but theoretically possible risks from the Large Hadron Collider due to open soon in Switzerland.

Of course, this article talks about the largest of all possible risks, total world destruction. But what about the smaller risks that are taken daily in building a polluting chemical plant for example? How about an even smaller scale, like building a tall building? At some point we are reduced to complete immobility, never making anything or progressing in any way. How does one weigh the benefits of any project against its possible negative outcomes? There is of course no standard for cost benefit analysis, because people would have a hard time agreeing on what the value of each potential “cost” (say, health or human life) is.