The occasionally-updated blog of M. Scott Smith

From the Less Mature Files: Battling EarthWatch 🔗

As an undergraduate at Drexel University in the mid-90's, I served as a columnist, contributing weekly bits of satire in an effort to amuse others or at least myself. I'm dusting off some of those columns and reprinting them here, in raw, unedited form.

This column was far from my favorite, and I should point out I have nothing against old people. I'm quickly becoming one myself.

Consumers wield enormous power.

Case-in-point: on a recent ski trip to Killington, I was disappointed to learn that the "state-of-the-art sound systems" in Killington's new gondola, the Skyeship, weren't functioning.

This, despite the fact that Killington's brochure proudly claims that the Skyeship is the world's only gondola which is heated and plays rock and roll music.

The same brochure also claims that the Skyeship gondola is the world's fastest, and that Killington has the best snowmaking in the world, and that Killington has more scantily-dressed women skiing on its slopes than any other ski resort in the world, so take that, you Stratton weenies.

The Skyeship is considered an eight-person gondola, although the laws of physics prevent more than six full-sized adults from entering.

Even so, Killington snuffs Newton by stuffing eight people into the gondolas anyway, which leads to people poking each other in the eye with their ski poles.

The close proximity to which people sit causes excessive amounts of body heat and friction, allowing Killington to claim that the gondolas are heated. But short of the exclamations of pain from eyes getting poked out by ski poles, the gondola ride was eerily quiet on my visit.

A highly-competent, rigorously-trained and safety-conscious gondola operator took the time to explain to me that the sound systems in the gondola weren't working because "old people complained about the loud noise."

What an excellent example of the power consumers wield! Enough old people complained about the music, that Killington turned the music off.

(Another conceivable explanation is that the batteries simply went dead, a possibility the Skyeship engineers might not have bothered to address, working under a deadline.)

Inspired by this example of consumer power, I propose that we organize ourselves together to fight against one of the greatest evils in the world. I'm talking about EarthWatch.

EarthWatch is the name given to the state-of-the-art weather animations seen "exclusively" on numerous television channels throughout the United States.

EarthWatch was developed because television viewers were having a difficult time interpreting traditional weather satellite images. For example, the white areas seen on satellite images are meant to represent cloud cover, but many viewers were mistaking it for marshmallows, which led to much confusion, as few people could see what marshmallows had to do with weather. Except Lester.

The goal behind EarthWatch is to not only show you the weather, but show what it would be like if you were hurtling uncontrollably through clouds and snow and rain against your will.

You might be surprised to find out that it takes several hours to render a few seconds of EarthWatch animation, using expensive Silicon Graphics workstations, the same computers used to animate the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the frogs in those ever-witty Budweiser commercials, and Bob Dole.

I can't begin to convey to you how many tax dollars are spent on these frivolous EarthWatch animations. Admittedly, the television stations pay for all the equipment, but where do you think they get their money from? Advertisers. And where do advertisers get their money from? You. Well, no, they get it from clients, who sell products, which you sometimes buy. And each time you buy a product, you probably pay sales tax, although few people realize that's actually optional in most states. Clearly, Earthwatch is a direct result of taxes, which leads me to an additional point I wanted to stress, that taxes are evil. And optional.

The main reason I'm concerned about these animations is that they're frightening old people.

People are getting sick to their stomachs, and particularly in the case of the elderly, it's raising housing rates at retirement homes due to elevated cleaning bills.

In one case, a man from New Jersey went into a seizure after witnessing an EarthWatch "fly through" animation.

The flashing vertical lines, which are presumably meant to represent rain but might just as easily be the result of a glitch in the rendering software, caused him to experience flashbacks from World War II, even though he wasn't alive during World War II.

His recovery was going well until a stranger asked him about the weather.

For the time being, if you feel yourself getting sick during an EarthWatch animation, simply close your eyes and wait for the feeling to pass.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to write in to their television stations and express concern about the side effects of EarthWatch. Be sure to mention to the television stations that EarthWatch is a fraudulent waste of taxpayer money, and to help stress the point, include some marshmallows with the letter.

M. Scott Smith is a senior majoring in computer science. He's still recovering from one particularly discomforting EarthWatch experience.

- By M. Scott Smith, January 31, 1996. All rights reserved.

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