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2009.12.12 Do Midgets Have Night Vision?

posted Dec 12, 2009, 9:35 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Dec 30, 2009, 1:50 PM ]
I was watching a comedy TV show the other night.  I can't tell you exactly what night, and it won't do you any good because I'm not sure when the show was recorded.  Once you get a good DVR or PVR (Digital or Personal Video Recorder, like Tivo or something), you kind of forget all about stuff like what channel and what time something comes on.  If you give the DVR free rein and let it record whatever it thinks you might like, you don't even remember show titles anymore.  You just click on whatever was recorded recently.  It might have been the Very Funny Show on TBS.  The thing I remember most was that the host did a bit about how people were always confusing him with some other actor/comedian.  Thing is, I can't remember if the host was some guy complaining that people were always confusing him with Tim Meadows, or if it was Tim complaining that people were confusing him with someone else.

All of which is neither here nor there, as what really stuck with me was a comedy bit by one of the other comics.  She (I'm pretty sure it was the female) talked about Google and the autocomplete feature.  You see, when you start typing in a search request in a Google search box, sometimes it will try to guess what you're typing.  This is reportedly based on a complicated algorithm compares what you've written so far with zillions of other searches and your own search history to suggest what you're probably going to type.  Any rumors that they simply do a pattern search and kick out random matches from the last few thousand searches have been quickly squashed by the Google Legal Team.  Any suggestions that Google is filtering the autocomplete function to direct traffic to heavy advertisers or to advance political agendas will also be squashed by the Google Legal Team.  Also to be squashed are the people spreading the rumors and making the suggestions, but that's another story.

The comic talked about how she was using Google to look up something (I forget exactly what) and at some point in the typing she realized that Google thought that her query might be "do midgets have night vision."  She didn't get too much into midgets or night vision or any relation between those two.  Instead, she mocked Google because they obviously have something wrong with their algorithm if they think that's a valid way of autocompleting her search request.  Then she mocked the people making searches because, if that autocomplete suggestion was indeed valid based on how many people had entered those search terms, then there are a lot of really weird people out there.  Google is perhaps the most power search engine in the history of computer science and people are using it not to make the world a better place, not to get better grades or do a better job at work, and not even to find free porn, but rather to make fun of little people and their problems.

I had a big laugh along with the studio audience.  Afterward, though, I started thinking.  Do little people have vision problems?  (Are they even called "little people" anymore?)  I decided to do my own Google search.  Sure enough, after typing in just a few letters, the question in question was suggested by Google.  I clicked it and read for a while.

Among the top 20 or so websites, I found three answers:
  1. Yes, midgets have night vision.  It's God's way of compensating them for being so short.
  2. No, on average midgets see no better at night than any other human being.
  3. No, they don't have night vision, because they're dwarfs (short humans) and not dwarves (mythical underground creatures), and you're a big dummy just for asking!
After reading the dozenth or so reply from category #3, I realized that nobody from this list was defining "night vision" the way I was.  As pertains to humans, I always used the term night vision to refer to the natural ability for the human eye to adjust to low light conditions.  I myself have navigated the woods near my home by moonlight and even starlight.  It's just a matter of getting into a low light area and waiting 20 or so minutes for your eyes to adjust.  I've always been told, but have never successfully tested it myself, that the reason some flashlights are sold with red filters is that the red light doesn't mess up this adjustment, allowing you to briefly illuminate objects without ruining your night vision for another 20 minutes.

Growing up, my friends and family exhibited a wide range of what I call night vision.  When entering a poorly illuminated room, there might be one of three responses from my posse:
  1. It's a little dark in here.  I think I'll turn on a light.
  2. You're crazy.  It's not dark at all.  Don't bother turning on a light.
  3. Who said that?  Is someone in here with me?  Ow!  Who put a chair there?  Help me!
I might describe the first person as having average night vision, or simply as having average vision without mentioning night at all.  I might describe the second person as having better than average night vision, or simply as having night vision.  I might describe the third person as having less than average night vision, or simply as having no night vision.

So, when I see the question "do midgets have night vision?" I read it as "Do little people see as well in low light conditions as other people?"  Apparently, everyone else reads it as "Do little people possess magical eyesight which allows them to see in complete darkness?"  I guess they're thinking of military or outdoorsman nightvision glasses or Batman's starlight lenses.  Or perhaps they're thinking of various fantasy books or games where dwarves can see in the dark or see heat sources (infravision, maybe?) or sense stone walls in complete darkness or something.

At least, based on all the answers I've seen, that's how everyone else reads it, because that's how they answer it.  I don't think anybody in the Google Top 50 has actually answered my question, which sucks, because now I'm curious.

Actually, I used to work with a fairly short guy who had what I would call poor night vision.  Whereas I could walk from bright outdoors to dim indoors, pause a few seconds, then navigate normally, he would have to dig out a flashlight just to find the light switch.  He was short, but no little person.  However, he would sometimes claim that he was the tallest male in his extended family.  He also claimed that his father was just short enough to be legally considered a dwarf.  I'm not sure exactly how short that is, as his father's height seemed to change every time he spoke of it.  According to at least some of his claims, I have an aunt and a couple of cousins who qualify.

Until I get this out of my head, any time I see anybody shorter than me, I'm going to be tempted to turn off the lights and see if they can find me.  I hope to resist this temptation.

I'll let you know how that works out.