[SoundStage!]Hi-Fi in Paradise
Back Issue Article

May 2003

FAQ and White Paper

200305_jim.jpg (38672 bytes)
"That's right -- this is Paradise."

At last January’s CES, I was scurrying between buildings when a bald man in a McGregor-clan kilt blocked my path. For a moment, I thought it was Harvey Rosenberg of Tube God fame, but alas, poor Harvey shuffled off the coil a few seasons past. Our meeting was brief.

"Psst," the kilted figure hissed, his eyes burning bright. "Do you believe everything you hear?"

"You talking to me?" I responded.

The apparition was urgent. "Do you believe everything you hear?"

A desire to push on was defeated by rubbery legs. I answered weakly, "Do you mean in general," I replied, "or only here at the show?"

"Do you trust your ears?" the figure insisted.

"Sometimes I do," I shrugged. "Sometimes I don’t."

"But, you do believe everything you read, correct?" the ghostly figure insisted.

He had me there. Like many people with a college degree, I tend to take the written word as gospel, without checking the source.

"Of course, you do," he said. "You look at a page of script and think it’s the voice of authority. That’s why everyone at hi-fi shows hands you a fack and white paper."

"A fack?"

"You know, frequently asked questions. Fack."

"You mean FAQ."

The kilted specter grinned slyly. "Pronounce it however you wish," he said. "You’re still facked." He dug into a purse he wore at his waist, and took out several pages of text. Clutching them under his chin, he closed his eyes and began intoning bagpipe noises.

Suddenly, he ejaculated, "You are the first to know. I’ve discovered a breakthrough in audio writing that will revolutionize hi-fi journalism." With the noblesse of a priest at communion, he extended the sheaf of papers toward me. "Take this and read. It’s my legacy to the world."

"Why me?" I replied, hesitating to accept the pages.

The figure waved an arm of dismissal. "Don’t ask. Do you want to get rich?"

I had long ago learned to shun that question, especially from strangers. "I’ve tried." I said. "It didn’t stick the first time. Why should it stick the second?"

"You show a bit of wit," said the ghost, "This is the essence of my discovery. There’s no humor in hi-fi. It’s all sanctimonious, self-righteous, self-serious, self-indulgent, self-refulgent, seeing-eye dog, sad-sack commentary. Can you imagine, if out of all the gas bags writing about hi-fi, one man -- one MAN -- showed a real sense of humor, why the world would beat a path to his mousetrap. Believe me."

The light bulb flickered. "Are you saying, if someone could make hi-fi a funny topic, he’d make money?" I mused aloud.

"You’ve pierced to the heart of my thesis," said the apparition.

I reached for the papers. "Let’s see what you got there."

"Ah, the very spirit of our Scotch-Jewish forebears," he said with a bow, surrendering the sheaf to my grip.

As I perused the pages, the figure began to recede into the shadow of a stairwell. "Take them and read," he said. "I must be going."

"Wait," I replied. "What is this strange word, ‘SereWit’? Is that the breakthrough?"

"It’s all in the fack and white paper," said the kilted figure, fading away. " Read the fack and white paper," he called out. "It’s all there."

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding SereWit ™

Q: Why do you consider SereWit™ a breakthrough discovery?

A. First, you have to understand the pre-existing categories of humor. There is slapstick, wit, dry wit, and arid wit. SereWit™ pushes humor boundaries beyond accepted norms.

Q. Can you explain how SereWit™ works?

A. Before one can appreciate the concept of SereWit™, he has to understand its precursors.

Q. Can you give examples?

A. Certainly. Let us use a simple question that can be answered in different ways representing categories of humor. The question is, " How are you?" Ask me the question.

Q. How are you?

A. Fine, thank you.

Q. Is that funny?

A. Not at all, but as soon as I say that, if I then clutch at my chest and fall to the floor feigning a heart attack, most adult males would laugh. That’s an example of slapstick

Q. A bit hard to portray in print is it?

A. Correct, which is why no one writes slapstick. It requires three dimensions. We of the printed page only have two dimensions to work with. Well, three if you include a sneaky device.

Q. What sneaky device is th…?

A. Timing.

Q. Eh?

A. You’re no Bob Hope, that’s for sure.

Q. Moving right along…. I have heard of dry wit is, what is "arid?"

A. Extra dry.

Q. You’re on a roll, or should I say roll-on?

A. Good for you -- a bit of wit with a very small "w." Here, try this as better example of wit: You ask me, "How are you," and I reply, "Just ducky."

Q. I don’t get it.

A. Say, you are a big-time audio writer -- no funny bone. "Just ducky" happens to be a witty reply because it’s unexpected. Try it some time on a pretty girl and watch her smile. Now, ask me again.

Q. How are you?

A. [Pause for effect.] I wouldn’t know.

Q. And?

A. That was a classic example of dry wit. Comes from a Harvard professor.

Q. Really? I don’t trust Ivy Leaguers. What, then, is arid wit?

A. Glad you asked. Now pay close attention. Ask.

Q. How are you?

A. I’m thinking to replace my mercury fillings with plastic.

Q. Wow, that’s really strange. I hate to ask what sere wit would be?

A. You can ask, but make it one word-capital S, capital W, capital TM. We’ve applied for trademark and patent protection.

Q. Can you give an example of SereWit™ ?

A. Not until our lawyers give permission. But let me put it this way. If you’ve ever read something and didn’t laugh until you read it a second time, that’s SereWit™ in action. The only current practitioner of SereWit™ is Saxon of SoundStage! who can be moderately funny the second time around. We plan to talk to him about it, though. He may owe us royalty payments.

Q. How does SereWit™ relate to hi-fi?

A. By definition "sere" means dried out and withered, like the sound of a bipolar transistor amplifier.

On a monthly, weekly, even daily basis thousands of words are written about audio components, with 90% of the writing being a bore. Readers are beginning to tune out in search of a better time elsewhere. SereWit™ is designed to inspire the early days of hi-fi journalism when excitable pioneers wrote lyrically, often joyously, about the hi-fi hobby. If we practitioners don’t do something soon, the field of audio journalism will dry up and blow away.

Q. Are you always so preachy?

A. Sorry. I didn’t have my sere wits about me.

Q. We’ve had enough FAQ-ing around for one day. May I see the SereWit™ White Paper?

A. Sure, but then I’ll have to kill you. Hah, just kidding. There’d be no sport in it since, since all concepts of humor escape you. Hence, you may peruse a copy of the White Paper, but do not remove it or a kilted ghost will hunt you down and slay you with non-sequiturs.

Serewit™ White Paper

The essence of the White Paper is essentially as follows:

"We need humor in the signal path. We need signal in the humor path. Our revolutionary patent-protected method of inducing a high-signal, low-noise humorous writing ratio is to etaion shrdlu. Tests prove that only SereWit’s™ method of etaion shrdlu is valid. All else is gaslight."

This message is rephrased and repeated countless times over four pages. I could never understand the concept of etaion shrdlu, but the White Paper seemed quite adamant that it worked. I did try sleeping with the pages under my pillow, which seemed to generate a bit of learning osmosis. Perhaps, a reader can enlighten me further about etaion shrdlu.

At any rate, a footnote in the White Paper advised that the SereWit™ folks will soon have a website. They also plan to offer a CD with instructions on how to be a funny writer. I don’t think $500 is too much to spend on the subject. I have invested a lot more on designs with convincing White Papers and not much performance. Sometimes, I think the White Paper is the product and the physical manifestation of the concept is just a way to make money for the guy who had enough guts to write the White Paper in the first place.

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that this time I’ve picked a winner. Maybe it’s superstition, but the ghostly figure in the kilt seems to have chosen me as his prophet. If so, my jaw is set, my resolve is like steel. Give me SereWit™ or give me death. Even if I don’t understand the CD, I can always sleep with it under my pillow. I feel funnier already.

...Jim Saxon


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