09 January 2018
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Winston the Cargo Cult Puppy

May I Quote Wikipedia?

cargo cult is a millenarian movement first described in Melanesia which encompasses a range of practices and occurs in the wake of contact with more technologically advanced societies. The name derives from the belief which began among Melanesians in the late 19th and early 20th century that various ritualistic acts such as the building of an airplane runway will result in the appearance of material wealth, particularly highly desirable Western goods (i.e., "cargo"), via Western airplanes.

The story is related by Richard Feynman

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people.  During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now.  So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land.  They’re doing everything right.  The form is perfect.  It looks exactly the way it looked before.  But it doesn’t work.  No airplanes land.

But of Course This is About Winston the Puppy

He's no longer a puppy at age five+, that's just his name. Sometimes he acquires additional modifiers, e.g., Winston the Detour Puppy when he somehow figures out where in the house I want to go and interposes himself along my path. (There is a household rule that, simply stated, is Don't crush the puppy. I've been and remain careful, at the cost of many extra footsteps.) But back to cargo. In this case, the cargo is a Greenie, a pet "treat." Winston would kill man and beast for his nightly Greenie. At least he would if he weren't a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, whose only weapons are big floppy ears.

For a long time we were concerned that Nature, in the form of a coyote or worse, would attack Winston if he went out the doggie door in the dark without supervision. Rather than leave him free to roam in the darker hours, it fell to me to, in order:

  • conduct him to the deck
  • insist, to the extent possible, that he commit a liquid output
  • bring him back inside to his official residence
  • close the bedroom door, thus keeping him safe
  • and give him his Greenie
  • Which he would avidly consume and immediately begin his important puppy work for the night, i.e., sleep until light

Nature, we decided, is more benign than we give it credit for being. After a couple of years of this we accumulated evidence that the deck is a coyote-free environment, mostly thanks to a sturdy fence. This obviated the need for the entire Greenie ritual; we could leave Winston to his own emunctory activities at night without worrying that he would become a one-bite puppy for coyotes. <fiction>I could simply give him the Greenie at a time of my choosing.</fiction>

I, as a sophisticated and educated human, understood that providing the Greenie involved on-line ordering, reaching into a cabinet, opening a box, etc. Winston had somehow gotten into that small cavity between his big floppy ears that the Greenie came to him as a result of the ritual.

At the appointed hour Winston would whine to be taken out. When I could take his whining no longer, I would walk with him to the deck, where he would go outside, commit an output, come back in, and only then demand his Greenie. This lasted for a month or so until he tried an experiment. He went out and returned without leaving even a vestigial puddle, and found that he got his Greenie anyway.

Imagine his surprise! He began testing me. If I took him to the door, did he really have to go out? Or could he remain inside and get his Greenie? Here we have the beginnings of experimental cargo-cult science. Winston the Puppy continues to explore the parameters of Greenie supply. Even though he seems to recognize that ultimately the treat comes from me, he's trying to find out just what and how much ritual is necessary.

It being against the rules to crush the puppy, I play along with his experiments. He's doing a wonderful job of training me.

The Beginning of the End for Skeuomorphism?

I just noticed that if you right click on a photo in Windows 7, you have the option to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. The same operation on Windows 10 is rotate right or rotate left. (I can't check Windows 95 any more, but I suspect there was no widdershins option.)

I Bet I Haven't Mentioned This Until Just Now

Tony and I just won a Grammy.

Our part is down at the bottom after you click “READ MORE.”  We don’t have quite the fame of Queen or the hair of Tina Turner.

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Noreascon Three was the science fiction "Worldcon" in 1989. I gave a talk on the possibility of SETI being performed by individuals, the intellectual beginning of the SETI League.

And I ended up with this lousy T-shirt.


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