Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Phone.... Support. Yeah, That's the Ticket!

I often see ads on blogs that intrigue me. Don't know why. I guess it's because the bloggers I read tend to write about unusual things and so they get ads for unusual things. I really hate having ads forced on me on TV, radio, web sites, etc., but the passive advertising on most blog sites where I can choose to go look or not actually attracts me from time to time. Given that they only have a few words to catch my eye, they have to be pretty clever to say enough to make me actually want to go see what they're talking about.

Anyway, I saw an ad recently for an online support company. So I wonder, "Is this like AA-style support? Suicide hotline? Some sort of foundation undergarment company (which I believe is a niche market that has overlooked... Just look at the name of the company)?"

Turns out it's software support. Since that didn't interest me very much, I didn't get into the details, but I did notice that they implied that if you called them, this is who you'd be talking with:

What's wrong with this picture? Who do you think they're trying to appeal to with this ad? What kinds of calls are they expecting to get? You and I both know that if we call them, we're not going to be talking to a 20-something, smiling, blonde woman. We're going to be talking to a 40-year old guy in Bangalore.

Still, you never know. Let's see, that number was 1-900....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thanks For Saving Me From Myself

Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this

--Warren Zevon

Part 1: Thank God for the Lawyers

You read that right. If not for our litigious, nothing-is-my-fault society and the lawyers that feed off it, we wouldn't have those helpful little labels on our hair dryers that inform us that it's a bad idea to use them in the shower. We wouldn't have entire sections of lawnmower manuals to tell us that maybe we shouldn't put our hands or feet under them while they're running, or that we shouldn't pick them up and try to use them as hedge trimmers. We would have no way of knowing that our paper cups of coffee, that we can't even hold in our hands without oven mitts, are hot. We would eat packets of silica gel. We would consume raw or undercooked fish and meats in restaurants with reckless abandon. All those sharp sticks in the woods wouldn't have notices on them saying, "Do not poke in eye".

Society would crumble. No one would be able to argue the merits of Darwinism any more ("Intelligent design". Really? Just go down to the DMV and look around for a couple of hours).

Part 2: Goobers

I was raised in a state that is famous for peaches, piney woods, and peanuts. Alas, I have learned that at least two other states (South Carolina and California) surpass my home state in peach production, and if your dad made you pick up as many pine cones and rake as much pine straw as mine did, well, you'd understand my position on pine trees. But we made good with peanuts. No state produces more. Peanuts helped launch one of our most mediocre governors into the White House, where he quickly became one of our most ineffective presidents.

I like peanuts. I grew up eating them frequently, washing them down with bottles of gloriously cold Coca Cola (another home hero). There are stores dedicated to them. At least until recently, you could get them roasted, in the shell, for about a dollar a pound. In the summertime, you'll see roadside stands selling them roasted or boiled (while still green... I find them disgusting, but somebody must like them because they've always been there). However I've moved on. I haven't lived there for some 24 years now, and I've finally had to admit something:

Ya just can't beat a Virginia peanut. They're big, crunchy, and just taste better than the ones from my youth. We buy these whenever we can find them, usually at our local Total Wine store. Heck, we're always there anyway, may as well pick up some peanuts. We can feel better about ourselves if we pick up a little food to go with our alcohol.

Since both my family and my wife's family have histories of various health issues, we go out of our way to try to eat right. As such we've become inveterate label readers. So, while I'm munching down my 402nd serving of peanuts the other night (Who comes up with these serving sizes? Serving size: 2 peanuts, Servings per container: about 120,000), I was reading the label just to get the nutrition info and to see if there was any 2-diethyl-chloramide-nicotine in them, and I saw this:

See what I'm saying about Virginia peanuts? That's right. These aren't just any peanuts. These are Super Extra Large Teenage Mutant Ninja Peanuts. Who could resist them? Not me, WhooeeITellYaBuddy.

Part 3: The Denouement

If you've read this far, you may be wondering, "What does the first part of this post have to do with the second part?" Or you may be wondering, "What is that crud under my thumbnail?" Either way, this is the part where our narrator ties it all together. The big "aha" moment. Under the ingredients on the label of the above can, is this legend:

Well, needless to say I was as shocked as you are right now. Fortunately, I'm not one of those unfortunate souls with a peanut allergy, or I might have a serious reaction to eating these peanuts that contain peanuts and are manufactured on shared equipment in a facility that processes peanuts.

Thanks for warning me.

Thank God for the lawyers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

She Did It The Old-Fashioned Way

Not sure why this is on my mind at the moment, but I thought it was pretty good at the time, so I figured I'd share it. I was actually present to hear this from the source:

After loading my bags and seeing my name written down the side of the suit box, the driver asked, "How did a nice lady like you end up with a name like that?"

I told him I had to earn it.

-- Wilma Mankiller
Former Principal Chief of The Cherokee Nation

I dunno. Maybe it's on my mind because of that guy who cut me off in traffic this morning....

Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's Getting To The Point Where I'm No Fun Any More

Ah, Washwords, how could you do this to me?

This is all about being tagged. Apparently I'm now part of a meme.

Part of me says, "This is an honor! Out of 5 blogs, she picked yours! The very least you can do is play along. It'll increase your blog's readership! It's a lark! It doesn't hurt anything! What's the big deal? Don't be such a jerk!"

I have mentioned my hippy tendencies, so part of me sees this as some sort of conscription. A chain letter without death threats is still a chain letter. In a game of tag, I have the option of being some place safe ("home") where I can't get tagged.

So you can see my quandary.

With some level of trepidation, I cave:

1. Write the title to your memoir using 6 words:

"Please Forgive Me For Tagging You"

2. Link to the person who tagged you:

3. Tag five more blogs:

It Takes So Little, Sometimes

Digging through the blogs one casual weekend and I see that someone (lacochran) has mentioned Donald Trump. You are being watched. The Trump organization, with its feelers everywhere, spied this blog entry and immediately attached a Google ad for Trump's new "Soho Condo Hotel", whatever a "condo hotel" is. I can't resist. I want to see how the upper echelon lives without having to endure Robin Leech's annoying voice. I click on the ad.

It's slick. Lots of Flash Player stuff, upbeat techno music, which you can actually click on and download directly from the site, artist images of extremely happy, apparently extremely wealthy, people enjoying the pool. Although no one is swimming.... they're all standing or lounging around in evening gowns and tuxedos sipping their drinks while there just happens to be a pool there. I guess if you spend hundreds of dollars for a swimsuit you don't want to ruin it by getting it wet.

So I start looking at the various links, the rooms with their plush chairs and window-walled views of the city (New York, doncha know); the bathrooms with their sunken marble tubs and more window walls so you can see the city, and, presumably, the city can see you while you're luxuriating in your Mr. Bubble -induced semicoma; wet bars; security closets; all the wonders of staying in Soho; etc.

Then I clicked on "Amenities". If you're staying in a penthouse suite, you have full access to a limo to take you anywhere you want to go in the city. You have your own personal butler, which they call an "Attach" (ew). But the real kicker is that they actually tell me that I have the unique privilege of being able to choose to write letters on Trump's exclusive "stationary" [sic]. They tell me the rag content of the "stationary" [sic]. They're really, really proud of this "stationary" [sic].

I suppose that, if I had the money and I was the type of egocentric turd who wanted the world to know that I had more dollars than sense, I might use the Trump "stationary" [sic]. "Dear Mom, Having a great time. Sorry you're so poor. Hugs & kisses, The Gilahi".

But we take our superiority where we can find it, don't we? I can't begin to tell you how much better I felt when I realized that these people who have been hired by Trump to create this amazingly slick website, who probably got more money for putting this together than I'll ever see in one place, don't know how to spell.

Am I pathetic or what?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You're Not Miserable Enough

Whatizzit with people that makes them wish bad things on you?

I step into a room full of people and casually say, "I wish it wasn't so cool today", and someone will inevitably say, "You should live in Minnesota where I live!"

Why? What part of my statement indicating that I don't like cool weather would prompt you to tell me that I should go to some place that's even colder? They never just say, "It's even colder where I'm from". They always tell me that I should actually experience it.

This is a very difficult programming project.
You should be in our office where the manager has embedded needles in all the 'e' keys.

Spinach makes me gag.
You should come to our house for dinner. We have spinach salad followed by creamed spinach and eggs florentine and then spinach profiteroles for dessert. Every day!

I dread this business trip because it means I have to drive in Boston.
You should take a trip to New York. We're not allowed to have brakes on the cars and if you drive 2 miles without using your middle finger they cut it off.

I just read the new novel that everyone's talking about and, quite frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about.
You should read every other book by that author. He's 97 years old and has been writing since he was 3. The book you just read was his best one ever! All the other ones are written in Cyrillic.

I'm nervous about sharks in the water.
You should go swimming in Australia. They cut you before you step in the ocean to attract the sharks!

I don't like the way the new stylist cut my hair.
You should try my barber! He cuts your hair with pinking shears and a lawnmower.

Yeah, I know.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One Of Us Is Unclear On The Concept

...maybe it's me.

I live just down the road from a rather large cemetery. I can't exactly see it from my house, but I drive past it on one of two routes out of my subdivision.

With Memorial Day coming up, the cemetery is apparently gearing up for an influx of visitors. As I drove past the cemetery yesterday, I saw a series of 5 signs set up Burma Shave style only larger (for those of you too young to remember Burma Shave signs, I can only imagine how empty and unfulfilled your lives must be... you probably don't even have a "contrast" knob on your television).

Anyway, the first three signs seemed innocuous enough:




Pretty somber stuff, huh? Keep in mind that there's a large field of gravestones behind these signs. Cars are already turning into the cemetery at a faster rate than usual. Even a left-wing, anti-war, aging hippie like myself can't help but feel a slight tug at all those people and their memories of lost spouses, relatives and friends.

But wait, there are two more signs:



Um... Huh?

At some level, I'm sure it was inappropriate for me to laugh out loud as I drove by, but I have to wonder a few things:

Was it less appropriate than the carnival-like atmosphere that these signs introduced to my mind?

What are the great prizes? Do you get a plot? A headstone? A good view of South Kings Highway for all eternity?

What do you need to do to win the great prizes? Do you win the ring toss game with hula hoops and the Virgin Mary statue? Do you find the most objects in some sort of really ghoulish scavenger hunt? Do you have to be present to win? Do you just.... die?

And what exactly am I joining if I join them today? Are they asking me to be buried... today? Are there any enrollment qualifications? Is there a sign-up fee? What if I change my mind later, am I locked in for some specific term?

I decided to pass on (get it?) this. If you go, let me know how it was for you.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Death of a CD Player

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving back from lunch listening to The Waifs on my CD player. I was on the very last track when it just stopped playing. Now I've had the occasional little skip and jump on CDs in the car before, so it took me a second to realize that nothing was happening. I pressed the little "display" button until it was showing me the elapsed time, and it was not moving. Huh. I ejected the CD, checked to ensure that there wasn't some sort of shmutz on it, and reinserted it. Nothing. I went through this exercise a few times hoping for a different result, as mentally challenged people will often do.

About this time, I arrived at the infamous parking decks of my office. I decided, of course, that it must be the CD itself, so I ejected the one that was there and inserted one of my Who CDs.

No joy. It wouldn't play. Idiot that I am, I went through this same exercise until, at one point, I pressed "Eject", the little screen scrolled over the word EJECT and..... nothing happened. Crap. Now I'm pushing buttons like some monkey in a lab trying to get a food pellet and the CD player is completely ignoring me. The bastard.

I pull out the user manual from the glove box and read that there's a way to reset the entire system. Just push this button and hold it while holding this other button down for 5 seconds while standing on one leg with your arms extended touching first one and then the other finger to your nose and reciting "Jabberwocky" backwards. It worked. It reset the entire system, including the clock and all the preset radio buttons. It didn't work. The CD still won't eject. So now I'm driving around with "Baba O'Reilly" in permanent limbo in my car.

I was able after a few resets to get it to the point that it tells me the correct time and I can listen to the radio, but as soon as I try to do anything with the CD player, it locks up completely and I have to reset the whole thing, clock, radio presets, again.

I went to the manufacturer's website and told them what had happened. They responded that it sounded like the problem was beyond their ability to help me with and directed me to a site where I could find the nearest place that services this particular model. Of course it's in Tibet and I have to deliver the unit there in person. So I went around to the web sites of various chains in the area (Circuit City, Best Buy, etc.). All they'll do is pull the unit from my car and send it off to the manufacturer. So that's weeks with no music at all in my car plus $50 just to diagnose the problem, and I fear the diagnosis is "DOA". At least now I have the radio.

So I'm in the market for a new car CD player. I don' t need anything super-fancy, just AM/FM and something that will play CDs and MP3s. I don't have (and don't intend to get) an iPod, so I don't need the capability to hook one up, I'm loath to spend the money to subscribe to satellite radio (see "About Me" on the right... Scottish, you know), and I don't want a multi-disk changer, so I think I can get a unit that does everything I want for a couple of hundred dollars.

Any suggestions out there? Make, model, a good place to buy? I am aware that not having an iPod makes me something of a Luddite, but surely there are people in the blogging community who still listen to CDs in their vehicles.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Their Can Be A Differance

When you write something, you want to express yourself, correct? You want people to read, absorb and possibly enjoy your thoughts. So why do so many folks out there make it so difficult?

OK, I'm not going to talk about the difference between "its" and "it's" (although I don't understand why people who wouldn't think about putting an apostrophe in the possessives "his", "hers", "theirs", "ours", etc., can't resist putting one into "its"). I'm not going to talk about the obvious differences between "your" and "you're" or "their", "there", and "they're". I'm not going to point out that there's no "A" in "definitely". I won't spend much time on those little wooden signs that so many people have hanging from their mailboxes that say "The Peterson's" (The Peterson's what? The Peterson's illiteracy is on display for the entire world to see?) I won't spend much time on the fact that the professionally-produced signs in the grocery stores that say "Low Prices Everyday" are nonsensical (major kudos to our friends at Fresh Market, however, for putting up "10 items or fewer" signs), Or the fact that "setup" and "shutdown" are nouns while "set up" and "shut down" are verb phrases. Or that "preventive" is an adjective while "preventative" is a noun, and therefore the guy that comes to your house is not performing preventative maintenance on your furnace. Volumes have been written on this sort of thing already, and God knows they don't seem to be doing much good.

There are times, however, when spelling can really make a big difference. There are times when knowing the correct spelling of a word can completely alter what one is trying to say.

There is one pair of words that seems to completely elude an alarming number of e-mail authors, chat room participants, bloggers, and other folks who toss things around the electronic world. Consider these two sentences:

"I was afraid to go to the doctor because I thought I might loose my bowels."
"I was afraid to go to the doctor because I thought I might lose my bowels."

I think most people would agree that these two sentences express very different concerns on the part of the writer, and yet almost daily I read that some poor person "looses his way" whenever he travels, or some such.

Here's another example where knowing how to spell what you mean can make a difference in what you're trying to say.

"I was wary of having sex with him."
"I was weary of having sex with him."

Fine. The end result of these two sentences very probably is the same (no sex with him), but the difference in spelling speaks volumes about what went on before that moment.

Most recently, I've seen a couple of examples of word substitution/misspelling that would never have even occurred to me. I had to read the sentences multiple times just to understand what (I think) the person was actually trying to say. Consider:

"At dinner, the mother preferred her daughter's company to the lecherous old man."
"At dinner, the mother proffered her daughter's company to the lecherous old man."

One of those sentences makes me want to read further. The other makes me want to find something else to read. My preferences are not the subject of this essay, so mind your own business.

If you're out there writing something and you have the least bit of doubt about the use or spelling of a word you want to use, please look it up. There are online dictionaries now. You can go to your Google or Yahoo! search bar and type "define proffer" and you'll get dozens of listings.

Closing note: Long ago, I was watching the news one evening. There was an interview with a representative of a special-interest group trying to get some legislation or other through Congress, and the subscript at the bottom of the screen said:


Seriously. Apparently Mr. Berkendorf was the lobbiest person the producers in the newsroom had ever encountered, and they wanted the viewing public to know it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Remember Me?

Part of what I do for a living is to troubleshoot issues that people have. I work for a very large company with a lot of customers and, subsequently, a lot of problems or perceived problems to be addressed. I don't actually talk to customers directly. I talk to the people who talk to the customers, so we're all on the same team.

Inevitably, I get the occasional call or e-mail from someone who says, "Do you remember that problem we discussed 6 months ago?"

Yes, Bob. Yes I do. You are the only person I've spoken with for the past 6 months and yours is the only problem I've dealt with. I've been sitting here ever since waiting for the phone to ring. The company has been paying me an obscenely large amount of money to be available on the off-chance you might need my help again. Since the last time we talked, I've cleared all the tiles from all 10 configurations of my version of mahjongg, I've played every single word in the hangman dictionary, I've watched every Crosby, Stills & Nash video on YouTube, I've texted all of "War and Peace" from my cell phone to e-mail, I was just finishing up the last of the 32,000 variations FreeCell, including the "unwinnable" one which filled a couple of days hacking the code so that I could cheat it, my beard has grown a foot and a half, and I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. Now that you've called back, I can see my family again, publish my proof that the resolution of Fermat's Last Theorem is incorrect, contact the WHO with my foolproof plan to feed the world for $1.27, get that funny thing removed, and retire with full benefits.

Thank God you called.

SAQ: Somewhere over the rainbow, maybe.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It Would Be Funny If I Wasn't So Hungry


Feeling pretty magnanimous today, so when I'm leaving the elevator lobby, see a woman coming in, hold the door for her, and she breezes by without so much as acknowledging my existence, I think, "Maybe she has a lot on her mind. Big meeting with the boss. Sick kids at home. Who knows?" I let it go.

Minutes later, I'm standing in line at Subway. It's lunchtime and there are several office parks around, so the line is all the way out the door. If you've been to Subway, you know that when you get to the counter, there's a long sneeze shield allowing you to see all the ingredients so you can choose what you want on your sandwich. At this particular one, there's a little card on the inside of the lower right-hand corner showing the various types of bread they offer.

A couple of people in front of me is a woman. Attractive, successful-looking in her camel-colored business suit, chatting with a couple of associates. I hear her place her order: "6-inch turkey, please." The person behind the counter says, "What kind of bread?" There is a pause. "What kind of bread?" There seems to be some delay.

It takes a few seconds for me to reallize that the woman is wordlessly pointing at the bread she wants on the little card while staring in wide-eyed total lack of understanding of the fact that she is not communicating her desire to the person trying to make the sandwich.

As mentioned, I'm feeling generous today, so my first thought is "Maybe she's illiterate." I've read, after all, that people who are functionally illiterate manage to get by very well and successfully hide the fact that they can't read. It occurs to me, though, that these people develop skills. If she was illiterate, she'd just say "white" or "wheat" and no one would be any the wiser. Also, an illiterate person would have no trouble at all realizing that the person behind the counter can't even see that she's pointing at something, much less which bread selection she's indicating.

Fortunately, some level of awareness finally dawned, she mumbled something about what she wanted, and life went on. It usually does.

SAQ: Marianas Trench

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Keith Emerson and The Situational Awareness Challenge

Way, way back when I was in high school, a very significant portion of my part-time job income went to the purchase of tickets for rock & roll concerts, and tickets only cost about $7.50 back then. I own about 600 CDs, many if not most of which are late '60s and early '70s hard rock.

I say that just to point out that the music from that era is very important to me. One of the first few concerts I ever went to was Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I believe that Keith Emerson is probably the greatest rock keyboardist of all time. If you're not familiar, check out this video of ELP's version of "Hoedown" from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo" from way back in 1973.

So when I read a while back that Keith Emerson was playing at The Birchmere in Alexandria, there was nothing for me to do but to cajole my wife into attending with me, even though it's not really her sort of thing. As an aside, both The Birchmere in Alexandria and The State Theatre in Falls Church are terrific venues for seeing artists from the era I love.

Anyway, a great show and, wonder of wonders, someone came out to the lobby of the Birchmere and said that Mr. Emerson would be coming out to meet people. Oh. My. God.

So I get in line. Within a few minutes, I'm standing in front of a small table and there, inches from me, is none other than Keith Emerson himself. It is no exaggeration to say that this was one of the top 10 moments of my entire life. While he was autographing my brand new CD, the conversation went something like this:

Me: Great show tonight!

KE: Thanks.

Me: Mr. Emerson, I really didn't want to gush when I got up here, but I just wanted to tell you how much your music has meant to me for, oh, 35 years.

KE: Well thank you very much!

Me: I first saw you in Atlanta on the "Brain Salad Surgery" tour in the early '70s.

KE: "Brain Salad Surgery" came out in 1979.

Me: I beg your pardon?

KE: Yeah, "Brain Salad Surgery" was the late '70s; '78 or '79.
Me: Huh.

He was wrong. I knew he was wrong. But I let it go. My wife took a picture of the two of us together, I wished him luck on the rest of his tour or some such, and we went home.

We got home, I went straight to the CD rack, and pulled out my copy of "Brain Salad Surgery".

In very small type at the bottom on the back, it said "Copyright, 1973".

Now, how does all of this relate to Situational Awareness? It's simply this: My first impulse was to stand there and tell Mr. Emerson why I was so sure the concert was in the early '70s (I saw it in high school and I graduated in 1975), but I didn't. I didn't because:

  1. When someone has been churning out music that long, getting a date mixed up can reasonably be expected.
  2. There were about 100 people in line behind me.
  3. He's Keith-freakin'-Emerson, fergodsake.

Have I ever left my grocery cart blocking the aisle? I have. Have I ever said some extremely inappropriate thing given the circumstances and/or company present? You betcha. But that night my Situational Awareness Quotient was riding high despite being completely awestruck.

And most important: I was right and Keith Emerson was wrong.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

3-Alarm Irksomeness

I come in to the office very early in the morning. I tend to wake up anyway, traffic is light, and I get a long afternoon to myself. I also find that I can get a lot more work done in the morning when there aren't too many people around.

We got word yesterday that they'd be testing the fire alarms in our building this morning. They've done this before, it's usually no big deal.

This morning is different. Our gummint wouldn't allow this sort of thing to be used on prisoners in Abu Ghraib. At this point I'm willing to admit that I was the second gunman on the grassy knoll, if they'd just stop.

For about the 10th time this morning, every few minutes, I've been subjected to:


Flashing emergency lights, the voice of God coming from nowhere and everywhere, and a siren that is obviously designed to break all the windows in the building before the fire can do it, repeated multiple times per test.

I've been in the office for an hour and a half, and I have officially reached the point that I'd much rather take a chance on being burned alive than to hear this alarm again. How much testing does a system like this need?

It works already! I can tell it's working, why can't you tell it's working?!?!?!

Moses would have extinguished the burning bush if it had been accompanied by this sort of cacophony.

It's like trying to work at a Rush concert, except that the noise is not quite that offensive.

Maybe I should just take a really, really early lunch....

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