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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

On not being very romantic

I admit to not being a very romantic husband. I tend to forget about anniversaries. As I’ve admitted before, I am an abysmal failure at gift giving. Beyond some occasional spastic twitching, I can’t dance to save my life. I am sometimes oblivious to how she is wearing her hair. When I do finally notice, it is far too long after the fact to score me any points. I think greeting card sentiments are inane. The cat eats any flowers that I bring into the house. My poetry blows chunks. If I were ever to attempt to sing her a love song, she would cover her ears and run screaming from the room in horrible agony.

Still somehow, my wife has managed to tolerate my presence on the other side of her bed for a very long time. On a timeline that would describe our lives, the section where we have been married to each other would be longer than the section where we have not been married to each other. I don’t like to proclaim that I am a “happily married man.” It sounds a bit too pompous, a little too simplistic, a lot too “Seventh Heaven”-ish, for me. I am not even sure that the two of us have ever really fit that sort of classic romantic stereotype of the “happily married couple”. Our life together is most certainly not a springtime shower of wine and roses. More like a daily deluge of diet cola and overdue bills, but it is a life that I could not and would not have with anyone else.

My wife is my trusted partner in all things. She is, without question, the smartest, most capable person I have ever known. I enjoy having a conversation with her more than with anyone else. She can draw the deepest, most honest laughter out of me. My pulse races when she leans against me. When she lays her head on my shoulder, my heart swells beyond what my chest can contain. When she cries, I feel a sudden flash of anger at whatever caused it followed by a sinking feeling of helplessness that I could not have prevented it. When she is sick, I hurt. When she is well again, the world is a brighter place. She can make me more furious than anyone on this planet; but, no matter the reason, I can never stay mad at her. She can shine a piercing light on my most shameful flaws and then forgive them with a sigh. She is the beautiful and gifted reason for our beautiful and gifted children. She is the rule by which I measure my successes and failures. She is my compass when I lose my way. She is the last, the greatest, and the only love of my life.

Unlike the movies, there were no dramatic lightning bolts the first time that I put my arms around her. It was after a Halloween party almost a lifetime ago. I can remember thinking, “I could get used to this”.

I still think that.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

On stream of consciousness writing

I have always admired those who can write in the “stream of consciousness” style.

My attempts at it have varied from “leaky faucet of consciousness” to “drainage ditch after a brief downpour of consciousness”. If I can ever get past the “faulty septic system holding tank of consciousness” stage, I will post the results.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

On stray words

Did you ever wake up in the morning with a phrase stuck in your head? I woke up yesterday and all day long I was bothered by the phrase, “the quality of mercy”. It kept tugging on the sleeve of my thought process at random moments throughtout the day. I couldn’t remember the rest of the quote for the life of me or where I knew it from or even, why I happened to know it. Like a mischievous little neuron that had broken away from its brain parents, it just wandered aimlessly up and down the aisles of my internal Wal-Mart.

Finally, in the evening, I sat down and looked it up. It was Shakespeare. It was from the Merchant of Venice, a play that I had to read in college. From Act IV, Scene 1 from Portia to Shylock: it reads in part.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

(Long anticipatory pause) This knowledge caused no epiphany. No burning bushes. No brilliant insight. No bolts from the blue. No enlightenment. No spiritual homecoming. No prophetic visions. Absolutely nothing. I don’t even like this play.

The wayward child was simply reunited with his anxious family.

Friday, October 28, 2005

On business letters from (Zip Code: 96708)

To tech support

I cannot believe
That my hard drive is crashing
I hate this machine

To the credit card company

I got the notice
The check is in the mail now
Do you believe me?

To the vet

The damn cat threw up
It was a big stinky mess
And right in my shoe

To the post office

I am out of stamps
Why do I have to buy some
When you are busy?

To the high school

He was sick today
It is probably our flu
That he brought from there

To Microsoft

It takes me three tries
For my system to boot up
What is wrong with you?

To the airlines

I have to travel
So I searched my carryon
To avoid strip search

To my ISP

There is no server
Do you have an outage now?
Or just too busy?

To Blogger

Hey, why are new posts
Found at the top of the blog?
How can I change this?

To my Congressman

Are you guys insane?
I can watch you on C-Span
Wrestling is less dumb

(I must give credit (blame?) to JA and her recent application for a poetic license for inspiring this post. I must also credit (blame?) the Google Search Engine for it's surprising, sometimes Delphian answers to my queries.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

On working with pessimists

I was talking to someone the other day that was describing a troubled project he was supervising at work. It seems that the consultants who had set the initial parameters had grossly underestimated the time and money needed to actually complete the project. Since the project was not properly budgeted or scheduled, it was a huge mess that he now has to fix.

We started talking about whether we preferred working with optimists or pessimists on large projects. We both agreed. We like working with pessimists. It seems a little counterintuitive since being labeled a “team player” generally implies an optimistic, upbeat attitude. Contrary to the corporate mythos, this can cause more problems than someone who is more skeptical about the good intentions of others and just a tad, paranoid. In the real world, the only way to prepare for the unexpected is to expect it. It is a lot better to be pleasantly surprised when things turn out well, than to be blindsided by unexpected problems.

“Pessimist: One who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both.” Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On jumping around like a crazy person

If one of our neighbors were to peer into the window on certain days at certain time, they would be tempted to call 911. Their poor neighbor would be in the throes of a spastic fit. In reality, I am “dancing”. Sometimes I like to put loud music on the stereo and jump around the house with abandon. You might notice that I put the word “dancing” in quotes. I did so because my actions cannot and should not be used to besmirch the fine art of dance. It is when I swing my arms and butt around while shuffling and jumping around in a semi-rhythmic motion. It resembles the actions of a delusional adult who is leading a spirited session of “Choo Choo Train” with an invisible group of pre-schoolers. It is dancing in only the broadest and poorest sense of that word.

The music accompanying these embarrassing displays is usually, what my kids call Stone Age Rock (ex. Jump In the Fire by Harry Nilsson) or Dinosaur Disco (ex. Wang Dang Doodle by The Pointer Sisters). It can be anything from Commotion by CCR to Rock Lobster by the B-52s or almost anything by the Talking Heads. Songs with a window shaking bass beat are often the culprits. Even some selections by contemporary artists like the Black Eyed Peas and Eminem had been known to bring on a spell of my unfortunate physical contortions.

There are a lot of reasons why I engage in this bizarre activity. It embarrasses my children. It allows me to lie to my doctor as to how often I engage in aerobic exercise. It makes my wife hesitate before she suggests that we go out dancing in public.

The biggest reason is to celebrate the fact that I am able to do so. I had an eighty-seven year old neighbor whose house sat against a steep hillside. Leaving his house by the front door involved walking down and then, up a long, steep flight of stairs. From his back door, which was at ground level, it was a gentle sloping stroll down the driveway. Every morning, he would walk out of his front door and down, then up the stairs several times to retrieve his newspaper and then, his mail. I once asked him why he didn’t take the easier route out of his back door instead of braving that long climb up the front stairs. He said, "I climb these stairs every day, because if I don’t; I won’t be able to. I need to prove to myself that I still can."

I jump around like a crazy person, because I am lucky enough to be able to say, “I can”.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On horror movies

This is the time of year when I leave the television off. I don’t like horror movies. In particular, I dislike slasher movies. It isn’t so much that I find them to be scary. On the contrary, I see them as a combination of bad special effects combined with stories about stupid people doing predictably stupid things. I am reminded of the evening news.

I was wondering when the producers of horror movies are going run out of scary scenarios for their epics. They have exploited just about every frighteningly, unholy story line imaginable with the possible exception of an IRS audit or anther Britney Spears reality show. What other situation can they come up where normal people remain in abnormal conditions while supernaturally cunning, stealthy, and apparently, unstoppable forces cut them to pieces one at a time? I did see a special on one of the networks that showed some promise. It was called, "The Economic Plight of The Middle Class."

As for the more classic horror movies, I came me up with a really great idea for a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds. I would set it in Asia. It would involve migratory birds and a cryptically named, H5N1 virus. Now, that’s one you wouldn’t see on the evening news.

Monday, October 24, 2005

On keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts, sometime called MouseKeys, were someone’s really good idea.

I use them all the time. I type fairly fast and find that taking my hands off the keyboard to reach for the mouse in mid-thought is an unwelcome interruption. I have memorized the vast majority of the keyboard shortcuts for most of the software that I use.

The most famous keyboard shortcut is the Microsoft three-finger salute (Ctrl+Alt+Del), which is the Windows version of a “Get Out of Jail” card. The cut/copy/paste sequence is a marvel of efficiency. The use of Ctrl+x for cut and Ctrl+c for copy is intuitive and logical. I have never quite figured out the Ctrl+v for paste. I have thought long and hard in an effort to find a word that starts with v that could be a synonym for paste. So far, I have been unsuccessful.

I am such a fan of keyboard shortcuts that I wish that life came with a set of keyboard shortcuts. It would be so great if you could just use a three or four key combination to help you move quickly and efficiently through life’s complicated operations. In just a few minutes, several possible applications came to mind.

Ctrl+x+b+d deletes bad dinner date

Ctrl+b+p silently teleports you away from a group of people with a pile of baby pictures where the words “cute” and “adorable” have been used at least fifteen times within the past fifteen seconds

Ctrl+x+n+p removes today’s newspaper from surface of your desk just before boss comes within visual range of said desk

Ctrl+m+f makes obscene hand gesture at bad driver on expressway
Ctrl+m+(shift)F adds additional unflattering speculation about his mother’s demeanor

Ctrl+u+g cleans the mysterious sticky stuff out of the bottom of cupholders in car

Ctrl+u+h removes guilty sounding stutters from a husband’s protestation of innocence

Ctrl+e+c applies severe electrical shock to any political commentator who uses the words “compassionate” and “conservative” in the same sentence
Ctrl+e+p applies severe electrical shock to any political commentator who uses the words “partisan” and “politics” in the same sentence
Ctrl+e+* applies severe electrical shock to any political commentator just because they’re annoying and they deserve it

Ctrl+v+t+p pastes new toilet paper onto inconveniently empty toilet paper roll

Ctrl+i+c+k inconspicuously feeds creamed corn with tuna casserole to dog under table

Ctrl+m+i+l sends in-laws to the opposite hemisphere of the planet

Ctrl+m+b+2 moves the decimal point two places to the left on any monthly bill
Ctrl+p+c+2 moves the decimal point two places to the right on paycheck

Ctrl+n+l blows leaves back onto neighbor’s unraked lawn

Ctrl+l+b returns overdue library book
Ctrl+Alt+l+b tells the librarian “the only reason that the book was overdue was that it was picked up by recent hurricane force winds and was just recently recovered from a bean field outside of Cleveland”. She buys the story and waives the fine.

Ctrl+m+c smacks teenage son up side of the head for drinking milk directly from the carton

Ctrl+b+h fixes “pillow head” hair

Ctrl+w+c makes cats realize that they don’t really need to be fed by 6 AM on weekends

Ctrl+v+p pastes an extra inch into the waistband and/or seat of any pair of pants
Ctrl+v+p+2 make that two more inches

Ctrl+f+? makes the sounds coming from speaker at fast food drive-thru intelligible

Ctrl+s+t slows car to speed limit just moments before police radar locks on

Ctrl+m+s cleans mud from child’s shoe just before the shoes come in contact with carpet

Ctrl+w+l instantly creates perfect excuse to explain why you were late for work

Ctrl+c+l+(3) places a limit (3) on the number of lies that your Congressman can tell you in any one ten-minute speech
Ctrl+p+l+(3) places a limit (3) on the number of lies that your President can tell you in any one ten-minute speech
Ctrl+p+l+* creates one-time limit exemption for the State of the Union address

Ctrl+w+p instantly dries soaking wet newspaper

Ctrl+j+m puts “Return To Sender” stamp on all of today’s junk mail

Ctrl+x+c cuts annoying celebrity out of role on television program
Ctrl+v+c pastes favorite cartoon character into that role

Ctrl+a+f makes car run on Sunday’s newspaper ad fliers

Ctrl+g+i reminds of the great idea that you had while driving to work this morning, but had forgotten by the time that you got to your office

Ctrl+Alt+b posts brilliant insights on blog
Ctrl+Alt+(Shift)Del deletes all the stupid stuff
Ctrl+Alt+(Shift)B changes the two sentences that are left after the above operations into bold type

Friday, October 21, 2005

On my 100th posting

According to Blogger, this is my 100th posting. When I realized that I was close to the century mark, I looked back at my first posting.

Thursday, April 28, 2005
On starting a blog

There was a well-known designer who was asked by an interviewer how he did his best work. His answer, "with an eraser", is one of my favorite quotes.

posted by HCaldwell 11:06 AM 0 comments

Then I went into my hard drive and pulled up the original draft of that initial posting. I remembered that I had taken to heart the advice from the last paragraph of the essay. I had only posted two sentences from the original three paragraphs. For the sake of posterity and just because I want to, here is the entire, uncut and unedited draft of my first posting.

On starting a blog

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was a musty smelling tome found on my father's bookshelf. It was called, A Book About A Thousand Things written by George Stimpson and published in 1946. It was full of wonderfully useless tidbits like "What becomes of the heart of a hollow tree?" and "Why are small places called 'jerkwater' towns?". I had probably read that book twenty times by the time I was twelve. It wasn't so much that the individual items were of particular interest to me. I loved that book because it dealt with so many different seemingly unrelated things. Each page spun you in a new direction. It let you make your own connections between these divergent topics. To borrow from popular culture, it was a book about nothing. So it became a book about anything and everything. This is a blog about nothing.

I have always been a fan of Mark Twain's essays. I prowl around used bookstores looking for collections of his less known essays. He had the ability that few writers and "people who write" ever seem to learn. He never took himself too seriously. Unlike today's celebrities, who feel compelled to tell us what is the best "governance for Tibet" or their solution to the problem of world hunger; he knew he was full of crap. I enjoy his honesty and his lack of misplaced ego. I hope this blog is so full of crap that I can never make the mistake of taking it or myself too seriously.

There was a well-known designer who was asked by an interviewer how he did his best work. His answer, "with an eraser", is one of favorite quotes. I will try to do my most insightful work with the backspace key.

To be posted 4/28/2005

When I get to the 200th posting, I will post the other stuff that I wrote today for my 100th posting, but decided at the last moment to cut.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On buying cheap caulk

The furnace wasn't working this morning. Luckily, it still has most of a five year warranty. The company will be out this afternoon to fix it. The morning chill started me thinking about a magazine article that I had read on super conductors. The author made a comment about the impossibility of cooling something to absolute zero (approx. minus 460F).

At an earlier time in my life, I would have been tempted to scoff and think, "Nothing is impossible". Moreover, I would feel certain that I would probably live to see that goal attained. My optimism has gradually eroded. I am now much less sure that I will be around to see all the impossibles made possible.

With winter fast approaching, it is time to walk around the house and check the caulking and windows. At this point, I don't even bother to buy caulk that is guaranteed for forty years. According to the actuarial tables, even the cheap stuff has a better than even chance of outlasting me. If they don't get the furnace fixed soon, I may be wrong about reaching absolute zero in my lifetime. Odds are that I should still buy the cheap caulk.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On a sample razor

I got a freebie sample razor in the mail. It’s not just a razor. It is the ultimate, shiny, multi-colored, multi-bladed high tech facial hair removal and renovation instrument that will “revolutionize male grooming”. It’s advertising literature implies that it has from 6 to 60 blades, is equipped with nimble rack and pinion steering, has a chin hugging sport suspension, and can shave you in under 9.2 seconds. I’m impressed.

All this technology is wasted on me. I use an old-fashioned, somewhat worn out single bladed razor. I have never even bought a can of shaving cream. I use soap. Even with this stone-age approach to male grooming, unwanted facial hair is effectively removed from my face. I don’t recall ever cutting myself while shaving. My dad even taught me how to use a straight razor. You know, one of those razors that are only used by barbers now. They have been popularized in a number of movies and stage plays as instruments of torture, murder, and mayhem. I don’t think that is why he taught me how to use it. They were way out of date even in his day, but he was a firm believer in passing on everything that his father had taught him. On occasion, I still shave with my straight razor. I probably do it for the same reason that men dress up in Civil War uniforms, shoot blanks at each, and then lay on the ground pretending to be dead. It is a tribute to an earlier time. It is likely sort of fun, as well, reminding them of the times when they used to have dirt clod wars with their neighborhood buddies (the falling down and pretending to be dead part, not the shaving.)

These new razors not only have numerous blades and curvaceous handles, but some are also advertised as being battery powered. I haven’t yet figured out what aspect of a wet razor requires voltage. The way electric shavers work is obvious. A battery powered, multi-bladed wet razor is much more of a mystery to me. It apparently doesn’t spin around (ouch) or move across your face by itself. I would guess that it doesn’t heat the water right on your face (equally ouch). I suppose a set of tiny, little blade mounted headlights might be helpful in some circumstances like shaving during a power blackout in a bathroom without windows or outdoors at night or during a total eclipse of the sun. I can’t say that I would keep one of these razors in my medicine cabinet in order to remain clean shaven during such events.

The television commercial for this particular sample razor suggests that when I am through shaving with it, a beautiful model will spontaneously appear in my bathroom. She will run her hands across my clean shaven cheek while moaning ecstatically. I tried my sample razor this morning. The one that they sent me must be broken.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

On being a renaissance man

I do have a wide variety of interests. As I have stated previously, I am an “old guy who knows how to do stuff”. I am blessed with the attention span of a three year old combined with the memory (and coincidentally, wrinkly knees) of an elephant. I read a lot. I make stuffy, pompous sounding statements like, “You did well” instead of “You did good”. These conditions can conspire to create the unlikely situation where someone will actually say to me, “My, you are quite a renaissance man.”

First of all, that is entirely untrue. I fall somewhere between being an antediluvian dilettante and an annoying know-it-all in the mode of characters like “Cliff Clavin from Cheers”.

Secondly, even if I wanted to have a personality transplant to change myself into an overachiever in order to fall into that category, I am not sure how much good it would do me. I have never seen a want ad that stated.

Wanted: Renaissance Man
An exciting opportunity exists for an individual to create and develop a worldwide rebirth of the sciences and arts. We are currently seeking to fill a fulltime position that will open scientific vistas throughout the Western World, excluding Texas and some parts of Canada. Qualified individual must have good communication skills, outstanding mental aptitude, and an unsurpassed artistic genius or any equivalent combination of education and experience. Must be a self-starter with own tools, CDL, insurance, vehicle, and workers comp. Ability to spend several years painting a chapel ceiling considered a plus.

In order to deflect this undeserved categorization, I have several smart-ass replies that I keep close at hand

"Yes, but my wife won’t let me wear my doublet, tights, and tabard in public.”

“No, actually I come from the Medieval Neo-Goth line of southern Illinois.”

“Why yes, I was born just prior to 1453. Does it show?”

And my favorite,

“Really, I always think of myself as more of an Australopithecus kinda guy.”

Monday, October 17, 2005

On cereal that is good for you

Why is it that breakfast cereal that is “good for you” tastes like cardboard? Is there some general principle of nutrition to be found here? Should I be grinding my discarded packing boxes into a tasty pate’? On this particular morning, I’m just gonna have a donut.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

On tiny little keyboards

All right, confess. Whose brilliant idea are the tiny little keyboards that have become standard on numerous personal communication devices? When I try to compose an actual e-mail message on one of them, I find them to be nearly impossible to use. I would have to have been born with fingers the size of a squirrel's which had the flexibility of an octopus tentacle to type with any reasonable amount of speed. Is there conspiracy involved here? Have the spider monkeys of the world decided to upstage us as the dominant species on the Internet? It is an evolving investigation. The first time I get an e-mail message with the header, “(hoot) (hoot) (screech) oooh oooh oooh ahhh aaah ah ”, I will have my answer. The truth is out there.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

On meandering

When I was I kid, I used to go meandering. I think it was my mom who first called it that. I would ride my bike or walk for hours at a time. I never had a destination in mind. I never really placed a time limit on the journey outside of the fear of parental wrath that limited me to the daylight hours. I would explore. I walked down streets I had never been on before. I rode my bike down mysterious unexplored alleyways, across lots, and into streambeds. I looked at everything that came into my field of vision. I didn’t just see things. I studied them. Any interesting leaf, piece of shiny foil, rock, rusty signpost, dead bird, trashcan, crooked tree branch, insect, or crack in the sidewalk might demand several minutes of intense scrutiny.

I am not sure why I enjoyed this activity so much. I am convinced, however, that these experiences were important to my young psyche. I enjoyed playing with my friends. I had a great family. I was active in school and church. But my solo journeys were as important to my growth as the meals my mother cooked. I think my extended trips sometimes made my parents a little nervous. They would ask me where I had been all day. I would always say, “jus’ lookin’ around”. They would nod absently at my stock answer and remind me to make sure I got, “home before dark.” Of course, the world was certainly a much safer place for an eleven-year-old kid then. I must have been born with a good sense of direction, since I never got lost. I also had a well-honed instinct for self-preservation that made certain that I always made it home before my parent’s curfew came into play.

I think it is in Australia where people go on “walkabouts”. I am not sure if my childhood travels were similar in nature. My sojourns certainly did not have any religious aspects or cultural requisites. I just wanted to know what was past the end of the next street. I wanted to do it by myself. I wanted it to be a part of my memories alone.

It has been a long time since I found the time to wander. Now, I do walk just about everyday, not because I want to, but because the doctor says I ought to. Life is way too busy, so I have a strict time limit on how long I can walk. I walk with a vigorous stride and follow the path of least resistance, usually a sidewalk or a bike path. I put headphones over my ears and look straight ahead as though I am chasing some goal that is always receding into the distance. Anymore, I don’t take any journey on foot or by car that doesn’t have a fairly firm destination at the end of it. Time is always so limited. There is always something of importance that needs to be done. I haven’t wandered aimlessly (on purpose) since I was a child.

Today is a truly rare and wonderful event. The kids don’t have to be taken anywhere. No games. No practices. Nothing. They are going to spend the day with friends. I have no projects on my plate that are teetering on the edge of the abyss. Nothing of importance requires my immediate attention. My wife hasn’t given me any chores that need doing. She has no plans and just wants to take it easy and catch up on some reading.

So, in honor of my long-lost childhood, I am going to meander. I’m going to start walking with no destination in mind. I’m not just going to see things. I am going to study them. I am going to give each interesting new discovery several minutes of intense scrutiny. I am going to go find out what is past the end of the next street. I am going to do it by myself. It will be part of my memories alone.

In honor of my parents, I will be home before it gets dark.

On speed bumps

Near the beginning of my daily drive, they have installed traffic control devices. The dreaded avian (brained) speed bump pandemic has started here. I honestly have no problem with speed bumps on residential streets. The speed limit there is twenty-five mile an hour. It is near a school. They serve a useful purpose and people should drive the speed limit on that street. In this case, however, these particular speed bumps have created a stealth speed limit of about ten miles an hour. I have not seen a single vehicle that can go over those monsters anywhere near the speed limit without putting the drivers nose into the steering wheel and/or generating horrendous grinding noises from the bottom of the undercarriage. It is not really a problem for those of us who drive this route often. We are forewarned of the toll these killer humps can exact, but I do pity the unsuspecting, speed limit driving, newcomers and their, soon to be less valuable, automobiles. The most amusing part (in a sick, demented sort of way) is the colorful assortment of automotive fluid stains, paint scrapes, bits of plastic trim, metal and rubber parts that are starting to decorate the surface of these monuments to road engineering gone awry. At first, I thought these obstructions were just the product of someone’s idiot nephew who had gotten a cushy job in the street department, Now, I am beginning to suspect that this might be an attempt at creating an urban artwork. If Christo can decorate Central Park, then some tormented blue collared soul can certainly express the sweep of his artistic vision by decorating suburban asphalt with decorative bits of automotive carnage. Someday I may be able to look back and say that, “It wasn’t just a daily commute, it was the birth of a masterpiece.”

Friday, October 14, 2005

On setting the clocks

We must have had a power interruption yesterday. As a result, I spent a surprising amount of time last evening resetting clocks throughout the house. As it turns out, we have a ton of clocks around here. Luckily, a good percentage of them run on batteries. But even with that portion removed from the resetting process, it took me a while to reset them all.

Because I am prone to doing strange things, I counted all the clocks. There are nineteen on the walls, shelves, and in various devices. A lot of them are gratuitous appliance clocks. (Why do microwaves need twenty-four-hour clock/date displays? Who microwaves food for days at a time?) Many of the wall and shelf clocks were gifts or magazine subscription freebies that we just “found a place for”. We have six clocks in the bedroom alone. It is possible to view a timepiece from every angle, corner, and position. I had never noticed that before. There is even one in our bathroom with my face on it (See: On taking a ceramics class posted 5/23/05). That one never has the right time on it. Contrary to popular belief, my face does not stop clocks. It just slows them down considerably.

At the conclusion of my clock setting experience, I concluded that there is no good way to set a digital clock. Manufacturers have adopted a wide variety of sophisticated methodologies. They all suck. The clock hanging in the hallway uses a “mode” button and a “set” button to allow you to move forward or backward from hours to minutes to months to days to years in two speeds with six buttons on the back of the clock. This would work well if I had six fingers on my right hand and could simultaneously press all the buttons in the correct sequence with nanosecond precision. Since I was not blessed with such superhuman dexterity, it requires an awkward double handed action that usually means I overshoot the correct settings at least twice.

Digital clock designers have tried to avoid this “overshoot” problem in several ways. Some clocks have a fast and a slow button. In fast mode, the numbers fly by in an unreadable blur. In slow mode, they crawl painfully. I need a medium mode. I can’t get my finger off the button quickly enough in fast mode, but the slow mode causes my eyes to glaze over and I sink into an unresponsive catatonic state. In both instances, I miss the correct time and have to go around again. One of our digital clocks uses a fast forward button, but a slow backward button to correct for overshoot. This would work well, except that for some inexplicable reason when you use the “slow backward” button, it also resets the am/pm. Setting this clock requires some mental gymnastics. If I overshoot the time, I have to make sure that I go twelve hours and some minutes past. Then when I use the back button to correct the minutes, I magically leap twelve hours back and wind up at the right time of day. Setting this clock has a sort of HG Wells feel to it. I think I will use this clock as a mental benchmark for myself. When I can no longer figure out how to set it, it will be time for me to turn in my “old guy who knows how to do stuff” badge.

My son’s radio alarm clock has the best time setting arrangement. It has four buttons. The buttons are forward (fast/slow) and backward (fast/slow). This works well. Unfortunately, at some point, I inadvertently hit a combination of buttons that changed it to the twenty-four-hour/military mode. Since the instructions are long gone, I can’t figure out how to change it back to the twelve-hour display. Instead, I told him that it was a subtle threat about the possibility of military school if he didn’t keep his room clean. He didn’t buy it.

My wife always sets the time on her alarm clock about twenty minutes ahead of reality. She says that it ensures that she isn’t late for work. I have always countered that the same thing can be accomplished by just setting the alarm twenty minutes earlier while setting the clock for the proper time. She gives me a “you just don’t get it” look. I, of course, just don’t get it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

On questions that occur to me just as I am falling asleep

If you die in your sleep, does your dream just end abruptly?

Why do different houses all make the same strange noises at night?

Why is it that the most comfortable sleeping position is never the one that you are in?

Why do sex dreams never end in marriage?

Why can’t I sleep while wearing socks?

Does your brain move to the right side of your skull when you sleep on your right side? If so, does it leave a big void on the left side?

Why do mattress lumps never hit you in a good spot?

When you wake up in morning, how can you be absolutely sure that you are the same person who fell asleep the night before?

If I dream in color, is the sound in stereo?

Why can’t I fall asleep while thinking a particular thought and then wake up right where I left off?

Could I be smarter in my dreams while asleep than while awake? If so, how can I tell?

How come I never remember the actual moment when I fell asleep?

Is it possible to hear yourself snoring?

What do my toes do while I'm sleeping?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On being stuck between

I was watching the news. I have become increasingly confused as to whether it is pronounced I-Rock, E-Rock, or Eh-Rock. The way things have been going there as of late; perhaps it should “A Rock”. Then CNN could create a slick graphic screen that named our current energy problems, “A Hard Place.”

Monday, October 10, 2005

On automated self serve checkout lanes

I do not use the “U-scan” lanes at the store. Even if the registers are busy and I only have a few items behind the lady with a filing cabinet full of coupons, I wait in line for a cashier.

It is not that I like waiting. I hate waiting. I have on more than one occasion impatiently walked out of a store leaving my cart behind, because they had only three out of thirty registers open with lines halfway down the aisles. No, it is not that I enjoy waiting.

I do not like machines that talk to me. They do it so poorly that it is annoying. It is like listening to endless voicemail options. I can feel my blood pressure rise and the vessels in my brain start exploding after, “Press 38 for …”. The self-serve lanes at the grocery store are not only annoying, but I find them to be somewhat condescending. Like a third grade teacher telling you “put away your books now”, I am instructed to, “place your purchase into the bag (you half-wit)”. The parentheses are mine, but the sentiment has certainly been electronically encoded into that female voice. Why can’t they invest in a little more memory and, at least, have a joke-of-the-day or a local weather report? Perhaps, with a little more processing power, a pleasant compliment about "how nice your hair looks, today” or a “did you see the game last night?” question could be programmed.

I stood in line last evening and eavesdropped on the cashier talking to the “lady with a filing cabinet full of coupons” in front of me. I realized that the strongest reason I have for not using the talking machines is that that cashier needs to feed and clothe her family. She has to raise her children (three of them, I heard her say.). She needs the job that my purchases provide. Do I want my few cents to go to her or be used to enrich the bottom line of the store’s owners? Perhaps, deep down, I can see myself standing there someday inquiring about the desirability of paper or plastic.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

On the *ologies

I met a man at a party who introduced himself as a Herpetologist. He told me some interesting, albeit, disgusting stories about feeding large snakes. I just couldn’t help myself. There is some manically childish portion of my back brain that that was silently chortling thinking of this man as someone who must study a type of STD.

There is something about the *ologies that brings my brat brain to the forefront. It is like all those knock knock, elephant, and light bulb jokes that no adult would ever admit to laughing about. That warped part of my mind gets great pleasure when it thinks of Theology as the study of the Huxtable’s oldest son. It cackles in glee when it perceives a Paleontologist as a scientist who tans poorly or Biology as the study of those who feel sexually ambivalent. Epistemology must be the study of angry people who write e-mail. Urology brings the reply, “Ain’t mine”. Ecology is, of course, the study of universities who only teach the fifth letter of the alphabet. Etiologists must study either what “ya’ll et” for dinner last night or the origins of the word that comes before “cetera”. Oncology is the study of geese that suffer from speech impediments. The study of daytime television psycho-babblers is, undoubtedly, Philology.

I really do know the actual definition of these disciplines. I do sometimes confuse Etymology, the study of words with the study of insects (Entomology). I admit to thinking that there should be an Etymentomolgy where one studies the words used to describe insects. Ichthyology used to throw me, but then I had an aquarium and spent a fortune fighting the fish disease “ick”. So it is forever etched into my memory.

I used to attend classes in a building that had housed the School of Horology. I speak, of course, of the science of measuring time and clock making. Scatology, which really should be the study of a jazz vocal form, is the study of excrement. My favorite *ology is Phrenology, a nineteenth century study of the bumps on your head.

Even the aforementioned Ichthyologist can sometimes tickle my demented mental gnome. I chuckle as I think of groups of white coated scientists studying the religious beliefs of those who take bad tasting medicines. I can’t stop. Someone help me. Call a *ologist.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

On "the wee, small hours of the morning”

Insomnia is not usually a problem for me. I fall asleep quite easily, but I am prone to waking up around three o’clock in the morning. I am not able to fall back asleep after that. I try all the usual remedies: warm milk, lying on the couch, and watching infomercials. Nothing seems to work.

I have tried to make those hours into a productive time, but I find that only a limited number of activities are possible. It is like only certain parts of my brain are actually active. I find that I cannot write a coherent sentence, but I can paint, draw, or sculpt with an uncharacteristic ease. Aerobic exercise is out of the question, but I seem to be more flexible than usual. I can do yoga stretches that I have been unable to do since college when I took a yoga class. I didn’t take that class, by the way, because I wanted to learn yoga. I needed a few extra credits to graduate and it seemed like an easy class. Actually, it was a painful and humiliating experience as I am about as flexible as Dorothy’s tin man before he is oiled. Perhaps, if the class had been offered at four in the morning, I would have gotten a better grade.

Music, at this time of night, just doesn’t sound “right”. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and J. S. Bach’s works seem most appropriate, but end up depressing me. Rock and Roll is too frenetic. R&B is depressingly lonely. I have even tried listening to Country Western songs that give me hives at the best of times. No, it is not a time for music. I have, instead, learned to appreciate the silence.

I wrap up in a blanket with a cup of hot tea while I sit in the darkness outside on the deck. There is an eerie quiet at that time of night. I can hear unseen trains that I never hear during the day. I watch and listen to the lines of cargo planes leaving the airport and making a parade of lights overhead. Even the leaves on the trees seem to be moving in a jerky, unnatural motion when the wind blows. I can watch them move, but they don’t seem to want to make any sound. You have the unsettled feeling that there is "something" there in the darkness just beyond your field of vision. I have come to appreciate this time in much the same way that I appreciate E. A. Poe. It is a little creepy at times, but you get a perspective that can be found nowhere else.

Friday, October 07, 2005

On parenthetical (bee) non sequiturs

On looking over some of my earlier posts, I have concluded that I am prone to sudden uncontrollable attacks of parenthetical non sequiturs. ("Non sequiturs make me eat lampshades.") It is true that many of my favorite writers (Woody Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Diet Cola) are masters of the non sequitur. Unlike me, they are not as inclined to use and overuse parentheses. (radar) True, both of them are successful and respected writers. I am not. In fact, most good writers avoid using parenthetical statements, at all. (MLA painted yellow toolbox.) This makes my own level of writing painfully obvious. (Diaspora filling the bathtub right now.) Still, I enjoy my little fits of absurdity. I can’t decide though if they are amusing (“Took you long enough to get here”, said the giraffe.) or just obnoxious. (Stop calling me.) To be perfectly honest, (as opposed to imperfectly dishonest/balloon!?) either choice works for me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On potato salad

I really don’t like potato salad. Many, many people have said, “oh, but you’ll like mine” when I inform them of this fact. To date, they have all been wrong. I do not like potato salad. I am not sure why I don’t like it. In fact, I like all of the ingredients found in potato salad and relish all of them separately. But put together into potato salad and well, I do not like potato salad.

There are a number of organizations and groups that provoke a similar response from me. When I meet and interact with individual members of these groups, I find them to be fine, in many cases, admirable human beings. The problem is that when they are grouped together into an organization, they collectively scare the hell out of me. What made me think of this was that I had some earnest young men show up at my door today. I declined to allow them “a few minutes of my time” to share their organization's beliefs with me. I am sure that I puzzled them when I replied, “No, thank you, I don’t like potato salad.”

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

On washing clothes

My wife and I have a fundamental disagreement as to how many subcategories one should observe in sorting laundry. She is able to recognize at least a dozen variations with whites in warm water with no bleach, whites in hot water with bleach, blacks in cold water, blacks in warm water with non-chlorine bleach, reds, greens, hand-washable wools, cotton plaid flannels, delicate cycle silks, etc., etc., etc.. It has only been in the past few years that I have begun to recognize the necessity of a light vs. dark split. Prior to that, I separated laundry using the “will fit in this load” or “won’t fit in this load” separation technique. This, as might be expected, led to some early marital friction. As a result, I am strictly prohibited by a court order from ever coming within fifty yards of any of her laundry.

We have a similar disagreement when it comes to the dishwasher. I am of the opinion that once automatic dishwashers were invented, all utensils, dishes, and pans that could not be loaded into them should have been destroyed by being thrown on a huge bonfire with joyous participants wearing only large yellow rubber gloves circled around in a frenzy of primitive orgiastic dancing. (The dancing, probably isn’t necessary, I just like the image.) In addition, any manufacturer who insisted on still making “non-dishwasher safe” items should be publicly flogged. (Primitive orgiastic dancing is optional here, as well.) She, who holds my heart in her yellow gloved hands, disagrees. As a result, we still have to hand wash china, crystal, Tupperware, and wooden cutting boards.

I am sure that some daytime television psycho-babbler has found and analyzed the root causes of these types of sex-based differences. I am sure that it stems from a deep-seated flaw instilled into us by our parents, our genes, or our society-at-large. My wife, however, has a simpler and undoubtedly, more accurate assessment of this complex phenomenon. I am a pig.

Monday, October 03, 2005

On automotive malfunctions

I had a major automotive breakdown today with loud screeching sounds and smoke pouring off the rear tire. Most probably, it was a bad wheel cylinder sticking the brake shoe in place. Very stinky.

It seems rather sad to me that after more than one hundred years of automotive history and innovation, it is hard to go for more than six months without, at least, some small mechanical failure. True, car reliability has improved from earlier times, but so has the cost. True, cars are more sophisticated and offer a number of features that were not found in earlier models, but they cost a lot more. True, there are a lot more choices than when Henry Ford said that you could have any color you wanted as long as it was black, but we pay for those extra options.

I can’t wait to see the bill for this last repair. It will probably cause me to make loud screeching sounds and have smoke pouring out of my rear end.