May 9th, 2009


Handshakes Epilog

There is a very common impulse when meeting with a celebrity. You want to say something interesting so the celebrity will remember you. It's awkward for the celebrity, and kind of nervewracking for the non-celebrity, but it's very normal! Stephen Fry writes about it beautifully on his blog.

Well, I guess I get the same kind of feeling when I'm speaking with time travelers from the future. Not the past as much, for some reason, but always from the future.

This evening, late this evening, you see, I had the opportunity to speak with one.

Stammering for something interesting to say, I remembered my conversation from earlier today. "Hey, what happens to Bacon numbers in the future?" I asked.

I could feel the stupid in my throat coating the words I spoke. First, it's rude to ask a time traveler about future events. There are all kinds of rules and paradoxes and so on. Second, if I was going to do that, couldn't I ask about world peace or the stock market or maybe some sort of gambling make-money trick or medicine or my own fate or perhaps the free will question? Something useful or important?

Well, the time traveler took it in stride, which was nice. "Actually, people on the Internet (or what have you) had a lot of arguments about it and then nobody really cared," she explained, "Like the whole balrog-wings thing, which was resolved only decades after everyone lost interest. The future will not ever become the orgy of middle-class gadgetry obsession that we demand of it. Most people have way too much to worry about, honestly. Which reminds me, do you know where I can buy a live and fertile walrus? I kind of need one to bring back home with me."

"Thanks," she added awkwardly afterward.

Where can she buy a live and fertile walrus?

Uh, thanks!


So, today is the start of my little vacation. I'm on a floating city a few miles off the coast of California. The buildings are all boats, which works nicely. The sidewalks between the buildings are not sidewalks at all. They're alligators. You walk across the backs of the alligators to get from place to place here.

(And who knew there were such things as salt-water alligators?)

It's not too hard to keep balance, because there are rope guidelines around, but it's a nervous sensation. I can't shake the feeling that I'm walking on the back of an alpha predator. Being able to say "It's okay, I've done this in video games" is minimally comforting at best.

I walked from my hotelboat to a caféboat today to meet some friends I met on the Internet (have you guys heard of this Internet thing? It's handy! You should try it!) and they were very charming and fun.

I mentioned to them that I couldn't shake the feeling of danger walking on the backs of alligators, but that I knew it must be safe if the whole city is built on it. They laughed.

"No, no, it's very dangerous, actually. Someone gets eaten just about every day. Usually after that, the alligator is full and leaves everyone alone, but still, it's very dangerous. You should be careful."

"But, if it's so dangerous, why does everyone still walk around on the alligators?"

"You get used to it!" my Internet friend said, "You just have to be careful and be aware of the immense and unpredictable risk. Once you get used to it, you hardly notice. Besides, we're proud of our alligator sidewalks. It's part of what makes our home town so distinctive. We love our alley-gators!"

My walk home was terrifying at best. Anyone know the safest way to walk on an alligator?