31 January 2012

Tschau and the cosmological constant

For those who don't know yet, I embarked on a new journey. And I must really like winter, because after I extended the past one going to Brasil just when winter was starting there, this time I decided to pass winter in an even colder climate. The climate of the alleged "owners" of Europe, the Germans.

The city of Frankfurt is actually very pleasant, but the german language is at the moment the main obstacle for me, who came here without understanding one word of the language. Not that I can't make people understand me, because almost everyone speaks English (and don't mind doing it, unlike what I heard in some urban myths), but because I always have this habit of wanting to pass by as a native person. As such, I keep every little German word I catch in order to use in the next chance. The problem is that after I say Ein Milchkaffee bitte they answer me with a bunch of stuff that I can't understand, and I end up having to ask them to speak English. Anyway, just me being stubborn.

But what has this to do with the cosmological constant? Well, first I have to explain what that is. No wanting to go into much detail, but going in some, because I don't want my readers to die stupid, the cosmological constant was an artifact created by Einstein for his general theory of relativity, which he needed to make it consistent with a static universe. However, after Edwin Hubble (the one that named the telescope) discovered that the universe was permanently expanding, Einstein realized he didn't need the constant after all, and even said that that was the biggest mistake of his career. In spite of all this, years later other scientists brought the cosmological constant back, because it turns out they actually needed it to explain why the universe expands even more faster that was predicted. Enough science for now, the important thing to retain is the definition of a cosmological constant as something that was created as to be right, then discovered to be wrong, then discovered to be right after all.

All of this to explain what happened in my first days in town: after I meet my new coworkers and start getting used to an anglophonic work environment (which I did without problems), at the end of day one of them left, he said Goodbye to everyone, and I throw him a Tschau!, portuguese style. Even after being speaking English all day, it just came out like that.

I suddenly realized that I had said something that no one understood there, and immediately tried to explain myself, taking advantage of the presence of an italian colleague to say the the portuguese Tschau was equivalent to the italian Ciao, although we only used it when saying goodbye. They understood, and I was pleased for having corrected my mistake.

Imagine my surprise when, in the next day, I hear two German people saying goodbye each other with a Tschau.

And then I see my coworkers doing the same thing! After I asked around to see what was going on, I learned that, in addition to the more formal Auf Wiedersehen and the more popular Tschüß, the Germans also use Tschau as a form of goodbye. So the portuguese Tschau that I had said earlier was also correct as a german word! And that's why Tschau is my cosmological constant.

Bonus: although I quickly learned terms like Danke, Bitte and the latest Kaputt (for instance, "my card doesn't work" - meine Karte ist kaputt), at first I was a bit traumatized for not knowing how to say "I'm sorry" in German. Just being able to pronounce Entschuldigen Sie took me more than a week. Until one day a german lady stumbles at me in the tram and says Pardon, french style, which turns out it's a word the Germans also use. Oh well...

(versão portuguesa)

18 January 2012

We are the microwaves who say "ding"

Normally I enjoy very much the advances in technology, but I must say that sometimes technology hinders more than it helps. In the digital era, people just want to stick the digital in everything they can. They must think it's more modern, more avant-garde. They don't realize, however, that it also is less practical.

One of the examples is the replacement of knobs with press buttons. In my microwave oven, which is an old-school one, I have two rotating knobs, one to set the power and another to set the timer. The knob just rotates backwards as time runs out, giving me an idea of the time it has left. Simple.

In today's microwaves, the two knobs were replaced by about sixteen press buttons and an electronic display. Here's an exercise, get one of those microwaves and put it to work, doesn't matter how much time. Come on, make it work! Ah, so you must figure out first which is the On button, from among the sixteen buttons that the microwave has. It should be the button with a ball and a vertical line... oh, no, it turns out it's the one with an inverted triangle. Oh, and now it says it doesn't work because you forgot to put in the time. Simple? I don't think so. Some of these microwaves even have a button to open the door! Really?!!! A simple handle in the above-mentioned door wasn't enough?

But the example I really want to talk about is the sound that microwaves do. The classic microwave oven has a little bell that goes "ding" (or "plim" in portuguese - it's funny how even the onomatopoeias have to be translated) when time runs out. And that's how it should be: "tchaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnggg... ding!"

But the new microwave oves of the digital era ended that old-fashion think that was the bell and replaced it with, oh what a great idea! a digital buzzer. Results: "tchaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnggg... beep beep beep!". Beep beep beep?!! What the hell is this?

No offense to homossexuals, but "beep beep beep" seems a little gay... And it doesn't make any sense. A microwave that prides itself must say "ding", it's the "ding" that defines its identity. The stories people tell of terrible and even gruesome events always end with a "ding". "Beep beep beep" is just what almost any electronic devices does nowadays, why can't we distinguish the microwave at least for that?

But the fabulous engineers of the digital microwave went even further and added an uninterrupted "beep beep beep", which DOESN'T SHUT UP until someone goes there to open the door. And that is truly irritating. What were they thinking? Is it that urgent to have to open the microwave door, when it already stopped? Is it really that serious that someone forgets the food is already heated? As I see it they should beep insistently in the event of malfunction, or food overheating, not when the process has finished and everything is OK now!

A microwave that ceases doing "ding" to start doing "beep beep beep" is like when The Knights Who Say "Ni" suddenly stop saying "Ni" and start saying "Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing"! It's not the same thing, is it?