Monday, January 30, 2006

#186 Beforecast

Maybe people really don’t think before they open up their wordhole. They never seem to actually say what they mean any more. Like the whole acronym and initial redundancy controversy. Personal Identification Number became PIN became PIN number. Vehicle identification Number became VIN became VIN numbers posted at dealership. Automated Teller Machines became ATM became slide your card into the ATM machine. Card reader terminals at gas stations and supermarkets started asking you to “swipe your card.” Why should I swipe it? I already have it. I should swipe someone else’s card. I remember the first time I read that on a card reader when I worked in a store. I took the customer’s bankcard, went to the bankcard terminal at the register, pressed start and the digital readout said “swipe customer card.” I thought the transaction had been declined so I wouldn’t give the customer her card back. A fracas ensued.
The newest in the long line of acronymic redundancies, or as I like to call them acrodundancies, is the term “hiv virus.” Oh yeah, the human immunodeficiency virus virus. You are invited to a fundraiser for the eradication of the HIV virus. RSVP please. The aids syndrome will be addressed as well.
Or this. The other day I was watching the news. The anchor said, “and here’s Andy Wappler with the forecast.” Andy Wappler and his pinpoint Doppler then got right into it. “Here’s today’s forecast,” he said, “currently it’s 35 degrees and freezing rain.” I actually started to pull my hair out. Maybe the Wappler Doppler thing set me on edge. But “currently” is not a forecast. A forecast is a prediction of what is going to happen, or at the very least what they sort of think is going to happen—in the future. Currently is now. I suppose I should be glad they didn’t say presently when they meant now but it would have been more accurate in the context of the word forecast. The weather will presently be snowy. Or it will presently be snowing. At present it is raining. Not, it is presently raining.
But really, the reason I tune in to the weather forecast is for exactly that. The forecast. What is it going to be later? Come on, give me your best guess, show me a satellite picture and let ME extrapolate. But don’t waste a lot of time telling me what it is currently. I don’t need to know current. I am in it. I can go outside and feel the locally dense fog on my face or judge for myself whether, in fact, the rain is freezing or just awful darn cold, or if the ambient temperature makes my nipples hard enough scratch glass.
I guess I’ll have to accept it when it comes to correct word usage the forecast calls for pain.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

#216 Weather or Not

So anyways, I‘ve been watching the weather quite a bit lately. I mean if forty days and forty nights wasn’t a real prospect I’m didn’t want to start rounding up wildebeests or anything. So while I’m watching the weather I noticed something. Q-13 was bragging that they now have double Doppler weather. Oh my god, I thought, the weather arms race is on again. Every time there’s a new computerized breakthrough, all the local stations rush it to the airwaves like Jimmy Olsen with a scoop to the Daily Planet. First, it was satellite images, then satellite image loops, then computer graphics rendering the clouds in three dimensions, then they projected the graphic storm track across the state. Then it was Doppler, for information on the ground.
We all know from recent political speeches that on-the-ground decision-making is what it’s all about. And it is important. On the ground decision-making is the right turn on a red light stuff that you can only decide when you’re actually in traffic. Still, it’s not that bad an idea to have eye-in-the-sky helicopters to tell me to head over to the valley freeway to avoid that gridlock quagmire fifteen miles ahead. Sometimes you need to see the trees for the forest but sometimes you need to see the forest for the trees. If you only focus on cutting ‘em down one at a time you have no idea how many are left. What I’m trying to say is, long-term thinking is like buying life insurance or investing in your retirement. Short-term thinking is throwing up a tarp over your head when it starts to rain.
Speaking of rain, did I mention I’ve been watching the weather a lot lately. A guy can learn a lot from watching the weather—and the traffic. I thought it was funny cause Q-13 was also advertising “up to the minute 3-d color graphics on traffic problems.” Hyping it because it had qualities that are more engaging. More eye appeal than the boring static Department of Transportation cameras fixed at different spots on the commute. The astute among you will notice that at some point our culture has noun-ized the word commute. We are no longer commuting, we are engaged in “the commute.”
In any event, watching 3-d color animated color graphics of the commute, while engaging, in a Grand Theft Auto sort of way, does me little good if it’s back playing on my TV while I’m in fact stuck, on the ground, in that traffic. So, I don’t know, hows about using the radio. By the way, if you’re listening to this, traffic is probably thicker ahead of you. If it’s thinner behind you, who the heck cares?
But it does get tiring keeping up with all the innovations. It’s worse than going into a coffee bar. 3-D weather and traffic, real time acu-doppler, and now double Doppler. Yeah, I’ll have a double Doppler please, with whip...
America, ya gotta love it.

#215 Ark Angles

The long rain streak in the Great Northwest is over. More than a month without a completely clear day. Wags had it that the reason the boat show closed early was not that the Seahawks had to play a playoff game but because the boatmakers all went back to the factories to retool so they could start turning out arks. Personally, always being a god-fearing man, and wishing to keep one step ahead of any post-prophecies doled out by Pat “after the fact” Robertson, AKA the Lord’s personal armchair quarterback, I set about collecting all sorts of animals two by two. But there are a lot of angles about this Ark thing that have to be considered. I’m in just a touch of a quandary about some of them. I’m not sure what to do with mushrooms. The last time I heard, fungi had been re-classified into a sort of gray zone between plant and animal. I’m also not completely sure what to do with animals that reproduce asexually. Is it still important to have both sexes because the Lord is interested in preserving genetic diversity, or is he just looking to preserve the species per se? And assuming his intelligent design is to dismiss the whole evolution thing is he completely comfortable with the Darwinian notion of species at all? In any event, since I don’t actually have an ark yet, I’ll have storage issues. And since my homeowner’s covenants don’t allow for the corralling of domestic animals in my yard and the mini-storage places frown on livestock as well, I’ve been pretty much restricted to collecting our smaller friends two by two. Although I have do have a pair of possums trained to come round for my own personal version of Fear Factor bug stew every night. An unintentionally happy result of bad planning. Let’s just say I collected two flies a little too early. Mostly I’ve been collecting smaller animals, like your amoebae and your paramecia. And I’ve got a petri dish of E coli going, but as with the flies, keeping the population down to just two individual bacterium has been difficult. I’m guessing on day 39 or so I’ll join the cull the culture club. Meantime I got my eyes peeled for a good flatworm couple. Or, if I can only manage to find one, I can cut it in half and use the growbacks for a perfectly matched pair. Even better than E-Harmony. How about E Flat Harmony. But my most difficult question is whether I should attempt to find animals that are already in gestation. Horns of a dilemma to be sure. There won’t be a lot of extra room on the ark for elaborate mating displays. And those animals that have to wipe out an adversary in order to be able to go into full rut will be no be happy campers. But on the other horn, a pregnant animal would be eating for two as it were, so logistically, that makes three animals of the same species, hmm... Maybe I had better give Pat Robertson a call on this one.
America, ya gotta love it.

#214 Bluehawk Enabled

As I was watching one of the Seahawk games, against the people they beat who I forget now, a couple of observations occurred to me. First, the new Seahawk colors are a lot more menacing than the old ones. Kind of put you in mind of the Raiders or the Steelers. Very piratical and industrial razor edge mean. Gone are the old navy and teal, now it’s steel blue and battleship gray. Very effective. It helps in the psychological football trenches to look like the baddest dude on the line. And with the loud stadium and the slate gray sky pouring down rain, there’s nothing like a team decked out in tattoo blue to make you want to turn tail and run back to the other Washington. Or wherever…
I noticed too, that the commercials are definitely ramping up for the Superbowl. I got confused over who was the official beer sponsor. I think Coors is the official beer sponsor of the NFL but Budweiser is the official beer sponsor of the Superbowl. I want to get it straight. At my living room tailgate parties I always obsess about having the “official” beer present. Lord knows what kind of social pariah I could turn out to be if I didn’t serve an official beer with my crockpot meatballs and hearty chili—which recipe I got, by the way, from one of the Martha Stewart wannabe divas on the food channel. Seriously, this gal was decked out in a beautiful fall ensemble with matching apron, in a perfectly feng shui-d spotless kitchen, teaching all and sundry how to make tailgate chili. I don’t think this lady had ever been in a truck much less the parking lot of a football stadium
I couldn’t help but notice during the game that every time the cameraman did a close-up of the coaches’ faces that: One, the microphones in front of their face attached to their headset were made big enough so they could be very clearly marked with the name of the company that made the unit. Motorola, I believe one of them said. And secondly, that the coaches would hold a piece of paper up to their faces whilst communicating with their coordinators up in the booth, I guess to prevent the other team monitoring the TV broadcast from reading their lips. So two things: Wouldn’t it be simpler to get some old time techie to figure out a way to tune in the coaches radio frequency, thereby making it possible to simply eavesdrop on the plans for the next play? I mean, lip readers gotta be hard to find. And secondly, if I was Motorola I’d pitch an even bigger microphone in the next set of headsets I sold to the NFL. The microphone would completely cover the coaches’ lips so they wouldn’t have to use a piece of paper and there’d be room for not only their company logo, but a short position statement as well. Like: Motorola, Official microphone of the NFL.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

#180 Listener Dump

A listener called the station the other day. Surprisingly, it wasn’t an ultra-liberal complaining about me being too conservative or an ultra-conservative complaining about me being too liberal. That’s the problem with being a reasonable, middle-of-the-road, moderate, human being. All the extremists and zealots think you’re a pansy. Fine with me. I can’t remember the last time a pansy strapped on a belt full of explosives and suicide-bombed a wedding.
In any event, this listener had a beef, and he wanted to see if perhaps he could implore Funny Guy to word bomb it a little. To wit. Why is it that we condone the local newspapers dumping off a boatload of trash on our lawns every Wednesday?
Now I can’t say I suffer from a similar problem. But I remember from when I lived closer in that indeed, come Wednesday morning, a free “special” issue of the newspaper would be unceremoniously dumped off in the front yard of my humble abode. The special issue wasn’t a full-bore paper in those days. The bulk of said “special” issue was advertisements, or as they say in other English speaking countries, AdVERTtisements. By the way, newspaper getters, I get the same thing by mail every Wednesday. Without even an attempt at a pseudo-newspaper wrap.
But the effect is the same. I briefly look at the “have-you-seen- me card” to make sure my Alzheimer’s hasn’t kicked in again, establish that there are no pizza coupons I’m likely to use and then pitch the whole thing directly in my recycling, which is conveniently located in my garage on the way into my back door. What a waste of valuable trees.
But my listener is right. At least when they mail it they’ve paid some socially acceptable surcharge for giving me a boatload of trash. Dumping it on my lawn smacks of vandalism. Who and/or what gives them the right to dump a bunch of soon-to-be-sodden newspaper on my lawn that I have to then go out pick up and arrange transportation to the dump for myself, adding to my waste stream and possibly tipping me over the edge of my pre-assigned trash bucket space limit? Cause it couldn’t go in my recycling cause one of my neighbor’s free range Rottweilers decided once in his life to use his house training and leave a dump of his own on the only available newspaper in sight, namely the one on my lawn dumped there by the ad prostitutes that flatter themselves with the name keeper of the public trust.
Not a very community-minded newspaper thing to do at all, and not, as my listeners put it, a very class act. One, in fact, that may call for a little class action.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

#181 Chippie

So I was watching TV last night. They played a commercial for a new dog locating and/or identifying device. I’m guessing it’s the latter but I’m sure the former is just around the corner. It was an injectable identification chip for your dog. The commercial dealt with how “4 out of 6 dogs run away” or some such statistic, and how collars fall off and how if you only injected this chip in their shoulder they’d be safe. Naturally, the first thought that came to my mind was: Jeez, they got a chip small enough to inject? Can I get one for my kids? A little GPS homing unit where I could find them at a moments notice? I get that call from them: “I’m over at Teddy’s and I’ll be an hour late” and I hit my send-back GPS and, hmm, what a surprise, they’re at the mall. Yeah, great idea, take your kid in for a physical and have the doc inject a chip in ‘em and tell ‘em it’s a tetanus booster or steroids or something.
Then I realized something. The technology already exists. Microchips are everywhere for these kids. From Hippie to Chippie in one generation. Every kid that has a cellphone has a GPS unit in it and the potential to be located via that unit—kind of an Onstar for your teenager.
So is there a place where parents could sign up when they start, say, the family plan? Do you want Teenstar, Sir? You bet, and some extra “whenever” minutes. And I get the new Razor phone. Little Billy gets to use the old clunker. Hey, I’m paying for this thing. He wants a Razor he can get a job and earn one.
Little will Billy know that his clunker contains a GPS homing device. I’ll be able to track him, or at least his pants, anywhere. Yeah. This will be even better than the V-Chip I never enabled on my TV. Oh yeah, right. Okay, maybe I’ll just trust them. Okay, I’m lazy. Okay, I’m too stupid or blind to read, much less comprehend, the fine technical print in the phone’s owners manual. Cripes, my kid will probably be tracking me. Quick clean up the beer, Dad’s just four blocks from home...
So maybe the injectable chip idea is the thing to pursue. But still, locating my teenagers in a Big Brother sort of way does scare me. Holding this bone out to worried parents kind of opens the door for the uber-police to track everyone, everywhere. But again. I like the idea of saying, with a secret smile: Yeah, my teenager has a chip on his shoulder.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

#179 First Annual

I admit that I spend way to much time worrying over the sloppy use of language, but like my old English teacher that used to use her ruler to rap us across the knuckles when we dangled a participle, I’ve come to believe that language is the foundation of civilization, for shizzle, and if we don’t pay attention to its fundamentals and be active and vigilant in the defense of its rules we run the risk of a constant erosion of our culture and a preponderance of run-on sentences.
So I hate it when I hear the phrase First Annual. Such and such is having their First Annual Calendar Sale. So and so is putting on the First Annual Educational Drive. Annual is the anniversary. You may have noticed, your first birthday was not when you came out of the womb. You can have a first event, and a second annual event. According to persnickety grammarian types, annual is a term that can only be applied to an event that happens two or more years in succession. Frankly, I’m a little surprised a green squiggly line doesn’t grammarcheck me when I type in “first annual.” So, “second annual” is barely okay. “Third annual” is safer. If you want your first event to sound more impressive say “inaugural” and then, by gosh, just tell people flat out that you plan to keep going year after year.
Nothing bothers me more than sloppy word usage. And you know what? I think I might get me some of that nothing stuff. I’ve been hearing a lot about it again lately. Seems that nothing works harder. And nothing is better for my toilet clogs. And nothing works quicker. And nothing acts to remove that unsightly hair with less damage to your skin. Yoo hoo. I want some nothing. It sounds almost as versatile as scratch. Everybody loves stuff made from scratch. You can make cookies and furniture and sauces and even decorative knickknacks for your home.
“Where you’d get that wall hanging, Madge?”
“I made it from scratch.”
“Do say. Nothing is better than scratch.”
“No it’s not!”
“Is too!”
“Who says?”
“Who’s on first...”
Like I say, attending to the details of language is important.
Like my Halloween candy. Little, fun-size, Three Musketeers bars. The fine print on the wrapper says: “May contain peanuts.” My brother-in-law pointed it out. “They’ve been making Three Musketeers for about fifty years. Don’t you think it’s about time they knew whether or not they contain peanuts?”
I replied honestly: “Nothing would please me more”
America ya gotta love it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

#178 Unraveling

Is it just me or does the entire country seem to being going through this massive disconnect? It’s as if the whole no-weapons-of- mass-destruction-after-all thing has unraveled society as we used to know it. Like someone killing the Mummy by spraying him with fabric softener.
I noticed it most particularly last Veterans Day. A time set aside each year to honor our veterans. I think it’s completely appropriate to take a day off from work and contemplate silently and in community events the magnitude of the sacrifice these brave men and women made for their and our country. And there were many such celebrations across the state and nation.
But the official big celebration on the Capitol Campus in Olympia—gatherings at all the major memorials, speeches, instruments playing—was held on Thursday. All very honorable and solemn. Except that it was on the Thursday before Veterans Day. I guess the planners figured they’d better have it then because they’d get more people to show up. I mean, after all, the next day, Friday, was a holiday.
Speaking of disconnect, I read on the internet, the source of knowledge straight and true, that there’s a rumor on the street that a show is being planned in the bowels of Hollywood called “Survivor, New Orleans.” Of course another internet source claims that the government is secretly experimenting with meth addicts to see if it’s possible to use them as an alternate energy source by getting them really tweeked and putting them on treadmills.
The other day these women came into my business. They were selling knickknacks for charity, they said. They each had laminated ID cards. Nothing like lamination if you want to impress people with the honesty of your scam, by the way. Just because you want to mock up an official-looking document in Word and paste a picture on it and take it to the Kinkos laminator doesn’t mean you’re not honest, per se. They said they were from the United Churches and tried to peddle their wares for Katrina survivors, etc. I told them we didn’t buy things from solicitors but if they’d like to leave some literature we’d be happy to mail something to a worthy charity. They didn’t have any literature and pressed harder. I pressed back and asked if they had a website. They finally gave me one, S-T-F- I looked it up and guess what? They were moonies. It was the Reverend Moon’s website. And it was Unification church not United church. Funny, when you write out S-T-F- USA it looks like stiff USA. And when you’ve been stiffed by Get out the fabric softener?
America ya gotta love it.

#177 Lawdy Doddy

As everyone knows, the anti-indoor smoking initiative passed in our state and was written into law. No smoking whatsoever indoors. And out of doors, twenty-five feet from entrances and air-intake vents. Bus shelters are forbidden as well. What a lot of people don’t know is that at the same time, an anti-fireworks bill was passed in Lacey. That’s lucky for the Lacey smokers; now they won’t have to worry about how to light a firecracker with a smoldering cigarette from 25 feet away.
But what was most surprising about the passage of the initiative was how overwhelming it was. At the Secretary of State’s website, you could follow the links to a page where you can get a county-by-county breakdown of the vote. The “gas tax repeal initiative” for instance, was voted down most overwhelmingly in the counties that need the most road upkeep: King, Pierce, Kitsap, and Thurston. The take-me-home-country-roads red counties voted for the repeal. Or perhaps they just got confused like me and voted against the repeal, thinking they were voting against the tax. Fortunately, I caught myself in time. I actually wanted the tax. Surprise, surprise, I know it’s an unpopular idea, but I can’t afford to fix potholes all by myself. That’s why that whole municipal pooling of resources tax thing got started. And helped provide funds for sewage and water systems. And just in time too, that whole crapping in the street thing was killing us.
Anyhow, every single county, red, blue, and white, voted against the smokers. Something like seventy-percent of the vote cast was for the anti-smoking bill. Personally, I think there’s a civil rights issue here. If a business wants to be a smoking establishment, and posts such intention on the door, well then, they should be able to. No one is forcing me to come in. Public buildings, courts, police stations, malls, should all be non-smoking. And I do think the vestibules of public buildings should be off limits as well. Entering or emerging from a public building and having to run the gauntlet of carcinogens and having no choice but to do so is a violation of my right to only inhale hydrocarbon exhaust and ozone from automobiles, arsenic for smelters, carbon monoxide and particulates for old-fashioned woodstoves and an occasional release of radon for the nuke plant. But really, this may be an opportunity in disguise for owners of private casinos. Now they finally have something Indian casinos don’t—a smoke free atmosphere. Ol’ Eddie Emphysema and his rolling oxygen tank finally has a place to go to gamble. And he can bring the grandkids along to the casino daycare center while he’s at it. That ought make up for no slot machines somehow. Now if they could only sell fireworks...
America ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

#174 Dial-down

So I’m watching a commercial the other night. It was pretty creative. Still, I could feel just a touch of desperation in it. Like when a company is hanging on by its fingernails and it’s doing everything it can to get your business back. Like they used to have your business, but were so arrogant, that the world passed them by and now they’re out at the end of a technological dead end and doing some serious stock market starving. The 800 pound gorilla is looking a little Kate Moss-like, if you get my drift.
Anyhow, could be I was reading a lot into it. Cause my personal experience with AOL, when I tried to cancel my subscription a few years back, was none to good. They kept offering me more and more free hours with surcharges to kick in at some unspecified time, of course, that I got a little frustrated. The salesperson slash account executive closer-saver guy reminded me of another old-fashioned technology. Can you say broken record?
So this commercial was about how AOL, now that DSLs and Cable modems have passed them by, still has a place in everyone’s life as an internet screener anti-virus anti-spammer interface. First rule of marketing, describe what you can do for a potential client not what you can save them from. You can use chewing gum to plug a hole in a boat but most people buy it for the flavor.
So this ad goes on and on about how the clutter coming down your cable modem can eventually infest your computer bad enough so that it slows down to the point of pointlessness vis-à-vis that whole fast cable modem thing. What they were hovering around in the ad, but couldn’t quite say without alienating their dwindling core customer, was that your cable would get as slow as, ahem, dial up.
But here’s how they put it. “Your internet experience can run up to 500% slower.” Now that sounds pretty bad. In fact, as near as I can figure, that means my computer will run 4 times less slow than when it’s off. That is really, really slow. I’m not completely sure how this can work but, hey, I’m not the geniuses at AOL. Must be some sort of new quantum thing.
You see, it’s possible to have something go 500% faster. Each hundred percent refers to one. So 500% faster means five times faster. But if you’re going less, or slower, you can only divide up the one amount that you start with. So half as fast is 50% slower. 100% slower is zero. Not moving at all. Zilch. Nada. Wait a minute. If I was 500% higher at the top of a ladder, and then 100% lower when I went back to ground level, where would I be if I stepped in “a hole”? Hmm. What was that nickname we used to call AOL?
America ya gotta love it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

#188 Hobgoblin

Consistency, they say, is the hobgoblin of tiny minds. Or something like that. I quote it different every time. Since I wouldn’t want to be accused of harboring hobgoblins—my section of town is a hobgoblin free zone—I fully intend to not tie all the little observations in today’s essay together into any cohesive framework. Hobgoblin that.

One question worthy of note: What the hell is a hobgoblin? Is it a half goblin, a little orc-ish perhaps? Is it a goblin that’s been hobbled in some way, by tying something to its feet? My dictionary defines hobgoblin as a grotesque goblin-like creature. Yeah. I got the goblin part, what’s with the hob? It also gives as a synonym for hobgoblin: bugbear. Like most dictionaries, synonyms are no help. I don’t know what a bugbear is either.
One bugbear of mine, is this conundrum of our culture: Why is it that restaurants make such a big deal out of offering home cooking. Who are they trying to impress? Cause if it’s my home cooking I’d just as soon not eat there. I go to a restaurant for restaurant cooking. And who are they trying to kid? If it was home cooking they couldn’t serve it. It would be against the law. If you serve any food for a price you need a food handlers permit, an approved catering setup or a commercial kitchen. All of which means: Not home.
Another thing they need to get the bugs out of? After-Thanksgiving crowd management techniques. I don’t know if you remember all the footage from the first day after Thanksgiving shopping frenzy. People being crushed, one lady pausing in the midst of being trampled to retrieve her wig, irate customers getting in fights at the electronics counter. Did you notice they had one common theme? They all happened at Walmart. Perhaps their ads shouldn’t have prominently featured the words “doorbuster.” People take things so literally these days. Now I’m not saying that Walmarts strategy of hyping and depicting sales as a huge stampede to good value is not working, but I think playing the lion king wildebeest scene on the sidewalk video monitors before they opened the doors was maybe a bad idea. Although the other day I replayed that video at home and guess what? Right before the lion king’s father goes under the hooves, he kind of adjusts his mane a little. Let’s face it, people went a little buggy. The reason for the big frenzy? Three words, laptops are hockable.
Finally, this bugs me. You know this ex-multiplex theater that’s turning into a church? I said they should have different faiths in every theatre. Well, one of my less sensitive friends informed me the other day that one church he knows does in fact accept all denominations—tens, twenties, fifties...
America, ya gotta love it.

#182 Snippie

Miniaturization is one of the great breakthroughs of modern times. From brick to razor in less than a generation the cellphone has lightened our physical load. My load is even lighter. I don’t carry one at all. But miniaturization is everywhere. From reel-to-reel to eight track to cassette. From VHS to 8mm to Digital Tape. From room size computers to laptops, everything is smaller, faster, and less comprehensible. But no matter, as long as you can point and click and possess more than a modicum of trust you can get just about anywhere on the internet, including help sites to FAQ you through your latest technological acquisition. And with any luck, one of the helpful websites, or the next CD you buy from Sony, won’t plant a virus in the impacted bowels of your computer.
Still, you can’t change human nature. Everybody wants something for nothing—whether it’s music download pirates or corporate pirates looking to harvest personal data from your computer. Cookies are no different from Napster in my opinion, both of them ignore some pretty basic rights—rights to intellectual property and rights to intellectual privacy.
But data storage devices keep getting smaller. From hard drive to zip drive to memory stick, from Laser Disk to DVD to the snippet of a semiconductorage that is the next wave. I just read where it’s about time for the techno-mavens to release full length movies on a chip the size of your fingernail. That’s right, the entire 6 episodes of Star Wars boxed set all on a chip the size of a thimble. That’s 4 all the way through 3—and the making of. The Chips are ready and the special players are ready. The new technology will put DVDs to shame, not to mention those antique videotapes. So far, there only seems to be one hold-up to the release of the technology. Packaging. Or should I say human nature in the form of craven dishonesty. Cause even though the movie’s gonna be the size of a raisinet, there ain’t no way you’ll be able to buy it in the store unless it’s in a 12-inch by 6-inch shoplifter-proof blister-pack. Isn’t it sad? The smaller and more streamlined the product, the bigger and bulkier the package we have to put it in. So even though we can pack more and more tiny stuff into our homes and cars, the stores that carry all that tiny stuff have to keep getting bigger and bigger and boxier and boxier. Why? Just so they can display the packaging.
America, ya gotta love it.

#206 Undrums

As you’ve no doubt deduced by now, sometimes my mind gets drawn into these conundrums about words and stuff and then I go Rainman and can’t get out for a while. Is the opposite of conundrum pro-undrum? Is that a complete lack of mystery or a vigorous refusal to engage in riddles at all? And is the middle ground between pro and con simply an undrum? Hmm, un-drum. Meaning, I suppose, that you have no drum to beat for either side.
So what’s the word to describe taking down decorations anyhow? Is it un-decorating? De-decorating? The opposite of decommission is commission. The opposite of detumescense is tumescence. The opposite of dehumidify is humidify. You would naturally think the opposite of decorate would be corate. So I guess it’s fair to say that we are in the corating season as all of us corate our houses and living rooms and kitchens this time of year. We corate for the un-holidays.
Convents had nuns. Did priests have pro-vents? Of priests convents had none. But nuns had priests a plenty. At least judging by the foundling homes next to the convents and monasteries in the middle ages.
I feel fine if you don’t con-fine me. Then I don’t feel so good.
Is pre-venting something a way to control anger? Rather than let something build up too much so you really blow off steam.
If there’s a control is there a pro-trol? And does that mean you’re totally out of control? So were the policemen beating up Rodney King protrol officers?
Certainly not something to contemplate, or protemplate either, with delight. So how about the word delight? Is de-light the opposite of light. Only when someone asks you to turn out de-light. Careful as you drive here. Groaning affects driving judgment almost as bad as talking on a cellphone.
Some people think that the opposite of delight is pain. And yet all kinds of people find delight from pain. Odd but true. Millions of dollars are spent every year on painkillers and millions of dollars are also spent on piercing, tattooing, branding and suchlike.
I read a statistic the other day. It said the 28% of all adults reported recent low back pain. I’m guessing 50% of those were talking about BCTs, butt crack tattoos. The base of the spine is one of the most frequented strike zones for the tattooist’s needle. I’ve got a picture of a pencil tattooed on mine.
What’s the difference between a tattooist and a shock therapist for anorexics? One of them sticks needles and the other one needles sticks. And that, my friend, is a classic conundrum.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

#205 De-Xmas

Now is the time to strip the tree, pack up all the decorations, and generally de-christmasize our homes. A few folks in our neighborhood, I among them, have yet to stop turning on the outside Christmas lights. They are so beautiful and they make even the dreariest Northwest night seem gay. Deck the halls and all that stuff.
But, inevitably, it will be the time to return to the gray rain of winter. No snow, no sun, just clouds, clouds, clouds, and rain, rain, rain. The two constants of the Northwest: Gray clouds and rain. Grayn. Gray clouds and dim sunlight. Graylight. Come spring it’ll be graylight savings time. But it’ll still be gray. It’s no wonder we cling to the sparkling and shimmering multicolored lights. It’s the only color we have.
But indoors, the tree o’ xmas is on its last limbs. Needles are dropping like needles from an old fir tree and they’re piling up like kindling underneath a bonfire. The tree has gone from the solstice evergreen to the post-solstice everbrown. You know you’ve waited too long to take off ornaments when every time you do, a cloud of needles rains down like rain from a cloud of rain. Must be my seasonal affected disorder. Similes are coming tough this morning.
Time to pack away all the special hand towels and dishrags and napkins. Time to fold away little Susie’s third-grade cut-up aluminum pie pan tree. Time to tuck away Aunt Myrtle’s crocheted perennial advent calendar. Time to file all the cards from folks who added themselves to your Christmas card return list for next year. And most of all it’s time to try to get rid of all the gol-durn glitter.
Ah, glitter. It comes on “special” wrapping paper, it comes on cards, some people even sprinkle it directly on the gifts they give. Bastards. Micro-fine glitter. Nanodecor. Sparkly and cute at first, but more permanent that a dust mite. Glitter, the anthrax of decorations. I used to think there was nothing more persistent than pine needles and Easter grass. But American technology triumphs once again. I have found glitter in ever nook and cranny of my house. And my body. And once it sticks to your skin it’s got more specific gravity and suck power than a black hole. You can’t even wash it off. You see a little sparkle in the mirror as you step out of the shower and you say, when did I touch myself there?
So what the heck, if even my tush is going to sparkle with the multicolored festiveness of the season I might as well leave up my outside Christmas lights a little while longer. We get enough gray. And this time of year is made a little more bearable by the reflection of the multicolored rainbow of lights on the little drops of rain. It makes the whole world glitter like it’s covered with, well, glitter.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

#200 World Travel

Now I’m not what you call a travelin’ man. Oh sure, in my youth I hitchhiked throughout the Southwest, up and down the West coast and even to Canada, but my visits to foreign countries number exactly two; the aforementioned Canada and Mexico. Not what you’d call your world traveler. I suppose nowadays you could also add another four if you count the various independent nations represented by Indian casinos, but that’s a bit of a stretch, learning the finer points of Keno hasn’t gone far in the direction of broadening my cross-cultural horizons. Still, whenever I want to see a variety of American subcultures, casinos have em galore.
So anyhow, I was watching a movie the other night that dealt with that whole traveling thing. It was the most recent remake of The War of the Worlds; this one with Tom Cruise as a not very convincing dock worker who becomes an alien avoiding aficionado. The reworked premise of the movie is that aliens planted big vehicles in the ground before humanity came down from the trees and, arriving now on a bolt of electro-magnetic disturbance, they charge up these tripod tanks and proceed to lay waste to all the cities and then begin harvesting humans so they can suck out all their blood or something. Of course, they still keep the old final plot twist of H.G. Wells, that the secret savior of humanity is the microbes that have evolved with us and that therefore infect and kill the unsuspecting and invading aliens.
Now back in 1898, when old H.G. penned this thrilling cautionary tale, the idea of viral and bacterial disease was relatively new and made for a thrilling and surprising plot device. Now, with every other news story about invasive species and evolving bird flu and HIV, you’d just kind of figure that your basic aliens, capable of traveling between planets or possibly star systems, would have heard of the whole thing. I’d assume that before they come down to destroy us they might monitor our radio transmissions or something. Maybe even pick up a broadcast of the history channel and catch the story of the current theory that 80 percent of the native population of North America was wiped out by European diseases when unsuspecting white folk came to these shores. A number the Indians are only beginning to pay back as the consequences of smoking that little native tobacco weed they introduced to us in return wreaks its cancerous karma. Hell, I just had an acquaintance head to South Africa for the first time and the preventative shots he had to take left him pricked full of more holes than heroin addict in a tattoo parlor. You’d think a visit to another planet would engender a similar caution. But what do I know, I don’t travel much myself.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

#199 Butt-line

Now that the new non-smoking law has passed in Washington, businesses all over are seeking ways to make it possible for their patrons to smoke and still be patrons. A lot of the local coffee shops are hardest hit. And by coffee shops I don’t mean espresso bars, I mean the old-fashioned coffee shop, once also called a café, where people would go in for lunch, dinner and an after-the-bars-close 3am breakfast. All accompanied by prodigious quantities of coffee, food, and cigarettes.
These poor places, along with the neighborhood taverns, are hardest hit. For one thing, they’re having to train their hostess staff to not ask: smoking or non-smoking? And to be honest, most ex-smokers are hyper-sensitive even to smoke residue, so it would be better for the hostess to say: “non-smoking or formerly smoking section?”
And of course the biggest problem of all, just like it always is when you commit to a course that’s new and dangerous, is the exit strategy—in this case exacerbated by the odd requirements of the new non-smoking law. Smokers cannot be smoking within twenty-five feet of the entrance of the establishment. Logistically, this is a nightmare. There are bars and restaurants downtown that are so close their entrances are twenty feet from each other. What’s a smoker to do? 25 feet from one place puts you smack dab at the entrance of the next. The only place that’s legal is the middle of the street. And you’ll certainly break some other law getting there. Although I’m not sure if you’re breaking the law if you’re just stationary in the middle of the street. Do they call that jay-standing? Maybe the city would be kind enough to install smoking medians downtown. Smokers could huff over to the traffic islands and imbibe nicotine and auto exhaust in one fell emphysema-inducing inhalation. Oh, and city? Can we cover the medians as well? We don’t want our smoking pariahs to catch pneumonia. Talk about driving up health costs.
As for the rest of the restaurants, I say make a game of it. Mark off each of the twenty five feet with white lines in three directions, 1, 2,5, 20, etc. Then paint an arc. Kind of like the basketball three-point line. The smoking perimeter. Downtown Smoking Brown. Hack a butt and dunk it in the ashcan—conveniently supplied and logo-d by the establishment: “This ashcan provided by Alice’s restaurant.” And the place could have a stack of umbrellas, also logo-d up for maximum advertising effect, right by the door so the smokers could grab one on their way out to the perimeter: “This umbrella thoughtfully provided for our customers’ comfort by Bobby’s bar and grill.” Then the smokers could join hands on the arc and form an unbroken phalanx that non-smokers would have to break through to get into the place. Nah, that would be cruel to the restaurant. They should just blow smoke up their, um, ashes as they go by.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

#189 SAD

We were having this discussion around the dinner table the other night. And I was noticing how my sister completed her husband’s sentences and my wife completed mine and vice versa. I thought at the time. Hmm. There could be a joke in here somewhere about wives completing their husbands’ sentence and it would sound vaguely like a prison term. I got it. Why is marriage an institution like prison? Because it helps to have your spouse complete your sentence.
In any event we got to talking about the great Northwest, and things my recently-moved-here Southern California relatives have never experienced up till now. We take a lot of things for granted up here—rain, snow, rain, sleet, clouds, rain, misty fog, freezing rain, and rain. Did I mention rain? My brother-in-law had never encountered freezing rain and when he heard it in the forecast he was a little apprehensive. “It’s just like regular rain,” I said calmly, “except it sticks to your windshield and blinds you. But that’s okay cause it also sticks to the roads and creates spontaneous black ice patches. At least it doesn’t build up like snow... I think I reassured him.
He had heard the term “dew point” before but until the recent cold weather, he hadn’t noticed that the steam coming off his dogs droppings was an indication of how we have a slightly different spelling for doo when we say dew point up here.
And no discussion of Northwest winters would have been complete without the subject of seasonal affective disorder—or SAD. The periodic depression that many Northwesterners suffer from the endless gray days of Washington winter. The unrelenting downer which is the product of every short and miserable day being unrelieved by even a single shaft of healing light. And by “day” we mean the somber, wearing, joy-sucking dimness that is our small reward for enduring a job that begins in the dark and ends in the dark. From eight in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon, what little light we have is squandered as we spend our time indoors, cowering from the oppressive, battleship steel-colored sky lest it plunge us into the dark oblivion of utter despair.
Where was I? Oh yeah. He thought it was unusual that the name Seasonal Affective Disorder would be acronym-inized into SAD. Reverse acro-neering, I said. The initials for Winter Blues just didn’t pronounce anything.
America, ya gotta love it.

#185 Stewing Dogs

Now before you start flooding the station with calls, I want to go on record as saying I’m a dog lover. But by dogs I mean full-size dogs like, say, a beagle on up. Stewing dogs, rotisserie dogs, vibrators, and lap dogs, I can do without. The only thing I want making noise on my lap is a computer. So, having owned up to my antipathy for fun size dogs, what is it about America today that every tenth person has to have a dog in their arms? I hate it like hell when I’m standing there talking to someone and get the holy bejesus scared out of me cause some sorry excuse for a canine comes squiggling out of the crook of their arm. And these people know no shame. In their constant need for a on-demand doggy snuggle they smuggle the little critters into all kinds of places that dogs were once forbidden—High School Basketball games, clothing stores, malls, even Chucky Cheeses. They hide them in their coats or stuff them in a purse. All so they can have their little FiFi at the ready in case they should need to indulge in some positive pet strokes. My question? Who is whose pet? Are these squiggly little stewing dogs in fact the ultimate evolutionary triumph of the canine species?
A fair question. I used to think these little wigglers were despicable—yappy and squirmy and not doggly at all. They couldn’t pull a sled, or chase criminals out of the wrecking yard, much less join in on the hunt and bring down a bison. Oh sure, maybe if the hunt was for a squirrel and the squirrel was caught in a trap, little yippy may come in handy. And if the prey in question needed to be, say, annoyed to death, perhaps the mongrel midget may be of service.
But I was wrong. It’s obvious that these tiny connivers have humans all figured out. For years banned from polite human society, demi-dogs are now encroaching on the domain of the lordly cat—carried from place to place by their rich mistresses, showered with gifts and cute clothing, groomed and pampered to within an inch of their little Caesar life. And, most importantly, hypo-allergenic. With so many humans evolving to the allergic-to-cats phase, an eco-niche for the pampered canine has opened up and in slides the Shitzus and the Pomeranians and the Chihuahuas, the Papillons, and the Yorkshire terriers. So the same trait that first made them attractive to mankind, namely, that they were small enough to fit in a pot, has now catapulted them to the height of fashion. The mavens of fashion have decreed that they are cute and oh so chic. Their helplessness makes them even more doted on and cared for. Living, as it were, in the lap of luxury. Oh the humanity.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

#202 Blitzen

The Twelve days of Christmas end quicker than the leap of a lord slipping on a room full of bird poop. The eight days of Hanukah zoom by like a dreidel on an air hockey table and the 30 days of Ramadan, why, they fly by faster than a month of Decembers. Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is, the holidays are too short. One minute you’re last-minute Christmas shopping at the convenience store at 3 in the morning on Christmas eve and the next minute you’re sitting in a pile of pathetically once-pretty paper. And assuming for a moment the archeological-sociological theory that the reason the holidays of so many faiths are grouped this time of year is to while away the winter hours, why heck, we got a whole bunch of winter still ahead of us to be wily with.
Let’s stop for a moment and examine that notion. Hanukah, Christmas, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and the Pagan celebration of the Solstice are all in or around December. All during the shortest daylight hours of the year. All during a season where you got no planting and no harvesting to do. Where you got nothing but dried fish, jerky smoked meats, and an occasionally unlucky or slow fowl to eat. No veggies or fresh fruits. What better time to get together with the relatives and exchange gifts, and most likely, genes. September babies, of which, I hesitate to contemplate, I am one, owe their prodigious quantities to Christmas cheer, Hanukah hankypanky, or Kwanzaal kwazyness. Cause, let’s face it, eggnog and birth control don’t mix. There’s a reason why even one of Santa’s reindeer is a symbol of drunkenness. But Blitzen aside, we all know that when Santa gets done trimming the tree or when the bottle pops at New Years there’s some mistletoe to reckon with.
And it’s not just a new set of genes, or at least a re-jumbling thereof, that people could expect come holiday, some archeo-epidemiologists have suggested that this social time was also the time that humans evolved resistance to various bacteriological and viral bugs. By mixing and matching viruses and sneezes and coughing in confined spaces, humans were able to swap infections and cook up antibodies like muffins in an easy-bake oven. So look at it this way next time you suffer through an annoying Christmas party. These festive gatherings with friends of friends and in-laws and relatives of suspicious lineage that look more like their neighborhood’s mailman every year are actually helping in the fight to defeat the avian flu. Sort of. Actually, the way evolution works is that the weak will die and the people that survive will be resistant to the flu but hey, maybe one of the dead guys will be the one who got you that tie so ugly it looks like he bought it in a convenience store.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

#176 Day of Enfamil

When I was writing about the supermarket cash register kicking out a surprising coupon recently I played with the idea that they knew something I didn’t. Namely, after I punched in my secret rewards card number at the end of purchasing a bunch of groceries, out came a coupon for a product that appeared to be unrelated to anything I had ever purchased. It was for Enfamil, an infant formula. Always seemed like a weird name to me. Like something between infidel and an Arabic surname. Habib, have Enfamil come over and bring us some goat milk. Or some harbinger of something else. Perhaps the infant formula coupon kicked out because one of my family members had recently bought an EPT test. The computer just connected its internal dots and, voila, this day shall live in Enfamil...
Assuming, for a moment, that these post-purchase point-of-sale coupons are not completely random, and are in fact related to previous purchases on the same secret number, is there an accessible data base that can report to whomever whether I’ve been using the grocery store to buy too much SudaFed, or perhaps a suspicious amount of fertilizer?
Sounds reasonable, I suppose, we don’t want any methed-up white supremacist terrorist tweaking out and blowing up the capitol. But perhaps the same software can determine whether I bought that new book by Bill Clinton. No problem again, you say. Dangerous liberal readings should be monitored. Ah. But suppose the powers-that-be change and we now have Hillary in the White House and that same software monitors how many Bill O’Reilly books you purchase.
Maybe someone decides to keep track of all the young bucks that buy big wheels and tires. Great, to send them a coupon on tailgate nets. But what if a potential Timothy McVeigh profile program kicks them out as a list of possible white terrorists? Tim’s truck had duellies, you know. Or, next time Granny Goodmuffin buys a “Save the Panda” air freshener, she gets dropped into the tree-spiking and hugging eco-terrorist subset?
Normally I’m content to go through life with a mild case of mono-noia, but things like this double my concern right up to paranoia in a second. People always think my objection to club and reward cards means I can’t accept change. Hey. Maybe I don’t like trading my freedom for a coupon. Maybe I just don’t like anyone keeping track of anything—and everything—I buy. Big Brother might be a lot more friendly when he’s wearing my local grocer’s apron. But I can still see his second row of shark teeth behind that greeter smile. “Sir, I understand you may need some infant formula...”
America ya gotta love it.

#175 Clue-pon

One of the advantages to grocery stores of all this club card business is that they can track your buying habits. The idea being, when it comes time to send you a special offer, they can send it just to you and not fifty thousand other people who have no use for such a thing. The national grocery chain is offered a big deal on certain products from Proctor and Gamble and then doesn’t have to gamble as much sending out the coupon or advertisement to the people who may want or need it. Which goes far towards explaining why not much of my personal junk mail includes ads for feminine hygiene products.
Of course, the other end of that seeming panacea is that mailing lists have accumulated all sorts of baggage over the years and my current household receives junkmail for myself and my wife, our three combined ex-spouses, my moved-out son, and various misspellings of our respective maiden, Christian, and patralineal names. I even get a reminder once a year to contribute to Safeplace under a feminized version of my first name. I make sure she contributes anyhow.
So, naturally, when Fred Meyer started doing their rewards card thing, I thought a similar onslaught of coupons would ensue. And, in fact, when the reward premiums eventually arrived in the mail many of the specials were for things we ordinarily bought. Which I have grown to appreciate. Nothing worse than being offered substantial savings on Ben and Jerrys when your doctor’s just put you on a low-fat, low-carb, low-anything-remotely-pleasurable diet.
Then I noticed something else. When I shop I don’t usually have my rewards card with me. But all you have to do is tell the clerk and she’ll let you punch in your phone number and it will credit it to your card. When the transaction is done, the receipt prints out and usually a couple of coupons spit out of the cash register at the same time. These are freestanding coupons too, not the kind that are on the back of the grocery receipt that you hesitate to use lest you need proof on the other side that you bought something that turned out to be defective. Lately, it’s seemed as if these coupons directly relate to what I buy or have bought recently. I got some Campbell’s Soup and, voila, Campbell’s soup coupons. I got some tuna and, abracadabra, tuna, mayonnaise, and bread coupons. The other day I punch in my number and at the end of the transaction out prints this coupon for Enfamil Infant Formula. Uh oh. So the first question in my mind wasn’t did I plug in the wrong number but: What does Fred Meyer know about my family that I don’t?
America ya gotta love it.