The Null Device
In Japan, it is possible to pay to spend time with a cat:
Lola - or Rora - to give her a slightly more Japanese pronounciation - is a beauty and she knows it. Customers pay by the hour for her company. Usually they just want to stroke her, but as a special treat for favoured clients, she will lie back in a chair, close her eyes and pose for photographs.
Lola is a Persian cat who works at the Ja La La Cafe in Tokyo's bustling Akihabara district. It is one of a growing number of Cat Cafes in the city which provide visitors with short but intimate encounters with professional pets.
It costs about £8 ($10) an hour to spend time in a Cat Cafe. Busy lives mean some people prefer to hire a dog If felines do not appeal, other establishments will rent you a rabbit, a ferret or even a beetle. There are more than 150 companies in Tokyo which are licensed to hire out animals of various kinds and although beetles may be cheap, dogs much more popular.This is, of course, not the only Japanese institution of this type. There are the obvious ones, such as hostess bars and maid cafés, which allow men with more cash than time or social skills to rent the company and flattery (and occasionally other services) of attractive women. On a less salacious note, there are apparently also parks in Japan where salarymen suffering from alienation from nature can pay to rake leaves.
Germany's Potsdam University is offering its computer science master's degree students a new subject: a practical course in flirting skills, ostensibly designed to improve students' social skills and ability to operate in the real world:
The 440 students enrolled in the master's degree course will learn how to write flirtatious text messages and emails, impress people at parties and cope with rejection.
Philip von Senftleben, an author and radio presenter who will teach the course, summed up his job as teaching how to "get someone else's heart beating fast while yours stays calm."(Ah, those Germans: they even make the sport of love sound like a duelling society...)
Of course, the idea of flirting courses for compulsively-systematising geeks is not a new one, though they have usually consisted of sneaky hacks for getting laid, typically boiling down to embedding subliminal messages in one's speech, surreptitiously pointing to one's crotch and going to bars wearing ridiculously flamboyant boots and a LED belt buckle to get attention. It's not clear whether the Potsdam course will follow in this vein.