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An Eerie Red Glow Circumscribes My Life

October 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

This morning, while standing at the bus stop, I was treated to another spectacular sunrise.  (But since I was on my way to work I didn't have a camera with me.  So you'll just have to take my word for it.)  I have written about these displays in the past, but today's was particularly unusual.

It's the time of year when the aspen trees in the mountains have begun to change color.  So the mountains, which are predominantly black or dark green owing to evergreens, currently have huge swaths of gold splashed along their slopes.  That's nice enough in the early morning.

But the weather forecast this morning (which turned out to be correct) called for thick, low cloud cover and a 60% chance of rain.  Low clouds often make for the best sunrises, because during those few minutes when the sun is over the mountainous horizon but below the clouds the underside of the cloud bank takes on every color from the red end of the Crayola box. Today, though, we had rain advancing on us from the west while the sun rose in the east.  And as the first bit of sunlight peeked through a cleft in the mountains, setting the sky above us on fire, it also created a rainbow. 

But because of the bright pink glow shining down from the clouds, it washed out most of the blue and green from the rainbow.  It was a red rainbow.  A redbow. 

As the lightshow faded, I realized that my working day is circumscribed by one red glow after another.  Some uplifting, as with the sunrise, while others induce madness.

After the sunrise, the next red glow I encounter every workday is the red light on my telephone that indicates a voicemail message.  I confess: the sight of this light fills me with dread.

When I enter my office and see the telephone's malign, unblinking gaze focused on me, it gets the workday off to a less-than-perfect start.  The voicemail light is, inevitably, the harbinger of bad news.  Or, if not bad news, frustration.  And if not frustration, it's the harbinger of extra work.  The voicemail light does not mean, "Good morning and welcome!" It means, "Somebody, somewhere, tried to contact you while you were out of the office, which means that something, somewhere, went wrong."  Or, to put it another way, the voicemail light is the telephone's way of saying, "I have a secret!  And it will consume the rest of your morning."

Yes, I cringe when I see the voicemail light.  We could also think of it as the "Ian just stepped out of the office for two minutes" light, because it seems to be activated by my stepping out of the room for very short periods of time. 

The third—and most vexing—red glow of the morning comes from the motion sensor attached to the lights in my office.  I work in a Very Modern Building, you see, where simple light switches are considered passé.  In a bid to conserve energy (an effort which, in theory, I applaud wholeheartedly), the lights in our offices are controlled by motion sensors.  The reasoning being that a lack of motion indicates a vacant office, and that the lights can thus be turned off automatically.  Which doesn't even work in theory, because the motion sensor isn't sensitive enough to detect my fingers typing on a keyboard.  Which is a big part of my job.  The practical upshot of this is that I have been trained to wave one arm at random every few minutes in order to keep the lights on. 

I don't know why it's important to train me to do this, but it appears to be part of the workplace mission. 

But anyway, the light.

The thing about the motion sensor is that it has three components: the malevolent red eye and two switches.  The switches are related to the functioning of the lights, and the sensor, but not in a straightforward way.  The relationship between the switch settings and the sensor/light behavior is subtle and complex, like the relationship between butterflies and hurricanes.  It is also, as far as I've been able to deduce, non-deterministic.  The light behavior educed by one particular setting of the switches on one day will not reproduce the same behavior on another day.  Ditto the light levels in my office.  They are random and inexplicable.

So when I see the motion sensor light boring into me like the Eye of Sauron, I begin to think of myself as the hapless narrator of an H. P. Lovecraft tale.  Doomed to document my descent into madness.

But at least the sunrises are nice.


Steve Halter October 5, 2011 at 8:06 am
The sunrise sounds great. Your description was lovely. My guess on the arm waving is they are sending you into the depths of Africa to search for He-3 in some lost temple. The arm waving will keep off the tsetse flies. We've all been quite captivated with your descent into madness. Random arm waving is also useful for keeping the tentacles away.
Ian October 5, 2011 at 9:57 am
Should I be concerned that my first thought also pertained to fending off tentacles? I assume that's what I'm being trained for. I had not considered tsetse files, but it makes a strange kind of sense...
Randi October 5, 2011 at 10:40 am
If your last assertion about your identity is correct, when you push the light button and start to hear the thin, monotonous piping of daemonic flutes, you know that one of three fates await you. You will disappear suddenly with only a thin layer of gray dust or a small pool of nauseous fluid to ever attest to your existence in this realm, you will be jostled by a swarthy sailor on the way home from work and die of a mysterious heart ailment you never knew you had, or we will all get to visit you at the asylum and listen to you gibber on about bottomless depths and vortices. The last will be the most entertaining for the rest of us, I suspect. You won't care either way, of course. However it turns out, I hope you at least get cookies. Randi (who's currently reading all of Lovecraft, in order)
Ian October 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm
or we will all get to visit you at the asylum and listen to you gibber on about bottomless depths and vortices I vote for this one. Well, wait, I dunno. What was the thing about gray dust? No, no, I change my mind, I vote for gibbering in the asylum. You guys can come visit me and, by listening closely, learn hints of things Mankind Was Not Meant To Know. And, since it's October, this gives me an excuse to post a link to my favorite short story.
Steve Halter October 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm
Thanks for that story link Ian. That was wonderful.
Ian October 6, 2011 at 9:31 am
I had a feeling you might appreciate that one, given your own gift for the mashup! That really is a favorite story of mine. I think it's ingenious.
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