Washing up liquid

On Monday night last week, I found myself and my parents fussing over curious new products at a grocery store.

A sign hanging from the ceiling on the aisle declared, “Introducing Waitrose, multi-awarded British brand.” Strategically located at an aisle’s end near the sign were the products being introduced. And they were funny because we couldn’t quite figure out what they were for. It was easy to assume they were liquid hand soaps: attractively colored liquids stored in clear, elegant plastic bottles, and simply labeled ‘Washing up liquid’. I would have assumed so if I hadn’t inspected the fine print at the back of the product, instructing users to avoid prolonged skin contact with the liquid.

My best guess is that it’s a general bathroom cleaning product, the kind that cleans tiles and toilets. That’s what the faint image of a bathroom brush on the label seems to suggest anyway. I don’t know about you, but ‘washing up liquid’ is a vague name, especially when you’re not going to put any instructions or indicator of intended use on the packaging. Washing up sounds like paghihilamos to me, washing one’s face, and suggests nothing about cleaning bathrooms. I do hope that no one would attempt to wash his or her face with a liquid that’s strong enough to clean toilets. British English is a bit over-idiomatic for a society that’s been exposed to American culture for far too long, and this product’s name is consequently confusing. Too bad for a colourful product formulated to reduce odours.

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Life, random

Graphic for “Life, random”

As someone who has studied several statistics courses for my major, I have grappled many times with the concept of randomness. At first look it seems easy enough to define: an event is said to have a random outcome if each possible outcome is equally likely to take place. Throw a die, and if it’s a fair one, then each of its six faces should have equal chances of showing up. If the die’s outcome is truly random, then over many tries the different possible results should show up with relatively the same frequency; throw a die six thousand times and the face with the four dots should come out around a thousand times. The same goes for all the other faces.

But people have more complicated thinking, and this clarity of definition is difficult to attain for some. If at the very start of your attempt to throw a die six thousand times, you come up with six dots for four times in a row, you would doubt the die’s randomness, wouldn’t you? The basic definition of randomness, however, does not actually imply that the same results cannot be achieved consecutively. Even if all the other faces possess equal likeliness of appearance, it does not guarantee them actual occurrence, especially in a small number of tries.

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Spaces redux

Beyond homes, schools, malls and other concrete spaces, there are more abstract categories of places that are as difficult to ponder about as they are difficult to define.

One of them is the space to which these words currently belong: the virtual realm. Go beyond mainstream thinking and you will discover that the separation between the real and the virtual is far more complicated than it seems. There is a growing discourse, likely fueled in part by the idea of virtual spaces, surrounding technology (particularly the Internet) and its relation to morality, or authenticity, and other such classical topics of philosophy. But this discourse has turned around on itself, and there are some who now argue that the place we have called cyberspace for a long time is not too virtual after all; it is still rooted in, and therefore not independent from, the reality that supports it. One could say that virtuality cannot be anything more than an augmentation of reality.

There are many aspects to this discussion that will surely continue well into the foreseeable future, given how technology has nowhere to go now but deeper into our everyday routines. Personally I would still say though that it is valuable to think of such a thing as a virtual space. I have had experiences that are fundamentally characterized by being online, and which cannot conceivably exist in any space other than in the virtual. I can even think of corners of the Web as if they were actual, physical places: some of them are fun, some of them are serious and buttoned-up, and some are even pretentious, or evil and dangerous. Certainly, these are all experiences judged by simply viewing through a glowing screen, but they are spaces in the way that we visit them, stay in them, frequent them, and even abandon them.

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Spaces and definitions

Spaces

A long time ago, our ancestors selected certain sounds from the diverse range of impressions that the human vocal tract is capable of producing, and agreed upon to attach meanings to those sounds, thereby creating language in a process that is still not yet fully understood today. In a similar way, we as individuals and as a society do not wander aimlessly about the places we live and move in everyday. We define spaces, we attach significance to certain areas of our world, and I think this activity will only intensify in an increasingly crowded, modern world.

Perhaps the most obvious and most-commonly defined space that comes to mind is the home. There is no shortage of instances in popular literature and culture that pay homage to this most comfortable and most valued of places. At the end of struggles and pain and sacrifices, there will always be a warm home full of love that the protagonist can return to. The movie Apocalypto, after all the scenes of horror and action-adventure, can be thought of simply as a man’s prolonged journey home. Superman, or Kal-el, was brought to Earth because of the destruction of his home planet. “The World is Our Playground and We Will Always Be Home,” according to the band Up dharma Down.

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Funhouse

funhouseAlong a highway flowing from downtown, still within the shadows of the city but just out of reach of sober business, there is an obscure cradle of a spot. By day it is a sleepy, dark and dusty place, hardly notable, but resilient. Pass by at night, however, and you will witness its glowing signs hinting at the happening within.

Come inside. Welcome to my favorite place, a funhouse. Meet the crowd of intoxicated animals, poisoned, perhaps dying. Hold the bottles in their hands and listen to them shouting at each others’ ears. You can always share a light, too. The vices seem essential.

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