Posted by: CJ | April 19, 2012

Of friends and coffeeshops

I like complaining about various oddities and conversational my friends have. But I don’t have much room to complain. For example, while I was reading some research papers at a coffeeshop, two people at the table next to mine were going on and on about music. And I couldn’t have cared less about their ramblings. But when I started thinking about the sort of coffeeshop chit-chat I’d have, this is what came to mind.

Other Person (OP): Did you see the game last night?

Me: Game?

OP: Yeah…you know….the X’s vs. Y’s?

Me: Oh…..this is some sort of sport? Ummm….I don’t watch sports. I’ve stopped even bothering to watch the superbowl for the ads. The best ones end up posted to youtube and linked via reddit anyways.

OP:Oh….ok. Been to any good concerts recently?

Me: I don’t go to concerts. Don’t listen to music except to kill time or for mood manipulation. Cheaper and easier to deal with than drugs. I prefer old slow Church choir music whose lyrics I can’t understand or pronounce. Makes it easier to get work done while the music is going without being distracted.

OP: Oh…..ok. Computer games?

Me: No. Not unless you want to talk about classic single player PC games from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

OP: Ummm….you pay attention to politics? Or current events?

Me: Yes. Too much. Unless you pay attention to politics like Bill James pays attention to baseball we’re probably better off skipping that topic.

OP: Hot girls?

Me: I’m practically face blind and anti-conformist to boot. Our ideas of beauty are almost certainly nearly incompatible. My standards of hotness involve people that are competent and fix things. The people generally considered hot I think would be vastly more attractive if they came with a muzzle to stop them from speaking. And had a shelf life longer than a teen’s adolescence.

OP: What about relationships in general? You know, being with someone that makes you happy and helps give your life meaning?

Me: I’ve currently given up on the idea. People are unsuited to mating. The emotions are too ephemeral. I’m also intellectually opposed to our existence as physical beings, reality be damned. I’m generally sympathetic to the voluntary extinction movement, that we should just let ourselves die off.

OP: Food? Everyone has to eat, right?

Me: Sometimes I can talk about food and be interested. But usually just with people I enjoy enough that I want to talk to them about something. My desire to talk to someone about food decreases very fast the less emotionally attached I am to them.

OP: So, what do you think about?

Me: How systems work. Social systems, mathematical systems, computer systems. Occasionally physical systems. Sometimes everyday appliances, but I have a hard time figuring out how they work on my own. I don’t quite have enough background knowledge. So, in general, how stuff works. Stuff like toasters, to give a totally random example.

OP: Toasters? You’d have a conversation about toasters?

Me: Well, sure. They’re complicated. If you want to understand what’s going on when you make them you have to ask yourself a lot of questions. What components are in a toaster? Where are they made? What’s the relative cost of each part? When were toasters invented? How did people deal with toasting things before toasters? How does electricity work? How is plastic made? Why aren’t other forms of toasting used? Why aren’t other materials for toasters used? What’s the toaster manufacturing process and why isn’t it different? How are toasters tested for quality assurance in factories? What sorts of engineering goes on to make better toasters? How could you put wireless dongles on toaster to text alerts to your cell phone when the toast is done? Why and how does a toaster toast things differently from an oven or a frying pan? What sort of shipping goes on for getting materials to toaster factories and toasters shipped out to warehouses and stores? How big or small could you scale a toaster before it ceases to work like an ordinary-sized toaster does?  How would people respond to different taxation schemes on toasters? What bigger things could you build using a toaster and a small number of other component parts? How much does what you can build depend on the number of toasters you have? There are a lot of unanswered questions I have about toasters…

OP: I’m fairly sure I don’t care about any possible aspect of toasters. I’m having trouble determining whether your depth of caring about them is pitiful or adorable.

Me: Common dilemma people that know me have. I also like thinking about myself and how I work. There are many systems I think about so  I can better interact with them. I find interaction with things or systems I don’t understand very difficult.

OP: Wait! You study science, right? Could you tell me something cool about basic math or science?

Me: Ummm….well…..kinda. The areas of math and science I love most aren’t the areas that are amenable to lay person explanations.

OP: What about Einstein! Or better yet, Feynman! There are loads of funny Feynman stories.

Me: I like understanding things. Funny stories about scientists hasn’t in general helped my understanding of anything. This is more true of Feynman stories than most.

OP: I’m losing hope that we have much common ground.

Me: Good. I find hope vaguely repulsive. Like touching a sticky counter-top.

OP: It might be better if you stopped talking.

Me: I get that a lot.

Suffice it to say this thought experiment quickly reminded me why I have such difficulty finding people I enjoy talking to.



  1. I’m laughing so hard I may pass out. This characterizes many conversations we’ve had.

  2. I wish I could find a scientist. Instead I’m surrounded by people employed as researchers and (get this) think their work give them knowledge or understanding. They’re all doctorates of philosophy but they don’t know what knowledge or understanding are.

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