Sunday, January 23, 2011

Procrastination is all in the cards

Finding time to play a simple game of computer Solitaire is not very difficult.

First, you make a list of all the chores that need to be done by the end of the day; second, you cross out half of them because you know you’ll never get them all done; and finally, since you’re really not inspired to do any of the chores anyway, you sit down to a game of Solitaire, hoping beyond all get-out that someone else will find your list and do all those nasty little chores so you don’t have to.

Just imagine: if it wasn’t for Solitaire and all those other wonderful computerized games, we’d actually have time to do what we really “should” do, which would ruin a perfectly good day of just sitting around doing absolutely nothing.

But then again, if we got down to doing what needed to be done – if we didn’t dilly-dally when decisiveness was called for – then we could accomplish great things, just like Joseph Gayetty, Harry Wasylyk, and Konrad Zuse.

In 1857, Joseph Gayetty of New York invented the first commercially-available toilet paper. It was named “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper” and came in packages of 500 sheets that cost 50 cents.

Unfortunately, the historical records are not really clear how Gayetty come up with his toilet paper idea. Maybe a brainstorm hit him while he was “taking care of business” (that’s where all my ideas seem to come from). Maybe he got tired of using the Sears catalogue for his “necessaries,” (I hate even imagining it.) Nobody knows for certain, but do we really care? Heck no. Gayetty did what needed to be done, and our posterior regions are the better for it.

Next, we have Harry Wasylyk, a Canadian inventor who, along with Larry Hansen (another Canadian inventor), invented the disposable green polyethylene garbage bag in 1950. Before that, people would throw away their garbage in metal bins which was the cause of quite a racket on trash pickup day.

I can just imagine Wasylyk sitting in his living room on a Saturday morning, drinking his second cup of coffee, when all of a sudden he hears the trashmen barreling down his road in their big noisy trucks, clanging those metal trash bins in such fashion that he had to crawl under his bed to get away from all the noise. And then, under the bed, he thought to himself, “I’m Canadian. My nerves can’t take any more of this. I must invent plastic garbage bags. Quiet, plastic garbage bags.”

Well, that’s probably not exactly how the garbage bags came about, but I bet it’s pert-near close.

And finally, let’s talk about Konrad Zuse. Zuse was a German engineer who invented the first fully-functional programmable computer in 1941. In 1946 he sold some of his patents to IBM, and then in 1967 he suggested the universe was itself running on a grid of computers, which sounds a whole like the premise for the movie “The Matrix.”

Is it possible that at this very moment computers are controlling our lives, our thoughts, our actions? That what we perceive as a calm Sunday morning is nothing more than a computer-generated lazy feeling created by some alien version of Microsoft? That this cup of coffee I’m drinking is nothing more than hot 1s and 0s pouring down my electronic throat, making its way down to my vacuum tube-powered digestive system?

(I think I might have had a wee bit too much coffee today.)

Speaking of Microsoft – As a young child, Bill Gates enjoyed writing programs for computers. In 1974, he and Paul Allen, while still in diapers, established a little company called Microsoft. In 1980, Microsoft produced the MS-DOS operating system, which eventually lead to Windows in 1984.

And what do you think Microsoft put into Windows 3.0 when it came on the market in 1990? Their version of Solitaire. They said the game was to help reluctant computer users get used to using the mouse, but I believe there was a more sinister reason for adding the game: The total annihilation of real playing cards – for what purpose, I know not.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must finish my chores, my cup of coffee and my game of Solitaire – but not necessarily in that order.

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