We Don’t Need No Education!

Well, I thanks to the wonders of email, I found out some things about the sculpture. Pat Willard, who writes for the awesome “Around the Quad” newsletter, was kind enough to answer my question and provide the following info:

The author of this sculpture is a Lithuanian artist V.K. Jonynas. He is pretty famous, and even has his own museum.

The title of the sculpture is “Education”.

The sculpture was knocked down by a truck that backed into it. Very Khrushchevian :).

Die Kunst der Rant : Contrapunctus 2

“How may I help you?” is probably the stupidest question that salespeople ask. There are hundreds of things that salespeople mean by it. It can mean “Do you even know what you want?”, or “Are you here to buy something?”, or “Buy something, dammit, or get out”, or “Dude, you are wasting my idle time” or “My manager is making me say this, but all I want is see you leave”.

“How may I help you” implies that you need help. It suggests, that you can’t make a decision on your own. A shopper that answers “yes” is obliged to come up with an explanation about how the salesperson can assist, and it’s not an easy thing to do. Many people don’t even know what they want yet. On the other hand, people that actually know what they want and have questions will seek out a salesperson and ask those questions. That’s of course when the salesperson will be nowhere to be found.

But guess what, turns out, there is an alternative! I’ve been reading this book about buying used boats. The author mentioned that real professional boat salesmen don’t use the phrase “How may I help you”. What the say is “What can I show you?” You see, this question is very hard to answer negatively. To make a sale, the salesperson needs to know what the customer is interested in, show off the product and make a pitch. “What can I show you?” is a question that is easy to answer and hard to walk away from. It’s a polite way to ask a permission to launch a sales pitch.

Strangely enough, I don’t think that I ever heard “What can I show you?” asked in a store.

Brooklyn College Research

The research at my soon to be Alma Mater is on the cutting edge.

From “The Straight Dope”:
Alexander Graham Bell suggested “ahoy!” as the standard telephone greeting, but it didn’t catch on–for obvious reasons, you may think. Don’t be so sure. Brooklyn College professor Allen Koenigsberg, author of The Patent History of the Phonograph, argues that the word that did catch on, “hello,” was previously unknown and may have been invented by the man who proposed it, Thomas Edison.

As I always said, one year at Brooklyn College is like 2 at MIT. And this fall it’s going to be my 7th year there.

Interesting trivia about my college education: I’ve had a Pulitzer prize winning professor.

Best Sci-fi You Haven’t Read Part II or Yes, Virginia There Is Synergy

Despite what marketing droids and sleazy investment gurus may have lead you to believe, there is such a thing as synergy. Yes, 1 + 1 is sometimes equal to 100. And Henry Kuttner and his wife C.L.Moore are a case in point.

Henry Kuttner started out a bad science fiction writer. A real stinker. He had some cool friends though. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was one, Raymond Douglas Bradbury was another. At first he wrote a whole bunch of Lovecraftian tales. Not really bad ones, but completely and thoroughly copying Lovecraft’s style, settings and characters. Well, not many good things come out of copying. Then he started writing and getting in print bad pulp sci-fi and fantasy stories. Yech.

Catherine Lucille Moore also wrote crappy fantasy stories. Nothing really worth mentioning. Pulp, dreck.

And then they met each other and got married. That’s where the synergy effect came into play. One after another they started publishing stories of absolute brilliance. Real classics. “The Twonky”, “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, “Nothing but Gingerbread Left” – some of the best short sci-fi stories ever written. An then the “Gallagher” series and “Hogbens” series. Most of these stories were written under pseudonym “Lewis Padgett”, and for a long time nobody could believe that that was really Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. Some bizarre rumors about the true identity of the author of these stores still float around on the Usenet.

What got me hooked on Kuttner/Moore was a story called “The Proud Robot”. It was about an alcoholic inventor by the name of Galloway. While drunk, he made himself a robot, but then could not figure out what the robot’s purpose was. That became my favorite short sci-fi story of all times. What I didn’t know, there were 4 more stories in the series: “Gallagher Plus”, “The World is Mine”, “Ex Machina” and “Time Locker”. They were collected in a book called “Robots Have No Tails”, of which there were only two editions. The first one (Gnome hardcover), became exceedingly rare (and expensive I might add): you see, in every story Galloway’s alcoholic subconsiousnes was making trouble for sober Galloway. An alcoholic protagonist was not politically correct, and thus the book suffered very slow library sales.

I’ve learned two interesting things from less rare second edition (Lancer paperback). The book got it’s name because when Kuttner was asked about the title, he said something to the effect that he did not care even if it was called “Robots Have No Tails”. The second is that Kuttner made a mistake: he called the protagonist Galloway in one story and Gallagher in another. When confronted by C.L. Moore, he corrected the mistake, explaining in another story that Galloway is the first name, and Gallagher is the family name.

This is probably the only place on the internet, where you can see a scan of the cover of the first edition of “Robots Have No Tails”

I would recommend starting with a compilation of Kuttner’s short stories, like this “Best Of..” edition with a funny cover. The alien looks very much like John Paul II :)

My edition is signed:

Henry Kuttner died young, at the height of his career. His health was damaged in the battlefields of WWII. The books he wrote with his wife are hard to find, but they are most definitely worth the effort and expense needed to obtain them. http://www.abebooks.com is probably the best place to find them.

I just purchased an awesome book called …

I just purchased an awesome book called “Invisible New York : The Hidden Infrastructure of the City”. As any hacker I am fascinated with all hidden technological things : tunnels, shafts, silos, generators, abandoned buildings. This book is a photographic essay about what the author calls “Serving Places” of New York City — things like abandoned subway stations, abandoned missile silos (turns out there are some in the Bronx), water system tunnels and valve rooms. Unfortunately the author did not include a “lost”subway station underground near Brooklyn College or bowels of Flatiron Building with its one of a kind pneumatic elevator system. The cover of the book features an absolutely amazing shot of a spiral staircase.