HCaldwell:On . . .


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

Friday, April 03, 2009

On finding a poem...

I was cleaning out some old boxes of paper today. I have a friend, who was and is, a very talented writer. She wrote this poem for me many years ago. It is still my favorite.

Man and Cat

The man
And his cat
See things through the same wide eyes
And leap at beautiful things
On impulse.

When he's away
His cat stares at me from across the room
And I know
He's not far away.

-TL 1975

This piece of paper I am keeping...

Friday, October 26, 2007

On a weird moment ...

Yes, this is a large creepy bug holding a woman's earring. The bug appeared to be very intent on keeping the earring, although it obviously didn't go with its thorax. The woman with the other half of the set was no where to be seen. I've seen this movie before. I moved quickly to my parked car.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On living in Minnesota

I now have a new favorite saying.

"When you are bad and you die, they send you to Minnesota in the winter."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On pet induced puns

When I woke up this morning, I searched all over the house for my glasses so that I could peruse the morning paper. I finally found them under the coffee table. Thinking that they must have fallen off the edge of the table, I put them on. I was startled to realize that the tops and backs of my ears were suddenly wet. What!?!!

It seems that the cat has taken a sudden interest in my eyeglasses. This interest has taken the form of gnawing on the plastic earpieces. As a result, I now have drool-covered, tooth-marked spectacles. Ergo, this morning I was transported back to the bygone days of yesteryear when I was still wet behind the ears.

Who says that animals don’t have sense of humor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On schlepping

Although I may be culturally challenged in truly understanding the concept of schlepping, I feel that it is the only word that I can come up with that describes my day today. Some words are such a perfect descriptor that they become universal in nature. Just saying the word, schlepping, evokes the sensation of schlepping. That long slurring “schul-eh…” is what does it.

I hauled things from place to place. I burned a lot of gas. I couldn’t seem to do anything right on the first try. My back is sore. My feet hurt.

I spent my entire day schlepping.
Yes, I schlepped today. I was a schlepper. I should be in a schlepper colony.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

On, once again, being bested by wind power

I experienced a moment of déjà vu while clearing leaves from my front yard today. It was another epic confrontation featuring "Me and My Leaf Blower" against the undefeated tag team of "A Humongous Pile of Leaves and A Strong West Wind".

As in our last encounter, the leaf blower and I were soundly trounced. Near the end of our pitched battle, the leaf blower simply quit working. Coward!

It is now official. I have proven myself to be dumber than an inanimate object.

Monday, October 23, 2006

On teaching vs. training

As I may have mentioned, I spent a number of years in the classroom.

Recently, I had reason to consider the differences between teaching and training. Although the two are often used synonymously, they really are very different processes. Those blessed with the experience of working in the irregular bowels of the fast food industry are trained to flip burgers, drop fries and faux chicken chunks into vats of hot grease, and speak unintelligibly over the drive-through speaker. There is really no teaching involved here.

One does not need to understand the flatten disks of ground up cow in order to flip them. One does not need to know where those fries originated or what they will eventually become in order to fry them to a company specified golden brown color. On does not need to appreciate syntax, style, or elocution in order to mumble the question, “Would you like fries with that?”

Don’t get me wrong; I am not against the idea of training. It is a very efficient way of creating conditioned responses. In many stressful emergency situations, for example, those that may be encountered by public safety or military personnel, it is a great way to guarantee a prompt, predictable, correct reaction. Good training can save lives in emergency situations. It is not, however, the same as good teaching.

Good teaching changes attitudes toward learning. It provides a set of mental tools that can then be applied to wide variety of new situations. It sharpens our ability to apply previously acquired information to face unexpected complications. It heightens our awareness of connections between seemingly unrelated elements: the hallmark of creative problem solving.

We do not learn responses from good teaching. Good teaching teaches us how to learn.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

On “how can you tell if a blog posting is funny?”

In some of my recent blog reading, I have encountered the interesting question of how one decides if a blog posting is funny, or not. Humor is, of course, a highly variable perception. A piece of writing that one person reads as being “falling down laughing funny”, may be viewed by another as being “stand up straight with a disdainful sniff stupid”.

Personally, I am a big fan of the “stupid” school of humor. The more juvenile, puerile, pun-ladened and ridiculous, the better the joke plays in my internal comedy club. I suspect that my sense of humor matured at about the same time that my body reached the age of nine. Then it just stayed there. I like bad knock-knock jokes, elephant jokes, light bulb jokes, and puns that make fart jokes seem overly intellectual and effete.

How can you tell if a blogger is dead? Ghost writing.

I, also, like humor that twists language and/or our perceptions of everyday events. I read in our local newspaper recently about a man who had reported to the police that a burglar had broken into his house during the night, because he woke up and “found a dark hair in his sink.” That started a chain of thought that centered on the fanciful creation of a vast criminal empire run by a pompadour wearing evil genius who leaves single dark hairs in people’s sinks. I get the sinking feeling that his crime may even brush on heresy.

Lastly, I love unintentional humor, the “found art” of the funny world. We drove through a small town recently where the large sign in front of the vet’s clinic read, “GET YOUR DOG SHOT - $5” I laughed so hard that I blew coffee through my nose. I made my wife turn around and go back so that I could take a picture.

Yes, stupid, twisted and accidental; the story of my life.
I don’t make it up. I just write it down.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

On my blog failings

How embarrassing.

It has been a very long time since I last updated my blog. To the three people who regularly read this thing, I apologize. Time has been flying by me like discarded newspapers in a windstorm. It is not that I haven’t had anything to write about, it is that I haven’t had the impetus to sit at the keyboard and punch the appropriate buttons in the correct order.

Part of it is that I really do dislike the autumn. My energy, my enthusiasm, and my ability to get out of bed in the morning is at low ebb during this time of year. I am not really a strong believer in “biorhythms”; it seems like an over simplified label that gets readily pasted onto the unpredictable vagaries of daily life. If I did believe, however, my fall chart would resemble a cross-sectional view of the Grand Canyon.

I am ashamed. I should not fall back on such a flimsy explanation. I have let down my three loyal readers. Forgive me.

I can’t offer any excuses to you, but if I look hard enough I’m sure that I could find some way to blame Congress.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On creativity…

Creativity is . . .

…squinting your eyes and seeing something that you’ve looked at a million times

…embracing a random thought

…the mess that results when the spool of kite string gets wound around everything else in your junk drawer

…an effect without a cause

…a total lack of friction

…an electric fan’s artful arrangement of dust bunnies in the corner of a hardwood floor

…reckless recollections

…feckless predilections

…tactless abstractions

…the things that you tell yourself when no one else is around

…the product of a hopelessly twisted thought

…anything that you do with a radish

…obviousness rarified

…blood-poor iron

…successfully executing Lather-Rinse-Repeat in reverse order

…fusible obtuse

…equal parts of silk and coarse gravel

…a mental implosion

…the sound of two fingers snapping

…primate playtime

…the willingness to fail

Monday, July 24, 2006

On business travel

I was recently imprisoned in a cramped metal container with no working air conditioning while the outside temperature neared one hundred degrees. I was assaulted by the overwhelming stench of poorly processed human wastes while my ears were subjects to a punishing barrage of high decibel white noise. My legs, back, and neck were tortured for hours into a variety of awkward angles and contortions. Throughout the entire experience, I was given the distinct impression that I was viewed by those in control as less than human; more like a faceless steer being moved through the chutes and channels of the abattoir to be brought, at last, to a final horrible destination.

On top of all that, three of my four flights were either delayed or cancelled.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On finding a note to myself

I was going through my dresser drawers this evening. I wanted to throw away some old, no longer wearable clothes so that I could finally put away that basket of clean laundry that had been staring at me in an accusatory manner for several days now.

I found the most interesting things. Strange items that had obviously sifted down through the clothing to the bottom of each drawer. There was a portable chess set, used maybe once. The instruction manual for a long defunct and discarded DVD player. A wallet that was still in its gift box from several Christmases ago. Three cheap watches that had all ceased operating. Some unidentifiable keys. Some buttons. Some business cards.

Among all this debris was a note in my distinctively awful script. It read,“Very important: don’t forget to call Don!”


I don’t usually write notes to myself. I have no memory of ever writing this note. Did I remember to call Don? Why was it so very important that I call him?
Who the hell is Don?

Finding things like this really scare me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

On feline entertainment

We have two long windows next to our front door that go all the way to the floor. The neighbor’s gray and white cat sits on our front step and looks in through these windows at our two cats. Our cats sit on the inside and peer out at the neighbor’s cat. This nose-to-nose through the glass staring contest can go on for hours. It would seem that looking at another cat who is looking back at you through a piece of glass has a great deal of entertainment value in their feline world. The intense concentration that both “sides” exhibit would suggest that some very important communication process must be taking place through that glass. Cat gossip? Mouse and bird reports? Trading hairball recipes?

“How strange”, I thought as I watched them.

Then this evening while I was watching the news on television, I realized that I had been sitting for an hour apparently staring at another person who appeared to be looking back at me through a piece of glass. For all the technological differences, the situation would appear to be remarkably similar to what transpires at the cat’s window peering sessions. Any truly objective outside observers (Space Aliens, perhaps?) would probably be unable to see any real differences in the two activities.

“How strange”, I thought. . .

Monday, June 12, 2006

On walking in the rain

It rained today. I really do like walking in the rain. I can ignore all the suburban scenery surrounding me and focus on the amazing feeling of water droplets as they strike me after falling thousands of feet from the sky. If those droplets could think, would they be startled that after leaving their cloud and leaping into the air to fall with great speed towards the earth that they would end up landing on the tip of my nose? Would they feel honored or indignant? Do they take bets on who can be the first to hit me right in the eye? Are the losers the ones who end up soaking my underwear?

Being pelted by a spring rain is definitely cathartic for me. Even though I usually end up being physically chilled and miserable by the end of my walk, my mood is usually improved. Since it only takes some dry clothes and a cup of tea to fix the physical discomforts, I am more than willing to pay the price for a few moments of wonder. I am happy to let the rain wash the stink off my day. I am pleased that all the detritus of daily living gets a good sluicing.

I could do without the wet underwear.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On color coding text

The weather here went from cool and comfortable to hot and miserable seemingly overnight. As soon as I wrote this sentence I realized that it sounded better to write it differently. (Seemingly overnight, the weather here went from cool and comfortable to hot and miserable.) I am not certain which of the two versions is more grammatically correct, but I like the way the latter version sounds when I say it aloud.

This may be one of those gray areas of language where the way that we speak differs from the way that we write. It seems as though there ought to be a convention that allows us to communicate to a reader that we are writing in the way that we speak, rather than writing as we would write writing. I suppose that that is what quotation marks are supposed to do. Using quotation marks, however, makes it seem more like a narrative or dialogue to be actually spoken rather than material that should be read as we meant it be read, not heard. Quotations marks don’t suggest that we meant to write it, not speak it, except that we wrote it so that it sounded right when we spoke it.

No, there needs to be a different sort of clue. Perhaps, since inexpensive color printers are so commonplace, we could use a color code. Classic black text would be written in the way that reads the way it should be written. Blue text would be written in the way that sounds right to us when we speak it aloud, although we intended for it to be read, no spoken.

Text that, as written, is probably indicative of some sort of progressive brain disorder?


Saturday, May 27, 2006

On my limited heartbeats

I have been reading a book recently that makes the point that with each breath, we are dying a little bit more. This is based on the idea that each person and animal is pre-programmed with a certain number of breaths, a certain number of heartbeats and therefore, a predetermined life span. Essentially, with every heartbeat we use up one of our finite supply.

You could view this as a rather bleak perspective on things. It is definitely a “glass half empty” view of your lifespan. On the other hand, thinking about it does tend to make me appreciate the “live each moment” school of thought. It also makes me wonder how I can readily justify the increased heart rate that rigorous exercise necessitates. I have always held to the philosophy that ”you should only run when you are being chased”, but most medical evidence would seem to encourage me to liberally expend my limited supply of heartbeats in the sweaty and not particularly pleasant, pursuit of an extended lifespan. Added to that is the fact that I have heard many stories of people who died suddenly while engaged in rigorous exercise. I don’t believe that I have ever heard of anyone who died of oversleeping. I don’t know of anyone who has suffered from a fatal recliner overdose. I have never read about any communities plagued by a cluster of deaths caused by a mysterious outbreak of afternoon naps.

Nonetheless, I suppose that for the foreseeable future, I will have to give my doctor the benefit of the doubt and puff away my precious supply of breaths while engaging is regular exercise. After all, he knows all Latin words for all the things that can go wrong with me and I do pay him an outrageous amount of money for his multi-syllabic advice.

Tomorrow, I will indeed fritter away a few of my precious heartbeats during a vigorous walk.

Today, I will live in the moment.
I will take a nap.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

On hidden driveways

I passed a yellow traffic sign recently posted by the side of our road. It read, "Caution: Hidden Driveway". The first thing that entered my mind was the question...

"If it's that well hidden, how did they know where to put the sign?"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

On spring yard work

Well, it was a beautiful day today.

For the first time in a long while, the sun was shining. It was warm. The winds were gentle. It has been such a long winter that I kept looking over my shoulder, sure that a huge blizzard was sneaking up on me. I decided that this was certainly the day to write the obligatory springtime yard work posting.

(Why is clockwork one word, but yard work is two words?)

I spent the late afternoon raking the winter’s detritus off of the flowerbeds and from around the house. I planted some caladiums and summer flowering Asian lilies. I spread out about ten bags of mulch. By the time that I was finished the sun was going down and it was starting to get chilly again. I was a bit dirty, a bit stiff in the lower back, but it was offset/enhanced by a wonderfully cathartic, almost spiritual tiredness. I can understand why people enjoy farming.

I could never be a farmer, of course. I have known several successful farmers. The stresses and abuses of the business side of farming would kill me off in only a few seasons. Plus, modern farming is as much about diesel mechanics, politics, and chemistry as it is about scrounging around in the dirt. No, if my livelihood depended on what I could grow from the soil, it would ruin the experience for me. I would also starve, hence, the ruining part.

I just like the digging in the dirt part.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On the definition of illegal

I had another “yell the television” moment yesterday. I was watching the news and one of the commenter made the following statement.

“…the worst thing is that they are making illegal immigration a crime...”

Now, I don’t really have much of an opinion on this country’s immigration policy, but I do know how I feel about people who make statements like this one.

Someone really needs to highlight the definition of the word, “illegal” in this man’s dictionary.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On feeling old

When light passes from air to glass as it does when it enters a magnifying lens, it slows down. This change in speed causes the light to bend, to droop. This is called diffraction. The same thing happens again on the other side of the lens as the light moves from glass back to air.

Today, I decided that I am not getting older; I am in the process of passing through the lens of life.

I am simply diffracting.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On feeling logy

This morning, I thought to myself, “I’m feeling a bit logy today.”
Then I had to go look up the word, logy.

I knew that I felt logy, but I wasn’t sure that I really knew the definition of the word. The feeling was there that I knew to be indicative of a state of being logy, but I couldn’t pull the word’s denotative meaning out of my brain. Odd.

I once had a client say to me, “I know exactly what I want, but I just don’t know what it is!”

That statement could just about sum up my day. I knew I was feeling logy, I just didn’t know what logy was. I was even less sure about what I wanted to do about it. I was even logy about feeling logy.

At this rate, I suspect that tomorrow may be a flummoxing kind of day for me.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

On the Big Bang

I saw a news item yesterday. Scientists have now discovered astronomical data to support the Big Bang Theory. In addition, they are now certain that the universe will continue to expand forever. This brings to mind a number of unanswered questions.

If the universe continues to expand forever, how will we get our mail forwarded?

Did the universe really start with a “big bang” if there was no one around to hear it?

Was there ever a “little bang”?
Or a “really big bang”?
Were there any duds?

Why are scientist convinced it was a bang?
Why not a bong?
Or a klunk?
Or a resounding thud?
Maybe, it was just an embarrassing fart noise?

If the universe expanded to most of its present size in less than a trillionth of second, why does it still take five days to get your cable fixed?

Now that we apparently know that the universe started with the “Big Bang”, what exactly do we intend to do about it?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

On recycling history

Science fiction writers have been known to base the premise of their stories on a somewhat fuzzy theory that time is circular in nature. The details of each theory in each story vary considerably, but the idea that time (and the universe) is likened to a circle is common.

I was struck today by the apparent recycling of history that I am now experiencing. An “unwinnable”, increasingly unpopular war in a far distant place, an energy crisis, and a presidency in trouble made me realize that I am now reliving the Seventies. My greatest fear may come to pass. I quake at the thought. Terror approaches.

They may try to bring back disco.


Monday, March 13, 2006

On stained glass in the bathroom

There is something magical about stained glass. We had a house that had an octagonal window installed in the bathroom right over the bathtub. It was a great mystery to as to why the previous owner had put a window there that could be not be opened. Even worse, there was no easy way to curtain a window with that shape. I suppose that they were just very proud of how they looked upon stepping out of the bathtub. They wanted to share their joy with the next-door neighbor. My desire to share was somewhat more constrained. After searching in vain for some reasonably aesthetic and cost effective way to shutter off this window, I happened upon an octagonal stain glass reproduction of a Frank Lloyd Wright design. With a little molding alteration on the window frame, it fit perfectly.

Since the window was on the east side of the house, the morning sun would come through that stain glass and paint the entire bathroom in colored light. It became one of my favorite features in the house. All bathrooms should be built with stained glass windows. It creates the perfect setting for meditating, contemplating, and eliminating.

Friday, March 10, 2006

On haircuts

Haircuts, like everything else in life, have become very expensive. They are also one of the things that definitely are not a “do-it-yourself” operation for me. If I were limber enough and dexterous enough to make the attempt, I suspect that the results would be aesthetically horrifying. Since I am not limber enough, I would end up dislocating my shoulders. Since I am not dexterous enough, I would end up losing an ear. I could end up as a one-eared hunchback sporting a butt-ugly haircut. I have enough problems; it just isn’t worth the risk.

Since I am too cowardly to even make the attempt, I give my monthly tithe to the hair god while giving thanks that I still have hairs on my head that need cutting. The moral of the story is that of the silver lining in the dark cloud, coincidentally, my hair used to be a dark cloud; now, it is a silver lining.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

On spring rains

It rained all day today.

For a brief time this afternoon, I sat in the garage with the door up and watched the rain falling. Sitting on a lawn chair with a cup of tea watching the world get wet was an incredibly relaxing experience. Spring rains do not seem to induce the mind numbing depression brought on by a fall rainstorm. This may have to do with all that crap about the promise of spring flowers and the rebirth of nature after the long winter nap. I suspect that it is just a case of winter depression fatigue. I am just tired of it. I am ready for “something else”. Spring rain is simply “something else”.

By April, I will probably be complaining about how much I hate spring rainstorms.

Variety is, after all, the spice of complaining.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

On sale

I had to go to the hardware store today. All I needed was a bicycle tube repair kit, about a “buck and a half” item. I ended up buying the repair kit, but also purchased two sets of brass lettering templates. They are for making two-inch letters. I don’t really have any good reason for buying them, but THEY WERE ON SALE.

This is obviously a genetic flaw. My mother once bought twenty pounds of bananas.
Twenty pounds of bananas makes a pretty impressive pile of fruit when gathered together on one kitchen counter. When my dad came home and asked her why we had so many bananas, she replied, “THEY WERE ON SALE.”

I have decided that I want to have two tombstones when I die. The first will have all my biographical infomation like name, birth date, death date, etc. The second gravestone will stand right next to it and simply be engraved with the words, “IT WAS ON SALE.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On a plethora of prizes

I got an ad in the mail today for a prize sweepstakes. Usually, this kind of advertising doesn’t even make it to my eyeballs before it is deposited in the trashcan, but the word, plethora, caught my attention. I was surprised that they used the phrase, “a plethora of prizes”. Usually, advertisements are written for someone with an eighth grade education or less. Maybe, plethora has become an eighth grade vocabulary word. If so, then education has definitely improved in this country in recent years.

I started wondering if there was actually a legal definition for plethora. Must one provide proof that the number of prizes comprises a legal plethora? What percentage constitutes a partial plethora? Perhaps, the word “plethora” is like the word “genuine” and has no legal meaning.

The word, genuine, really has no meaning when used in advertising. Thus, we have “genuine faux pearls” and “genuine leatherette covers”. I don’t believe that advertisers need to meet any threshold in order to define something as “genuine”. It has become a non-word. I know that recently there has been some wrangling concerning the definition of the word, organic. I am not sure what was finally decided on, but we will probably have yet another meaningless word when things are finally settled. If we’re not careful, we’re going to run out of words that actually mean something.

If plethora has really gone the way of genuine, then I can genuinely promise a plethora of postings in the near future.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

On typos

”Aargh! I hate typos.”

I have this mental image of typos as tiny little gnomes who hide behind the other words just before your eye passes over them. Once you have looked past them, they jump out and reinsert themselves back into the text. They even fool spell checkers by using fiendishly clever disguises. Faster than you can “blink”, they hide as “blank”. A “meet” quickly spoils as “meat”. Much to your embarrassment and dismay, your “pubic” can become quite “public". They put on little gnomish moustaches and fake glasses to pretend to be other words. Thereby, escaping the notice of even the most vigilant of spell checking programs.

“Clever little devils!”

In some parts of the world, artisans put tiny flaws in their works to avoid offending the spirit world. In trying to make their works too perfect, they fear that they will incur bad luck as the penalty for their hubris.

I like it. This is my new excuse for all typos.
It isn’t sloth. It isn’t haste. It is just an overabundance of spiritual caution.

“I meant to to that.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

On expertise and nonsense

I enjoy following the discussion threads of “really smart people” who are experts in their fields when they argue over the complex and/or the minute aspects of their disciplines. Whether the topic is in art, law, theology, language, math, physical sciences or the social sciences, I like to try to follow along in the reading without moving my lips too often. I am, by temperament and circumstance, a generalist. Most of my personal and historical heroes have been generalists. I can’t say that I never use bits of specialized geek speak, but I, generally, try to avoid it. I have been known to take advantage of this tendency toward the glorification of unintelligible gibberish (On having to write a senior paper), but I am certainly not qualified to participate in the orgies of entwined syllables and symbols enjoyed by the uber-specialists.

Where have all the generalists gone?

Medical experts like to pepper their writing with short Latin descriptors and study citations. Legal experts prefer entire Latin phrases and abbreviations interspersed with italicized “name vs. name” citations of innumerable precedents. Engineers, mathematician, and physical scientists enjoy a liberal sprinkling of equations artfully bedecked with letters from the Greek alphabet. Heated discussions among social and language scientists seem to degenerate into a playground (locker room?) style of confrontation centering on who has the biggest statistical variance. Into the midst of this specialist enshrined briar patch of entangled verbosity the rabbit of “reality” is tossed.

I have heard that the reason that experts seem to like talking in their own arcane languages is that it gives them a “precision of meaning” that cannot be found in the language of everyday life. Ok, I can buy that. It does seem, however, that the overuse of specialized language and jargon makes it difficult to extract precise concepts that communicate and can be compared across disciplines. Like in those pictures of everyday objects viewed under powerful microscopes, real things become unrecognizable abstractions. Abstraction caused by microscopically precise language obscure meaningful comparisons. Something is lost.

Arthur C. Clarke had a famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I would like to propose a corollary to Mr. Clarke’s astute observation.

“Any discussion by sufficiently advanced experts is indistinguishable from utter nonsense.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On a double triptych

I made a triptych that hangs on the living room wall. (If I get around to it, I may try to post a picture of it here.) It is a composite rendering of primitive plants on a black background that was inspired by a television show that I saw on prehistoric plants. Since I tend to be contrary, it is actually made up of six individual ceramic panels, rather than three panels. So, I guess that it really can’t be called a triptych.

Is it a di-triptych or a sextych?

Sextych sounds weird. That can’t be right. It’s too hard to pronounce.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

On selective exposure

We resist exposing ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that disagree with our own opinions and viewpoints. I seem to recall discussing this tendency in a political science class. It is one of the reasons why it is so hard to actually change another’s opinion once that opinion has been set.

We tend to seek out and hang around with people who believe the way that we believe. We watch news programs that support our preset views on the issues of the day. We read articles, blogs, and books that reinforce our viewpoint. We avoid being exposed to the opposition.

I believe that it is referred to as “selective exposure”.

I do make a conscious effort to seek out a diversity of opinions in my reading, but I am certainly not immune to this selectivity. There are some stated opinions that just plain piss me off. I can’t help it. The usual problem is that the writing/commentary is filled with a plethora of “ad hominem” attacks. If it is done with wit and humor, I can see the point of it. It is there for entertainment, not education. It is irksome when it disguised as a serious discussion of issues. For some networks, blogs, and commentators: this is their only point. Unfortunately, we have given this style of faux debate several rather “cool” sounding names such as calling it “in your face” journalism. It is time to take away the cool factor and call it what it is: flinging poo.

If political and social spinners were introduced as “poo flingers” rather than “political activists”, perhaps, they could be shamed into cleaning up their act.

Of course, we all know what happens when you fling poo.

No one ever wants to shake your hand.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On simple

I always cringe when I hear someone say, "Oh, it will be easy. It’s such a simple project."

That word, "simple" is a killer. It can be easy to execute a simple project, but it is more difficult to have it be perceived as a successful project. I have a theory about why this is the case. I could call it the "Splintered Focus is Kinder" theory. It is human nature to be more attuned to tiny flaws when we are asked to critique things that are easy to examine. The more complex the object of our attention, the less aware we are of the minuscule flaws.

Imagine that you are told, before entering a room, that you will have one hour to study the quality of the contents of the room. You enter the room and see one cardboard box. For the next hour, you study the cardboard box. You note each tiny dent, scrape, and irregularity in that box. When you leave the room after one hour, no matter how perfect the box may have been chances are that you will have an extensive list of flaws to present. Your impression of the quality of the box will be colored by the time and effort required to find the tiny flaws. You want to have some criticisms to show for your time.

Now imagine, that you enter a second room with the same set of instructions. This time you find one thousand boxes. You will look over the boxes and although you may notice some of the more obvious flaws, many others will escape your notice in the complex interaction of surfaces that are presented to you. When you leave the room, you may have some generalized misgivings and make note of some of the more glaring defects, but it is doubtful that your report will be replete with the individual deficiencies for every single box.

In the first room, one hundred percent of your focus was on that single box. In the second room is doubtful that any individual box received more than a tiny fraction of your time and attention. Even if we allowed you ten hours to critique the second room, it is still likely that your response would be based on a general impression of quality rather than a detailed inspection of each individual surface. It is possible to hide a lot of flaws and still have a very successful project when the final product is composed of a number of seemingly complex interactions. The overall impression of those who judge your work becomes much more important to their final judgment than their examination of each individual element.

Getting "simple" to be perceived, as being "right" is really quite complex. I would much rather be in charge of an obviously complex project. It is much simpler to do well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On the 1200th character

For those of you who have been following my "About me" profile experiment, the 1200th character turned out to be the letter, "j". Who'd have thought it? I was betting on it being a space.

I will leave it up for a day or so. Then I will, probably, delete most of it.
I am so easily amused.

On having no point to make

I do not follow or attempt to calculate my daily biorhythms. What good would it do me? However, I do know that I have a yearly cycle of ups and downs. I am now on the up slope. My year could be described as a sine wave that peaks in late spring and bottoms out in late fall. I cross over the X-axis in late summer and winter.

My dear wife seems to have a mirror image annual cycle of ups and downs. Perhaps that is why we have been together for such a long time. Over the course of a year, we tend to even each other out.

Is there a point to be made here? No, I don’t think so.
Speaking of having no point.

I recently read a number of blogs that all touted the “Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging”. I won’t mention all of them by name, but you can easily do a Google search and find a whole bunch of them. (Did you know that my Word spell check flags “Google” as being misspelled? Even though I have told it to “learn” the word, it still flags it!)

Generally speaking, this blog tends to be rife with these deadly sins. Except for the ones concerning spamming and adult material, I daily commit enough blogging “sins” to damn me to the blogger’s version of the lake of fire. An eternity of no readers, perhaps? An infinite number of spam comments? Severely dangling participles? Terminal writer’s block? Metaphorical flatulence?

The various “sin sets” differ as to the exact sins that comprise the dreaded seven, but generally they all agree that a blog should have a consistent theme. A “good” blog should deal with timely subject matter. A “good” blog should adopt a definite viewpoint. A “good” blog carefully follows the rules of grammar and punctuation. A “good” blog uses pictures to illustrate the points being made.

There is no theme to be found here. I avoid talking about important issues. There is no viewpoint to be found here. I may contradict myself several times before I even reach the end any given sentence (do not)! Paragraph structure is actually less important to me than how the words end up “looking” on the page. Grammar takes a backseat to how the words sound when I say them aloud. Pictures are too much trouble.

“I’m a bad man.”

This blog is doomed.

None of the articles mention the eighth deadly sin.
Writing stupid articles about the seven deadly sins of blogging.
I guess that my blog will have more than a bit of company in the fiery afterblog.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On stupid solutions

Have you ever encountered a problem that just did not lend itself to any practical solution? No matter how you looked at it, the only real answers that you could come up with were just plain stupid. I am slowly, but surely coming around to the realization that stupid has a place in the order of things. That doesn't mean that I will vote for it in next election, however.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 07, 2006

On being misconstrued

There are a group of words that seem to be tainted when one tries to use them in everyday conversation. I knew a gentleman who became quite offended when I noted that he had an “unfortunate predilection” following his comments about his dieting woes. I believe that he thought that I was accusing him of being a pervert. When, in fact, I was only commenting on his consist choice of cream filled pastries during the morning coffee breaks. Words like prediliction are often misconstrued.

Even the word, misconstrued, seems to be in this camp. Rather than simply being another way of describing a misunderstanding, it sounds more like a painful medical procedure that is being performed on one’s nether regions without benefit of anesthesia. News release: “After being misconstrued for nearly eight hours, he is in stable condition. His doctors are confident that he will suffer only minor scarring as a result of the operation.”

I am not sure how I would label this group of words. Perhaps, I could classify them as “words that undeservedly hint of unpleasantness”. (Unpleasantness is another one of those words like dreadful. You need to say these words with an upper crust accent while slightly pursing your lips.) The problem seems to be that most of these words sound like words that have negative definitions. They sound like “bad” words, so they must be “bad” words.

Mellifluous is a word that seems to be affected by it’s “mel” prefix. It sounds like and is misspelled to resemble many of the words in the dreaded “mal” family. Words like malefic, maladroit, malfeasance, malingerer, malign, malaise, malicious, and (for some of you) males all have horrible connotations. Poor, sweet mellifluous is found guilty by association with these brutish brothers.

Speaking of unwarranted guilt by word association, until very recent times, one had to be found guilty in a court of law in order to be labeled as a perpetrator. Now, however, one only needs to be accused of a crime and walked in front of a camera in order to be stained with this verbal taint. Hence, we now have the "perp walk" of the recently accused, but not convicted persons. This would be an instance of a "bad" word being used to unfairly label someone who had not yet been found to be "bad". They are only guilty of sounding "bad" on the evening news.

In the future, I am going to try to be more careful when I use this class of words. I wouldn’t want to be accused of being perpetually malapert.

Friday, January 06, 2006

On Norway

I would like to spend about a month touring Norway.

You might think that this wish comes from some longstanding interest in the history and culture of Norway. Actually, the opposite is true. I have never met anyone from Norway. I have never read a book or seen a documentary about Norway. I know almost nothing about Norway. What I do know about Norway could be summed in about three sentences.

1. Norway is a country in northern Europe.
2. People who live in the country of Norway are called Norwegians.
3. Norway has fiords. (I have never seen a fiord.)

That’s about it.

This almost complete lack of knowledge is the main reason that I want to visit Norway. I am old enough to have heard something about just about every other place on the planet. Some of what I know may be untrue, but I would still be saddled with my preconceptions if I ever visited any of these places. Norway is a blank slate for me. I could visit and meet the people. I could experience an entire country and culture that is presently a total and complete mystery to me. I could actually write about something in this blog that had an immediate impact on me without it being colored by any earlier life experiences or hearsay.

Who knows, I could fall in love with the beauty that is Norway. Or, I might just find out that Norway is simply the Wisconsin of Europe: cold, bland, snowy, populated by people who talk funny and have an unhealthy preoccupation with cheese.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

On fantasy novels

The local library has run out of new Science Fiction books that I want to read. So, I picked up a couple from the shelves in the Fantasy genre. I don’t usually read Fantasy novels. I prefer the more “hard science” types of Science Fictions novels for my periodic fiction fix.

Fantasy novels have a couple of characteristics that I just don’t find very appealing.

First of all, they seem to take place in some ubiquitous medieval setting. Even if the planet is supposed to be in some distant universe, it still bears a striking resemblance to thirteenth century England. They live in keeps. They wear tunics. They carry swords. Someone will be called “Lord” or “Lady”. They eat a lot of fire-roasted fowl. All the worlds of fantasy are remarkably similar.

Secondly, they all seem to end with the exact same “magic showdown”. The good vs. evil showdown usually takes place at some elevated location such as a stone tower or rocky hillside. It is set against the backdrop of a “real” world battle that involves horses, arrows, gnomes, catapults, and elves. (The elves always have silver or blue hair. The male elves seem to be somewhat effeminate.) This epic battle is fought at the end of the main character’s arduous quest to find his/her magical heritage and/or legendary powers. In the finest “deus ex machina” tradition, the outcome of this supernatural fight instantly resolves all the outstanding character and storyline conflicts in one massive orgy of bright light, mystical blue fire and smoking brimstone. Good, of course, always wins. Evil is instantly banished to some distant “dark” place or cooked to an unrecognizable smoldering cinder.

Lastly, I just can’t keep track of all the names. The characters, of which there are many, and the places, of which there are even more, all have multi-syllabic monikers that I can’t even pronounce in my head. After reading through about three pages, I have to go back several pages in order to figure out if the characters trekking through the endless tracts of forest are discussing a mystical city, a serving wench, or a troll king. After several minutes of searching, I discover that “Phlemhardington” is actually the name of the High Lord Frem Dunsillantonicuis’s beloved horse. Oddly, the main character always seems to have been singularly blessed with a single syllable name in this unfortunately polysyllabic world.

Fantasy novels will never be high on my list of reading material. However, I may try to write one someday. It will be set in the medieval neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio. The conflict will involve a set of mysteriously misaligned headlights and perhaps, a sinister grease fire. There will only be one character named, Bob. He will have to walk about three blocks and face many hardships and dangers in order to find his lost truck. His truck will be named, Unostoitcliclkcosinessty. It will be a silver 1970 Plymouth Arrow pick-up with a pink velour interior. Magically, it still runs, uses no oil, and only has a tiny bit of body rust.

Still working on the title.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

On belated wishes

Since my New Year’s resolution was to stop procrastinating, I want to take this opportunity to wish all my regular readers (both of you) a Happy New Years.

My wishes for you in the coming year…

May your polite chuckles be taken as sincere even when the joke is stupid and you don’t get the punch line.

May your windshield washer bottle never run dry.

May your red crayon never break.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

On Vlogs

I have made a preliminary attempt to appreciate the world of Vlogs (video blogs) and podcasts. I have given up. First of all, I am not sure how it is supposed to be pronounced. Is it "Vee log" or "Vuh log"? The latter sound suspiciously like the first name of the original Count Dracula. I think his name was pronounced, vuhlad, as in Vlad, the Impaler (Vuhlog, the E-Mailer?). So, I think that it is probably, “Vee log”. Although, it is "Buh log", not "Bee log".

It is significant that sighted people, myself included, say that we are going to go "see a movie". I don't think that I have ever heard anyone say, "Oh, I think I will listen to Desperate Housewives, tonight". The visual elements will almost always take precedence. So, I think that in the long run, video logs will become more common than the now more numerous, sound only, podcasts.

It is worth noting, however, that videophones and even web cam chatting have not really caught on with the online community. Some experts’ say that it is a bandwidth problem, I disagree. I think that generally some things are just better left unseen. As I noted earlier, we experience things with our sight taking ascendancy, even though the aural elements are equally important to the total experience. A vlogger could be saying the world's most important words, but if he is doing so with snot hanging out of his nose, I will not remember a single word that he has said. Here, on the other hand, I can write this entire blog posting while wearing only this rubber bathmat with little, blue fish imprinted on it. I have completed this ensemble by putting a yellow plastic colander on my head. You would never know it by the words that I written here. It is not something that you would ever really want to see. In this written blog, my wardrobe and deportment should have no effect on your perception of what I am trying to say to you.

Above and beyond the fact that some things are best left to the imagination, the main reason that I am not going to become a vlog aficionado is simply time management. By the time I can plod through the introductory comments of most vlogs (or podcasts), I could have skimmed through half a dozen written blogs postings.

I don’t have the time for vlogs and podcasts.

I still have to wash and press my bathmat for an early meeting in the morning.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

On Regrets Brunch

This is something very similar about how we treat Halloween (Allhallow’s Eve) and how we treat New Year’s Eve. They are both technically twenty-four hour holidays, but we really only observe the occasion in the evening. I think that we miss out on an opportunity when it comes to New Year’s Eve.

There should be a morning observance on December 31st. It could be called Regrets Brunch. It would be a brunch where we look back on the past year and consider all the choices that we did not make, the roads that we chose not to travel down, the people and places that we chose not to visit during the past year and the opportunities that we decided not to pursue. It would be a time of “all the things that I didn’t do” reflection. It would involve eating a lot of fattening foods. We could have omelettes. What more could one ask for in a holiday observance?

I use the word, regrets, in the broadest possible sense. This would not have to be a morose meal. Although, all choices involve some personal costs, the irrevocable loss of the all the other possible choices, for example. It is also true that the other “choices” we might have made might have really sucked when viewed in hindsight. There is certain wisdom in periodically examining the “what if” and “might have been” in our lives. These “unchosen choices” are the dark matter in our personal universes. They are invisible and unseen, but their hidden mass affects every aspect of our daily lives.

There is a drawing exercise where you arrange a complex still life with a number of objects in it. Then you ask the students to draw one of the central objects by “not” drawing it. Instead, you want them to render the object by meticulously drawing all the objects around it. The object in then presented in “negative” space. A complete picture of the place where the object is not present creates a picture of the chosen object.

Regrets Brunch is about seeing ourselves as the product of the choices that we did not make over the past year. We chose to not murder an in-law. We chose to not buy a humongous SUV and spend our kid’s college fund to put gas in it. We chose to not see any movies with Ben Affleck in them. We chose to not paint our house purple with orange shutters. We chose to not send our children away to an Alaskan military academy. All of the options that we did not select over the course of the entire year define who we truly are on the morning of December 31st. We are as rendered by these negative spaces as much as we are by the broad brushstrokes of our past year’s accomplishments.

Even balanced against the bad options that we chose to pass up, there will still be some sad regrets for the choices that we did make. We all make bad choices, but every bad choice is a kind of personal parable. When the clock finally strikes midnight and we are by tradition obligated to make our New Year’s resolutions, we can remember all the dumb choices that we were really, really sorry about at the Regrets Brunch. Perhaps with those regrets fresh in our minds, our resolutions will actually make it past breakfast on January 2nd.

Friday, December 30, 2005

On tax tortures

I guess that I must like scaring myself. Every year at this time, I sit down and try to estimate how much I will have to pay in income taxes for the past year. The thing is that I don’t even do my own taxes. I haven’t done my own taxes for many years. One April, many years ago, I found myself faced with the prospect of trying to figure out how to file income tax forms in seven different states. I was way out of my league. So, I hired a “tax guy”. He did such a competent job that he has prepared our taxes every year for several decades now.

Still, every year I sit down about now and try to figure them out for myself. Rather than doing this exercise earlier in the year when, perhaps, I could make real changes, I do it during the last week of the year. It is too late to make any changes in my withholding forms; the only thing that I accomplish is that I scare the crap out of myself.

The idea behind this torture is to try and figure out the tax forms so that the numbers that I estimate are roughly the same as the numbers that the “tax guy” eventually calculates. Then, I can save myself some money. I should be able to prepare my own taxes for the following year. I have never even come close. Usually, the difference between our calculations is truly astounding.

I don’t get it. I am not a dumb person (although some may wish to argue this point.) I did well in math classes. I can follow printed instructions. I should be able to do this myself, but I am never even close. Some years, my calculations are way high. Some years, they are way low. I use the wrong forms. I consult the wrong tables. I put my numerator where my denominator is supposed to be. I have never hit it on the mark. So, I continue to not prepare my own taxes.

This year my preliminary numbers were heart-stoppingly, mind-numbingly terrifying. I do so hope that I am still really bad at doing this stuff. Please, don’t let this be the year when I finally get it right!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On end of year lethargy

For me, there is always a sort of limbo lethargy period from December 26th to December 31st. I wouldn’t call it a letdown so much as retrenchment. It is the beginning of a period of time when I am struggling to put the routines back into my routine. Just like the rest of the year, there are always bills that need paying, rooms that need cleaning, and cars that need washing. Yet, daily life seems to be a bit out-of-focus during this time of year. It takes a lot more effort to get even life’s littlest chores accomplished.

I suspect that it is related to the bicycle-riding phenomenon. Did you ever ride a bike for a long period of time? When you finally get off, it seems like you are not only moving way too slowly, but also that your ability to walk takes more of a conscious effort than usual. It feels like walking through molasses. Actually, I have no idea how it feels to walk through molasses. I have never walked through molasses. I don’t believe that I have ever met anyone who has ever walked through molasses. I can’t recall ever reading about anyone who actually walked through molasses. It would require a lot of molasses and be very messy. Why do we say that?

See, case in point, writing this blog requires a sustained mental effort to even stay on topic.

After cruising along at high speeds on a bike with minimal muscle effort, the mind rebels at the amount of work required to move relative short distance at the relatively slow walking speeds.

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, limbo lethargy time.

From Halloween on, we gear up our lives in order to accomplish all the extra holiday chores and preparations that the season requires of us. Finally, just after Christmas, we start to slow the pace back down again. True, New Years is a major holiday and many people do have celebrations that require extensive preparations, but it is really the very tail end of the holiday dog for many people. We are rapidly returning to our “normal” routines. The routines, however, seem to take a lot more effort right now. Time and we seem to be moving rather slowly. No, I refuse to get stuck in that stupid molasses analogy again.

It usually takes me until about the middle of January to fully acclimatize to the pace of everyday life without the flurry and fury of holiday preparations and anticipations. This is my cool down period. I am winding down. I am lethargic. I feel as though I am in a slow moving limbo world. No molasses involved here, just life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On holiday visitors

This is the season of mass mailing, of mass shopping, and of gaining personal mass. It is also the season of mass family visitation. Today, we had only a little notice that soon our home would be invaded by a Mongol horde (relatives).

My wife and I had to spring into action in order to make our house look slightly less like a crime scene. We engaged in what my wife refers to as “fifty-two pick-up” and I call “throw every loose item in sight into the nearest closet, cabinet, or drawer where it will remain until the next time we move when we will unload the closets, cabinets, and drawers into cardboard boxes and say, at least, one hundred times per hour, “I wondered where this had gone!””

Her title is snappier. Mine is more accurate.

Monday, December 26, 2005

On making promises

The people who know me well would say that, although quirky at times, I am a rational person. I do not subscribe to a belief in “magic”. I walk under ladders all the time. I have broken a number of mirrors, not to tempt the fates, but because I can be clumsy. I would never pay money to have my fortune told. Astrology can be fun to make fun of, but I do not believe it has the ability to foretell my future. I am a firm believer in the ascendancy of reason over superstition.

I believe that the only real “power” in the words that we speak is in how well we speak them and in what are intentions are at the time. Yet, there are some words that I hesitate to utter aloud. I have always felt that these words had a power beyond the rational. These words are almost magical. Uttering these words has a deep and binding effect on the person who speaks them. So, it is extremely rare for me to actually say the words,

“I promise …”.

Weird, huh?

I hesitate to use them, because in doing so, I get the sense that I am obligating myself without conditions to do whatever is necessary to fulfill the promise. I know that fulfilling the promise will transcend convenience, comfort, or self-interest. Regardless of what the future may hold, I know in my heart that a promise, once made, is a debt to a higher cause that cannot be cancelled and must be repaid whatever the cost. I never, ever, ever speak the words (I promise ...) casually. When I do say them it is always the product of careful thought and with a real sense of confidence that I can live up to the terms of the promise.

It is my only real superstition.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

On holiday travels

Having observed the traditional “long drive to the relative’s houses for Christmas visit”, it is good to be back home again. Having observed the traditional “kids opening Christmas presents” this morning, the home is a huge mess again. Having observed the traditional “eat massive amount of things that are really bad for you” over the last several days, my coronary arteries are undoubtedly, equally messy. Ah, well. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

While driving on seeming endless stretches of boring highways, I once again observed the fascinating phenomenon of being “velocitized” It is that feeling that, even though you are traveling at one hundred feet per second, you are moving very slowly. I, often, think about this effect while I am driving down the highway. I ponder whether or not the effect is only a product having grown up in the modern era. Would people from earlier times, before we had vehicles capable of traveling at sixty miles per hour or more, be susceptible to being velocitized? The only way that someone in, say, the sixteenth century, could reach the speed of one hundred feet per second, would be if they fell a great distance. It is doubtful that they would remain at that speed long enough to actually be velocitized. They would also end up very dead before they could communicate their experience to anyone else. I suppose that you could do a study using people who had never ridden in cars before, Amish or maybe, third world residents, to see if they also become velocitized in a car at highway speeds. Boring. My fantasy is go back in time (yes, I know that really smart people say that it is impossible to travel back in time. I am not a really smart person. Therefore, I am allowed to have my fantasy.) and bring someone like Benjamin Franklin back to the modern era. Ben and I would get into the car and go on a road trip. I could see for myself if being velocitized is only a product of having grown-up with the experience of going very fast. He could tell me in some clever homily whether or not he was experiencing the same feeling that he was traveling very slowly.

“You may delay, but time will not”
-Benjamin Franklin
“You are velocitized, but I am not”
-Fantasy Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On shoveling snow

There were about three inches of heavy wet snow on the ground this morning. By this afternoon, that had grown to about six inches and snow was still falling. This definitely darkened my mood today. I was of two minds when I got home. I felt certain that either I was going to start an extended “Blog Break” and stay away from the Blogiverse for awhile or I was going to write a soul searching post. Writers, professional or otherwise, seem to always find a soul-searching article or two in them. I, suppose, that is partly human nature, this urge to share something deep and personal with others. It is also true that readers like to read them. After all, reading the soul-searching words put down by a writer is a way of being let in on a secret. We all like being let in on a secret. It was the highlight of many of our childhood intrigues.

The problem here is that I find most soul searching monologues to be very morose. I am not a fan of morose. The fact that most secrets are from the darker side of our lives just contributes to this tendency toward depressing topics in these pieces. After all, we don’t usually keep the bright moments of our lives a secret. We share good meals, marriages, births, bad jokes, loves, promotions, and accomplishments with our family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else within range. No, our deeply held secrets are not usually those things that we would want to shout out on the street corner. They are kept carefully chained up in our internal dark places for good reason.

Instead of writing some sad piece of tripe that would; surely, trigger an extended leave from any more blog writing, I decided to go out and shove the three point two metric tons of snow off of my driveway instead. (I didn’t really weigh it. I just like the way that “three point two metric tons of snow” sounds when you say it aloud in a game show announcer voice.)

In the movie, Bruce Almighty, there is a great scene where Morgan Freeman and Jim Carey, as God and Bruce, are mopping a large floor together. Bruce Almighty was not my favorite movie. It was a bit too smarmy for my tastes in comedy, but I did really appreciate that scene. I didn’t appreciate it so much for its heavy-handed metaphorical subtext, but simply because I have mopped large floors. If you have never been blessed/cursed with some time in the world of commercial janitorial services, then let me tell you it is not all about the glamour and excitement of picking cigarette butts out of urinals. There are moments of quiet introspection after the building has closed up and almost everyone else has gone home. One of them is the process of mopping a large, open area with an industrial mop either alone or with a partner. Unlike mopping your kitchen or bathroom; in order to do it without exhausting yourself or leaving spots untouched, you have to fall into a kind of whole body rhythm that is like that found in cross-country skiing or ballroom dancing. As you swing the heavy mop back and forth, it lulls you into a very focused introspective mindset. You can get a lot of thinking done while mopping a large floor. Unlike cross-country skiing or ballroom dancing, there is a prize in the bottom of this box of Cracker Jacks. When you are done, you can stand back and take pride in a shining spotless expanse of flooring. You get just a moment to appreciate perfection.

When I shovel snow, I do so in that same very methodical (anal) way. I like to be able to stand back when I am done and see all the shovel tracks in crisscrossed, precise, angular rows. I am sure that this is a symptom of some personality imbalance, but in the hierarchy of gremlins who mess with the machinery of my psyche this one is probably lucky to be a second stringer. I find that there are certain times when your thought processes seem less distracted, clearer. I have written on several occasions about those moments that seem to bring the world into a sharper mental focus: late at night, just before falling asleep, in the shower, and after the birth of your first child. It has almost become a theme here. I guess that I would now have to add the physical exertions of shoveling snow at night to the list. Unlike the eerie quiet of the very early morning hours, the evening quiet of snow shoveling is a harsher regime enforced by the constant scraping of the metal shovel on the concrete and the inhospitable isolation of the cold. I get a lot of thinking done while shoveling snow. Unrelated things fall into recognizable patterns much more easily.

Want to know a secret?

I wrote this entire piece, word per word, in my head while shoveling my driveway. All I did when I came inside was to spend five minutes typing it out. It is a long post. There was a lot of snow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On missing out on shoe's clues

I had lunch by myself today. Since I was a “singlet”, the restaurant seated me right next to the serving area so that I could dine while appreciating the sounds of glasses clinking and food debris being scraped from plates. While I was enjoying my coffee, I could not help but overhear two young women who were discussing their involvement in a recent argument. The discussion began with a very detailed rendering of what everyone had said. It sounded like…

“Then she like said, “you shouldn’t like have been in his car to like begin with". Then I like said, “yeah, like well, ….”

Overall, it was a pretty unremarkable exchange. Then a remarkable thing happened. Midway through her dialogue, she suddenly inserted a person-by-person, very detailed description of what shoes every woman who had been present in the room had been wearing.


I am not going to comment on the spasmodic use of the word, “like”.

I am not going to comment on the differences between the way men and women perceive interpersonal situations. I have been married long enough to know that I would end up on the wrong end of that discussion. I would be bringing a Chicken McNugget to a gunfight.

No, what I found to be most fascinating was that the shoe descriptions seemed to provide the other young woman with real insights into the personalities and motives of all those who had been present. Where did this come from? When they were teaching the “shoe” theory in interpersonal communications class, I must have been absent. Have I been missing something all these years?

I decided that the next time that I am involved in a lively exchange of differing viewpoints with a group of people, I am going to disengage for a moment and check out everyone’s shoes. Perhaps, there is something more to “the language of leather and laces” than the title of a porn flick. I will report back here with my findings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On the funniest things

I recently left a comment on Delenda Est Carthago: The greatest guest star in television history? where I mentioned Jesse Jackson reading “Green Eggs and Ham” on SNL. This was one of the funniest things I have ever seen on television. This started me thinking about the things that I find to be “the funniest”. I think this must be like a fingerprint and is absolutely unique to each person.

I don’t do memes/tagging. It seems uncomfortably close to doing chain letters, but I decided that I would create my own meme and only tag myself. So, here it is.

What is the funniest classic movie of all times?
“Night At The Opera” – Marx Brothers
(Actually, almost any Marx Brothers movie would be a very close second.)

Funniest character in a stage play?
Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals
(I love her line: “If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”)

Funniest moment on television?
Christopher Lloyd as “Jim” on Taxi.
The scene where he is taking his driver’s license test and is answering the question “What does a yellow light mean?” I think it is called the “slow down” scene. I have seen it twenty times and I still roll on the floor laughing. A close second would be a recent episode of “Las Vegas” where the casino owner’s ashes were flushed down the toilet as part of her “funeral”.

Funniest book?
“Without Feathers” by Woody Allen.
(I don’t really care for his movies, but his comic writing is absolutely brilliant.)

Funniest comic strip?
Tie vote here between “Dilbert” and “Opus”

Most unintentionally funny writing?
19th century essay on embalming entitled “To Dispel The Fear of Live Burial”

Funniest stand-up?
I was lucky enough to have been in the audience for one of Steve Martin’s first college circuit appearances. I laughed so hard that I was in pain. More recently, I also really enjoy Rita Rudner.

Five funniest words?
Oddly, phlegm, crenellated, octane, frazzled

Funniest salad ingredient?
Day lily flower buds

Monday, December 12, 2005

On a hidden accomplishment

When I was in the ninth grade, I was part of pilot program/study to test methods for increasing reading speed and comprehension in high school students. My entire high school was given a reading test. From these tests, a class of volunteers was created that contained one third of the best readers, one third of the worst readers and a mix of “average” readers. Although we lost our study hall period for the year, we were each granted extra credits for participating in a one period per day “reading” class.

I remember that we did a lot of exercises where a word or a random group of letters was flashed onto a projection screen for a fraction of a second. We had to immediately write down what we thought the word had been on the screen. We did what seemed like hundreds of timed tests where we read brief essays on a particular subject. We, then, took a quiz on the subject. A day or so later, we would be given a second quiz to see what we remembered about the essay. Sometimes, we would read lists of randomly placed words and sentences while looking through an eyepiece that supposedly recorded our eye movements. I can recall different groups of adults in suits who would sit in the back of the room each day and “observe”. I developed a real appreciation for the plight of lab rats. Sadly, we were never offered any cheesy rewards for our efforts.

I never heard the results of this study. We were not supposed to know how we were doing during it so as to avoid compromising the final results. I have always been curious about the conclusions. I wonder if they ever did anything with it.

Two years later, the English teacher who had been one of our many reading instructors told me that I had been selected for the study, because I had tested as the best reader in the entire school. She told me this because I had done badly on a “Romeo and Juliet” exam in her Honors English class. I was being scolded for blowing off the test. She said that during the reading class, I had scored something like eleven hundred words per minute with a ninety-six percent comprehension rate. I have always been rather proud of that fact. Although the scores probably had more to do with genetics (my mom and dad were both voracious readers) than any real exertion on my part, I did get to have at least one shining moment at that high school. No one ever knew about it. Too bad I didn’t inherit the gene for throwing a long, spiral pass with a football. That one is never kept secret.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

On Brunch

The family went out for Brunch today. I like Brunch. It is a wonderful combination of my favorite foods at a more humane time of the day. The name is even kind of fun and whimsical. “Leakfast” just doesn’t have the same panache.

When I used to work a lot of nights, I often ate "Brupper" at around midnight. Eating breakfast foods late at night is a real treat. It is almost as much fun as watching the odd assortment of strange people who are eating it with you. Of course, they probably were thinking the same thing about me.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On returning some books to the library

I had to return some books to the library today. While out on this errand, I became enmeshed in what is a holiday tradition in this area: traffic gridlock. I crept along for about three blocks and after twenty minutes finally turned off onto a side street to get past the automotive tangle ahead. Now, I could creep along in one lane of northbound traffic instead of two. "Oh, joyous season..."

As I barreled along at minus five mph, I saw a yellow sign along the side of the street. It read, “Traffic Calming Ahead”. “What a strange sign”, I thought. However, just as I crept past the sign I was suddenly engulfed in an overwhelming wave of peace and tranquility. Rainbow colored highlights glinted off my windshield. The radio, which had been playing a medley of Rod Zombies Greatest Hits, suddenly retuned itself to the sounds of the “Rain Forest Accompanied by Sitar and Pan-flute.” All was right with the world. I just wanted to stop the car right there and hug my fellow drivers on this grand road of life. Perhaps, we could hold hands and, maybe sing a song. “Kumbi-yah …”

As I turned back onto the main road from the side street, I was startled as the sounds of discordant guitar riffs once more caused my rear view mirror to vibrate violently. My blood pressure started to peak. I couldn’t believer how awful the other drivers had suddenly become. Did they all get their licenses at Sears? “If this #%! in front of me doesn’t take his %^@!* foot off his &@^!!# brake, I’m going to ….”

Friday, December 09, 2005

On why I don't do these quizzes

I always end up as the weirdest possible choice. I am already aware of this fact. Why do I need to be reminded of it...?

What Character Are You?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

A controlled personality with a vast range of skills and behavior, you are often intrigued by the people and places surrounding you.

"In the strictest sense, I did not win -- I busted him up."

Data is a character in the Star Trek universe. A biography is at STARTREK.COM.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

On glorifying marginality

In a world where spelling bees and poker are considered sports, where "life coach" is considered a profession and where reality shows are considered to be entertainment.

Paying five dollars for a bottle of water isn't that out of line.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On when I visit someone

When I visit someone's blog, I do so using the same set of standards that I would use if I were visiting someone's home. I am the guest. They, as the host or hostess, are offering me the hospitality of their home. They are sharing a part of their life with me. For this gift, I owe them a measure of courtesy. Other than the obvious courtesies of not urinating on their sofa or stealing their television, I also avoid making them feel uncomfortable about their decision to invite me. When I leave, I want to be invited back.

This may mean that sometimes there are moments when I say nothing, because what I might say could be easily misinterpreted as being harsh or hurtful. Rather than taking that risk, I say nothing. This is not dishonesty. This is not cowardice. This is simple courtesy. This is my duty as a guest in this "home". I do not need to see my own words in a comment in order to feel that I have some importance: that I am right and they are wrong. An ungracious comment will not add to my stature as a writer or a person.

I like reading Zen stories and parables. From Zen Lessons (translated by Thomas Cleary), one of my favorites is about the "Vermillion Outhouse". It talks about someone who has not yet reached [understanding], but is always willing to show off his learning by "using eloquence and sharpness of tongue to gain victories. [That person] is like an outhouse painted vermilion-it only increases the odor."

On a very selfish level, I know that ultimately I hold the absolute power when visiting someone's blog on the Web. I never have to return to that blog if something offends me or makes me uncomfortable. With that security, I can afford to be gracious. I never have to be hurtful. I can have better things to do with my time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On winter

Well, winter has finally arrived in all its frigid glory.

I realize that technically we are still in the fall, but Autumn is my least favorite season so I like to hurry it along as much as possible. I suppose that I shouldn't be too anxious for the Winter Solstice, since winter is actually my second least favorite season.

The cold, snow, ice, and early darkness make this a very unpleasant time of year around here. I have seriously considered moving to some part of the country where the winters are little more than a momentary dip on the thermometer, but I am not sure if, in the long run, that would really be any better. Emotionally, I need the foulness of winter, so that I can look forward to enjoying the pleasant spring and balmy summer. It is like the saying about banging your head on the wall. It feels so good when you stop. Winter is banging my head on the wall. I need to look forward to it stopping.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On my fruitless search for the perfect platitude: a year's worth of notes to self

"Someday, I'll find it", (head thrown back, Mad Scientist laugh) "Ah ha ha ha...yes, E-gor, the world most horrendous homily - then I and only I, ha ha, will dominate every embroidered sampler, quotation crawler, and bumper sticker in the universe…”

The Universe is like an SUV. It takes a lot of energy to get it running and it is difficult to park.

My writing process is effortless in much the same way that diarrhea is effortless. The results are also similar.

Life is a polish sausage, tubular and filled with animal by-products.

Cell Phones: God's way of selling car insurance.

The urge for healthy living is powerless in the face of a double chocolate donut.

The main reason that men just don't get "it" is because women just don't want us to know about "it"; hence, their use of the undefined "it" to describe "it".

Note while walking through the department store: Any cologne or perfume that can be sampled from more than twelve feet away is probably a poor choice.

If tomatoes really are a fruit, why do they taste so bad when you put them in Jell-O?

A man has not sexually matured until he can unfasten a bra strap with one hand. If he is wearing the bra at the time, he may be dexterous, but his maturity has indeed taken an "interesting" turn.

"De-regulation" is just nature's way of saying, "Thanks for the campaign contribution!"

First Rule of Picnicking: When you suspect that there may be a direct relationship between the bird in the tree overhead and the amount of mayonnaise on your sandwich, it is best to proceed cautiously.

The pain of downsizing is only felt in the lower extremities.

If you want your restaurant chain to develop a reputation for fine dining, do not name it, "Hooters".

Any typos entered into the address bar of your browser will automatically send you to a porn site.

"Enlightened self-interest" is another name for politics, except without the enlightened part.

Cat Feeding Time is unaffected by the change from Daylight Savings Time.

The chance that your teenager is listening to you is inversely proportional to the importance of what you have to say.

"Last Chance" as it applies to renewing a magazine subscription is the industry code for "This is the first of one hundred and ninety seven pieces of mail that you will receive in the coming weeks."

One of the great mysteries of life: What do you do with a finished coloring book?

I have never met anyone who was named after a mid-sized city.

I can sum up the government's solution for this winter's high heating bills into two words, "Be Cold". And to think that all this time the answer to world hunger was right in front of us, tell all the starving people to just "Be Hungry".

Really smart people don't get elected. Really honest people don't get re-elected.

Newscasters always say, "a frantic call to 911". Is "frantic" the only adjective that one can officially put in front of the phrase "call to 911"?

"Stupid" may be "as stupid does" but "Really stupid usually requires waiting for a lengthy report from an independent commission."

"Breathless" would be good euphemism for "Dead".

Someday they will find a drug to cure people who feel the compulsion to fold up their clean underwear. It will eventually be found to cause heart attacks.

Life is like a video game, except that you only get one life, no special powers, and the bosses are pretty much invincible.

If God really wanted us to exercise, he would have given us all gym memberships.

"Yes, stupid sayings…mine, all mine, ah, ha ha…ha…ha hah...ha. (cough)."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

On tribology

Someone recently introduced me to the word, "tribology". From what I've read, it is the study of friction, lubrication, and things rubbing against each other. Since this is such fertile ground for any number of dirty jokes, I can only imagine that a drunken Tribologists Convention is a real yuck-filled laugh riot.

It is difficult for me to get a number of disgusting images out of my head concerning their possible choice for a secret handshake.

Friday, December 02, 2005

On an unwritten obligation

I was remiss in not writing a post lamenting the ever-earlier start to the Christmas shopping season. Today while doing some electronic housecleaning, I found a "note to self" in my PDA written on October 5th of this year after a visit to the local mall. It reads,

"Start working on lyrics to a song entitled,
"On the Eighty-First Day of Christmas"."

There, I have now fulfilled my obligation.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On-line Christmas shopping

When it comes to Christmas shopping, I am the poster child for Christmas shopping avoidance. Since I suffer from an impaired gifting ability anyway, this time of year is acutely painful for me. I don’t like shopping that much, but I particularly dislike shopping at this time of year. With the exception of the hardware store where I can wander in a semi-religious trance for hours, I only enter stores with exactly what I want to purchase already determined well ahead of time. Wandering the aisles of one or several stores looking for indeterminate gifts ranks right up there with chewing on a ball of aluminum foil. I have not done any of my gift shopping yet this year.

If I could describe my ideal Christmas shopping experience, it would start by getting a list from each member of my family detailing the item, address of the store where it can be purchased, and the approximate cost. I would then go through the list to eliminate the items that

a. Would require a second mortgage.
b. Specify muzzle velocity, number of Kilotons, or British Thermal Units.
c. Make any sounds that Dad could discern from a distance of more than two feet.

I would go to the bank and withdraw the appropriate amount of money. Then with my pared down list and cash in hand, I would visit each store in turn. I would walk in, pick up the item, pay for it, and go on to the next store. At the end of the day, I would bring all the items home and hide them behind my suits in the eleven cubic inches that my wife allows me to have in the corner of our closet.

On Christmas Eve, I would take the gifts out and disguise each one as a taped-up crumpled wad of colorful holiday wrapping paper. Then place them under tree to be discovered in a flurry of Christmas morning shouting and paper shredding. Alas, it has never worked out like this.

Last year, the news channels buzzed with the promise that online shopping had, at last, come into its own. I sensed that my salvation was at hand. Around the first of December, I sat down at the computer and started in. I quickly discovered that Web designers had done a masterful job of creating animations, web pages, menus, and ads; all designed expressly to prevent me from completing the task in a timely manner. After an orgy of “this page contains no data”, “sorry, out of stock”, and "picture not available" messages, I finally finished the selection process.

I, of course, then had to pull out my credit card and enter the multiple digits that allowed unfettered access to my entire financial history. As I pressed the Enter key to transmit this information, I couldn’t escape the nagging fear that I was actually beaming it directly into the bedroom of a fifteen year old in Kiev.

Over the next few weeks, my purchases trickled in. Those items that shouldn’t get wet were left on the front sidewalk during a pouring rainstorm. Those that should not be frozen were left out on the porch for eight hours on the coldest day of the year. Those items that I thought would provide the greatest surprise were delivered into eager young hands just after school let out with pictures and full-descriptions plainly visible on the labels.

To complete the joy of the season, I had to look forward to the hemorrhoid inducing experience of getting the credit bill a month later. Online shopping did not make the Christmas shopping experience less painful for me. It just changed it from being an acute pain to being a chronic one.

This year I am going to stick with what I know and shop where I am most comfortable. Every one on my list is going to get the same hand-selected gifts from me. They will each receive one pound of double-hot-dipped galvanized eight-penny nails and two eight-foot sections of schedule forty, inch and a half PVC pipe.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On finding a crop circle in the wheat field of my mind

Does dealing with controversial topics make a blog more interesting?

Since I read a lot of different types of blogs, I have pondered this particular question. I have not presented my thoughts on the subject here since some might consider my musings to be controversial. This could lead to the mistaken impression that there might be something of interest going on here. That would be misleading, if not paradoxical. Speaking of paradoxes. I have always wanted to write the statement, “Everything written in this blog is a lie.” Now begins the logical spiral of considering whether or not the statement written above is also a lie. In which case, everything written here is not a lie. If that condition is true, the “lie” statement may also be true which puts us back at the beginning. Which brings me back to my original question. Do controversial topics make a blog more interesting?


Blogs, which deal with any topic in an interesting way, are interesting blogs. Writing that parrots a particular set of commercial, political, social, or religious truisms over and over again is not interesting. It is repetitive and insulting to the intelligence of the reader. Only bloggers who can freeze the wisp of an idea into solid words can make a blog interesting enough to read on a regular basis. Some will disagree with me. This might be considered somewhat controversial, I admit. This could lead to the mistaken impression that there might be something of interest going on here. That would be misleading, if not paradoxical…

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On a matter of form 4

PPSPSP You guessed it. I have now posted a post, post scriptum, post scriptum post.
(I’ll quit now)

On a matter of form 3

PPSP This would be the post post scriptum posting.

On a matter of form 2

PSP (not to be confused with the video game toy by the same name)
This would be a post scriptum posting.

On a matter of form

I wrote an e-mail yesterday where I used a PS (post scriptum) and then a PPS (post post scriptum). Then last night while wandering across the Blogiverse, I found where someone had used a PS and then a PSS. I started thinking about it. I was taught that PS/PPS was the correct form, but when I mulled over it for a while (boring evening), either one makes sense.

If post post scriptum is translated as after, after writing, then post scriptum scriptum would be after writing, writing. It can make sense either way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

On life lessons

Life could be described as a series of serial learning experiences. Every morning when I wake up and do my exercises (one sit-up followed by a lengthy cool-down) life begins preparing the daily lesson plan for me. By the end of that day, the lesson objectives will have been met whether I want to meet them or not. Testing is cumulative. There is no appeal for the final grade. The instructor reserves the right to change the syllabus at any time during the course. (I would do better if life were graded on a curve.)

Fortunately, most life lessons provide us with valuable insights that we can pass on to our children so that they can then ignore them completely. The learning activities necessary for some of life’s lessons, however, are better forgotten. There are some things that I have learned where I would have preferred having been absent that day.

By the time a child says, “Daddy, I’m not feeling so good.” from the backseat, it is already too late.

Spell Check will not flag “Pubic Schools” instead of “Public Schools” when it written on the title page of a critical research report.

If you get asked the “Do I look fat in this?” question, saying “Well, I like the shoes.” is decidedly not a good answer.

Curry powder in hot chocolate does not relieve the symptoms of a hang over.

You can tell if your remote control needs a new battery by viewing the front of it, while pressing the buttons, in the display of a digital camera. Trying to capture a picture of a working camera flash “up close”, however, just ruins the camera.

Camels spit.

The smell of spilled gasoline never really leaves the carpeting in a car trunk.

There is an unbreakable bond between the fibers of white carpeting and the color of cat gak.

Driver’s license examiner don’t get the joke about how many points certain types of pedestrians are worth.

Salt and sugar look very much alike in the canister, but provide very different results when mixed with cinnamon and put on your toast.

If you roll your car over “unbreakable” eyeglass lenses, they will break.

Overnight delivery isn’t.

When you see something floating on the surface of a public pool, don’t investigate.

9-volt batteries really do explode when you apply 120V volts to them.

”Demonic possession” is not considered to be the optimal answer when filling in the question “Why are you applying for this job?” on the application.

That pink dye that they put into children’s medicines cannot be removed from anything that it comes contact with.

Typos only show up after you have printed two thousand copies.

When you slam your fingers in the door racing for the phone, the call will be a pre-recorded message telling you about replacement windows.

No one will appreciate it if you bring a copy of “Roberts’s Rules of Order” to a committee meeting.

Riding in a convertible with the top down during a sudden hailstorm is a painful experience.

If you buy a music CD by William Shatner, you will only listen to it once.

A combination of sand, aquarium gravel, pine bark and potting soil will not go down the garbage disposal.

When they say on the label that you should be careful about getting Super Glue on your fingers, they are right.

When exploring the heights of the Rocky Mountains, ask for a more precise definition of the word when your trail guide tells you that the horse that he has chosen for you is “spirited”.

Your future wife will forgive you when you call her by a former girlfriend’s name, but she will never, ever forget.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

On not posting today

"Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact." - George Eliot

Saturday, November 26, 2005

On being a spousal unit

It is during this time of year that I undergo a transformation. My wife’s career path means that she has to attend a number of social/work events. These happen throughout the year, but most often during the holiday season. I become “Spousal Unit”. She let’s me know what I need to wear and what time we will be going to the event. Beyond that, I am generally clueless. It is not that she is unwilling to share the details with me. It is just that the details would be absolutely meaningless to me. So I dress as instructed. I go where I am supposed to go when I am supposed to go there. It is what a Spousal Unit does.

In the greater scheme of marital duties, it is not overly challenging. It is my job to stand at her side, shake hands, and nod my head politely. Occasionally, I will go to fetch her a fresh drink or pull out her chair, but that is about all this required of me. It is not unlike the duties of a trained seal except that I get free drinks before I am thrown my obligatory fish.

The events are not onerous. The food can vary from “not bad” to “oh my god, did this come from a chicken or a cow?” There are an abundance of ridiculously complex snack foods available, if the featured food is truly inedible.

It is just that I have absolutely no connection to anything that is going on at these events. I meet people whose titles mean nothing to me. I listen to speeches that might as well be given in a foreign tongue for all that I get out of them. I chat amiably with people who I have never met before and will never meet again. My orbit will only intersect this particular asteroid belt once in a millennium. My job is not so much to interact, but to simply avoid any catastrophic collisions.

At the end of the evening, my wife will graciously thank me for accompanying her. The thanks are appreciated, but not required. After all, I stood at her side and made the commitment to be there when needed a long time ago.

I avoid giving relationship advice to anyone. I am just not that smart. I have no clue as to what is needed to insure a happy relationship. I suspect that if it could be simply boiled down into a few clever maxims that there would be far fewer divorces. It seems to be a lot more complex than that and I suspect that it is different from couple to couple. There just aren’t any hard and fast rules that one can confidently pass on.

For me at this time of year, I have learned that the most important thing is just to be where I’m supposed to be when I’m supposed to be there.

“They also serve who stand and wait’” – John Milton