Thursday, May 31, 2007

#527 Ride the Wild Egg

Sunday we went on a quest for breakfast.
I make it sound like a horror movie because it was. Nothing worse than hashing your way through the traffic of Olympia when your blood sugar is dangerously low and all you want is a short stack, an over-medium egg and a rasher or two of bacon.
Does anybody outside for novels ever talk about strips of bacon as rashers?
In any event, we made the mistake of thinking we should head downtown to get breakfast. I mean, heck, it was Sunday.
Unfortunately, it was the Sunday of the Capital City Marathon.
Marathons sound real cool and healthy and stuff until you’re trying to drive your way through blocked downtown streets—
Let me just say, not cool. Not cool to the point of cranky. Morning low-blood-sugar cranky is not a good thing.
Every restaurant was full. We finally got in one.
Every table was full.
Some of them with people in sweaty high tech running shirt thingies. The ones that wick sweat from the skin and evaporate it on the surface of the jersey.
Which sounds really good until you realize they are wicking and evaporating it—into your nose.
Hungry, cranky, assaulted by marathon sweat. Leave.
Drive out to Mud Bay to what we thought was an out of the way restaurant far away from marathoners.
Turns out ever yokel in 26.2 mile radius eats breakfast at that place on Sunday morning.
More cranky, more starving, more full of despair.
Whip into a small place tucked away in an old residential neighborhood on the West Side. Our breakfast plans are now toast.
Place is jam-packed, some tourists, some hippies, some sweaty marathoners. Proprietor says as at least a half hour wait.
At this point, it’s been an hour and a half and we are reconsidering wisdom of leaving the first place.
Through light-headed fog of hunger, remember my mom’s advice to never switch check-out lanes at the supermarket. May actually have been seated and eating by now.
Consider running over marathoner, ripping off, chewing, and swallowing high tech sweat-encrusted jersey.
Smells kind of like bacon…
America ya gotta love it

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

#526 Riddle of Diddle

I suppose there must be a name for my disease, but I’ve never found it.
Synesthesia is the closest.
People that mix up their senses and say they hear tastes and smell texture.
I just get hung up on the feeling of words.
Sometimes words just don’t feel right or they feel too right.
I’m not talking about your average odd meaning. Like the other night when I was at this meeting and a guy was talking about seaplanes coming in for a landing.
Can you land seaplanes?
I’m talking about the way I felt the other day. I heard Bo Diddley had to go to the hospital because of a stroke. The radio announcer referred to him as Mr Diddley.
Sorry, that sound feels funny.
“Bo Diddley” had somehow engrained itself into my mind so that I had formerly not separated out the comic aspects of the independent term “Diddley”.
As in, you don’t know diddley, and you don’t know diddley squat.
“Diddley squat” is apparently the superlative form of diddley. You can say diddlier but not diddliest—you say diddley squat.
Tragically, Mr. Diddley sounds like a pervert Punch and Judy puppet. Look out for Mr. Diddley, kids. Always tell an adult if Mr. Diddley bothers you.
Or maybe just someone who twiddles his thumbs a lot. Or does odd and unspeakable things with those plastic discs.
Diddley winks.
Later, I was at a video store and saw the used DVDs they had on sale. Except they didn’t have them advertised with any such crude name as “used.”
They were “previously viewed DVDs.”
And they were on sale, because, lord knows, I don’t want to pay full price for something that’s already been viewed by someone else.
It damages a product so.
LOOKING at it.
Got a bunch of eye germs in the laser divots. Heaven forbid.
Someone else SAW it first.
Now if that someone was Superman and he happened to accidentally x-ray it, or possibly the Cyclops X-Man guy melting the megabits, discount okay.
But as far as I know just watching something doesn’t do diddley.
America ya gotta love it

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

#524 Rotgut

So the other day I chanced across the term “variety meats.”
The name “Variety Meat” is the original food product euphemism.
Variety meats are the parts of the animal people usually don’t eat. Unless they are very poor, or unless they got fooled by the names variety and meat.
Cause really, it’s not like people would have ever eaten this stuff if they had a choice.
Oh, I’m tired of this New York steak. Perhaps I’d like a slice of chalky, putrescent-smelling liver.
Chop up a couple of small intestines for me, would you. I’m sick of this PRIME RIB!
It’s crazy. Now I know, supposedly, some cultures prize the alternative parts of the animal. The English love their kidney pie.
One of the first reasons Americans felt like revolting.
And I know a favorite in Mexico is menudo. Not the original rotating pretty-boyband. The soup made out of tripe.
Tripe is a “variety meat” made out of three of a cow’s four stomach chambers. Andoille sausage is also made from tripe.
Sausage is a good thing to make with weird stuff. All the little formerly icky inedible bits of butchered animals. Crammed in any available tube of intestine.
Mmm mmm.
Native American tribes on the plains were big lovers of eating a freshly-slaughtered animal’s liver and heart—often raw, warm and still pulsing.
Gave them protein, iron, and spirit. Nothing like a little extra animal spirit with your food.
Keeps down the gas.
Or at least makes a good excuse. Okay, who let a spirit out?
I suppose in nutrient-deficient societies liver is a good source of iron and Vitamin A. And as the largest organ in the body it’s a powerful piece of meat to ignore for hunter-gatherers.
But really, it’s also the organ in the body responsible for filtering all the toxins you get from eating, drinking, and whatever. Filtering, concentrating, and depositing them—in the liver.
You know, I’ve had enough of this roast beef. I need some variety.
Could someone please pass me a portion of poison pate?
America ya gotta love it

#523 Real Illusion

I was reading a series of articles the other day on nothing.
Discover magazine published a special issue on it.
The invisible stuff we live with everyday and never pay attention to, but which permeates our lives, perhaps inflicting all sorts of unknown mayhem.
It’s like the villagers of Chernobyl—in this case what we don’t know can hurt us.
One article was about how much the internet weighs. How much do all those electrons weigh on our hard drives, this massive edifice of information, with petaflops of data manipulated every day?
Despite the sound, petaflops are not poodle paddies, by the way, or even horse apples. A petaflops (sic) is a thousand million floating operation points per second.
Most of the traffic on the internet is file sharing, 75% in fact.
Naturally it’s all legal.
All daily data traffic amounts to 40 petabytes.
Again, petabytes are not what you sustain from a rabid shih-tzu.
A petabyte is a 1 followed by 16 zeros. 40 of them in data every day. If every bit of energy represented as a one or a zero on your computer was weighed—40 petabytes of data worth—it would weigh 0.2 millionths of an ounce.
So at least the weight of the vehicles speeding by on internet superhighway isn’t a problem.
Of course, all the toxins in all the non-recycled computers piling up in the landfills to the side of the road still are.
And speaking of those computers, many of us now have eschewed the desktop, plugged-into-the-outlet, PC, with the hard cable modem attached to our wall and our monthly bill payment.
We have instead opted for a laptop with a WiFi card and roam the coffee shops and neighborhoods looking to internet for free.
All well and good and more power to you.
Except it may be too much power to you.
As in your brain.
Like, this is your brain...this is your brain on WiFi.
Turns out WiFi broadcasts and receives at 2.45 gigahertz. Almost exactly the same frequency as your microwave.
Interesting. Perhaps that’s why whenever I’m at the WiFi coffee shop I think of popcorn...
Maybe my brain’s trying to tell me something.
It’s probably nothing.
I hate it when those negative ideas pop into my head.
America ya gotta love it

Thursday, May 24, 2007

#522 Rise of the Mite-y

So the other day we were out in the field and this guy comes by and compliments me on my former TV show.
A friend who was standing there and had never seen my show gave me the quizzical look thing.
You know, eyebrows raised, mouth slightly open, shoulders poised to shrug.
“Comedy show I used to have,” I explained, “part of my meteoric rise to mediocrity in the media.”
Which sounded pretty good. Alliterative and all. Meteoric rise to mediocrity.
All except one thing, meteors typically fall.
I of all people should know that. Especially since I love reading science magazines. And speaking of eyebrows, I was reading a science magazine the other day and I learned about all the interesting creatures we live with, on and in our own bodies. The human body is an ecosystem unto itself.
And I’m not just talking about viruses and bacteria, although it’s interesting to note that 8 percent of our DNA is leftover foreign viruses. I’m talking about real, live, honest-to-goodness multi-celled animals.
Like the eyebrow mite.
That’s right, the eyebrow mite.
Mites are different than lice. Lice are related to insects, mites are related to spiders. Most mites are microscopic. But under a microscope they look mighty impressive.
They feast on skin flakes, fecal matter, and the occasional draught of fresh-brewed sweat.
It’s the “demodex” mite that lives in the follicles of your eyebrows—eating, breeding, and hanging out, except for an occasional nocturnal stroll around your face.
Face ever suddenly itch at night?
Will now.
They are 0.3 millimeters long, cigar-shaped and they infest about 20% of people under twenty. They are much more likely to infest us as we age, so nearly all oldsters carry them.
Naturally some oldsters have larger habitats for this inhumanity than others.
Guinness book of world records, looking for the human with the largest mite eco-niche on the planet, is even now in contact with Andy Rooney.
Some of the viruses we carry in our genes, by the way, could be direct descendents of those who hitched a ride to earth on meteors.
They fell.
America ya gotta love it

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

#521 Rent Success

There are different standards of success.
Some people are never satisfied. What great weather we’re having, you’ll say, and they’ll reply, my lawn is growing too fast.
They look for the dark cloud in every silver lining.
Different standards.
Like the guy who maintained “Brokeback Mountain” wasn’t a successful movie because it never had action figures. If success in a movie is defined by action figures, he’s got a point.
I was reading a story the other day about the drop off in newspaper circulation. The newspaper industry is worried because ad revenues are falling and actual paper units have dropped precipitously.
Birdcage owners are getting worried.
The article I read on it—online—listed the circulation of the ten largest (and presumably most successful) newspapers, starting with 2.2 million for USA Today and ending with the Arizona Republic at 433,000.
I noticed something.
The top 10 newspapers had a circulation of 10 million total. Youch. And our population is what, 300 million?
That’s really scary.
In a nation that was born on the broadsheets of the free press, whose diapers were muckraking yellow journals, whose red wagon pulling childhood years were defined by the struggle for supremacy of Hearst and other publishing titans, this is sad news indeed.
Let’s hope the other 290 million people never need to wrap fish.
Finally, some businesses just don’t have a successful word for success.
If I’m selling a suit, when I’m done I can say, “I had a SALE!” If I’m selling real estate. I have a “For Sale” sign on the property and when I sell it, I can put a big “SOLD” sign out.
For Sale. SOLD! Sounds so impressive.
But if I’m a leasing agent, I’m screwed.
If I lease a property, I’m just as successful. But my sign can’t say sold. For Lease. Sold. Doesn’t work.
So I’m stuck with: For Lease. Leased!
Sounds pretty anemic.
Too bad. As much work or more was involved. But our language doesn’t have a standard word that conveys the appropriate measure of success.
To me, the weather’s good when the lawn is growing faster than the moss.
America, ya gotta love it

#520 Recrut

When I talked about companies that overpraise their Gen Ex employees most people thought, yeah, that’s stupid. Occasional praise is fine but you can’t mollycoddle people. Why bother?
Cause there are more jobs than people to fill them that’s why.
So, when I was at a job fair the other day, I took the opportunity to watch how other employers went about trying to get people to work for them.
I was right next to a booth from an organization that offers home health care. Kind of a “nurses on wheels” program, adult day care without the center.
There’s a job shortage there. Most good nurses are so old they need the service themselves.
Similarly, the army recruiter across the aisle from me was for some reason finding it hard to sell people on the educational merits of joining up.
The conversation kept shifting to danger.
On the other end of the spectrum, I saw this builders association pamphlet that says they need to recruit and retain new members.
Actually they say “recrut.”
Unfortunately, for the builders association, software has no regulatory hoops, so their publishing program appears to not have spellcheck.
The big headline says: “2007 Focus: Recruting and Retention.”
Oops. I’ve never been “recruting” but I understand it’s a marvelous experience. It’s kind of like recruiters in rut.
Some all out orgy of sales and over-promises and minimizing all the bad stuff and slathering on the glories of whatever you’re trying to recrut someone into. The job or organization made to sound 100 times better than it will ever be. And all the praise you’ll ever get crammed into your first recrutment interviews. Hmm.
It was kind of funny to watch the continuum of hiring at this job fair. The army guys were recruiting young people. And the army folks were in turn being recruited by the Washington State Patrol. And the Washington State Patrol veterans were being recruited by the 24 Hour Security company.
Like I say labor shortage.
Especially with tough people. Apparently hard people are good to find.
And good people are hard to find—or keep.
Maybe the hyperpraise thing does make sense.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, May 21, 2007

#519 Real Estate Sale

So I’m driving by this billboard the other day.
Billboards have their place in advertising, if only to mask the depressiveness of the tawdry scenery in the unregulated areas where they are usually placed.
This one was about homes.
Seems one of the giant building companies is having a “2 Million Dollar Sales Event.”
And every home in this particular development is on sale. Reduced to sell. On the block. Ready to roll. No reasonable offer turned down. Financing available. Generous trade-in allowances.
No, wait a minute, that’s cars.
But I guess that’s the point. The real estate market, once known for the individuality of its offerings, has gone the way of the commodity.
We’ve entered the era of commoditizing of homes.
It seems a little tragic somehow. Used to be, owning a home was the American dream. Young couples would retain a real estate agent, tell her or him what their dream home needed to be, and endless driving around and rejecting would ensue.
But when the right place at the right time did come along, it was an incredibly personal experience.
And rightly so. I mean, the young couple was going in hock up to their elbows for the next three decades.
Seems a big commitment for a cookie cutter.
Doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Houses have become Big Macs. You get your standard options, an upgrade or two, and voila—would you like fries with that?
It just doesn’t seem as personal.
Now I understand economy of scale. And I see how having the roofing people come in one week and do a whole bunch of houses at once makes sense. After all, the homes will cost less if they cost less to build. And that’s a good thing.
I’m just not sure I like the commodity marketing.
Talking about a “2 million dollar sales event” makes the purchase of a home sound too much like the purchase of a juicer. Throw in a set of knives, an omelet flipper, and a special jartop removal gripper and I’ll think about it.
Does saving lots of money mean we should commoditize our, um, dreams?
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, May 18, 2007

#518 Resume

The other day when I was at a job fair a young woman came up and asked what we were hiring for.
I said, although we weren’t hiring right then, we occasionally hire for sales positions.
“Sales?” she questioned skeptically.
I felt like I needed to get defensive but I didn’t. “Yeah,” I said, “you go out to businesses and talk to them about the benefits of advertising and then you sell them ads.”
“Sales?” she asked again, this time with an even deeper look of mystification on her unwrinkled brow.
“Yeah sales,” I said, “you ask people to buy what you are selling.”
“Oh,” she said, comprehension dawning, “you mean account executive.”
“No,” I replied. “I mean sales.”
Because, really, let’s cut to the chase. It’s sales. No one has an “executive” position. And no one has an account until they sell something to them. It’s sales.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, I mean, after all, we’ve spent a lot of time burying our young people alive in the restrictive dirtclods of euphemism.
I heard a story the other day about a company that provides a positive stroke service.
They are professional praisers.
They come in and teach executives how to deal with the hyper-self-esteemed youth of the new generation with hyper praise, hyper strokes, and just plain hyperbole.
These are the kids social scientists warned in the nineties we were praising too much. That we were overindulging in fulsome flattery even when the stuff they did was crap.
So now—guess what?—they have unreal expectations of the real world. And if they don’t get praised for every little piece of paper they turn over they sulk in an ineffective workplace funk.
Nobody appreciates them. They’re not getting what they’re worth, they should be an executive right now, dang it. They have a degree.
When interviewed, people over sixty responded they always thought that paycheck they got every two weeks was praise enough.
Yeah. They kept their job. Seems a little too little.
I’m sure there’s a happy medium.
But if you have too many executives, who’s gonna cook and bottle wash?
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, May 17, 2007

#517 Runaround

I’m not sure if our skills at communicating are getting better or worse.
The other day I was at a meeting. It was on education and the efforts the school district is making to prepare our youth for the real demands of day-to-day employment.
One way to do this is by using a job shadowing program.
Personally, I don’t like that whole job shadow thing. I feel like I’m being stalked.
And as a salesman, I’m ever sensitive to the impression I’m making on the person I’m selling to. Sometimes having a 17-year-old hovering at my shoulder is not the best way to close a complicated deal.
Still, since I believe sales teaches one to be an effective communicator, I’d like to show young people that the essence of conveying meaning is the time-honored acronym, KISS.
Keep It Simple Stupid.
Say what you mean. Say it quickly, since that shows you value your prospect’s time, and don’t use lingo, jargon, or inside terminology. Use direct sentences.
I’m not sure kids are getting that from many educators.
And it’s not the educator’s fault, it’s just the nature of being a member of a bureaucracy. You tend to adopt bureaucrato-speak because everyone around you is doing the same thing.
At the meeting, the presenter was trying to explain about how one of the job assignments worked. She said, “This was the job we tasked our young people to do.”
“Job we tasked our young people to do.”
How about, “this was the job we gave them”? Do we have to verbize a noun? Can’t we just cut to the chase?
I guess I shouldn’t have expected too much. Later in the program, as she was summing up, she described her students as, quote, “the future workforce of tomorrow.”
As opposed to the future workforce of yesterday, I guess. I mean, the prospect of the outlook for the potential future workforce of the labor market is all tomorrow has at present.
Today may be the only opportunity to currently address it right now.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

#516 Ratdogs

Last night I had dinner with my son. It was a great opportunity to engage in some heady discussions about our country, politics, and some of the social aberrations we’ve seen come and go in the last few years. It’s always heartening when you see the kid you played Legos with grown up and talking about world events.
But he had one observation that I thought was particularly keen. We had talked earlier about where all the bees were. And he pointed out a similar mysterious disappearance.
Namely, where have all the stewing dogs gone?
He was right. A year or so ago there didn’t seem to be a fashionista on the planet that didn’t have a pint-size Pomeranian peeking from her purse.
You’d go to restaurants and public events and be minding your own business, and suddenly some little ratdog would poke out his head from a lady’s elbow crotch and scare the holy bejesus out of you.
I’m not sure what a bejesus is, but it’s ruined more than one pair of underwear.
So where have they all gone?
As any leg warmer from the eighties or nano-pet from the nineties will tell you, being a high fashion accouterment gives you an effective shelf life of 3 months with the very rich and another 6 months of remainders with the hoi polloi.
I almost never find an excuse to wear my eight-ball-on-the-back, three-colored leather jacket any more.
So if you’re a live Papillon that’s pooped one too many times in your mistress’ Louis Vuitton handbag where does that leave you?
The worry is, they’ve gone the way of alligators and bulimic buffets.
Yep. Down the toilet.
Most ratdogs are the perfect size for flushing. Are there somewhere packs of feral shih-tzus, roaming the sewers, snarling and biting, going canine to canine with real rats? Perhaps having awful fights.
Or is that fights over offal?
Or worse, are they even now on distant deluxe country estates, condemned by their former mistress’ stupidity, desperately trying to claw their way out of the septic drain field?
America, ya gotta love it

#515 Rolling Rodent

Hamsters, it turns out, are interesting creatures. Especially the Syrian Golden, which is most favored by pet shops and rooms with small pet spaces. The Syrian Golden sounds like a breed of chicken doesn’t it? Like the Rhode Island Red or the Minorca Black. I wonder if hamsters ever figured prominently in any Bedouin shish kebabs. They are the perfect rodent-on-a-stick size.
In any event, the Syrian Golden is a fiercely solitary animal. Experts warn that you should not, I repeat, not, house more than one hamster in a cage. Except, they say, during mating, and even then watch closely, as the act of sexual congress for hamsters is much like a budget bill with a regular congress—much sound and fury and a lot of pork in a barrel at some point. Suffice it to say hamster lovemaking can get quite violent, with biting and scratching and not a little blood. Probably not the sort of thing you want your sensitive child to witness. Bad example for developing appropriate expectations of human intimate relationships.
Most hamsters from pet stores are juveniles and at that point are fairly gregarious. Even rat teenagers gravitate to group behavior. Scary. Somehow the vision of a gang on angry hamsters makes my spine tingle. Once they’re grown, fortunately, they prefer solitude.
And hamsters are both clever and stupid. They are clever enough to bust out of their cute little cages but stupid enough to be caught with a bucket. That’s right, a bucket. We were shopping at a store for an expensive humane trap for a hamster on the lamb and this passing guy says, “Easy, set a ramp up to the lip of a mop bucket. Put food in the bottom. In the morning, hamster in a bucket.” It worked. Even though the hamster apparently had to drop 10 inches from the ramp to the bottom. Which was no problem, I guess, considering he must have somehow made his way down from the second floor the previous night. My girlfriend’s son speculated the hamster had descended the steep stairs like an organic Slinky. Hmm. Reminds me of that game of Hamster Frisbee we used to play...
America, ya gotta love it

#514 Rodent Bowl

The other day we were at the pet store buying a ball you put a rodent in. I know, I know, only in America. I didn’t believe it, but then I hadn’t been in a pet store in ages. I suppose I should have expected, what with all the stewing dogs I always see in cute little sweaters and hats. The people sporting the elbow-crook canine fashion divas certainly don’t look like the petsy Simplicity type. So that means the pet-cessories had to come pre-made from somewhere.
You get a hamster ball in the hamster aisle. Which also has everything anyone could possibly think of, or need, regarding ADHD night-crawling rodents. There’s hamster tubes and hamster wheels and hamster litter box stuff, which seems to be made out of reprocessed paper pulp and not the old fashion sawdust or rough wood shavings. Probably too many pets from the first hamster rage of the fifties died with infected splinters in their hamster derrieres. Then there are a variety of hamster foods and medications, and even hamster suppositories. Which, fortunately, given Hollywood’s record of rodent relations, had no celebrity testimonials.
But anyhow, having never had a pet under the size of a medium dog survive, I was totally amazed at the material display of affection it was possible to acquire for one’s loving rodent. Especially considering all the materials arrayed on the other end of the spectrum to get rid of his rodentile cousins. The hamster ball is like a clear global hamster wheel. You put your rodent inside of it to keep it busy while you clean out your hamster cage.
And the cool thing is, they are perfectly sized for a quick game of hamster bowling. Hamster keeping you awake at night? Had a beer or six? Find a lawn, any lawn. Grab your hamster ball, fill with hamster, and call your hamster-owning friends. Get some plastic pins and have at it. Since the balls can be propelled by both you and the hamster, this is zany fun. And assuming he’s agile and not prone to dizziness, a well-trained pet will always pick up the spare. Everyone loves an agile rodent.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, May 11, 2007

#513 Responsibility

It’s weird. Just when I think modern culture has abandoned the whole notion of personal responsibility up floats a nugget of hope. They talk about teenagers going through the phase where they externalize responsibility for everything—my dog ate my homework and such. And they say one of the first signs of maturity, other than hair sprouting in odd places, is to accept responsibility for your own transgressions. What they don’t say is that then you’re supposed to do something about it. “I take full responsibility” is an empty phrase without a consequent action. And said too often, with no change in behavior, makes you think the sayer is a dweeb with a capital W.
So I was pleased the Washington prison bureaucracy has moved ahead and implemented a new plan with soon to be released criminals. They are telling almost ex-cons they can’t be released into polite society without first coming up with a re-entry plan. Kind of like a graduation contract at a liberal college. Or the notebook high schools are trying to make kids start which gets them to commit to a future career when they’re still in eighth grade. Except in the case of the convicts, it’s more like an exit strategy. But it’s cool they’re getting the convict to take responsibility for his or her future before he or she is released. It’s always been a pretty stupid idea to just throw someone out of a three-square, covered roof environment into the cold cruel world. They were obviously not coping with it well enough to keep them out of jail in the first place.
The other instance of personal responsibility is a new traffic crossing on Capitol Way. Planted in umbrella stand-like depositories are removable traffic flags. Like the ones traffic guards use at school crossings. Except these are for regular people. And you do it yourself. Cool idea. Be your own crossing guard. And you don’t even have to be a young mom with your first kid in kindergarten. But the real example of personal responsibility here is even more hope-inspiring, humanity-wise. After four weeks, the flags are still there.
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, May 10, 2007

#512 Nascent

So occasionally, usually about midnight, on those weird and wonderful moments that I spend in my brain, I chance across an obscure thought that, though I jot it down on paper, will never develop into a full essay, but which nonetheless will annoyingly occupy space in my joke folder. The idea taunts me and haunts me. Go ahead, it teases, try to make something of me. Alas, I never will, and slowly but surely, the idea fades into obscurity. Crumpling and fading and eventually falling out of the folder, an empty scrap with a forlorn illegible scribble on it—forever condemning me to use something more indelible than a pencil in my midnight scrawling. The three that follow were rescued while I could still read them.
So you know those people who post emoticons on the internet? They offer them for a free download, hoping when you do that they will be able to stable a Trojan horse on your computer. Are those tricksters called emoti-conmen?
Why is it that science people—people who are grounded in the worldview that society is able to progress because of math and logic, people who have kneeled at the alter of rationality their whole lives— why is it that those people named a software set-up helper an “installation wizard?” From whence cometh the allusion to magic? Wouldn’t it be more science-like to call it an “installation professor?”
There was news story the other day. Seems the most recognized brand in the world is Google. They made it in just a few years too. Take that McDonalds. See, I think it’s the power of the verb. You never heard anyone say they were going to McDonalds something. And although it’s true that someone can be coked up, using Coke in any other form that actually relates to the product is rare. However, people Google things all the time. I had someone ask me the other day; I think it was my heartthrob, if I had ever Googled myself. I readily volunteered that I had. Which kind of scared me in a way. I’m pretty sure googling yourself is illegal in Kentucky.
America, ya gotta love it

#511 Nasty

When I was talking about bad emails the other day I had to pull up short and remember all the times I’d sent an email I shouldn’t have. Inevitably, I’d finally see an error in the text. When? Two nanoseconds after I had pressed the send button. Why is that? What is it about our capacity as human beings to screw up that we don’t realize we’re screwing up till after the screw-up has occurred? The foot-in-the-mouth caveat of Murphy’s Law.
We’ve all screwed up and sent something we shouldn’t have sent. That’s when we need something like Norton Unsend. A repository on your computer where passionate or angry emails are kept until you cool down. To give you a chance to read them like your potential receiver would. It wouldn’t have to be much. Maybe a three-minute delay while you develop a full case of buyer’s regret, or in this case, sender’s regret. And then it would pop back on your screen with a “Are you absolutely, positively sure you want to send this permanent record of your stupidity?”
Or maybe what we need is a new computer program. An addition to Word. We have spellcheck and grammarcheck. How about courtesycheck? Little squiggly lines would appear under inflammatory words or phrases you may eventually regret and want to change. The squiggly lines couldn’t be red or green since those are taken, so how about passionate purple? You’d have autocorrect options you could enable too. “Damn” would automatically change to “darn.” “You bitch” would change to “you dog’s mother” Extremely strong curse words would change to a series of random punctuation marks like they use in cartoons. The receiver would still know you were mad but the humorous marks would take the edge off. The program could be designed to detect subtle insulting qualities as well. You’d right click the purple line and a window would say, “Sharp sarcastic tone, please mellow.” Or, “Caution, passive aggressive voice (consider revising).”
America, ya gotta love it

#510 No thanks to you

There was a story on the news the other day about a guy who has written a book on email misunderstandings. The book is called “Send.” It is a more detailed discussion of what my colleagues and I have been kibitzing about around the coffee cooler as of late. Namely, that people fail to realize how badly they communicate in writing. Putting aside for a moment the barbaric custom of only using lowercase, and the even more annoying disregard for spelling, and the even most annoying habit of failing to punctuate—except of course with wiggling emoticons—the problem is that people think they are conveying emotion when they are not. Or vice versa, they are not conveying emotion when they should. The author used an example of a woman who had conducted a training session with her employees. She then sent out a mass email asking them if there was anything the employees felt the boss left out of the discussion. One of her replies was from a worker who wrote “nothing no thanks to you.”
What the employee meant was “Nothing-comma-No-comma- thanks to you…and your great teaching.” The extra words and punctuation could have made all the difference. When I do one of these essays, I can keep words to a minimum because I know I’m going to be inflecting things in such a way that you’ll catch my drift. If I were to write each and every one of these out with every delicate snarky nuance they’d be a third longer. Conveying emotion takes more words. Sparse writing allows for more interpretation by the mind and mood of the reader. If the reader is in a bad mood, even the fairly direct “we are out of paper” may seem like a snide remark on the reader’s inability to keep office supplies up to date, or a nagging reminder, or a whining commentary on the sender’s lack of ability to act independently. Try this. Imagine sending a bunch of people an email that just says, “America, ya gotta love it.” See how many ways you can make that sound in your head. That’s how many ways they’ll take it.
America, ya gotta love it

#509 Not Obvious

So not long ago I used the word prima facie. Most people pronounce it Pryma Fayshuh. Others pronounce it Pray-muh Fey-shee. Or fey-shee-ee. It’s a Latin word that lawyers like to use. It means pretty much “on the face of it.” Or “at first view” or self-evident and obvious. Other people use it when they are trying to point out whatever it is they are talking about should be obvious. Even though using the term prima facie makes it not obvious because no one understands Latin anymore.
Prima Facie means it requires no proof or reasoning: That was a prima facie violation of the treaty. He prima facie cut me off in traffic. That sort of thing. I think prima facie sounds like a good name for a day spa that specializes in facials. Prima Facie Salon, for all your luxuriant face-gooping needs. It’s of passing interest that prima facie is actually findable in an ordinary dictionary. Many of our semi-Latin constructs have slipped out of those hallowed pages or are hard to find because actually they are two words at once. Try finding nose pick or butt scratch. Anyhow, I’m thinking if I was going to open a spa for female lawyers and lawyers wives I’d name it Prima Facie Salon. Your Obvious Choice. Especially since “salon” also means a place where people of intellectual distinction gather.
But the whole prima thing is kind of cool. Maybe we should try to get it back into ordinary usage. Using it in place of prime whenever possible. We kind of do already. The slang word “primo” harkened back to it’s Latin roots. That’s some primo weed, dude. So prima would be a short step. The restaurant serves prima beef. He is the Prima Poobah of the fraternal organization named after hunted-down-and-killed-animals-with-horns. That is a prima location for a business.
It would be fun. By the way, I heard the other day that Madonna used to be an opera singer before she hit the world of pop rock. Apparently, that was in her pre-Madonna phase. Oh yeah, prima donna. Is that an obvious joke or what?
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, May 04, 2007

#508 Name of Love

The other day when a close, um, “friend” of mine and I were hugging we chanced to make mutual observations on the appellation used by many to describe one’s primary source of affection.
What to call your lover that is.
As has been noted previously, what Americans call their significant others varies significantly, from you are my lovely paramour to—to paraphrase—yo my bitch. As we were currently in an embrace, we entertained the possibility of naming the relationship after the embrace.
The term “main squeeze” couldn’t help but come to mind.
Now, on the face of it, or prima facie as the Latin lovers say, calling someone after an active verb is probably not going to fly. If someone is jumping it’s okay to call him a “jumper” but calling him a “main jump” is bound to be confusing.
But again, the more grammatically appropriate “main squeezer” sounds a little grotesque. As if one’s lover were an orange of some sort. Ready to be rendered for a morning dose of Vitamin C-enhanced fluid.
And eliminating the “main” modifier and calling someone just a “squeeze” really brings into sharp focus what a lame name it is.
She is my squeeze. He is my squeeze. Yesterday we were squeezing together.
I mean, I can get into the whole notion of hugging. That actually sounds like a loving embrace. But squeeze?
Squeeze sounds like something you’re choking the life out of. People are in a squeeze when they have a problem. You squeeze something in a pair of pliers. People, even people wrung out from the throes of passionate love, are not toothpaste tubes.
Not to mention that the term “main squeeze” implies a series of squeezes that are not main. Subsidiary squeezes as it were.
Yeah, she’s my main squeeze, but I also have a couple of regular squeezes and an occasional temporary squeeze. Oh yeah, and then there’s my secondary squeeze. I just call her my pinch. Yo! You my pinch.
Every now and then, I’ll go to a party for a quick grab. And if I’m feeling really frisky, I might even prowl the bars looking for a one night goose.
America, ya gotta love it

#507 ‘nation

So I was at a nursery the other day. And it seemed like every tree and shrub was in bloom. Flowers, flowers everywhere and not a drop to eat. For the bees. Cause strangely, I didn’t notice any bees. Now when you get right down to it there’s nothing like being in the middle of all that pollination. Pollination rocks. It’s my favorite ‘nation in the world. Give me a stamen and a pistil any day. Whip out the stigmas, styles and anthers and let’s watch the flowers rock. Flowers are the showiest reproducers on the planet. Plants in and of themselves are pretty boring—leaves, bark, trees—barely capable of engendering a hug. But flowers. Flowers are the beauty of existence. And the fact that when you come right down to it, flowers are the exposed genitalia of the plant world only adds to their allure. Giving your loved one a bouquet of vegetile sex organs has helped many a couple on the road to mammalian species propagation. So it was fun to be in the midst of all that herbal fecundity. Okay let’s admit it, it was a floral orgy. Pollen drifted through the air in a cloud. Come to think of it, given that orgy stuff, it was a little icky.
But not a bee anywhere. I was reminded of a little science snippet I had read. Beekeepers in 27 states report that up to 90% of bees have disappeared. Uh oh. Bees role in pollination means they have a crucial responsibility for 25% of the world food supply. I’m not worried though. I read another article recently about the advances in nano-technology that are making a robot bee closer and closer to economic viability. It looks like we’re going to be lucky and not have to change any of our global warming habits and our rampant use of broadcast pesticides. Robot bees will save the day. Maybe we can make some of them into little Orecks so I won’t have to walk through clouds of icky horticultural love dust either. I grew out of all that flower power stuff in the sixties.
America, ya gotta love it

#506 Notions

Some random and unrelated thoughts. The other day I used the term crumplable caprices. Crumplable. Not a word. Made it up. Neener neener, I like it. Caprice. Is it a good idea to name a car with a word that means random chance? Especially if it might get into an accident?
So, the beautiful person responsible for my enhanced singlehood was using a little stylus thingy on her PDA. You know, one of those little stick-like things that you tap on the tiny screen to make things happen. Kind of a finger extension without having to go to a nail parlor. Folks with long fingernails once had to worry about typing. In this day of PDAs, if they were smart they’d have one of their nails whittled down to a point so they wouldn’t have to worry about where they left their stylus. I’ve seen some guys being reduced to using toothpicks on their PDAs. It figures, asking a gender that’s challenged by toilet seats to always remember to stick a little sticklike thingy back where it belongs is a no-brainer foregone predictable conclusion. Not gonna happen. But no man is ever without a spare toothpick in one of his pockets somewhere.
So anyhow. My girlfriend’s stylus. This one looked kinda ornamental and ergonomic and stuff. You know—designed. Like by a designer. So is the person who designs them called a stylus stylist? Just wondering.
Earth Day just passed on the 22nd, which means this year it fell on a Sunday. Is anybody else weirded out by the notion that Earth Day is on a Sun-day? Seems like some sort of sordid solar system incest.
Finally, I went into this store that’s specializing in organic products. Sustainable and all that stuff. They have shirts made from fabric made from bamboo. It’s not just for breadboards anymore. They make cloth out of bamboo. Seems a little stiff, but hey, at least it okay to wear here in the US. Won’t have to worry about getting attacked by a herd of hungry pandas. Or is that a flock? Perhaps a school. I got it, a pod of pandas. Hmm, sounds like some kind of stir fry.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

#505 No Stopping

So I’m reading this article. And it details research done recently by urban engineers to increase traffic safety by decreasing traffic safety signs. Seems there are fewer fatalities—and fewer injuries period—in places where people perceive they are in danger. Flying blind makes people fly slower. Worrying about what wacko’s gonna come barreling out of the next intersection makes everyone more cautious. When everyone is more cautious, traffic speeds go down, and accidents along with them. The fact is, there are always going to be one or two arrogant idiots that drive as if they own the road. And most of them seem to have grouped in LA. But the article says London is actually a safer place to drive where traffic signs have been minimized. Stripping an area in Kensington of excess lights and signage has reduced traffic-related casualties by 43 percent.
It all has to do with a biological concept called risk compensation effect; animals tend to adjust their behavior to compensate for perceived risk. Which is one reason taxi drivers with anti-lock brakes drive faster and wearers of bicycle helmets get struck down more. Okay, it’s because the bicyclists are more annoying so other people just feel like they have to hit them. Really, bike helmets are so goofy looking they just scream out “fifty points!” Sorry. I’m bitter. A bicyc-hole hit-and-runned my car the other day and cost me 500 bucks on my collision deductible. He didn’t even smudge his spandex.
So I guess this means what we’ve all known all along. Laws just make law-abiding people go the long way, criminals still jaywalk. So you might as well assume everyone’s a criminal and give our valuable streetside space back to the signs that mean something—those little stick-up ones advertising the next furniture sale. Now there’s a reason to speed through the intersection. I’m a little worried about the whole notion of caution increasing with perceived risk though. Why do people jump green lights and race through yellows then? But it does explain why teenagers get in more accidents. They think the road is actually safer than it is because they naively assume adults respect the rules.
America, ya gotta love it

#504 Nosey Ghost

Sometimes when I think the world can’t get any crazier I look at the news and get my notion slapped down like a peeing puppy in the pantry. Oftentimes hyper-proclaiming Christians rail about how secular our society has become. Which is basically 75% of our populace screaming about how their religion is under attack from the other 25%. But maybe they need to look within their own ranks as well. Something, as they say, smells. And it ain’t just a leftover Lazarus.
Seems a California perfume company has come up with a biblically inspired fragrance. It’s called “Virtue.” It’s supposedly based on scriptural research and includes notes of frankincense, myrrh and apricot. Hmm, I wonder if there’s a sport version that includes olives and fish? Kind of a post-workout biblical buffet. The company says that “Virtue” will allow the wearer, in their words, “to smell like Christ and many of the saints.” Notice they only say many. John the Baptist, who lived in the desert and ate only locusts, probably reeked to high heaven. So I’m guessing his scent will be bottled for use in the biblical pest control aisle. The CEO of the company says he named the perfume “Virtue” because “…many individuals of high spiritual attainment give off a fragrance attributed to their virtue.” So I’m guessing we won’t be seeing Jim and Tammy Baker knockoff scents. Or a Jimmy Swaggert travel hotel size.
Myrrh, by the way, was a heavy scent used to disguise the smell of rotting corpses. Burial was neither quick nor cheap in ancient Judea. And myrrh helped bridge the aroma gap between tomb emplacement and mummification. Frankincense is one of those scents you can’t be too careful with. Bride of Frankincense is even worse.
I’m not entirely sure why someone supposedly bottling the essence of Jesus is so disturbing to me. But I think it somehow fits under the idolatry injunction. No graven images and no smell worship. Behaving like Christ is a good thing. Using him as a cologne? Not so good. Hmm. Maybe Curt Cobain will write a new song in Rock and Roll heaven. Smells like Holy Spirit.
America, ya gotta love it

#503 Nother Chance

We live in a give people another chance society. You know, if at first you don’t succeed we’ll let you try try again. Maybe it’s our compassionate capacity to warn and warn but never actually discipline. Like the supposedly last drop-dead date for passing the WASL and how we have once again extended that date. I think we need to rethink the WASL. I think, as one astute observer put it, that to try to assess 12 years in one pencil and paper test is a little overreaching. But I also think that as parents we shouldn’t draw lines unless we intend to keep them drawn. Every parent knows, if you train your kids to expect a second chance, they’ll never try to do it right the first time. Laws probably ought to mean something or why bother. I guess. Sort of.
So it is with the recent cellphone law passed for adults. There has been quite the hue and cry about cellphone abuse; accidents caused on the road because oblivious cellphoners are plowing into innocent old ladies in crumplable Caprices. The voting public wants the legislators to do something about cellphone abuse. The same voting public, unfortunately, that’s abusing cellphones. So the legislature, in its infinite capacity to waffle, has passed a law even more toothless than the elderly victims. If it can be proved that a cellphone was being used during the time of the accident, and you’re holding the cellphone, you’re busted. Or if you’re pulled over for another infraction and you are holding a cellphone you’re busted. It’s a secondary infraction, like with seatbelts. You have to be pulled over for something else first, like you cut off some slowpoke old lady in the merge lane, or you backed into someone in the parking lot. Then, and only if the copper sees you with a cellphone in your hand, can you be busted for cellphone abuse. Oh yeah, one more thing. You have to be terminally stupid enough not to drop your cellphone on the seat first. “Drop the cellphone and come out with your hands up!”
America, ya gotta love it

#502 Nickel a Nick

One of the coolest things about getting older is you begin to get that feeling of having been here before. “What goes around comes around,” that old phrase your grandparents used to trot out whenever you put on fashionable bold-colored Converse hightops, now seems to mean something entirely different. A lot more real than it did when the gramps were laughing through their gums. Sometimes things change but the position they occupy in our lives doesn’t. Like in relationships¾there always has to be one of the partners who’s more anal retentive than the other. Every set of roommates has an Oscar and a Felix. Two Feli can not survive. Clean that squeaky would suck all the oxygen out of air.
So it is with something I call analogous increments. Analogous increments are what salesmen use to persuade you to buy something now. And you ought to buy it now because it’s not that expensive. It used to be: “Why this baby cost less than a pack of cigarettes a day. That’s only 720 dollars a year.” The power of analogy is used to break down your defenses and point out that you are already spending that much of your budget on something that is relatively useless in the larger scheme of things. So why not buy the new relatively useless thing you’re being offered? You convince yourself you will give up the cigarettes and buy the big TV. But you don’t—you end up with both. And when the new credit card comes around to help you float your debt and it offers you free miles on a vacation you can’t afford either, you snatch it up. The new analogous increment of the early 21st Century is the fancy coffee drink. “Why, for the price of 2 lattes a day you could be driving this brand new Hyundai.” Cool. I suppose its fitting coffee replaced cigarettes as an analogous increment of value. It replaced them as an increment of addiction as well. I heard this guy at the club the other day, “Yeah, between coffee and steroids I was getting a little testy, so I had to cut back to one macchiato a day…”
America, ya gotta love it

#501 Numbers Game

Society and we parents have lost the capacity to draw a line in permanent ink. Maybe that’s why young people seem to crave tattoos. They want something they can depend on. This is a story about drawing the WASL line.
I hate the WASL. I hated that schools started teaching to the WASL. Even so, a lot of students screwed up the math/science part of it. The big threat was that if they didn’t pass the WASL, they couldn’t get out of high school. Now that so many kids have actually failed the WASL, the threat seems a little harsh. So now we waffle on the WASL. Maybe, some say, if we change the test we’ll get more kids out into our declining workforce. There is a shortage of workers, so it’s not like we can keep them out of the workforce and dependent on their parents for the next couple of years while they take remedial math.
Three things. One: They’ll be living off their parents anyhow. Two: The potential positions in the work force all require a good knowledge of math and science. And three: the community colleges manage to actually teach remedial math and science to those who decided to waste high school with social opportunities and sports.
What they really need is a more powerful incentive to learn math. My suggestion: The other day I was at an event where we gave out lottery scratch tickets as a prize. One ticket featured three rows of numbers that, if they could be added up to 7, 11, or 21 would result in winning big dollars. It was amazing how many young people managed to add up 3 numbers on the fly. So try this, WASL lottery. Learn the WASL math with scratch tickets instruction. Do this binomial equation, get big money. Kind of puts that “your lifetime income will be better if you learn math” up close and immediate. Because they already have a powerful incentive in the other direction. Some teenagers are looking for any excuse to keep living off their parents. It’s a simple math equation they all understand. For every mooch there’s an enabling coddle.
America, ya gotta love it