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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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The Signal-to-Annoys Ratio

There’s an odd phenomenon happening at my desk at work.

Okay, to be fair, there are lots of odd phenomena happening at my desk, most any time I’m there, but I’m not talking about those. Probably, you’ll hear about those sooner or later, too. Unless the HR lady hears about them first.

This particular odd phenomenon is different, not least because I’m not the one causing it. I am, however, perhaps the only one noticing it. It involves cell phone reception.

First, let me say that signal — at least, T-Mobile brand signal — seems to have a tough time penetrating our building at all. We work in an office in a big converted structure — it used to be a train station or a molasses warehouse or a zeppelin hangar or something — and there’s a lot of room for wavelengths to get lost in. I’m assuming that’s how wavelengths work, anyway, because most places I go in this big cavernous hulk, wavelengths get lost.

“Nobody wants me in a laboratory. I don’t want that. The company doesn’t want that. The world doesn’t want that.”

I get no reception downstairs, none in the back hallway, and none in the laboratory spaces. Luckily, these are places I don’t go to — and not allowed to go to, mostly, being largely shackled to the desk in my office. Which is fine. Nobody wants me in a laboratory. I don’t want that. The company doesn’t want that. The world doesn’t want that. Trust me.

The thing about my desk is that it’s maybe twenty feet inside the wall of the building, a conference room-width and a hallway from the outer bricks. This is, coincidentally, just about the distance that my carrier’s signal will travel inside before being degraded into its component atoms or wavicles or cellular bosons or whatever. Which means, one side of my desk has signal. And the other does not.

This creates some challenges to actually using a cell phone in the office. I’ll remember — usually — to drop my phone on the right (i.e., outermore) side of the desk, if I’m expecting a call or am anxious to see the next word some virtual ‘friend’ has played in fake Scrabble. But it’s easy to get distracted. I’ll take a call, and edge a bit toward the office door to stay in range. But then I’ll roll back to the laptop to look something up or find directions, and the call winks itself away. It’s like an electronic fence — only, instead of keeping a dog in, it’s keeping me off the phone. And my shock collar is made by Samsung.

I won’t pretend there aren’t some advantages to living on the crest of a signal wave. For instance, if I don’t want to take a call, I’ve only got to drop my phone on the left side of the desk, another three feet away from the outdoors. Over there, it’s a paperweight. That side of the desk hasn’t heard from a carrier in at least a year and a half. By now, it’s probably thinking of having T-Mobile declared legally dead.

(This also works when I’ve got a shitty rack of tiles, and don’t want some smug yahoo dropping a bingo on my QVJKBUT and ruining my afternoon. The pseudo-Scrabble door swings both ways, friend.)

Sometimes, I’ll have a little fun with some stranger who’s cold-called me up. These don’t happen often, so I like to take advantage. Once I figure out it’s some phonomarketer or survey taker, I pretend their nonsense is my new favorite thing in life. Well, of course I want to buy fourteen magazine subscriptions! And yesyesyes, I’d be thrilled to participate in a ninety-minute questionnaire for a shot to win a refurbished Sony Walkman! It’s a dream, I tell you! A dream come true!

Then just about the time they’re asking for my credit card, or gender / age range / income bracket, I start eeeeasing over toward the Dead Zone. Still enthusiastic, still eager. Here, let me start the first four digits of that card… and tell me again how ‘strongly agree’ differs from ‘moderately agree’, and-


Aw. Did I lose you? That’s too bad. And is the phone going to sit on the shelf over there in no-man’s land for the rest of the day, in case you decide to call back? It is? Awwwww.

So it’s not all bad, I guess. At this point, I’m just curious about any health effects this might have. Some day, when there’s a study linking cell signal exposure to some awful chronic disease, I’ll probably only be affected on one side. That’s… comforting, sort of, to know that only the right side of my brain will explode, or only one testicle will catch on fire. I suppose it could be worse.

No. I know it could be worse. I could have Verizon. Yowza.

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