Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mind Reading?

Some time ago I discovered the joys of RSS feeds. For those of you who have been in a coma since 2000, an "RSS feed" is when you subscribe to a "blog" and new "posts" to that "blog" are automatically delivered to you via a "reader."


(Actually, if you have been in a coma since 2000, we have a lot of catching up to do. A lot. First, there was this presidential election ...)

Anyway, since my objective in life is to be All Google, All the Time (I can't wait for "Google Mortgage" - I mean really, I can't), I use the Google Reader to gather all my blog posts.

Something about being able to subscribe to any blog I want is addictive. I started with good, safe stuff like Time, CNN and the New York Times. But I'd read or hear or see something by somebody and, naturally, I'd Google them to see if they had a blog.

And the answer an overwhelming amount of time was Yes. And subscribing is so easy - just one fateful click. So now I subscribe to about 50 blogs, spanning nations, writing styles and political persuasions. "Daily Kos"? Come on in. George F. Will? Right this way. Wackjobs from the extremes of the Left and Right? Gotcha covered. "Failed TV Pilots of the Eighties"? Click.

The problem is, managing all these posts is worse than having a pet grizzly bear. Except the bear is easier to take care of.

If you don't show up on a regular basis to read and delete the constant spewing, it just mounts up. After a while - about 12 hours, actually - you lose complete control of the situation. After a thousand of the little bastards crowd onto your list, even Google throws up its virtual hands and stops counting.

Something about "You have 1,000+ Unread Posts" is a little off-putting. There's a part of me that wants to scrap everything and start over. But there's another part of me that reminds me that I subscribed to all those sons of bitches, and I'm duty-bound to read them all.

So my Delete Finger - yes, that one - poises precariously above its eponymous computer key, and after the traditional battle of wills between the angels on my shoulders (remember, that one was once an angel, too), one of the angels wins - which one depends on your point of view - and the Moving Finger deletes.

Maybe it's not what Omar (a terrorist name, BTW) Khayyam had in mind, but if he were writing today, here's what he'd say:

The moving finger types, and having typt,
Endlessly rewrites; nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
But your Delete key washes the whole damn thing out.

Actually, for all we know, that is what he wrote, but his translator - a British guy named Fitzgerald, who, since he lived in the late 1800s and was, well, British, wouldn't know a computer if it bit him on the ass - got it wrong. And who's got the time to learn whatever-the-hell terrorist language Mr. Khayyam used?

So the daily - or should I say, hourly - battle for my mind and heart continues. To stay on top of it all, I would have to give up my day job. If I had one. (Wherefore art thou, Google Mortgage?)

My only consolation is that maybe, somewhere, I'm clogging up someone else's reader with this posting. But judging from the number of people subscribing to my blog - Hi, Mom, and a big shout-out to the other person - it's small consolation indeed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stalking Mr. Stein

If you were to ask 100 humor essayists about their influences, 78.5 of them would include Time magazine/L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein.

For those who are unfamiliar with statistics, that breaks down to

  • 78 Stein fans
  • 21 not Stein fans
  • 1 schizophrenic

Anyway, without copping to anything that might later bite me on the ass - like, oh, starting a war - I will admit that I follow Mr. Stein's work somewhat regularly. (It's not my fault they keep delivering Time week after week. Well, actually it is, but I get it primarily for the serious stuff; Joel just happens to be in there.)

Anyway, I have observed that even a guy Time and the L.A. Times think is funny doesn't exactly bat 1,000. In fact, some of his columns are downright unfunny.

Evidently Time is aware of this, too, because they sometimes dispatch our boy Joel to beer tastings in Denver - the big-time equivalent of covering the River City Fun Run.

Nonetheless, I will have to admit that Mr. Stein still has a leg up on the likes of me. In fact, the following statistical breakdown illustrates our relative positions in the humor universe:


(The circles are not to scale, by the way; if mine were in correct proportion you'd need an electron microscope to see it.)

One telling difference between an experienced national talent like Mr. Stein and a struggling wannabe like - well, you know - is that he'd have a snappy ending to this essay. Which I do not.

But then again, nobody's sending me to any beer tastings.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thinking Energy

With all the hoopla surrounding the energy crisis, with all of us trying to be Al Gore - the thinner, beardless version, not the bloated, sequin-suited Las Vegas version - there is one area that we've overlooked ... an area that promises to reduce global warming, our dependence on fossil fuels and our penchant for watching things like "Are You Smarter than America's Top Model?"


It's time we targeted thought energy.

It used to be that calling someone "bright" was a compliment. But, as anyone who stoically reads Mother Earth News by the faint light of a CFL bulb knows, bright = bad.

On the other hand, it used to be that calling someone a "dim bulb" was not a compliment. But, as anyone who has a personal wind farm knows, dim = good.

(Speaking of wind farms, remember when "breaking wind" was a bad thing? Now that we have the technology to harness it, it has become instantly PC - if a little inconvenient, especially in elevators.)

It used to be that taking a dim view of something or someone was indicative of disapproval. But now we know that keeping all your views dim saves precious energy.

The phrase "on second thought" used to precede well-reasoned reconsideration, but nowadays it's as bad as flushing the toilet more than once a week.

What about all those bright people who just can't help themselves? We could introduce "thinking offset credits" so energy-profligate brainiacs can buy their way out of the green doghouse. (The credits from Silicon Valley alone could run a major city for a millennium.)

In fact, anything we can do to reduce thinking in general is good for the environment. (Which makes George W. Bush the most energy-saving president ever. Who knew?)

On second thought, maybe more of us should watch things like "Are You Smarter than America's Top Model?" I can't think of a better way to eliminate thinking altogether.

Author's Postscript: The energy footprint of this article is zero. Absolutely no thought went into it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Does Not Compute

The other day I was in the dentist's office passing time with the receptionist (who is also Mrs. Dr.) while waiting for my quarterly encounter with the King of Pain ... which is like having tea with Marie Antoinette while awaiting - well, you get the idea.

Anyway, Mrs. Dr. - let's call her "Susan" - was telling me that she is completely computer-free and always has been. She keeps all of Dr. Jekyll's appointments in a thing called a "book" using a thing called a "pencil" - which she says is better than a "pen" because (I'm translating here) the delete function works better.

"With my Day-Timer, I never have to worry about a computer losing my appointments," Susan declared proudly.


At the time, paralyzed as I was by a well-placed sense of impending doom, a snappy comeback eluded me. But later - isn't that always the way? - I got to thinking about what she said. "Yes, but have you ever lost your Day-Timer?" I would have said. (I would have sneered, but the Dr. might have heard it and attacked my plaque all the more vigorously.)

I would have continued, "Furthermore" - I never use "furthermore" when I'm talking, unless it's an imaginary conversation, of which I seem to have a lot these days - "I have two backups for my appointment software - my Treo and another hard drive - so I'm totally covered." (I would have said this with great smugness, but I think the good Dr. has a pneumatic chainsaw which he reserves for especially difficult, er, extractions.)

To test my hypothesis, I dug out my old Day-Timer. (I don't know for sure how old it is, but one of the entries is, "Watch 'Dance Fever' tonight - that Denny Terio is cool city.") I abandoned Outlook (that would be my computer calendar, Susan) and kept my appointments in the Day-Timer.

Since the Day-Timer does not have an automatic backup function (that I know of), at the end of the day I copied all the entries onto a yellow pad, representing my hard-drive backup. And then I made a third copy into one of those little spiral notebooks, which is approximately the same size as my Treo (not to mention that it handles phone calls about as well).

That little exercise took about an hour, which really cut into my drinking. (As MADD would say, "Don't drink and back up your Day-Timer appointments." They'd say that, if only they could find a bumper sticker big enough.)

Then, to approximate a computer crash, I set my Day-Timer on fire. And then I put the yellow pad in the trash compactor. (Actually, the most fun of this entire project was making a list of ways to destroy the appointments. Cool city, indeed.)

With my original and first-backup appointment books well and truly trashed, I turned to the spiral notebook. It turns out that the third backup didn't cut into my drinking quite enough. Most of the entries were in an illegible scrawl; the readable ones were cryptic at best: "Lunch with youknowwho" and "Pick up the whatsits" were especially disturbing.

The next time I see Susan - too soon, alas - I can triumphantly announce the results of my little experiment and declare the winner of the paper-vs.-computer competition.

I'll have to call Susan to find out when that is, though. Last night my laptop crashed, my backup drive got corrupted and I dropped my Treo in the toilet.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Microsoft to the Rescue

Okay, I admit it. I subscribe to Kim Komando's Cool Site of the Day. But I read it just for the articles, never for those fetching photos of Kimmie in Hawaii. Honest. Besides, she's married. To Barry. Who is a total tool. Kimmie deserves better.

Dear Kimmie

But I digress. Today's Cool Site was, Microsoft's latest attempt to control my life. Once they figured out people were blogging without their permission or even involvement, and they couldn't buy the reigning blog site, Blogger - which, to make things worse, was bought by their nemesis, Google, the Don't Be Evil Empire - they published this "helper" software, a product of their busy Tits on a Bull Division.

With Windows Live, you can write and preview blog posts offline! (Shhhhhhhhhhh ... you can do this without their software, but keep it to yourself, or risk having Windows Vista crash your computer. Oh, right, it does that anyway - for some other undocumented sin, no doubt.)

Here's the best part: By using Windows Live, you can more easily share with Microsoft your Blogger login information, which enables them more easily to bring their nemesis, the Don't Be Evil Empire, to its knees.

Just for fun - and because I'm a total geek - I am writing this entry using Windows Live, which is like breaking into Pravda and using their presses to print anti-Putin rants.

Viva la Revolucion!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sonicare Barrier

In the never-ending battle against plaque and gingivitis, my dentist told me to get a Sonicare toothbrush, which apparently uses the same principle to clean your teeth as those gizmos that use sound waves to clean your jewelry. Although I don't have any gold in my mouth, having opted for the Russian-roulette quality of Mercury, it's good to know that if I ever do, my Sonicare toothbrush will make it as shiny as Fitty Cent's grill.


Anyway, I try this toothbrush. While my mouth has that clean, tingly feeling, the unit is a pain in the ass to use. For one thing, toothpaste goes flying everywhere. The only better way to ensure that every surface of my bathroom and person is covered with Colgate would be to apply a couple of tubes to my dog and then tickle her.

And then there's the timer. The ever-helpful Sonicare people have built into the unit a handy two-minute timer to make absolutely certain that every surface of my bathroom and person gets a good thick coat.

Because the timer also represents some ideal of brushing effectiveness, once I turn the damn thing on, duty forbids me to turn it off myself. If I do, the Tooth Fairy might come over and bitch-slap me. So I let it rip, but when it turns itself off I'm so surprised I usually drop it -- which is good, in a way, just in case I missed a spot on my bathroom or person.

But I finally figured out how to solve all my problems with the Sonicare: don't turn it on. The added bonus is that I get to feel like Al Gore, knowing that the unit's lack of power consumption may not save a tree, but it's good for a small weed, at least.

There is one small drawback, however, but I've solved that one, too: right before I brush, I wash down a handful of amphetamines with several cups of coffee and I'm good to go.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Emergency Measures

Note: From time to time I post stuff I didn't have anything to do with, but that I find funny. (If you know the source, let me know so I can give proper credit.)

The U.S. government has a website that's another attempt at scare-mongering in the style of the old "duck and cover" advice after WWII. The fun thing is that these pictures are so ambiguous they could mean anything! Here are a few interpretations:

man-on-fire If you have set yourself on fire, do not run.
terrorism If you spot terrorism, blow your anti-terrorism whistle. If you are Vin Diesel, yell really loud.
arrow If you spot a terrorist arrow, pin it against the wall with your shoulder.
sprayed If you are sprayed with an unknown substance, stand and think about it instead of seeing a doctor.
flashlight Use your flashlight to lift the walls right off of you!
wash-hands The proper way to eliminate smallpox is to wash with soap, water and at least one(1) armless hand.
michael-jackson Michael Jackson is a terrorist. If you spot this smooth criminal with dead, dead eyes, run the fuck away.
fish Hurricanes, animal corpses and the biohazard symbol have a lot in common. Think about it.
pinkeye Be on the lookout for terrorists with pinkeye and leprosy. Also, they tend to rub their hands together manically.
karate If a door is closed, karate chop it open.
blowjob If your building collapses, give yourself a blow job while waiting to be rescued.
radiation Try to absorb as much of the radiation as possible with your groin region. After 5 minutes and 12 seconds, however, you may become sterile.
too-big After exposure to radiation it is important to consider that you may have mutated to gigantic dimensions: watch your head.
deformed-hand If you've become a radiation mutant with a deformed hand, remember to close the window. No one wants to see that shit.
radio If you hear the Backstreet Boys, Michael Bolton or Yanni on the radio, cower in the corner or run like hell.
respiratory If your lungs and stomach start talking, stand with your arms akimbo until they stop.
rubble If you are trapped under falling debris, conserve oxygen by not farting.
contact-lens If you lose a contact lens during a chemical attack, do not stop to look for it.
powerline Do not drive a station wagon if a power pole is protruding from the hood.
door-radiation A one-inch thick piece of plywood should be sufficient protection against radiation.
apple-can Always remember to carry food with you during a terrorist attack. At least you'll be able to enjoy a nice coke and apple before you die.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Who Needs Writers?

The discovery came about quite by accident - kind of like the guy who accidentally put a few kernels of dried corn in the microwave and - voila! - popcorn.

I was using voice-recognition software to transcribe an interview, stepped away from the computer for a few minutes and returned to find I'd left the microphone on, free to record the TV show I wasn't watching while I worked.

If you must know, the TV show was a "Mystery Woman" movie on the Hallmark Channel, which goes to show you that "57 Channels and Nothin' On" is more than just a Springsteen song.


If you must know, the "Mystery Woman" series is a Kelli Martin vehicle, the heretofore lack of which, as far as I can tell, was a gaping void apparent only to Ms. Martin, her people and the leisure suits at the Hallmark Channel. (Memo to the leisure suits at the Hallmark Channel: the next time Ms. Martin needs a vehicle, get her a Prius. It's way cheaper, and you can easily transport the entire viewership of the "Mystery Woman" series.)

But I digress. After my interlude, I came back to the computer to find that the voice-recognition software had faithfully recorded what it heard on television:

Her have her to have her have her and her have her have her have her and her have her have her have her have to have her have her have her have her have her have her her have her her her have her her her have her in her have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her her her her her her and her her her her have her her her her her have her head and have her have her hair have her have her have her have her have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her and her have her have her have her have her have her when her have her where have I have her have her have her have her have her in her have her have her her her have her have her have her her her have her have her her her her have her and her have her have her her have her have her have her and her have her have her her have her here have her have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her why have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her have let her have her her have her have her where her have now have her have her have her her have her have her her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her have her have her her have her have her have her have her have her to have her to have her have her have her have her have her have her and her have her have her have her have her have her have ...

Okay, so it needs a little work. Maybe a slightly larger vocabulary. Maybe a bit more character development. But it's a start. And already worthy of, say, Nora Roberts.

I'm thinking about inviting Ms. Martin, her people in tow, over to train the voice-recognition software to record her lines more faithfully.

On second thought, what "Mystery Woman" screenplay could possibly match the raw power of "Have her have her to have her"?

Say what you will, I'm going to cash in big-time when the writers go on strike again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One Monkey Short of a Great Book

Let's face it: staying organized sucks. Like any Type-A wannabe, I've been trying to stay on top of the really important stuff in my life, well, all my life ... and I've failed at it so miserably that I've been officially reclassified "Type Z."

But the other day I had an epiphany that promises to change the lives forever of anyone who is anywhere on the list from Type B on down.

I got to thinking - while avoiding doing things I should have been doing, of course - about the random nature of life, and why shouldn't our approach to organization be random as well?

(You might not want to mention this to computer programmers or librarians, unless their insurance plans include mental health care.)

Examples of successful random approaches abound:

  • Automatic pool cleaners, which creep randomly around the surface and take mere hours to do their thing (and a lot less time if you don't have a pool)
  • Roomba vacuum cleaners, which can clear a room faster than Ann Coulter

(As intimidating as it is, my to-do list certainly isn't as big as the average room or backyard pool - or Ann Coulter, for that matter.)


But the mother of all random approaches is the Infinite Monkey Theorem, which says that given an infinite amount of time, an infinite number of monkeys can write all the Great Books. Inspired by this insanely ambitious example of randomly getting it done, I am calling my epiphany the Monkey Time Management System. (I even came up with a slogan: "Time is Monkey.")

The underlying principle of my system is this: You'll get everything done that you have to get done - and everything else - if you have enough time.

My system has only one rule: Do something.

The following table shows examples of acceptable and unacceptable definitions of "something":

Acceptable Unacceptable
Watching "Happy Days" reruns Being dead
Reorganizing sock drawer Being in a coma
Forwarding lame email jokes Being in an iron lung
Staring into space  
Responding to Mr. Phwutu's email pleas for money with your own pleas for money  
Thinking about the Infinite Monkey Theorem, pool cleaners, Roombas and Ann Coulter  
Discussing "Lost" TV-show Easter eggs with nerdy friend  
Stalking Ann Coulter  
Violating restraining order  

As you can see, as long as you're alive and breathing on your own, it's nearly impossible to come up with an unacceptable activity in the Monkey System.

Multitasking is encouraged. You might, for example, forward lame email jokes while watching "Happy Days" reruns ... or discuss "Lost" Easter eggs with your nerdy friend while stalking Ann Coulter and violating the restraining order. (We call that a "Monkey Trifecta.")

The genius of my system is that it completely avoids pesky list-making, planning, prioritizing - and stressing about it. Just do what you want, and when you absolutely run out of things you want to do, do something you should do.

If you have the time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Chemical Romance

Like about 99.9% of America's adult population, I take drugs. These days they are prescribed by a licensed practitioner, unlike a few years ago when my practitioner was a guy named Kenny who lived in the woods with a long beard and a large, er, medicine cabinet.


A big shout-out to Kenny, by the way, who is probably in charge of something at Pfizer. Kenny, if you're out there, remember me? I'm the guy who sat in the corner for hours on end, organizing my pocket lint.

But I digress. A few days ago I had a scary drug experience, next to which the nastiest unprescribed adventure pales: Aishwarya, my friendly neighborhood pharmacist (I believe her surname is "Costco") gave me the wrong prescription.

And I didn't know it for three days.

Sure, my pee was a color I haven't seen since the light shows at the Fillmore. And I swear that sparks were flying out of my ass, though no one else seems to have noticed. But I thought those were just side effects documented in those pamphlets that nobody reads ... and in the TV ads, right before the discredited artificial-heart guy tells me to ask my doctor if it's right for me: "Side effects are generally mild and may include psychedelic pee and sparks flying out of your ass."

Anyway, the whole experience took me back to those halcyon "We don't need no steenking prescriptions" days. We also didn't need no steenking HMOs ... and when was the last time you and your doctor sat around the shanty with his stash of Benadryl and got a good buzz on?

Paging Dr. Kenny!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Title Bout

A basic rule of essay writing is to come up with the title first and then write the piece. (At least I think that was a basic rule in the composition course I took in college, but frankly, given my youth and pretty much constant state of, er, medication, the whole course could have been about heavy earth-moving equipment, for all I know.)

Meanwhile, there's a basic rule of modern life: we're all way too busy. (None of us needs a college course to figure out that one. Just try taking a nap and see what happens.)

Combining these two basic rules, I can save both you and me precious time by writing just titles, with short synopses of what the articles would be about if I actually bothered to write them. (Think how much time we'd save if all we did was look at the pictures in Penthouse, too. Okay, bad example.)

Author's Note to the Hapless Reader: This essay is never really finished; I'll think of another title from time to time - usually at 3 AM - and stick it in. If you subscribe to this blog, you probably won't be notified of changes, so to preserve world peace, or at least along the 38th parallel, bookmark the thing - here's the direct link - and return often. Better yet, if you are completely insane, make it your home page so every morning you can scan it for changes.

Author's Note to the Aspiring Writer: This essay is an example of what we professionals call "a steaming pile of excrement" - I know, jargon can be tough to follow sometimes - or, as they call it in Hollywood, "comedy gold." This is very advanced stuff; do not attempt without the guidance of a qualified specialist - someone we professionals call a "hack."

Here goes ...

CONFINED TO QUARTERS. We all know that the penny is too expensive to produce and is in danger of being eliminated. It turns out the same fate awaits the nickel and dime, too ...

WRITERS BLOCK. In yet another last-ditch effort to survive, the city of Flint, Michigan - inspired by storied artist colonies like Laguna Beach, California - is trying to attract authors by constructing a special apartment complex ...

BLIND FAITH. Of all the colorful street people I've met along the way -  One Nut Johnny, No Pants Eddie, Screw Loose Bonnie - the one that sticks in my mind is a sightless but religious woman who goes by the sobriquet ...

ONE-ARMED BANDIT. Another of my favorite street people was a small-time thief who lost a limb as a child ...

KITCHEN SINK. When we bought our dream house, little did we know that the soil under the cooking appliances wouldn't support their weight ...

DUCK AND COVER. A grandmother in Tennessee has combined her loves of quilting and all things anatine ...

TRASH TALK. A radio station in a small Texas community is turning detritus into dollars with a weekly feature about the local sanitation company ...

CHANGING THE CHANNEL. Leave it to the British, those ambitious chaps, to try to alter the course of the famous body of water that separates them from France ...

PETTY THEFT. When the NASCAR champion arrived home one night, he was shocked to find ...

A DATE WITH DESTINY. A night on the town with Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle is anything but dull ...

I just hope Readers Digest doesn't get wind of this or we'll all be out of business.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Subversive Musicals

Recently I saw the Disney movie Enchanted. Loved it through the big Central Park production number; after that, eh.

The point is, Enchanted makes my short list of Subversive Musicals - where all is normal if you don't look too closely, but if you do, the world comes undone.

Others on my list:

  • Hairspray
  • South Park

(I told you it was a short list.)

Then again, you might say that every musical ever made is subversive, if your definition of "subversive" is "depicting a world in which people spontaneously and unexpectedly break into song, and those around them think nothing of it."

Consider for a moment what your reaction would be if, say, your spouse were to burst into the room and belt out a couple of verses of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." I don't know about you, but it would scare the crap out of me.

Wait, if we're talking about my spouse, it would count as relatively normal behavior. If it were my dog, on the other hand, I would be scared crapless. For one thing, she can't carry a tune. And she forgets the words. On Karaoke Night she's a complete disaster.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Getting a Grip

I don't know what's been wrong with me, but for the past few days I've been gripped by a compulsion to create stuff. Up at 4 AM. Up until 3 AM.

Thankfully, I've been able to channel this creative burst into mostly harmless and inconsequential activities, like endlessly changing the pixel width of web tables. God forbid I should actually have something to show for it.

Alas, I ran completely out of useless things to do before I was released from the aforesaid grip, so the only recourse - onerous as it was - was to do something marginally productive.

So I turned to this blog. (Since this does me absolutely no good economically, it fits the definition of "marginally productive," so my conscience is marginally clear.)

Naturally, I had to go for a complete redesign of the page first. After I ran out of tables to adjust and page elements to add, modify and delete (repeating as necessary), there was nothing left to do but actually post stuff.


I wonder if this is how the great artists felt. Take Vincent Van Gogh, for example. After cleaning all his brushes for the millionth time, he decided to lop off his own ear rather than actually getting down to painting. Now that's dedication. (I, on the other hand, used a nice, safe trimmer to shave my eyebrows - hardly the stuff of legend, much less my Wikipedia bio.)

I hope I'm released from the grip soon. I would hate to run out of marginally productive things and have to turn to - gasp! - things that actually matter ... things like doing my taxes, drumming up paid gigs and fixing the plumbing leak that has given us a wading pool in the living room

That's a fate worse than - well, just ask Meneer Van Gogh.