Ask Dr. Data

The stuff we love to loathe.

Why do I have to take meetings all the time?
— Bored Stupid

When I was employed, I once attended a meeting filled with acronyms and flow charts so stunningly dull that I had to be hospitalized. When I came back to work a week later, my manager didn't accept the doctor's diagnosis of "Acute Ennui," and I was let go. The only consolation of meetings is that they create a lively market for dry-erase boards and PowerPoint. And who doesn't love PowerPoint!

Other things we hate are mobile phones, alarm clocks and televisions.

Those are the top three, anyway, on the Lemelson MIT Invention Index. According to the annual survey (, "Shaving razors, microwaves, coffee pots, computers and vacuum cleaners were also cited as essential, yet despised, inventions."

Every day, it seems, we are burdened with the necessary but loathed detritus of modern civilization. So you're not alone! Buy an iPod and cheer up.

What's next for mobile phones?
— Excited About Telecom

According to Wired News ("Cell Phones Work as Tour Guides," Dec. 8, 2004), "Sigourney Weaver and Jerry Stiller ... pop up as narrators for Talking Street, a series of mobile phone tours that guide visitors through ... Lower Manhattan...."

Launched in New York and Boston in September, the entrepreneurs behind this brainstorm hope to move the service to Washington, D.C., as well: "Musician Steven Tyler narrates the Boston tour and journalist Larry King talks up D.C."

Paying actual money to have Larry King yak in your ear sounds like hell to me, but to each his or her own.

[Related Topic] According to the Associated Press ("Indian Movie to Debut on Cell Phones," Dec. 8, 2004), an Indian wireless phone company plans to release a Hindi movie called "Rok Sako To Rok Lo," or "Stop, If You Can."

Spokesman Atul Bindal said his company will be "the first service in the world to premiere a full-length movie on mobile phones. I am certain this service will add a whole new dimension to the concept of mobile-based entertainment."

If it catches on, it will also add a whole new dimension to the concept of annoying everybody around you.

[Related Topic 2] The Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 83 reports of mobile phones blowing up or catching fire in the past two years.

And in Nigeria, according to the BBC ( "A rumor has spread rapidly in ... Lagos that if one answers calls from certain 'killer numbers,' then one will die immediately. Experts and mobile phone operators have been reassuring the public via the media that death can't result from receiving a call."

Maybe, but if you get a phone call from someone claiming to be an "expert," hang up immediately.

I feel like I'm wasting my life. Any advice?
— Cubicle Crisis Guy


On Nov. 28, 2004, the Guardian published a story that just might help ("Turn Yourself Into a Diamond"). A group of British scientists have compiled a list for New Scientist magazine of "the best science has to offer in the way of new experiences" — a kind of things-to-do-before-you-die list, from a scientist's perspective.

The list includes: Make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, swim in a bioluminescent lake, have a new species named after you, and — oddly enough — boil an egg using a mobile phone.

Personally, I think that's taking things a bit too far. On the other hand, if you ever learn how to fry a chicken using PowerPoint, well, you just might be on to something.

Ian Shoales lives in San Francisco, where he spends his free time extracting his own DNA and cloning small animals.

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