Blind, the Thief

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide suffer from some form of visual impairment. The major cause of these visual impairments is refractive errors within the eye, which can often be corrected by surgery or prescription lenses. Unfortunately, most of the world’s population does not have access to these vital treatments.

There are around forty million people who could be considered blind, having very little, if any, visual perception. Without the ability to perceive the world around them, those living with blindness were historically excluded from literacy. This lasted until 1825, when Louis Braille devised a seemingly ingenious system of writing, which he selfishly titled Braille.

This system uses symbols which are represented by arrangements of raised dots on a flat surface, and it can be used in conjunction with a number of different languages. Each character is made up of two vertical rows of three dots, which, when arranged in various combinations, together represent a single letter of the counterpart language. Inspired by Indo-European writing, the characters are separated by spaces and are read in order from left to right, top to bottom.

Although Braille has opened the doors of written expression to many optically impaired individuals, it does suffer from a serious deficiency: Braille requires translation.

When a Braille character is read, it must be converted into the language of the reader. If the reader has not learned Braille, then the character is interpreted as a collection of meaningless bumps. So why did Lou design his system so that everyone must learn an additional language in order to read it? Part of the answer is that Braille was inspired by a system called night writing, developed by Charles Barbier at Napoleon’s request.

Night writing was intended to enable soldiers to communicate silently in the dark, not to assist the blind. Because it was created as a military code, the characters were intended to be interpreted by the soldiers, thus the need for translation. Barbier visited Louis Braille at the National Institute for the Blind in Paris and showed him his work. When Lou first laid his greedy eyes on Barbier’s night writing system, he was overcome with jealousy and clubbed Barbier over the head with a piano leg. After simplifying the code from a 12×12 to a 2×3 matrix, Lou unveiled his pilfered creation, naming it after himself to conceal its fraudulent origin. Aside from its dubious descent and need for translation, Braille has other significant flaws.

First, those with sight are unable to read Braille signs, which means that we must create twice as many signs, always one for the sighted and one for the sightless. This encourages disunion between these groups.

Second, and most importantly, Braille requires that its users to learn a whole new system of writing. To those who have been blind since birth, this may not seem like a chore, since they have never known another written language, but the majority of blind people were not born with their condition. Most visually impaired individuals suffer from age-related blindness caused by various conditions such as cataracts or oversize sunglasses. These people are likely to already be familiar with a writing system, so learning Braille would require them to learn an additional language which, when read, must then be translated into their first language.

The solution? Instead of having various arrangements of raised dots symbolizing letters of an alphabet, we should use a system that can be easily understood by everyone, regardless of their visual ability. In place of a 2×3 matrix, this new system will use a 3×5 matrix, and instead of developing a code for translating dots to letters, we will just write the letters with the dots. For large text requirements we could even just use embossed letters.

This system would be far easier to teach and much more accessible to those living with blindness, since everyone already knows it. Some, like Lou, may think that the symbols are too complex, but there are numerous examples of individuals like Esref Armagan, the famous blind painter, who are born without any sight, yet are able to accurately envision creatures, places and structures that they have never seen. Imagining letter shapes shouldn’t be a problem.

This new system shall be christened in honor of its true progenitor.

Now we can all enjoy written language together.

Two Colors

Few things can be more fascinating and engaging than a hearty conversation. Hours pass as moments as topics evolve from motor oil to politics, kittens to cigarettes. But as satisfying as passionate conversation can be, sometimes it just stalls, failing to gain enough steam to lift off and soar.

There can be many causes for a stifled conversation. It could be that one or both parties are shy or ill, perhaps they are distracted by techno-gadgetry or maybe they just don’t have anything in common. Another reason for poor conversation is awkwardness. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where silence is more uncomfortable than having an awkward conversation, like when the dental hygienist is cleaning our teeth or while we’re on a blind date. In such situations there are certain common superficial comments that creep to our lips.

“How about the local sports team?”

“Some weather we’re having.”

“How about that Internet? That’s really something, huh?”

“What’s your favorite color?”

All of these topics are contrived and vapid, except one. Being asked to choose a favorite color is a much more complex and difficult task than it may seem.

When first asked, we may imagine our favorite piece of clothing, furniture or jewelry, but that doesn’t really tell us about our affection for the color itself. Then we might try to picture an amorphous monochromatic object and try to interpret how we feel about that object – an extremely demanding exercise. It is difficult to discern how we feel about one single color because we have never looked at one single color before. Your black pants look so nice because they go well with your gray sweater, the ebony cabinetry is exquisite because it is accented by the pewter knobs and that leather couch looks sophisticated because of the thick tan rug on which it rests. Basically, when we say we like an object’s color, we really mean that we like that object’s color in relation to the colors around it.

If we ignore the background, the image above depicts a single, solid color. We can argue about shade, about hue, about blue, but to really grasp the effect of this color we must see it beside another.

Now we can see how these two colors behave in relation to one another and more accurately gauge their effect. The colors interact like melody and bass, providing a framework or reference for one another. Each color combination can conjure unique imagery and ignite distinct memory.

These elementary color arrangements are used in many ways, including product packaging, company logos and national flags. Traditional flag designs usually stick to two or three colors arranged in a simple format and rarely incorporate round edges or dynamic shapes.

Sometimes flags break the rules and put a peculiar image in the center of the flag, destining the design to forgotten pages of history.

So why do our brains recognize and remember simple color arrangements? The answer could be that homosapien vision is trichromatic, which means that our eyes have three cone types for transmitting three channels of color. The answer could also be that our brains just don’t naturally remember complex shapes and color patterns. This explains why all but one of the world’s national flags are rectangular – simple things are often the most memorable.

When someone asks your favorite color, ask them what color is beside it.

The Present

Whether lovers, enemies, friends or strangers, every relationship requires communication, even if that communication is silent ignorance. Most of these signals are sent through word and touch, though a thoughtful deed won’t go unnoticed.

Lovers may hold hands, lock eyes or whisper sweet nothings; enemies will taunt, mock or strangle one another, and friends might high-five or plant a firm hand on the buttocks as a sign of respect. Even passing motorists will engage in the nod. One effective form of communication often used on holidays and anniversaries is the giving of gifts.

Buying a gift for someone can be a wonderful way to express how we feel, especially when the gift is unwarranted, but there are many rules to follow – important rules – which, when broken, can leave the recipient feeling disappointed and unappreciated. These rules include:

  1. Don’t buy fake diamonds for your lover.
  2. Don’t repackage a gift that you’ve received.
  3. Don’t spend too much.
  4. Don’t spend too little.
  5. Don’t buy someone something because you want it for yourself.
  6. Buy something that shows you care enough about the person to know their interests.
  7. Buy something that appropriately reflects the stage of your relationship.
  8. Don’t give cash.

We could spend a great deal of time dissecting these rules to determine which is the most appropriate gift for each situation, but let’s just sum them up as get the person what they want. Simple, right? But how do we know what they want?

Unfortunately, there is a frustrating rule that restricts how we may go about obtaining this information: we are not permitted to ask the recipient what they want. That’s right, we are supposed to seek out the perfect gift for someone, but instead of simply asking the person what that is, we must waste countless hours scouring malls and department stores, asking friends, family and strangers for help, and then, in utter desperation, turning to the Internet.

The Internet can’t help you.

The whole gift-giving scenario is intentionally crafted to be difficult. This is probably because everything we could ever want or need is affordable and easy to find. Also, most products are mass-produced, so there isn’t anything extraordinary or unique about any gift we might give. So since our gifts aren’t necessary or special, there must be some way to attach meaning to them, and this is what the search is all about.

We must find something that is unusual, specific and often extravagant or peculiar. The phrase “something you wouldn’t buy yourself” perfectly captures the kind strange requirements placed on gift givers. Finding a gift is a game, a cruel game, where the giver is charged with the near-impossible task of finding the appropriate object among an endless array of products. The recipient could just tell the giver what the item is, but instead sends them on a sadistic quest into the Nome King’s treasure room.

The pain and frustration of the giver are key ingredients for the satisfaction of the recipient. This is why cash and gift cards are such pathetic gifts. Giving currency as a gift does not result in the recipient getting something they wanted, completely circumvents the search ritual and removes any excitement from the gift opening ceremony. Also, if both participants give each other cash, then they either end with the same wallet contents as before they exchanged gifts, or the more generous person is now poorer. There is no effort or meaning behind giving money as a gift.

Gift recipients, much like teachers who give tests, want us to search; they want us to waste time looking at the wrong things. They want us to be filled with an aching uncertainty which plagues our mind until finally the gift is opened and we hear those sweet words, “Oh. Thanks, I guess.”


If you’ve ever done plumbing or electrical work, then you’re familiar with the function of connectors and fasteners. Each connection requires two parts, one which has a protruding section and one which has a receptacle for its protruding counterpart. Connecting these components involves inserting or screwing the protruding section into the receptacle. Nothing suspicious here, right? Well, unfortunately for upstanding, moral individuals, this innocent mechanical procedure has been corrupted by a perverse analogy.

Connectors and fasteners are named after male and female genitalia. That’s right, by simply plugging a prong into a socket you are emulating the act of sexual intercourse. Apparently copulation is the best comparison for such devices and mechanical motions.

What vulgar adolescent was given the right to name these parts? Now we are doomed to endure endless crude comments and sly smirks from the simple-minded in addition to the continuous onslaught of that’s what she said jokes.

There’s no need of more opportunities to be subjected vile things. It’s likely that we can’t even connect LEGO pieces without feeling like a sex pervert.

Washing Brains

Films such as The Manchurian Candidate, Hook and The Matrix portray various brainwashing techniques from electronic implants and hypnosis to captivity and coercion. The story of Beauty and the Beast might also appear to be a case of brainwashing, but the transformation of the Beast from coarse and unrefined to sweet and almost kind is merely Belle succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome. No, there’s nothing there that wasn’t there before.

What’s interesting about the concept of brainwashing, besides its use as an intriguing plot mechanism, is that the term wash usually implies a cleansing action – the removal of filth and injection of clarity.

When we wash the dishes, we remove stains and film, restoring the ceramic and glass to its shimmering glory. Brainwashing is almost always presented as a sinister act inflicted on unwilling, innocent victims for some malevolent purpose. These corrupt conspirators intend to murk and mire minds, not clean them – putrefy, not purify. Washing something returns it to its original, untarnished and uninhibited state. Brainwashing is the exact opposite of washing a brain. The term should be used to describe the process of freeing a mind from the grime of what is now called brainwashing.

brainwashing. [breyn-wosh-ing] -noun.

1. the process of restoring beliefs or attitudes to their unadulterated state. Wonderful news, Peter’s been brainwashed! Now we have the old Peter back.

2. a method of cleaning brains for surgery or display purposes, often using a toothbrush and soapy water.

Unfortunately, by redefining brainwashing we have created a vocabulary vacuum. A new term must now be crafted to accurately define the mind-meddling procedure formerly known as brainwashing. It is difficult to imagine what this word would be, but it should certainly describe the impurity and obscurity to which the brain is subjected.

Eye Swatter

Humans drink many different liquids for many different reasons. We consume things like juice and soda for the sweet flavor, coffee and energy drinks to stimulate coagulated minds and we drink alcohol to excuse lewd behavior. There are also beverages which promote health, such as herbal tea and meal replacements, but there’s one fluid that reigns supreme as the undisputed liquid champion of the world: water. More specifically, water served from the tap over ice.

The advantages of ice water:

  1. Contains no chemicals, sweeteners, food coloring, etc.
  2. Doesn’t produce empty bottles or cans.
  3. Renewable supply which requires no agriculture or mining.
  4. Hydrates the body. Contains more water per litre than any other drink.
  5. Doesn’t stain or smell when spilled.
  6. Doesn’t require refrigeration.
  7. When the ice melts, the water doesn’t get watered down, or does it?
  8. Doesn’t have an expiry date.
  9. Doesn’t require stirring. When you get to the bottom of the glass, the water is just as watery as when you started.
  10. Cheapest drink you can buy.
  11. Doesn’t harm teeth or gums.
  12. Doesn’t cause heartburn or indigestion.
  13. Available in every home. Also falls from the sky.

Never again may you wonder what to drink.


Cannot stand,
yet has feet,
throat and mouth,
yet can’t eat.

Has lungs,
cannot breathe,
lips and tongue,
cannot speak.

In darkness dwells,
doesn’t bite or swallow.
Has nose, can’t smell,
doesn’t walk, yet follows.

Has not life,
is not dead.
Brings great joy,
makes young lovers wed.

Has a mind,
can’t discern.
Dearly loved,
can’t love in return.

Ever swimming,
has no gills.
Makes men’s knees weak,
and mothers ill.

Never wakes,
always dreams.
Torn apart,
in silent screams.

Nameless, blind,
precious, frail,
voiceless, sleeping,
innocent, jailed.

What is it?