HCaldwell:On . . .


What is there to say? I'm not very interesting. I'm not a good writer. I don't even dress well. If you insist on knowing something about me just wander through the archives. It's all there.

Friday, September 30, 2005

On dollar coins

I had to go to the post office this morning to buy stamps. Since the line at the window was to the door, I decided to use the vending machines to make my purchase. I had a twenty and for one of the few times in my life, the machine accepted it on the first try! As a result of my transaction, I ended up with a pocketful of dollar coins as my change.

Having a large lump of dollar coins in your pocket is certainly a mixed blessing. They do look good. There is a certain gravitas to a golden coin. I am always a little hesitant to spend them. When I do use them, there is usually a momentary uncertainty on the part of the cashier. I guess that they just don’t see enough of them in any given day to make them a part of their usual routine.

Vending machines, with the exception of the post office, don’t seem to like the dollar coins. I have had very bad luck with them eating the coins and giving me nothing in return. I am a little surprised by this. I remember when the Susan B. dollar coin was issued. At the time, one of the main advocates for a dollar coin was the vending machine industry. Now that we actually have two different dollar coins in circulation, few of their machines seem to want to accept them.

In addition, the kids don’t like to use the dollar coins for lunch money. My son said, “Dad, it confuses the lunch line lady”. What about the dollar coin is confusing? It is worth a dollar. I suppose that the cash register drawer probably doesn’t have a little slot for them, but to have this cause “confusion” seems overly sensitive on the part of the lunch line lady. I guess I didn’t realize what an emotional pressure cooker a school cafeteria line must be.

As I left the post office to run the rest of my errands, I encountered the really substantive problem with having a pocketful of dollar coins. With my age and body type, “droopy pants” is just not a good look.

Monday, September 26, 2005

On pop-up ads

I am curious. Does anyone in the entire universe find them to be entertaining or enlightening? Does anyone actually change their buying habits based on the information presented in one of these ads? Does anyone hate them as much as I do?

I, of course, have installed multitudes of ad blockers into my system. They work quite well, but sometimes cause problems by not letting legitimate windows open on my system. I get irritated that I have to use them every time I have to override the blockers to go to a site.

I think the closest analog to pop-up ads in the natural world would be rats. Except for torturing them in medical research labs, they are not very useful. They get into places where we do not want them, they breed prodigiously, and they are ugly. That certainly describes pop-up ads to a tee.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

On a rainy day in September

We are now experiencing the ghost of hurricane Rita. We have had very heavy downpours here. It will ease up for a few minutes and then the tropical rains pound us for hours at a time. Luckily, there has been no significant flooding here.

Rainy days are almost legendary for bringing on feelings of depression and malaise. I think that that is particularly true of autumn rain days. There is something deeply sad about soggy, dead leaves falling limply off the trees and clogging up the gutters. I was reminded of the only lines of poetry written by Longfellow that I could ever actually identify with. It goes, "The day is dark and cold and dreary; it rains, and the wind is never weary." I never was a Longfellow fan, too wordy and obtuse for my tastes, but I had to read these lines in high school and still recall them during autumn rainstorms. If I were any kind of poet, this kind of day would surely inspire me to write poignant prose soulfully lamenting the human condition in the autumn of life. I am not a poet. Instead, I just hauled out the ladder and got soaked cleaning the leaves out of the gutters.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

On start of school illness

It never fails. Every year, a few weeks after the kids go back to school, I come down with a miserable cold/flu/virus. The symptoms are always pretty much the same. So much so, that I have named it the "phlegm disease". The name is self-explanatory.

It lasts for a couple of weeks during which I go through several boxes of tissues and a couple of bottles of cold remedy. It hasn't killed me yet, but there are always a few days when I almost wish it would. Last year, the "phlegm disease" morphed into an inner ear infection. Wow, that was bizarre. Every time I tried to stand up, the room would start spinning and I would get nauseous. It was all the bad parts of getting drunk without any of the fun parts.

I am hoping that some day, scientists will isolate the dreaded phlegmacocus virus and develop a vaccine. I would be happy to volunteer as a test subject. The way I feel right now, I could probably volunteer to be an autopsy subject.

Friday, September 23, 2005

On “some assembly required”

One of my neighbors decided to surprise her husband with a new oak ottoman for their anniversary. She chose a model from a beautiful picture on the company's website. When her order arrived, it did not resemble the pictures. It came in a much too small box that contained numerous unrecognizable pieces of wood and metal. She was horrified. How could she surprise her husband with his new ottoman when he returned home from his business trip?

This is where I come in. Somewhere along the line, I have been designated as the neighborhood’s official “old guy who knows how to do stuff”. I have been known to consult on landscaping projects, electrical repairs, car malfunctions, and balky water heaters. I am an old guy. I do know how to do stuff. My life is an ongoing series of “Red Green” episodes.

She called me up and asked if I could please help her out. She had looked over the instructions that came with the ottoman and was totally overwhelmed. I would have had to turn in my old guy badge if I had turned her down. I went over and picked up the pile of parts that was supposed to be an ottoman and brought it back to my workshop. (All “old guys who know how to do stuff” have workshops. It is like Batman’s Bat Cave without the fire pole.)

It was indeed a very large pile of pieces. I counted. There were one hundred and seventeen parts! This was supposed to be an ottoman, for heaven’s sakes. You know, a box with a cushion on top that you put your feet on! True, it did have casters and a storage drawer, but still, one hundred and seventeen parts seemed excessive. I think you could design a full-scale model of the space shuttle done in Lego blocks with fewer parts.

I looked over the instructions. Earlier in my life, I would have allowed testosterone to rule my brain and would have ignored the instructions until I was hopelessly lost. I have outgrown that particular male stereotype just as I am no longer reticent to ask directions when I am lost. Marriage has indeed ruined me. I still firmly believe that most assembly instructions are terribly written and about as useful as politicians. However, like politicians they can sometimes provide examples of what not to do. These instructions were particularly awful. I think that they may have been translated or written during a hallucinatory episode. I quote, “Insert 4 Cam Locks (b) into Left side (sic) Panel (B) and Right Side Panel (C) while making sure the + points up and ^ arrow points toward the opposing perpendicular outside edges.” (Isn't "opposing perpendicular" a contradiction in terms?) These written instructions were accompanied by a series of confusing line drawings done in a form of orthographic projection that most closely resembled the MC Escher work that once graced my college dorm room. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

But wait.

On the last page was a note that stated, “For more detailed Online Assembly Instructions go to their website at HelpForOldGuyWhoKnowHowToDoStuffWhenHeIsAssemblingHisNeighbor's

I went to the site. I was greeted by a note that said, “We are in the process on putting our assembly instructions on this website, please be patient.” I was not patient. I was disgusted. I had been led on. I had been teased. How unfair can one ottoman be?

Resigned to my fate, I began the painstaking process of laying out and assembling the one hundred and seventeen parts into an ottoman. It was a slow and often, frustrating process. Not only were the instructions confusing, but they were wrong (something that they also share with most politicians). Although the instructions said that all I would need was a Phillips screwdriver, I soon had a huge pile of tools gathered around me as I toiled and cursed. Even more outrageous than the one hundred and seventeen parts was the fact that several other parts were missing! Luckily, I am an "old guy who knows how to do stuff." One of the characteristics of this disorder is in the fact that I have multitudes of little plastic drawers filled with "leftover" part and fasteners from other projects. I think that medical science should consider using that tendency along with an unhealthy obsession with duct tape as a predictor for the onset of dementia. By the time a man has filled at least one hundred little plastic storage drawers, baby food jars, and coffee cans with arcane hardware, he is well on his way to not being able to feed or dress himself. I, of course, had suitable replacement hardware in my one hundred and tenth little plastic storage drawer.

Finally, I stood back and looked at my creation. To my annoyance, the storage drawer was crooked and didn't close properly. My "old guy who knows how to do stuff" sensibilities were offended. I looked back through the instructions. No, there was no way to adjust the drawer. The drawer glides had come preinstalled. It figured. The only parts on the entire ottoman that were preinstalled and they were wrong. I removed the drawer and discovered that some poor half-blind political prisoner in China had put the hardware in crooked. There was no easy way to adjust them. With a sigh, I went through the process of removing, re-drilling, and re-installing the drawer glides. It closed squarely. I was done, at last.

I took the ottoman over to my neighbor. She was delighted. I was sure that in my own small way, I had ensured the continued success of their marriage. I went home feeling pride in another successful "old guy who knows how to do stuff" mission. While putting away the tools, I was wondering if I might actually be able to fit that fire pole into the back corner.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On warnings without enough information

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”
Exactly how does this information help me? How much closer are they? If the information provided by this mirror is that unrealistic and unreliable, why do I even have that mirror? Wouldn’t it be safer if the mirror worked the other way and the objects were actually farther away from my car?

“The State of California has determined that an ingredient in this product has been shown to cause cancer”
Which ingredient? Is it the one that comprises 96% of the active ingredients or the .001% component? If the State of California has made this determination, what have the other states concluded? Perhaps, Montana thinks it only causes sterility, but in New Jersey it just gives you a healthy glow. Do these side effects actually change when I cross state lines?

I understand what the little walking man means on the crosswalk light. I understand the red hand means that I should not cross. What does the flashing red hand mean? Get out of the crosswalk or you will be slapped? What about the flashing man? Is it just a bad pun for us urban dwellers? Or does it mean that I should feel ambivalent about needing to cross the street at all?

Why does the light on your car say, “Check Engine”? It should say, “Spend a lot of money to retrieve an obscure code from the car’s computer that means that your gas cap is loose”. It would be a more accurate warning, but probably wouldn’t fit on the dashboard. The real question is, "why don’t they simply invent a better gas cap?"

Lastly, I swear that every time I hear this warning on a television commercial, I have to wonder. What I really want to know is if I have an erection that lasts for more than four hours without taking any pills, do I still need to seek medical attention or can I just feel very proud of myself?

While I’m on the subject, the “Terrorist Alert” was yellow today . . .

Monday, September 19, 2005

On getting paint on myself

It never fails. I cannot pick up a paintbrush without getting paint all over the back of my arms. I cannot come within fifty yards of a paint roller without getting a drip of paint in my hair. Stray paint droplets are drawn to me like iron filings to a magnet.

It is not that I am not careful. I try to put the maximum amount of paint on the wall while getting the minimum on myself. It just seems to work out the opposite way for me. Part of the problem is that I tend to go into a “zone” once I start working on a project. I start humming mindlessly and tunelessly. I get lost in the moment. Ergo, I have to spend many subsequent moments trying to wash all the paint off of my body. It never fails, no matter how long or thoroughly I may clean myself up; there is always some splotch of paint that doesn’t show up until I am getting dressed the next morning.

I have known a lot of people who could do messy jobs and always seemed to end up looking fresh and spotless. Not me. When I work in the garden, I am covered from head to toe in mud. When I work on the car, I am spotted in grease, oil, and engine grime. When I paint, I seem to take on the color that I am trying to apply to the walls. I just really get into whatever I am doing.

I am so glad that I didn’t go into medicine.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

On millions and millions of words

I did a search today for an out of print article on the differences in how the sexes perceive colors. I must have phrased it poorly and got about five thousand hits; none of them were what I wanted. The majority of them were porn sites. I wonder if you could phrase a search that actually hit every site on the Web? It would be the Holy Grail of search phrases. There is the riddle that goes, “What is the best way to suspend thousands of tons of water many thousands of feet in the air?” The answer is “make a cloud”. The Internet has become an almost infinite mass of words and pictures magnetically suspended in an electron cloud. Going to be a hell of a rainstorm when it cuts loose.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

On cell phone features

My new cell phone has a built-in camera that can take stills or video. I guess I can also play music files on it and, of course, I can do text messaging. Did I really need a telephone that can take pictures, video, send text, or play music? No, I would just like a phone whose buttons are actually usable for those of us with adult sized fingers. I would much rather have a feature on the phone that would call me on the landline and tell me where it was located when I misplaced it.

I wonder whom the first person was who called their cell phone provider and said, “Gee, I really want my telephone to be able to take fuzzy, poor quality digital images. Can you guys do that?” I am curious as to whether any camera owners had ever expressed the desire to carry on lengthy full-duplex conversations on their Polaroid? Why can’t my new refrigerator take pictures, as well? For that matter, why can’t my new cell phone chill down a six-pack?

I won’t be taking any pictures with my cell phone. Nor will I be making movies. Nor will I use it for playing music. Actually, I think text messaging is an obscene waste of time. I will talk on my cell phone. I will certainly misplace it several times a week. I will startle myself into small heart attacks when I use the vibrate feature. I will drop it and cause it to split into three pieces as the battery falls out. I will pull a shoulder muscle grabbing for it when it starts playing the “Brandenburg Concerto” in a quiet meeting room. During the life of my cell phone, I will say “What? WHAT? I CANT UNDERSTAND YOU! Call ME Back!!!” at least a million times.

“Can you hear me now?”


Friday, September 16, 2005

On being addicted to coffee

When I was thirteen, I started drinking coffee. Everyone in my family drank coffee. It was a staple of our diet. I still drink coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. It is the first thing that I do in the morning. I am one of those people who can drink half a pot of coffee just before bedtime and still fall asleep instantly. I, probably, have a blood caffeine level that would cause my transfused blood to send the tranfusee into a hyperactive fit.

Needless to say, I am hopelessly addicted to my drug of choice. I can imagine that if some natural or man-made disaster struck and wiped out the coffee supply; I would be naked, curled up in some corner clutching my coffee mug with a wide eyed stare while crooning “bad Hobbit, must have my Precious”. It would be really pathetic.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

On losing my keys

I lost my car keys today. After spending about an hour looking for them, I finally found them lying on top of the washing machine. What possessed me to leave them on the washing machine is lost in one of the craterous cavities of my mind. I, of course, found them in the last place I would think to look. That statement has to be one of the most monumentally obvious observations of all times. It reminds me of all the unhelpful questions that people ask you when you lose something.

“Where did you leave them?”
“When did you last have it?”
“Where was the last place that you saw it?”
“Where haven’t you looked?”

Perhaps, I’m just dense but it seems to me that if I had even an inkling of an answer to any of these queries then my keys would not be lost. Since I have been known to snarl that sentiment to any potential helpers, I am usually left to search on my own.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On going to the dentist

I think there is something ironic about the fact that the only time I have ever had a toothache is when I have returned home from the dentist. Every time I go there, even if only for a cleaning and check-up, I invariably come home with a throbbing toothache and sore jaw. It almost seems counter productive. If I weren’t such a coward about the inevitable effects of dental neglect, I would be tempted to see how long I could go without a visit and the resultant discomfort.

I don’t really have any problems with my actual dentist visit. Even during my cavity prone years when I had to have fillings done, I usually skipped the numbing shot during the drilling. Sure the drilling hurt like hell, but it only lasted for a few minutes. Whereas, if I had the needle, I knew that I would be in for at least three days of post-filling agony with my whole jaw throbbing. It was like my body punished me for avoiding the initial pain by reminding me for days afterward that I had tried to escape my karma for getting the cavity in the first place. I suffered from episodes of “Dental Karmic Justice”.

What I really need is to come home from the dentist with a doggy bag. I could come home with my own little tank of nitrous oxide and a take-home-a-sack assortment of pain medications. I am sure that there are at least a dozen laws against this DIY drug induced coma kit, but it seems unfair that the times when I don’t really need to be medicated are the only times when it is available to me. There must a life lesson in there somewhere.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On the end of summer

The kids are back in school. The days are now only moderately scorching and I am coming to the end of another summer. I do miss the days when summers seemed to last forever. Now, it is more like the images lost to us when we blink our eyes.

Supposedly, our brain fills in the blank spot whenever we blink so that we aren’t viewing the world with black flickers in front of us all of the time. That must be what is happening to my summers now. They go by so fast that my brain just fills in the blank spot with a bit of my last Spring image mixed with a current Fall view. It has become a strangely morphed season for me.

I wish Winter worked that way. I could close my eyes in the Fall and open them in the Spring. My brain would just make up an image to replace the cold, snow, and general depression of Winter. The process could be put into pill form and sold for “Seasonal Replacement Therapy”. Of course, then it would just make a fortune for the drug companies, be too expensive for me, have a bizarre, non-descriptive name on commercials that I don’t understand, and probably have some disgusting side effect like “anal leakage”.

Maybe, I'll just blink more often.