Monday, March 12, 2012
In my English class a couple of weeks ago we had a discussion about non-compliance issues in aircraft manufacturing, specifically about what they call FOD, or Foreign Object Debris. (This is a big deal, costing the airline industry an estimated 13 billion dollars per annum in direct and indirect costs, ultimately paid for by the traveller. More importantly, it can and has resulted in significant loss of human life).
During the course of the discussion someone mentioned a "man-hole cover" on the wing of a plane; this left me puzzled and I struggled to make sense of what they really meant to say. In fact, man-hole cover is perfectly correct. A man-hole is a small access port to the interior of a wing, where the fuel tanks of large commercial aircraft are located (neat, eh?).
These covers are made of carbon-based composite, which forms an increasingly large part of aircraft structures. Something like 50% of the principal structure of Boeing's Dreamliner, for example, is made of composite. It's lighter and thus cuts down on fuel-consumption, but to be honest, it's not an entirely reassuring choice; I predict serious problems with composite planes in the coming decades. Hell, they've got serious problems already. Boeing and Airbus would prefer that not get around too much though....
So the day after this FOD discussion, I open my junkmail and I get an email titled "composite manhole covers". I thought a student was sending me a link to some sort of article on the subject. But no, it was spam from a Chinese company that sells....carbon man-hole covers. The kind for sewers.
What's the point of randomly spamming people to flog such a specialized product, purchased only, one would assume, by municipal procurement agencies?
I was actually a bit startled by this coincidence. That I would discuss the subject one day is not odd; I work for an aerospace subcontractor after all. That I'd get a spam for an entirely different product using the same terms I'd used the day before was....unusual, especially given the product. If I'd been discussing the sad spectacle of retired Americans taking buses to Canada in order to afford their medications (generic Viagra anyone?) that would be different. Cheap pills and penile enhancement are spam classics. But man-hole covers?
If that was the only occurence, this post wouldn't have come about....
A few days ago, my attention was drawn to a footnote in an essay in the anthology I'm reading (Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America), thanking a person by the name of Xóchitl M-----. The name (meaning "flower" in Nahuatl) jumped out at me because of its relative rarity, plus the fact that is was one of only two Mexican names in the list of thankees (the article being about Mexico).
The very next day, in my junkmail, I received a spam from one "Nereida Xochitl."
At this point I was jolted. The name is rare. It's not as if I'd gotten an email from John Smith. My junkmail was once a riot of cool bot-generated monikers, but this one, the day after I'd first seen it, in a footnote? Reading a book which I was led to after writing a post in which I discussed, among other things, the phenomenon of coincidence? Seriously?
Coming upon us unexpectedly, the recurrence of images in which we've taken an interest can be delightful, startling, even alarming. Crediting these sudden appearances with special significance, however, is more than a paranoid delusion; for some it's a sign of conspiracy, for others mystical synchronicity. It certainly has a poetic aspect to it. For many it's simply an excuse to say "It's like, weird" and go on to mimic The Twilight Zone theme music.
So basically, my mind began turning and I jokingly imagined the only way this would be possible is if someone or something were reading my mind. I amused myself with other explanations: Amazon had contacted some marketing agency, giving them the title of books I'd ordered; a computer then picked out a random word to use in a name to capture my attention. Maybe I'd seen the word, maybe not. Any chance was better than none.
In the case of the manhole covers, a student of mine had contacted the same or another agency to feed them unique terms which I'd recognize. While this is more possible within the constraints of the physical universe as we know it, the possibility of marketing by ESP actually seems more probable than Amazon or a colleague in cahoots with some Spam Lord, using dubious marketing tactics requiring a global network of informants to target a single person.
Of course, these thoughts of mind-reading and targeted marketing are just diversions. I call it coincidence. See Littlewood's Law or the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, which we've touched on a couple of times and which are the unspoken understanding behind a lot of our posts. My coincidences are not "objectively" meaningful, but they are meaningful....the genesis of poetry and, if all the stars are in alignment, a cosmic trigger. A random peal of laughter precipitating the fall, if ya get me.
Unless of course there is a vast marketing campaign targeting me using a global network of informants and/or mind-reading devices.
Because I am that important, you know.