Sunday, December 27

#52 - superhero

One night while sleeping, you are startled by a booming voice. The voice informs you that when you awake the next morning, you will be vested with the superpower of your choice. All you have to do is name the power.

You are free to use an existing superhero to frame your choice, but your selection must consist of a single, distinct ability. You could choose from a particular hero's repertoire ("Superman's x-ray vision") but would not be permitted to adopt a host of superpowers ("I wish to be Superman").

Also, this ability will last for the rest of your life, though its effects may lessen as you age. For instance, if you chose superspeed, though you would still be able to move faster than any human for the rest of your life, your top speed at age 64 would not match your max in your thirties.

What superpower do you choose?

Sunday, December 20

#51 - repeat

A new drug has been developed and patented. It is being referred to in the media as the "Groundhog Day drug" as it allows the user to re-live a specific day in his or her life while sleeping. You are one of the lucky individuals who has received a free trial.

The drug comes in pill form and works by essentially playing off of the user's memory. An individual merely has to swallow a single pill, after which they focus on memories from a single day in the past. The drug then strengthens the (often dormant) associated memories, and recreates the day as a sort of lucid dream as the individual sleeps. Should you take a pill, it will be as though you are really re-living this day, complete with the sights, sounds, and memories you may have since forgotten.

The pill is to be taken shortly before sleeping, as the onset of extreme drowsiness usually occurs within a half an hour. If the individual is unable to choose a specific, unique day from their past within that time (and instead brings to mind various unrelated memories) the drug has no effect. Also, it is an adaptive drug, meaning that once you have used it to re-live a day, it will then be primed to trigger the same memories the next time. Using it again will cause you to re-experience the same day while you sleep.

The FDA has extensively tested this drug and has given approval for its distribution. There are no side effects or health risks (short or long term) associated with the Groundhog Day pills, and they are not addictive.

Your trial includes five pills, so if you choose, you will be able to re-live a day from your past up to five times. What day do you decide to re-live?

Tuesday, December 15

#50 - others

It is the mid-21st century. Undoubtedly the most shocking event of the past decade, and likely the entire century, was the discovery of the lost city of Atlantis.

The city, which in actuality functions as a larger undersea society, is populated, and it was the Atlanteans who first made contact several months ago. Not much is yet known about them or their culture, but it seems that their way of life is fairly comparable to ours. However, having limited space in their sea bottom location, they have focused on advancements in technology and the arts (and architecture for their watertight cities). In fact, it was a remarkably complex electronically produced shroud that allowed them and their world to remain undetected for so long. They are fluent in many languages.

Physically, the Atlanteans appear very similar to land-dwelling humans. They walk upright on two legs (and are not mermaids/mermen as most of the tabloids initially speculated). One noticeable difference is the presence of gills on the side of their neck, which allow them to breathe underwater without any external apparatus. Scientists are divided on whether or not the Atlanteans can be classified as homo sapiens and their origins are unknown.

Thus far, all interactions with the Atlanteans have been civil. There is no way to be sure of their intentions, but their claim is that they revealed themselves in order to partner with the human race in protecting earth's environment. Their main wish is to be recognized as a nation, thus having a voice in world events and international affairs. Not surprisingly, opinions and attitudes on this subject vary widely, running the gamut between welcoming and extremely cautious (many have urged the president and other world leaders to act as they would if earth had made extraterrestrial contact).

You are serving as an ambassador of the United States. The president has dispatched you to meet briefly with the Atlanteans in a neutral location and wants you to return with your recommendations.

How do you deal with the Atlanteans? What questions might you ask of them during your meeting? Assuming that everything seems "on the level", do you recommend giving Atlantis nation status?

Tuesday, December 8

#49 - dining

You come across an e-mail message one day that you are about to junk, when you notice a line at the end informing you that you are one out of only 101 individuals receiving this notice. Curious, you read the message more carefully.

The text asks you to follow a link to a short 20 minute consumer survey about restaurants. Nothing about the message or the link looks suspicious, and you are promised an extravagant prize, so you decide to take the survey.

You finish in a little less than 20 minutes and are soon looking at the final completion screen, notifying you of your prize. You are now eligible to make one selection from a list of restaurants, and will be able to eat there for the rest of your life, free of charge. Scrolling down, you are shocked at the length of the list. Extensive is too mild a word. In fact, every restaurant you can remember visiting (that remains an active business) is on this list. Local places, chains, everything.

You call a couple of neighborhood hotspots and they confirm that they are participating in this offer. It seems that eateries everywhere were open to such an arrangement, believing that the winner would often be bringing family and friends (who would be charged as normal) along with them.

There is, of course, a catch outlined in the fine print. You will never be able to set foot in any restaurant you do not choose (though there is no way of preventing food from being brought or delivered to you by someone else). This clause does not seem to make sense, but that is the rule. You can choose one restaurant and eat for free at the expense of ever going to any other restaurant, or decline the prize and continue to dine as you do today.

Do you select a restaurant? Which one? What restaurant would you choose if you were forced to decide?

Sunday, November 29

#48 - a large building

In recent years, the nearest large city has been trying to decide what to do with a domed stadium within city limits that has remained unoccupied for some time.

After running many projections and estimates, the city is wary of selling or auctioning the site, fearing that the offers would end up being only a fraction of what it cost to construct the arena. Instead, they have set up a contest to find a new owner. Applications were submitted in advance of a random drawing, and whoever's application is chosen will inherit the site, with the stipulation that 10% of any profits (before taxes) made from the use of the land will go to the city. The winner will also be responsible for any annual property taxes.

Back when applications were being accepted, you submitted one almost as a lark. You did not include a full-fledged business model with your application, but somehow, it advanced to the final drawing stage and you were notified of this a couple of months ago. Since then, the entire ordeal had been filed away in the back of your mind. However, the day after the drawing, you are notified that you have won the stadium and land!

The arena is currently on a large lot (that served as a parking lot for fans). It is very accessible, both by highway and light rail. Also, if used as a stadium for a concert or sporting event, it can seat around 70,000.

What do you do with your new dome?

Sunday, November 22

#47 - sea rescue

You wake up alone in a sailboat somewhere in the ocean. You had taken the boat out with a couple of friends, one of them relatively skilled at sailing, but they are now nowhere to be seen. You have no idea how much time has elapsed since you began to sleep (or otherwise went unconscious), and no memory of how you came to find yourself stranded.

As you take in your surroundings, you see a larger ship nearby. Then you noticed a uniformed man hailing you. The two of you are close enough to communicate vocally.

He asks who you are and you respond with your name. You tell him all that you can remember about the sailing trip with your friends, finally asking if he can help you. The man takes a moment to assess the condition of you and your craft, and sighs.

This man identifies himself as a crew member on a very unique vessel. The ship is transporting a number of compromised secret agents to a secret island. The island contains a peaceful, self-sustaining society, but the agents on the boat (and those already in the island community) are considered by those in charge to be too dangerous to leave unattended. They have accrued too much information.

The uniformed man indicates that to his eyes, your craft looks to be in pretty bad shape. His vessel is not going to change course (taking you back is not an option), but he offers you a choice. You can go aboard his ship and proceed to this mysterious island, or take one of the ship's rescue boats and try to make it back home on your own. If you choose the island, you would never be able to leave or communicate with the world at large. Otherwise, existence would be made as pleasant as possible for you. You would have an occupation, but it would not be cumbersome, and the island is stocked with most of the creature comforts you are used to. The spies there are not being punished so much as kept from communicating sensitive knowledge or data.

As for going it alone, your new boat would be equipped with both a sail and motor. You would be provided with supplies and rudimentary navigational tools, but the crew would not be able to show you a map or your exact location (and risk indicating the island's location). You would merely be given a heading to follow (as best you could).

Your choice is between a comfortable but secluded life amongst strangers and a longshot attempt at finding your way home across an unknown amount of ocean. Which option do you choose?

Monday, November 16

#46 - your funeral

A courier visits you one day while you are working, dropping off a relatively thick 9x12 mailing. When you remark that you haven't been expecting any sort of special delivery, the messenger replies that the package came from an unknown source.

After the messenger leaves, you open the envelope to discover a number of 8.5 x 11 sheets bound together. The top page is marked "FUNERAL TRANSCRIPT" with your name underneath.

A note is attached to this bound document, and reading the note sheds some degree of light on its contents. This is a script of your funeral, a line by line account. It is based 100% accurately on the actual event, whenever in the future it will take place. However, it has been altered in such a way that reading it would not indicate the exact identity of any of the speakers, or the year that the funeral occurs. You would likely be able to determine the general time period (and thus a ballpark age of death), but all specifics have been blacked out of the document.

In order to verify the authenticity of the transcript, the note directs you to the inside cover of the bound pages. There, you see an insignificant fact about yourself of which nobody else has any knowledge. This does not give you much to go on, but you have no way of explaining how this fact is included. You begin to sense that the document may be legitimate.

Though many details will be missing, reading the transcript would likely provide you with a sense of the overall course of your life. The main question you have is whether this account of your funeral represents your inexorable destiny, or if it is simply based on the general direction of your life as it stands today (and can be impacted by decisions you make in the future). On this matter, the note is silent.

Knowing nothing else, do you read the transcript or not?

Tuesday, November 10

#45 - three wishes

While coming home one day, you notice an old aluminum can sitting on your front yard. Seeing no nearby places to dispose of the object, you bring it inside to throw it away.

Once inside, you take note of the its relative good condition, despite being a can of a long defunct brand. You rub the aluminum a bit to clean off the only piece of mud that you see, and seconds later a great deal of colorful smoke issues from the mouth of the can.

After a few more moments, the smoke has gathered and formed into a recognizable shape... it's a genie!

The genie seems pleasant enough, though not overly talkative. He states that you have three wishes.

When, remembering the genie education of your youth, you ask if there are any rules associated with the wishes, the genie shares the one rule (besides wishing for more wishes, which will not work and does not seem to amuse the genie). You may not wish for anything that will directly conflict with or override the free will of another individual. This seems fair, but also limiting. You wouldn't be able to make someone fall in love, and a world peace wish would be problematic to say the least. You couldn't use a wish to land yourself a job, though you could wish for a good interview performance.

As you reflect on this, the genie shares his one other main limitation (a result of him being merely a sodapop genie, which you gather is sort of like the minor leagues of genie-dom). Any wish not made within the week cannot be used. In one week he will travel to some other place and any unused wishes will expire.

How do you use your three wishes?

Wednesday, November 4

#44 - the human race in (moving) pictures

NASA is preparing to launch a space probe that will gather information from the far reaches of the solar system. Since the craft will eventually leave the solar system and continue on towards distant galaxies, it will be equipped with a multimedia device similar to the Voyager Golden Record, an archive of information about the human race and life on Earth (in the event that the probe is someday discovered by extraterrestrials). While the Voyager records were limited to sounds and images, the disc for this new probe will contain two hours of video footage.

You have been selected to serve on the final selection committee, the group that will decide which video clips make the final cut.

As a member of this body, what recommendations do you make as to the content of the disc? Do you push for any specific footage to be included?

Sunday, October 25

#43 - paralysis

During your recent annual checkup, your physician scheduled a series of tests without going into a great deal of explanation. You went through these various tests, which seemed harmless (if a bit unusual). The results have since come in, and you have been asked to come back to the office to discuss them.

Upon entering, you are greeted somberly by your doctor, who is the bearer of bad news. You are suffering from an ultra-rare condition that has recently been termed "synapse fatigue". For whatever reason, your nervous system is overworked and needs to rest. For this to occur, your body will soon become paralyzed from the neck down (the doctor estimates that this will happen within a month's time).

The good news is that this period of paralysis will only last two years. After that time, your body should come back "online". Additionally, the doctor offers another wrinkle. There are groundbreaking drugs in existence that will allow you to delay your body's resting period for a very long time, though not indefinitely. The two year rest must be allowed to occur within the next forty years. If not, your body would likely shut down (despite any medications) and the paralysis would at that point be a permanent one.

The drugs in question would have no associated side effects. Also, because they are relatively new and because you would be among the first to use them, they would likely be provided at no cost to yourself.

It is now up to you to decide upon a course of action. What do you do? For what two year period of your life do you choose to accept paralysis?

Sunday, October 18

#42 - mind reading

You are spending a quiet evening in a local coffee shop when you notice a circular, brightly colored object on the floor near your table. You pick it up for a closer look.

The object is green, similar in feel to a credit card, but in the shape of a disc. The words MIND READER are printed in block letters on one side of the disc, along with an 8 digit code. A toll free phone number is on the opposite side.

Curious, you call this number on your cellphone. After being prompted for and entering the 8 digit code, you are greeted by the voice of an automated operator, who states cheerily, "Thank you for choosing Mind Reader Incorporated. You have 60 minutes remaining on your card. Please remember that your selected individual must be in the same room with you, or within 30 feet. Should your proximity exceed this range, your connection may be lost. Whose mind would you like to read?"

You are taken aback, but sitting in the coffee shop alone and being unable to think of anyone else, you quietly say, "barista". You immediately start hearing phrases in the barista's voice over your phone, thoughts about the orders being filled as well as an exam the barista will be taking on Monday.

After around 30 seconds you hang up, feeling a bit uncomfortable. You look down at the disc and notice that a small "pie" slice is now orange instead of green, presumably indicating the amount of time on the card that you just used up.

You now have the opportunity to read the minds of other individuals for a total of 59:30. Those whose minds you read must be more or less nearby, and you can only hear their thoughts through your phone (though headphones and a laptop would be another option if you were using an internet application such as Skype).

Do you use this card in the future? In what situations might you do so?

Sunday, October 11

#41 - crime

An envelope arrives for you in the mail one day bearing no return address. The envelope seems to contain something relatively heavy, and upon opening it, you find a thin sheet of metal, engraved and embossed.

Actually, it looks exactly like a "get out of jail free" card from the board game Monopoly (and a comparison you carry out later in the day confirms this). Your full legal name is on the back of the card.

That night, a story on these cards leads the nightly national news. Many other individuals have apparently received envelopes just like yours. The cards, around a thousand, began appearing all over the nation earlier in the week, and apparently at least one has already been put to use.

Two days ago, a North Carolina man was arrested while trying to hold up a bank at gunpoint. He had a card similar to yours, and when he presented it to the authorities while in custody, the police were inexplicably forced to drop all charges.

So, you now have in your possession a card that could avert any legal consequences stemming from the perpetration of a single crime. It cannot be used by anyone else, so giving it away or selling it would be pointless. How would you use the "get out of jail free" card? Would you use it? Would it have any impact on your life?

Sunday, October 4

#40 - disc jockey

You wake up in the center of a strange room. You lie near a rather spartan looking table and chair (a turntable and microphone on the table). You stand up to further orient yourself.

The venerable, worn furniture in the room stands in sharp contrast to the room itself. The floor, ceiling, and three of the walls are a spotless white. The fourth wall looks to be comprised of nothing but stacks of vinyl record album sleeves. You notice a note resting between the turntable and microphone that reads as follows:

You have been selected to participate in a most exciting project. You are to serve as a disc jockey! Though your participation is not voluntary, it should nonetheless prove to be an exciting opportunity. The only way for you to leave this room is to choose a record from the wall and play it on this turntable. The album will be broadcast in its entirety to the world's population. You may preface your selection with a short message (using the microphone), but this message may not exceed 30 seconds in length. Once the record has finished playing you will wake up in your personal place of residence. Your identity (beyond age and nationality) will not be revealed to those listening unless you wish to do so during your spoken introduction.

You walk over to the record wall and, after looking at some of the labels, name aloud one of your favorite albums. The entire wall seems to shift, as if it possesses dimensions far larger than what can be seen from the room. The motion accelerates, levels off, then finally slows in pace. When the records come to a stop, the album you named slips out a few inches from the rest of the sleeves in the wall, as if ready to be taken.

Your impression is that any musical album ever created is at your disposal. All you have to do is name an album, place it on the turntable, and possibly introduce your choice before playing it to almost 7 billion listeners. What do you select? Do you introduce your choice in any specific way?

Sunday, September 27

#39 - spare parts

While at the doctor's office for a routine checkup, you see a pamphlet for an ambitious new corporation headquartered in your city. Their main operations involve the development of bionic organs for use during transplants, and the pamphlet notes that at this stage in its life, the company offers free walk-in tours. Intrigued, you head to their offices on a Saturday morning.

After a short wait, a tour guide takes you around to the different parts of the impressive facility, including a showroom and the various research and testing labs.

The company's goal is to develop these fully functional transplant parts without the use of any human or animal tissue, and everything you see seems to indicate that they are well on their way. Initial prototype organs the company created for laboratory mice tested without any failures, and the few doctors who have toured and more fully examined the facility have also come away impressed. When you casually joke that you ought to be investing in the company, the guide presents a different offer.

For this week only, the company is taking orders for their products. Within the next three months, they hope to be producing the following organs: eyes, hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys. You would place an order and these replacement parts would essentially be held for you by the company until you needed them. The organs are expensive, and you would run the risk of purchasing something you might never use, but for a limited time you have the option of buying some interchangeable organs for yourself. The organs would be developed for your body specifically and though they could be used in the body of another individual, using the parts in this way would carry some risk. Such an action would not be endorsed by the company for fear that something could go wrong.

When you inquire further about the pricing, the guide responds with an amount that would represent about a month's worth of your income (per organ). No money is necessary up front, but will be due whenever the replacement parts are ready. Any order you place will be treated as a commitment, and when the parts you order have been completed and successfully pass extensive diagnostics testing, you will pay at that time. If for any reason the company is unable to develop a certain organ, you will not have to pay.

Do you place an order?

Sunday, September 20

#38 - the reverse diary

You are browsing the shelves and aisles of your local library when you are startled at the sight of your own name running along one of the book bindings. Taking the book in question from the shelf, you see it that your name is indeed the title, with the author listed as "various". It is a large book.

You turn to the table of contents and see chapter headings such as CHARACTER QUALITIES, FUNNIEST MOMENTS, and SHORTCOMINGS. Quickly flipping to a spot in the middle of the book, you see a quote from a friend about a fairly meaningful event involving the two of you.

You shut the book to collect your thoughts. You have no idea how it came to exist, but from what you can make out, it seems that this is a collection of thoughts about yourself from those who know you best. Good, bad, affirming, and brutally honest opinions populate this volume's pages.

As you are in a library, with no other pressing engagements, you are free to pull up a chair and read (for the couple of hours the library is still open). A quick check of the back cover reveals a bar code sticker, so checking the book out also appears to be an option. What do you do with this book? Are there any chapters you would look for, any sections you would avoid?

Sunday, September 13

#37 - flight auction

In one of the more fascinating (if ultimately trivial) news stories to recently develop, a wealthy Richard Branson-type entrepreneur has sponsored a most peculiar ebay auction. Up for auction is the ability of flight.

The listing itself provides only a few concrete details. The ability would last one week from the time of activation and would basically resemble the flight method of Superman or any similarly empowered fictional character. Put simply, one's flight would not require the use of a flying machine or any other apparatus and could be described as true flight, rather than gliding. Nothing much is said beyond this, but a money-back guarantee has been clearly noted as a part of the auction (should the winner not be fully satisfied). It has generally been assumed that the failure of the industrialist to provide what has been stated in the listing, or at the very least to back up this money-back pledge, would be disastrous for his image. So while nobody is quite sure how the experience will be provided, in essence many feel the whole ordeal to be legitimate.

Since the story has been picked up, it has naturally been followed with a great deal of interest by the various news networks and the public at large. Though the average individual will likely not possess the means to participate in the auction once it starts, that has not prevented large amounts of conversation on the subject. Two main questions generally seem to surface during discussions of the auction.

1) What will be the amount of the winning bid?
2) Would you place a bid if you had the necessary finances to do so (knowing that winning would cost a significant percentage of your net worth)?

How would you answer these questions?

Monday, September 7

#36 - time capsule

As 2010 approaches, your town, amidst much fanfare, is putting together a time capsule that will be opened 50 years from now. The capsule is meant to shed light on this first decade of the century.

In order to gain a broad perspective on the happenings and significance of the decade, a lottery-type drawing was recently held to select ten individual contributors to the capsule, one from each 10-year phase of life (0-9 years old, 10-19, etc; one's age in the year 2009).

You were chosen to represent your age range, 20-29 for most of the readers of this blog (not to discriminate against any other age group).

Each participant in the time capsule project has been asked to supply up to three items to the capsule. The objects should have some personal connection to your life between 2000-2009 while at the same time representing the decade in some fundamental way. If you are unable to choose at least one item for the capsule, you have the option of tabbing another person from your age group to participate in your stead.

What item or items do you submit to the capsule?

Sunday, August 30

#35 - nutrition boost

While walking with a shopping cart in your local grocery store during some off-hour time period, you notice some movement at the end of one of the aisles. Walking over to investigate, you see three whimsically dressed elves trying to get your attention.

You are understandably started by this, but after backing up a bit, you sense that the elves pose no threat. On the contrary, they look as friendly as can be.

The elves tell you that they would like to offer you a gesture of goodwill, as they have been doing to any other customers who have happened to pass in the last hour or so. You are asked to pick a food item. Whatever you choose will from this point forward have the nutritional value of raw broccoli (a serving of your chosen food would contain the vitamins, minerals, and calories found in a serving of broccoli).

The fine print...

This change in nutritional value will apply only to yourself.

Your selection should be a food in its final prepared form (cake) rather than an basic ingredient that would not be consumed on its own (flour). However, something like chocolate chips (that can stand alone as a food item) would work.

Whatever you choose will still fill you in the same way it does today, though overeating it would make you feel like you ate a lot of broccoli.

It should be noted that others may take notice of an increased intake of the chosen food item, leaving you to come up with some sort of explanation.

Broccoli as you know it will be left unaffected.

After hearing the elves explain things, and having your questions answered (resulting in the information listed above), you decide to take them up on their offer. You also figure it would be a good idea to avoid seeming rude, not sure how the elves would take a polite refusal. What food do you ask them to boost?

Sunday, August 23

#34 - self help

Your neighborhood is home to an eccentric inventor, with whom you have struck up a recent acquaintance. The inventor will occasionally mention some current projects and you have been extended an invitation to view the latest, the "backwards telegraph" in which messages can be sent backwards through time.

You are somewhat skeptical, but think the whole thing harmless at worst. The day of your visit arrives and you head over to your neighbor's house. You ring the doorbell and a half-minute later are hastily greeted and rushed downstairs into the basement workshop. There is a lot of flashing and whirring.

The inventor explains that there was a malfunction during the initial testing of the device. It is operational, but will likely remain so for only a minute or two longer, at which point it may be impossible to even repair (the inventor thinks the malfunction is inherent to the gadget's design). You are invited to use the device if you wish, and you may never have the chance again.

In short, the telegraph machine is set up to send a telegram to a past version of the user. You see from the machine's settings that this message will be sent to your 10-year-old self. You have time to put together one or two sentences worth of advice or information. The telegram will show up in the mailbox you used when you were 10. You have no idea how this works, but there really isn't time for an in-depth Q&A session.

The inventor does warn you, stating hurriedly that any large scale changes that your advice might effect (things like stock investments, for example) will manifest themselves once you have awaken the next morning. Depending on what you say in the telegram, you may awake tomorrow morning wealthy, handicapped, or in another country. The possibilities are endless and difficult to predict, so caution is advised. Also, if not explicitly noted, your younger self will have no way of knowing who sent the message.

What message, if any, do you send via telegram to your 10-year-old self?

Monday, August 17

#33 - fictional dinner companion

Though it has been some time since it first captured the public imagination, one afternoon you find yourself daydreaming about virtual reality. You are curious as to the technology's current status, figuring that significant strides must have been made since its polygonal beginnings. This assumption leads to you enter a virtual reality-themed contest when you happen upon a mail-in form in a monthly periodical.

The description of the contest is very vague and as the weeks pass you forget about it altogether. That is until one day when you are notified by e-mail that you are the winner.

Your prize is described as follows. It seems that a small start up company has teamed with a consortium of authors and literary scholars to develop a cutting edge example of immersion technology. Their software will allow the user to have dinner with a literary character of their choice, and you are to be the first to have the chance to test the program. The company hopes to eventually allow users to interact with multiple characters (who would also interact with each other), but these algorithms are understandably much more complex. For the time being, they are working within the framework of a single dinner companion.

The company's technology is such that the situation will to you seem entirely real. The food, the conversation, everything. It will seem as though you are dining with an actual human being (your selection is somewhat limited in that the designers have asked that you choose a person rather than some other anthropomorphic creature). The character will be able to learn and adapt during the exchange, but will otherwise act in ways fully consistent with how he or she was originally written. You have only to select the character from any work of fiction, and if applicable, provide a specific point in the character's development that the designers will draw from in their preparations. The entire experience will last around two hours.

With whom do you choose to dine?

Sunday, August 9

#32 - name change

For months you have been pestered on your cellphone by telemarketers. The calls have become so frequent that they are even bothersome when you ignore all unknown phone numbers. And though at first the conversations carried some modicum of politeness and common courtesy, those on the other line have become increasingly belligerent as of late (when you happen to unwittingly take the call). You often feel strangely shaken after hanging up.

This is happening to nobody else you know, and when you decide to investigate further you learn of the purported existence of a mysterious telemarketing call list. The list includes roughly 0.01% of the United States population and is shrouded in secrecy. Though you cannot find concrete evidence that the list exists, those who claim it does say that there is no way to have your name removed. There are plentiful conspiracy theories that attempt to explain why the list was created (many think it is simply a social experiment), but everything you hear and read leads you to believe that your name is on this list and that you will need to take some action to stop being hounded.

The nagging calls have persisted even after two changes of phone number, so you finally conclude that your only option is to change your name. You plan to select a new first and last name and figure that you will try to start going by that name even amongst friends and family, to minimize confusion between what others call you and your legal name (shown on mail, identification, and any legal documents). What do you choose as your new name?

Sunday, August 2

#31 - partial immunity

One night, you are roused from your slumber by an angelic visit. The angel tells you not to be afraid, that you are being granted a rare (if puzzling) gift.

The angel states that you are to be given immunity from a single type of death (of your choosing). You have simply to specify one way you do not wish to die, and you are certain to not perish in that way. The major stipulation is that your selection must be a particular method of death, not blanket types of bodily failures. For example, "gunshot wound" and "stabbing" would be separate choices, you could not use an exceedingly vague phrase like "blood loss" (that would protect you from both). Also, though you will enjoy some measure of safety, you will not be 100% invincible. You could still be hurt by different activities, just not to the point of death. If you selected "stabbing" and were at some point stabbed, you could expect a full recovery, though it might take some time.

The angel announces that you will be visited again in one week's time so that you can give your response. Pondering this the next day, the whole experience strikes you as very fantastic. However, you figure you have nothing to lose in this situation. What do you choose?

Sunday, July 26

#30 - animals (2 of 2)

You have ascended to a position in which you are a representative on a small but powerful panel that monitors and oversees all wildlife, worldwide. Soon after this panel has formed, you are presented with an interesting opportunity.

The scientific community, coming off a series of breakthroughs in the field of genetics, has informed your group that the ability now exists to bring a species back from extinction. Woolly mammoths, dinosaurs, the dodo, all of these are real possibilities.

The catch here is that the process would require the DNA of an existing species, and the endeavor would consequently result in the extinction of that species. It would, in effect, be a species for species trade. Also, the species chosen to supply the substitute DNA must come from the same class of animal (Mammalia, Reptilia, etc) as the extinct, candidate species.

Do you elect to bring back an extinct animal? If so, which one?

For the purposes of the question, please answer as if the events in post #29 had never occurred. There is no epidemic and there is no need for a species to be eliminated if you elect not to attempt the "un-extinction"..

Monday, July 20

#29 - animals (1 of 2)

You have ascended to a position in which you are a representative on a small but powerful panel that monitors and oversees all wildlife, worldwide. Unfortunately, soon after this panel has formed, a dangerous epidemic begins sweeping the globe, and it is feared that the death toll could eventually stretch into the tens of millions.

Your panel has been in contact with many different individuals and groups since the outset of the crisis, and nearly every scientist surveyed recommends the same radical course of action.

The scientific community believes that intense, exhaustive research on a single species of mammal would almost assuredly lead to the development of a successful vaccine for the spreading disease. The specific choice of species is not critical, it could be any mammal currently present in nature. However, the discomforting fact is that the proposed research and tests would lead to the extinction of the selected species. The consensus is that there is no way around this.

The decision has already been made to pursue this course. Your panel will meet in one week to choose the species that will be used for the study. What animal do you tab for this research and inevitable extinction, and how do you make your choice?

Monday, July 13

#28 - time bank

A new business has set up shop on the corner of one of your town's busier intersections. The company bills itself as a "time bank" and intrigued, you pay the location a visit one Saturday afternoon.

Once inside the classy, high-tech interior, you are guided to an open desk of one of the time bank's consultants. After a short amount of small talk, the consultant explains how the bank operates.

Those running the business have pioneered a method by which a person can reclaim (withdraw) time from earlier in their life. These withdrawals can be from a certain time period (the summer months of 1992, for instance), or interestingly enough, tied to specific experiences. The bank consultant throws out the example of piano lessons. If you feel that the piano lessons you were put through as a child were a waste of time, you can reclaim any or all of that time to be applied to other endeavors. The catch is that you will no longer have any memories or skills associated with those times. If you retain any of your knowledge of playing piano, it would be erased once you made the withdrawal (which involves a quick, painless, safe scan of your brain).

Once you have this additional time on your hands, you are somewhat limited in how it can be used. There is no real way for this time to simply be added to the end of your natural life (though the consultant implies that some research was initially done in this area). Instead, the time bank carries an extensive set of "skill cassettes". Your knowledge from the erased time will be replaced by a corresponding amount of knowledge from any combination of these cassettes (which include sports, foreign languages, etc). Though there are some differences, the process is likened to what was shown in the original Matrix film. An important factor to bear in mind when making these selections is that you will be limited by your own mind and body. The tapes will not have the same effect on every individual. If you are not naturally predisposed to excelling at golf, it would take a longer time with the golf cassette for you to fully internalize its contents.

There is a nominal fee associated with setting up an account and doing business at the time bank, but it does not strike you as an unreasonable amount. You take some of the available literature and head home to ponder the possibilities.

Do you return to the time bank? Before you left, the bank agent made a point to caution you as to how you make your selections. Any memories (including places or people) associated with the withdrawn time will cease to exist in your brain, so there is the possibility of altering relationships in ways that would be difficult to predict.

Monday, July 6

#27 - human photosynthesis

You receive a questionnaire in the mail from a group of renowned scientists. You have been hearing and seeing a lot of recent news coverage about the impending possibility of medical science implementing a sort of photosynthesis in the human body, and in fact, this is the topic of the mailing.

It appears that these scientists have perfected a viable technique and are ready to begin testing human subjects. The feedback form in your mailbox has been sent to you and thousands of others in order to gauge interest in volunteering for the operation.

The work of the scientists has been rigorously documented. If the procedure is successful, the subject would never have to eat again, instead "ingesting" light and carbon dioxide in a method similar to plants. The body would store sugars as an energy reserve, leaving oxygen as the only waste product. There are no consequences to a failed operation, a volunteer would merely continue to ingest food normally as before. Regardless, the subject would still retain his or her digestive organs (though because they would no longer be needed after a successful operation, the scientists speculate that using them more than once a month could prove dangerous).

The mailing asks if you would be very interested, mildly interested, or not interested in participating in these first trials. Ample space is provided for comments. Should you show some interest, you would be contacted at a later date, but there is no ironclad commitment at this point. How do you respond?

Monday, June 29

#26 - the international pastime

Some decades in the future, all existing professional sports leagues have collapsed. This includes the four major US organizations (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), those in other countries, and all international leagues (though the Olympics are still held every two years). Experts have suggested various reasons for the demise of professional sports, but attempts to revive any of the leagues have continually met with failure.

In response to the widespread public desire for a new professional league as well as an attempt to foster international goodwill, the United Nations has added the discussion of such a league to their upcoming docket. Though far from a sure thing, the hope is that these discussions will lead to the creation of a viable, sustained international league.

If everything were to go according to plan, the talks would result in the selection of a single sport. A governing body would then be elected and nations could apply to have a team represent them in the league. The UN at this point would no longer be connected to the league, each nation taking responsibility for the outfitting and managing of their team. Though it is expected (especially within larger countries) that smaller leagues, in which anyone could play, would spring up to act as feeders for the national teams, athletes on the these teams would need to meet some sort of eligibility requirements (similar to the Olympic Games).

You have been selected to serve as the United States ambassador to the UN panel for the professional league. Part of your charge will be to recommend a single sport for the league, and you will be given the opportunity to present your argument to the panel and the rest of the UN. Which sport do you choose to advocate, and why?

Tuesday, June 23

#25 - electronic history

You have reached the age of sixty-five, and although you are in good health, you have begun to ponder your legacy and what you will leave behind for your loved ones.

Over the past several decades, e-mail and social networking sites have remained viable entities. Whereas those in past generations would have a handful of letters, journals, or photo albums, by this time you have accumulated thousands upon thousands of e-mails and digital photographs. Not to mention any blogging you may have done.

You have already written a will, but you feel it is time to come up with some sort of plan for what personal information you would like your family or anyone else in the future to be able to access. Do you delete all of your old e-mails? Would you make albums out of the scores of photographs at your disposal? How would you decide who (if anyone) would receive access to these accounts? What factors might influence your decision?

In short, as you near the end of your life, what do you do with all of this personal electronic history?

Monday, June 15

#24 - past or future artwork

You wake up and seem to be lying on some sort of operating table. You are unable to fully sit up and take in your surroundings, but you can make out a group of shadowy figures watching you.

You are told by the strangers that you are in no danger and will not be harmed. However, you are have been drafted into a large scale experiment and your participation is apparently out of your control at this point.

The figures tell you that you will wake up tomorrow in your own bed, but you must first make a choice that will affect the rest of your earthly existence. You must choose between being able to experience either the art that you have already seen or heard in your lifetime or art that you have never experienced (which would include anything in existence that you have not yet experienced as well as things that have not yet been created). Your choice will extend to books, movies, music, and works of art.

So, in short, you will be left with the ability to experience just one set of artwork. Should you choose the artwork to which you've already been exposed, you will be forever cut off from anything new. New paintings would appear as blank canvases, books as a set of blank bound pages, music and films nothing but static. Should you instead elect to preserve the art you haven't yet seen or heard, you would lose all access to your favorite works. Though you would retain some memory of these things, an attempt to recreate them (say, starting a cover band or going to a dramatic reading) would prove futile. You would be left with only the fading memory of your favorite novels or songs, with no way to reference them. Even your own singing or humming would be (to your ears) muted if you were to try to produce a tune from the banished set.

The shadowy figures give you an hour to make your decision. If you have not done so before the hour is up, the choice will be made for you. Which set of artwork do you choose?

Monday, June 8

#23 - a nice place to visit

You have been pondering how to spend some upcoming vacation time. While walking down the street one day, you notice a travel agency and decide to stop in to get some ideas.

The agency is very clean and new, though not overly busy. You spend a few minutes looking at some maps, but are soon seated in front of a friendly travel agent.

After exchanging some pleasantries, you describe the reason for your visit. The agent listens intently, then leans forward and makes you a remarkable offer: an all-expenses paid, one-week trip to the (earthly) destination of your choice.

The catch is that after the trip, you will be metaphysically prevented from ever visiting that location again. Your specificity does make a difference. Were you to choose "London" for this scenario, you would still be able to visit other non-London areas of the UK at a later date (but would be confined to the city for this particular vacation week).

Though the travel agent cannot detail the ins-and-outs of how this exactly works, the small collection of documents you receive does not set off any red flags (you are not being asked for any deposits or commitments). The agent explains that the free trip is being extended to you in order to generate positive word of mouth for the fledgling agency. You are encouraged to mull things over and are told you may accept the offer anytime within the next week.

Should you take the agent at their word, where do you decide to spend the week?

Monday, June 1

#22 - final moments

One morning, while out and about running errands, you begin experiencing a host of weird sensations. Your forearms go momentarily numb. An intermittent tingling runs between your ankles and knees. The inside of your stomach occasionally feels ticklish. These events are evenly spaced out over a few hours, but by noon you are concerned enough to do a websearch.

To your horror, you find a respected medical site detailing your symptoms to the letter. Your condition is gravely serious, and the article states that when one's ears and nose suddenly go cold, an individual has only ten minutes to live.

Moments later, your ears and nose instantly feel as cold as ice.

Despite your best efforts, you are unable to find any mention of the cause or nature of this ailment, whether it be genetic, something you ingested, or whatever else. The condition appears extremely rare and almost nothing about it is yet understood. All you know is that you have less than ten minutes to live.

What do you do with the time you have left?

Monday, May 25

#21 - entrance music

You notice one day that you're hearing music in your head. You aren't wearing headphones, and the sound isn't coming from a nearby radio or loudspeaker of any sort. The songs that are playing are mix of popular music and instrumental scores that seem to correspond with events of your day, almost as if your life now has a soundtrack.

You pay close attention to this new phenomenon during the next few days. Nobody else can hear the music, though it seems that sometimes others are left with the general impression of the song that is playing.

As weeks go by and you get used to the constant music, you find that you are often times able to queue specific songs just by thinking about it. You can even set up songs for later, though whatever is controlling the soundtrack takes care of the fading and the actual starting moment of your "requested" song (so that everything blends rather seamlessly).

A month later, you are set to give a keynote address at a relatively large convention. As you have spent a good amount of time preparing your presentation, you feel it would be a good opportunity to queue up a song for your entrance. What song would you choose to accompany your post-introduction walk to the lectern?

Sunday, May 17

#20 - street naming

Your town plans to create a new side street between a grouping of several large, abandoned lots. Once the street has been completed, the remaining land will be converted to smaller lots where additional homes will be built.

The city has decided to take nominations for the name of the new street. Every citizen has been invited to submit one suggestion, which should include the proposed name followed by a generic designation (lane, avenue, boulevard, etc). The city council will then select ten of these entries and a town-wide vote will be held to name the street, though the city reserves the right to select the official suffix.

The new street will be located near the edge of the town in a relatively quiet area. What should the street be called?

Monday, May 11

#19 - robotic uprising

You work at a large, thriving robotics lab. Your current project involves miniature diagnositc devices, small robots that can be inserted into a patient's body to check for disease or monitor a wide range of bodily functions. Your research is going well and your hope is that thousands of lives will be positively impacted by these robots if their design and use can be successfully implemented.

One night you have a very strange, disturbing dream. You are given a vision of the future, decades from today, in which robots have become self-aware and have naturally enslaved the human race.

You awake with an oppressive sense of dread, one that does not lift even days later. For reasons unexplained, you are certain that this future is likely (even unavoidable) if events continue uninterrupted, and that your current work is a pivotal factor. In your dream, the tiny diagnostic robots were instrumental in the robotic uprising, for they were able to gather precise and exhaustive information on human biology and its weaknesses.

You could easily think of ways to sabotage your project to prevent this scenario from coming to pass, but you would at the same time be setting back medical science and any other advances that could come about as a result of your work. You are wary of bringing up the topic of robotic self-awareness to others, sensing that it could damage your credibility, but your fears persist. What action, if any, do you take?

Sunday, May 3

#18 - the red planet

The time has come for the first manned mission to Mars. The trip is being headed up by NASA and will be made up of a crew of eight. You have been extended an invitation to join the mission as a "civilian astronaut". Beyond rudimentary tasks on the spacecraft, your main charge would be to record and document the goings-on of the mission.

So, a seat on the trip is yours if you want it, though the following items should be considered...

- You would need to participate in a rigorous five-month training program beforehand.
- Each leg of the trip will take six months.
- The hope is that the crew will stay on the surface of Mars exploring, running tests, and setting up the foundation of a colony for a total of around four to five months.

You are being given a rare opportunity, but taking all of these things into account (in addition to a relatively short debriefing period), it will require an extremely focused commitment of about two years. Once in transit, you will generally be able to communicate with the folks back on Earth via video conference once a week. Besides the isolation and cramped quarters, by accepting a spot you would be assuming the risks inherent to space travel and a trip to a distant planet.

Do you join the mission?

Sunday, April 26

#17 - hostage buddy

You win a contest sponsored by your local newspaper to attend a very well known annual awards ceremony. The trip is all inclusive, though you are unable to bring a guest along. The day of the show soon arrives. Surrounded by media and celebrities, you are thoroughly enjoying your evening as an audience member when, just before one of the awards is announced, a gang of masked gunmen enter the auditorium, taking the entire crowd hostage.

The exact aims of these terrorists are unclear, but they do announce (after the initial tumult dies down) that their intentions are to harm no one. However, to make their task of captive management easier, they plan to handcuff audience members together into pairs.

In a strange gesture of goodwill, the terrorists offer to select some number of audience members at random and allow them to decide who their "hostage buddy" will be. Inexplicably, you are the first person chosen. You can select any other individual in the room to be handcuffed to for the duration of this hostage situation. Who do you choose? (You may want to indicate the specific awards show you'd prefer to be attending if you feel it is pertinent to your answer.)

Monday, April 20

#16 - sensory perception

You are invited to spend an afternoon in the high-tech labs of your local university. After a light lunch and extensive tour, you duck out to use the restroom as your group is being escorted out of the labs. Now alone, you find yourself lost in the hallways and unable to find the nearest exit.

A bit concerned, you try one of the doors, hoping that a window might give you a clue as to your whereabouts. However, the first door you try opens to a windowless, soundproofed chamber. As you turn to leave, you notice an intriguing compartment located on the far wall of the room that contains a chair and some interesting-looking gadgetry. You walk over and sit down.

Once inside, you close the compartment door in a feeble attempt to stay under cover. There is indeed a lot of scientific equipment in the space, but the main purpose of the cell seems to lie in a set of five dials, arranged vertically, each labeled with one of the five senses. At present, all of the dials are set to "50" and you assume that 0 and 100 are the limits. A big red button is mounted underneath the lowest dial.

Curious, you shift the SIGHT dial up to 60 and hit the red button. Almost immediately, you notice that the objects around you have come into sharper focus. You also see that the other four dials have all now dipped below 50, presumably to compensate for the movement of the first dial.

You reset the dials to 50 and then design a quick test. You move the TOUCH dial to 35, the TASTE dial to 65, and hit the red button again. Reaching for a stick of gum in your pocket, your hands feel more than a little numb, but as you begin to chew, you are overwhelmed by the increased intensity of the gum's flavor. You leave the compartment briefly, and though your limbs feel strangely vacant, your gum retains its strength. You sit back down, reset the dials, and hit the button, pondering your situation as you continue to chomp your now dull wad of gum.

It seems that you have the opportunity to enhance some combination of your five senses, though not without sacrificing the strength of at least one other sense. The numbers on the dial must collectively add up to 250. You have no idea whether or not your choice would be a permanent one, though it seems clear that the effects of this device are not limited to its chamber.

You sense that you've overstayed your welcome in the room and ought to make good your escape. But you are tempted to reallocate some of your sensory levels before you leave. The obvious risk is that should you make an unwise choice, there is no guarantee that you would be able to again gain access to this lab. What do you do?

Sunday, April 12

#15 - miniature / gigantic

You awake to find yourself in room with no ceiling and smooth white walls. It is a sort of pit, about the size of a racquetball court. There is a hole in the side of one of the walls, but it is much too small for you to fit through. The tops of the walls are too high for you to reach, even if you jump.

The only other items in the room are two small jellybeans, one green and one yellow, which sit in the middle of the floor.

As you continue to take in your surroundings, you notice something etched on one of the walls. Taking a closer look, you read the following words:
Green will cause you grow to a height of 10 feet. Yellow will shrink you to a height of 3 feet. The effects of these beans are permanent.

You mull this over. At ten feet tall, you would be able to reach the top of the wall and could pull yourself up. Shrinking to three feet would allow you fit through the hole near the floor. Underneath the words you find a map also inscribed on the wall. To your amazement, you see that you are 500 feet below your town's city hall. The small hole leads to an extensive passageway. The top of the wall is actually the floor of a room that leads to a separate passageway (one large enough to accommodate someone, say, ten feet tall). Both paths lead upwards and would eventually take you to your town's sewer system, where you could rejoin society at large.

Which jellybean do you eat to escape your bizarre cell?

A few notes. You will grow or shrink in proportion to your present body shape (so you won't compress or stretch). Also, if you ate one bean and kept the other for later, consuming the second would override rather than "cancel out" the effect of the first. Finally, do not allow health concerns to affect your decision. Assume that the beans have the ability to prevent any complications from being much taller (or smaller) than the average bear.

Sunday, April 5

#14 - food capsules

It is 2109 and you are acting as the head of the US Food and Drug Administration. In order to solve the problem of world hunger, the time has finally come for normal food to be replaced by small capsules.

Scientists have been working through the ins and outs of the process over several decades in order to try and preserve some degree of uniqueness amongst the different pills (a single neutral, all-purpose nutritional supplement was never considered the ideal solution due to the human race's love of food). Food preparation and consumption will be fundamentally altered in some regrettable ways, but from the standpoint of efficiency in production and distribution, it has been deemed a fair trade-off.

The plan is for each individual food to eventually have a capsule equivalent. The texture will be similar to a jellybean, but the flavoring will be quite accurate. Each capsule will contain nutrients inherent to the food it is attempting to mimic and several of these pills will leave the consumer as full as if they have had a square meal. The capsules can be combined to create different "dishes" (pot roast, for instance, would not have a single designated pill, but would require a combination of pills to simulate). Additionally, "spice" and "preparation" pills will be available. These particular pills will not have any nutritional value and will not noticeably contribute to the filling of one's stomach, but can be used to simulate different flavorings or preparation methods (frying, broiling, etc).

Full implementation of this food-to-capsule shift is expected to take 8 years. During this time, the art of cooking will gradually die off as foods are replaced. As the FDA chief, it is your task to develop a schedule and timeline for this. The question before you today, as you plan to meet the press to unveil the plan's basic framework, is this: Which food will be the first to switch over to its capsule form, and which will be last?

Monday, March 30

#13 - hypermemory

A group of brilliant surgeons have pioneered a new operation and are looking for volunteers. Their research was initally focused on developing a treatment for those with Alzheimer's Disease. Though their findings have met with limited success thus far, they believe that applied to a non-Alzheimer's subject, their procedure might very well result in what they term "hypermemory".

In short, if you signed up, went under the knife, and the operation were fully successful, you would emerge with a memory that was beyond photographic (if such a thing is possible). From that point forward, you would have the ability to recall basically anything you came across in your day to day life. In fact, you would largely lose the ability to forget.

You would not be compensated in any other way for volunteering, the potential for hypermemory is the only benefit to you in this scenario. Also of note, the doctors see zero risk of side effects if the operation fails, and the scientific community at large asserts this claim. If the procedure does not succeed, you will be no worse off than you are today.

Do you volunteer for this operation?

Monday, March 23

#12 - fashion

You receive an invitation in the mail to appear before (what the letter describes as) an "expert panel". The invitation does not go into very much detail, but your curiosity piqued, you arrive at the appointed building downtown at the appointed time on the appointed afternoon.

After spending a few minutes in a waiting room, you are escorted by a striking receptionist to a mostly dark room. Five older individuals, smartly clad in all black, sit in a set of identical chairs that are lit from above. They strike you as a stern, imposing bunch, though they exchange glances with one another that indicate that they are not totally without a sense of humor.

After listening to some introductory statements from these individuals, it becomes clear that they are the real-life fashion police. The group functions similarly to the Supreme Court, members being replaced as they choose to resign. Their decisions have directly and indirectly shaped the industry for decades and they exert significant influence on what is considered stylish.

After the introductions, the panel reveals why they brought you here. They are looking to bring back a specific fashion trend from a past decade, but have been unable to reach a consensus. As they are currently deadlocked amongst themselves, they have agreed to entertain suggestions from those outside their number, outside the entire fashion industry in fact. You are at this meeting representing John Q. Public, though you are asked to respond for yourself, based on your own personal likes and dislikes.

So their question is, if you could reinstate a single fashion trend from sometime in the 20th century, what would it be?

Sunday, March 15

#11 - at your service

A new game show called Maid, Tailor, Chef? has taken the UK by storm. It is a combination trivia/relay race contest between four contestants, each episode culminating in the winning contestant choosing between the services of a maid, tailor, or chef. Due to its success, one of the US networks is planning on launching an American version this upcoming fall.

This is where you come in. You have been selected to participate in a focus group for the US creation of the game show, the prize packages in particular. The network is curious to see whether or not there are any cultural differences in the perceived worth of the three prize categories. Your participation in this marketing exercise was predicated by your never having seen the original British show and having no awareness of the specifics of the existing prizes.

Here is how the winning contestant's choice will be defined:

The maid, if chosen, would clean your living space twice a month for a year, leaving it spotless, and would also provide guidance on how to better organize your rooms. The maid would give this advice and help with its implementation, but only if asked.

The tailor would design and create clothing especially for you. In the course of the year, you would be able to request up to "X" tops (shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc) and "Y" bottoms (pants, skirts, etc) for the tailor to make. You would only be responsible for paying for the material. The tailor would also dispense advice and would work with you on the garment design, but would not do anything without your approval.

The chef would cook and prepare your meals, "Z" meals a week for the next year. Dinner parties would be fair game, though under the "chef" option you would be responsible for the cost of any ingredients. As with the other choices, the chef could function autonomously, but would follow your suggestions (if provided) and would confer with you before finalizing any menus. You would also be allowed to participate in as little or as much meal preparation as you desired, with the chef noting helpful cooking tips.

It should be noted that the tailors and chefs that will represent the network are very skilled and would be able to work within a wide range of budgets. These individuals will not live at one's residence, but their contact information will be provided for the purposes of scheduling.

You task is to define the variables X, Y, and Z such that you would be equally likely to choose any one of the three options. So for example, if you are predisposed towards choosing to have a chef, your value for Z would be low because the chef would only have to prepare a small amount of meals for that selection to viably compete (in your eyes) with the maid's bimonthly cleanings.

The network's feedback sheet includes blanks for you to fill in X, Y, and Z, and ample space for comments. How do you answer?

Sunday, March 8

#10 - bionic gadgetry

A recent accident has left all of the fingers on your favored hand mangled beyond repair. A few attempts were made at fixing the damage, but at this point the only choice left is to amputate.

Fortunately, you are in the care of a gifted surgeon who, through recent technological advances, plans to give you bionic fingers that will interact seamlessly with the rest of your hand. However, during your consultations you are offered an even more intriguing proposal. If you wish, any or all of these five fingers can be outfitted with retractable gadgets or devices.

Though this strikes you as eerily similar to the concept behind Inspector Gadget, the surgeon assures you that the operation will be both safe and reversible. In other words, if you find the device-laden fingers to be more trouble than they are worth, you can have them replaced with the standard mechanical models. Furthermore, the advanced apparatus will not cost you anything extra. This doctor has been eager to test out the new technology and has been given a government grant to do so.

Still a bit skeptical, you inquire into the design of these proposed fingers. It seems that in general, they will appear as normal human fingers, or at least as normal as bionic fingers can be made to look. The device within each finger will be activated by a small toggle switch located on the corresponding knuckle (and can be retracted with the same switch). The design of the toggle is such that it would be difficult to trip accidentally. Any electronic devices would be powered by solar panels located just under the translucent surface of your bionic fingernails.

With this information, do you elect to have any of your fingers converted into retractable-gadget fingers? If so, what devices do you select?

Some things to consider:

1) This isn't magic. Whatever devices you choose would have to stand a reasonable chance at fitting within a finger-sized envelope (no butcher knives, in other words). Also, if you wanted any of your fingers to act as dispensers (PEZ, silly string, mustard), you would need to refill these digits from time to time.

2) You'll want to be specific in designating each gadget to a particular finger. If you wanted a safety razor in one finger so that you could shave, you'd have more control if it were installed in your index finger rather than your pinkie.

Sunday, March 1

#9 - the reality of jetpacks

It is 2010, and the dream of a safe, reliable, compact jetpack has finally become a reality. A small but capable overseas firm has developed and tested such a device and is set to begin marketing and selling the jetpacks in the U.S. and Europe for $650,000 USD.

Because of the inherent risks and challenges posed by the use of jetpacks as a form of transportation, it will be necessary for the U.S. government to regulate the burgeoning industry.

Though a relative unknown inside the beltway, because of your technical expertise, organizational skills, and imaginative approach to problem solving, the Obama administration has tabbed you to serve as the new "jetpack czar". It will be your responsibility to make recommendations as to the regulations that should be in place when the jetpacks are sold.

Will the jetpack become a fringe vehicle like the Segway, or will it see wider use? Will anyone with the cash be able to purchase and use the device? How will you address safety concerns? These are some of the questions you will need to answer. What are potential planks of your jetpack policy platform?

Sunday, February 22

#8 - haircuts

You are at your doctor's office one afternoon for a checkup. Near the end of the session you are asked if you have been experiencing anything out of the ordinary. You respond by saying that you hair and scalp have been feeling sort of "tingly" lately. The sensation has been a minor annoyance over the last few weeks, and you can't recall feeling anything similar in the past. The doctor does not seem overly concerned, but takes a hair sample for testing to confirm that nothing serious is going on.

The results that come back from the lab are interesting to say the least. While your hair at present is growing normally and will continue to grow, it seems that somehow it has been altered in such a way that if cut, an individual strand of hair will never again exceed its new length. If a hair falls out or is pulled from your scalp, the follicle will still regrow the hair, but it will never grow longer than its most recently cut length.

The implications of this begin to sink in. If you were to buzz your hair, you would never again be able to grow it out any longer than that.

You pepper your doctor with questions, but there's not much else known about your condition (though it does appear that no other part of your body is affected, just the top of your head). Based on these developments, what is your hairstyle strategy from here on out?

Sunday, February 15

#7 - color

After experiencing a series of very painful headaches, you make an appointment with your family doctor to get things checked out. Because blurred or impaired vision usually accompanies these headaches, you are soon routed to an optometrist and then to a renowned eye specialist (due to the uncommon nature of the problem).

It is indeed a problem with your eyes. The specialist recommends an operation as soon as possible, before things get any worse. This operation will correct your vision and eliminate the headaches but will regrettably leave you unable to perceive colors. From here on out, the world will appear to you like a black and white movie.

There is a strange quirk though. If you choose, the surgeon will be able to preserve a single color of the visible spectrum that your eyes will still be able to see. This color will appear to you the same way it does today, with all differently colored objects residing in grayscale. The eye specialist urges you to be specific in your choice to ensure that they will be able to pinpoint and save the correct color. Simply saying "green" would not be an acceptable choice. What shade of green? Maroon and red (for instance) are considered separate hues, so the particular shade you indicate is important.

The surgeon gives you a week to consider this, but does not want to put off the operation much longer than that. How do you respond?

Sunday, February 8

#6 - hour 25

You notice that you've been feeling very well rested as of late, so you begin staying up a little later at night, which leads to an extraordinary discovery. It seems that at 2:00 am each night, time seems to halt for an hour (according to your watches and clocks). Everything resumes after this hour, but you realize you've been feeling more invigorated because you've been getting an extra hour of sleep every night.

Now, time hasn't actually stopped in the sense that everything is frozen. You observe the following things when you stay awake past 2:00:

You can still interact with your surroundings and the world at large. Traffic lights and electronic devices still operate, for example. Any object you move to a different place during the bonus hour will remain where you left it (rather than reverting back to its 2:00 am location). Your actions will not be erased as in the movie Groundhog Day, but will have any applicable consequences when things start back up.

The main change seems to be with people (and other living creatures). Anyone you come across during this hour seems to be in a very deep sleep. If you happen to be hanging out with someone, they always end up falling asleep at 2:00, waking an hour later, and unresponsive in the meantime.

So in essence, you (and you alone) have been given an additional hour each day. What do you do with it?

Sunday, February 1

#5 - solitude

A wealthy industrialist knocks on your door one day, prepared to offer you a million dollars to participate in yearlong social experiment. He gives you two options on how you can spend the next year to qualify for the money. Another individual of similar age and background has also been selected for this study, and will be enlisted in whatever option you do not choose for the purposes of comparison.

You spend the year alone on a deserted tropical island. A relatively impressive shelter (from a desert island perspective) exists on the island, with a decent mattress and running water. The island is free from both predators and poisonous plants. And though you will have access to different types of fruit trees as well as trapping and fishing equipment, you will be able to make special food orders once a month. Additionally, though you are separated from civilization in many ways, you will be free to write letters, which will be collected for speedy delivery once a week. Any messages addressed to you will also be be dropped off at this time.

You spend the year confined to a large glass case in the middle of Manhattan. The case contains all of the features of a small loft-type apartment. The bedroom and bathroom areas of your dwelling are hidden from the outside, but otherwise, you are in full view of passers-by and vice versa. You will be provided a weekly stipend to use as you see fit to place orders for food or other consumer products (and copies of the Sunday Times will be dropped off once a week). While in your glass house, you will be unable to communicate with those outside. No e-mails, letters, or phone calls. Someone could easily enough stop by the outside of your dwelling, but the walls are designed to prevent any transfer of sound.

Under either option, your health and mental well being will be monitored throughout the year. You will have checkups once a month and will be returned to society at large if you require urgent medical attention (though this will mean forfeiting the $1,000,000).

You will have a 24 hour phone connection to a concierge of sorts (who you have never met). This person can pass along any of your requests and will respond in case of emergency, but will not engage you in conversation. Attempts on you part to "chat" with the concierge will disqualify you from the study.

You will also be allowed to bring a packed suitcase to the island or the glass case, filled with clothes or other items you think will be of benefit during your 365 day seclusion.

Do you accept the offer? Which option do you choose?

Sunday, January 25

#4 - heavy lifting

You receive an anonymous letter one day in the mail. The envelope is like none you have ever seen, very shiny and requiring a while to open (as it is not made of typical paper). The enclosed message informs you that you now possess a degree of superhuman strength. You have the ability to push, pull, or lift objects weighing several metric tons.

There's a catch, though. You will only be able to call upon this ability ten separate times in your life. After that, it's gone for good.

A few days later, while on a leisurely weekend drive through a local metropark, you come across a fallen tree lying in the roadside, blocking off both lanes. You exit your vehicle to inspect the large log (that appears to be well within your newfound lifting range). You are in no rush and can easily turn around and take a different route to your destination. However, as you walk back to your automobile, another lone motorist pulls up behind.

The driver, a middle-aged man, rolls down his window and the two of you strike up a brief, hurried conversation. It seems that he is on his way to his daughter's piano recital. He also knows the area and other possible routes, but based on the time, your present location, and where the recital is being held, taking a detour would assuredly result in him arriving late. After this becomes clear, the man begins drawing the discussion to a close so that he can at least make decent time.

The man's comments and manner imply that his already strained relationship with his wife and children would be further complicated by this lapse in punctuality. It is within your power to help this individual, but as the situation currently stands, he knows nothing of your ability and would have no reason to believe you could assist him in any way.

Do you lift the log?
Would your answer change if you were alone?

Sunday, January 18

#3 - super mario souvenir

In a dream one night, you spend an afternoon hanging out with Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom. Near the end of the dream, Mario makes you a startling offer: as a memento of your time spent in his world, you will be able to take one object or character from the Mario universe back with you to your real life.

After Mario says this, you are overwhelmed with the feeling that what he says is true. This is not going to be one of those dreams where you win the lottery only to wake up disappointed.

Which character or object do you choose?

We'll assume that Peach and Luigi are off limits, as they would miss Mario too much and vice versa. Also bear in mind that whatever you select will have the same properties in the real word as it does in the Nintendo games. Eating a fire flower would let you produce fireballs, but you could lose that ability were you to sustain an injury. Though he looks friendly, a Pokey would probably not be an ideal pet (most of these creatures would likely require an arduous domestication process).

Sunday, January 11

#2 - time machine

A great uncle of yours recently passed away. He was independently wealthy and nobody you know can manage to tell you what exactly he did with his time. Though most of your extended family considered him a little crazy, the two of you always got along well.

In his will, your uncle leaves you the remnants of one of his "science projects", delivered to you in a large crate. Upon inspection, you find a time machine inside.

It is a single-passenger device capable of transporting you to any time or place (the user sets the date and location). Besides your own person, the machine has enough room to accommodate two medium-sized duffel bags. Also in the crate is a sort of manual left by your uncle. It contains general usage instructions, assurances that the device is fully safe and operational, and a few caveats about the machine. They are as follows:

1) While in another time period, you will not have the ability to alter significant historical events.

2) On a related note, your uncle also advises you not to travel to any time in which there is a high likelihood of encountering yourself. He cites space-time continuum concerns.

3) The machine's battery is solar powered, but needs a full year to recharge after jumping. In essence, if you choose to time travel, you are committing to at least a year in that time.

4) To return to the present day, you simply press a large red button on the dashboard once seated in the machine. This will not take you back to the day you originally left. Rather, your return date will be determined by the date of your departure plus the length of time you spent in the past or future. For instance, if you leave in January of 2009 to spend two years studying under Socrates, you will return in January of 2011. There is no way for you to regain the two "lost" years in the present day. While you cannot grasp all of the theory behind it, your uncle includes a great deal of math in this section of the manual explaining why this is.

Based on this information, what do you do with the time machine?

Please note, travel to distant times and/or places would present cultural challenges that would likely require preparation in advance of the trip. In the example above, showing up in ancient Greece as an English speaker in blue jeans might very well lead to a fruitless (or possibly even dangerous) year.

Sunday, January 4

#1 - zombie compound

North America is currently in the throes of a zombie epidemic. You are in an abandoned shopping mall with several close friends or family members. At present, the walls of the building are the only thing separating your intrepid band from the zombie hordes outside.

As invariably happens in these types of situations, a lone zombie somehow makes its way inside and some of your company become infected in the ensuing skirmish.

Once infected, a person begins exhibiting zombie-like characteristics within an hour. A zombie possesses the same physical characteristics (speed, agility, strength) as the human they once were, but with an insatiable and singular desire to bite and infect others. They lack nearly all cognitive ability and cannot be reasoned with.

In your quest for survival, would you be able to muster up the resolve to kill one of your infected loved ones? And if so, what stage of zombification would need to be reached for you to take such an action (infected but not yet showing zombie-like symptoms, full-zombie, etc)? You may assume for the purposes of this exercise that guns and ammunition are available (meaning you would not have to carry out the kill with your bare hands).