Monday, November 30, 2009

What We Say About Ourselves (and What That Says About Us)

In the spirit of reports with titles like:
  • Our Mania For Awards (and What It Says about Us)
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us)
  • Why We Went Zany for Zappos (and What It Says about Us)
  • Deconstructing The Debate - Welfare (and What It Says about Us)
  • The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses Of Electrocution And Lethal Injection (and What It Says about Us)
Inside the Hotdog Factory has conducted a blind, exhaustive study about "What We Say About Ourselves (and What It Says about Us)."

For the most part, people are extraordinarily -- almost to the point of error, psychosis and boastery -- complimentary of themselves. After overhearing thousands upon thousands of cell phone conversations, Inside the Hotdog Factory has determined that modern North Americans between the ages of three and 73 are really into themselves.

This trend was offset by randomly uttered phrases, such as "Oh, I'm so stupid!" or "How dumb can I get?" But on the whole, these statements were followed by positively reinforcing remarks that were often tinged with delusions of grandeur.

Here's how the numbers break down:
  • 3 percent of overheard cell phone conversations involved a person's plans for taking over the world
  • 5 percent need new clothes
  • 79 percent think they will one day be famous
  • 13 percent believe they are already famous
So, what are we saying, and what does it say about us? Thirteen percent of those observed masturbated to pictures of themselves. Eighty-seven percent did so in front of mirrors.

The next study of this nature conducted by Inside the Hotdog Factory will be "The Many Faces of Ourselves in Our Auto-erotic Line-ups (and What It Says about Us).

Luddites Throughout History

Carl Wreckman, of Louisville, Kentucky, has stated in numerous conversations around The Lamp & Lather Barbershop on Hoover Street that he "don't know nothing about any of this 'computer' nonsense, and don't care to, neither. I want to read my newspaper on paper, not on some Jap contraption the kids use for killing aliens or whatever the hell they're doing on them things."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain admitted, "I am a [computer] illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get."

Modern day luddites often provide great 30-second "offbeat" story filler on TV and radio. What's often forgotten is that there have been people throughout history who have shunned advances in technology. Most of the earliest luddites' actual identities have been lost to history, but their stories endure.

Much as we take it for granted today, toilet paper was once innovative technology. There are stories, however, found on ancient scrolls about crotchety old men in the marketplace -- luddites do have a very specific demographic, no matter what age in which they appear -- who insisted the invention was just a fad. They steadfastly continued using the traditional, old technology of a handful of rocks to clean things up after answering nature's call.

Long before there was a word for luddites, there were crotchety old men who believed sandals were just "a flash in the pan." They waved their hands with disgust, and shook their grizzled heads at the newfangled foot contraption, as they stuck with the soul-edifying practice of walking their feet bloody on rocks, getting to where they needed to go.

Even back in the carefree, open-minded days of 8,000 B.C. Asia, luddites scoffed at the technology of the time: the wheel. Although the wheel revolutionized the world, and is ubiquitous in transportation to this day, there were crotchety old men at the time who waved their hands and spat upon it as "some new gadget them kids invented instead of getting serious about real work." The luddites of that era were steadfast in their rejection of the wheel, continuing to use the old tried-and-true square wheel, which the trendy new "round" wheel would quickly replace.

Luddites of the 20th Century provided no end to entertainment. It's a little known fact that astronaut Neil Armstrong believed the earth was flat. Authors of textbooks have continuously refused to include this information when detailing Armstrong's life. "How can anyone who's been in space and actually viewed the earth from there still believe it's flat?" asked librarian Elma Windroper. Only once, in October 1974, did Armstrong reply to such a question, saying, "The earth is flat, but discus shaped. When I viewed it from space, I was seeing the earth's flat side, rather than it's edge. There is no contradiction in my being an astronaut and believing the earth is not round."

Get in shape for only $14,615!

The ROM - The 4-Minute CrossTrainer © is a Salad Shooter for your body! It not only builds muscle and burns fat, it bends time and alters reality. That's why doctors and metaphysicians recommend that you not spend more than four minutes at a time on this machine.

And machine it is! Look at all of its moving parts. Behold its terrifying warning label. If just getting on this machine frightens you, just think of how your fat and flabby muscles will feel. This machine literally terrifies your body into shape.

Heed all of the warnings on the label. For maximum effectiveness, you should never use the machine outside the presence of an attorney or orthopedic surgeon. For optimum results, have your guru or representative of your religious organization on scene, as well.

Prolonged use of this machine may produce strangelets, and potentially a blackhole in the room where used. Do not use in the presence of pregnant women, people under four feet in height, vegetables, such as parsnips, rutabagas, pumpkins or leeks. Do not use if stupid people live on your block -- this machine will only further lower their intelligence. Do not use if you listen to Yngwie Malmasteen or Chee-Yun.

In fact, do not use.

The Great Alouette-Potash Riot of 1952

Discussion Board Post:
there is a team called the Alouettes? seriously? a FOOTball team? do they get beaten up on streetcorners?
Discussion Board Reply:
My grandfather fought and died in a street demonstration in 1952 so that goddamned team could be called the Alouettes, and now you assholes are laughing at that name?!?! This is an outrage!

It's too painful to fictionalize. This is the first and only time I've felt moved to share this horrid piece of family lore. Before my grandfather was burned alive, he managed to crush the skulls of eight men who wanted the Alouettes to be named Potash.

All I have to remember my grandfather by is a lower row mollar found the ashes of the confrontation days after the boil over. I've had it mounted in my wedding ring. When I hear someone dissing the Alouettes, the hand on which that ring rests turns into a fist, and I rock the house with a cry, "Vive l'Alouettes!"

I don't know, man, you're probably right about using "les" in front of Alouettes, but it's just too traumatic for me. We have a grainy photograph of my grandfather's burial -- his pork pie hat filled with ashes, gravel, and his partially immolated handkerchief. In honor of his death, his entire neighborhood with held their garbage from trash collection for over a month. A drink at the corner bar was named in honor of my grandfather's demise -- hot cider with whipped cream on top, called The Extinguisher.

Every August 15th my family meets at that corner bar, we get shitfaced on Extinguishers, wear pork pie hats and burn our handkerchiefs in the street.

How have you wrenched this out of me?!?! Seven analysts, a bathtub of psycho-active medication and several hospitalizations have not been able to dislodge this from me.

You might be thinking that my grandfather was of French descent. You would be wrong assuming so. He was full blooded Irish from the fields of County Kildare. He simply supported the naming of the football team "Les Alouettes" because he loved how the French handled themselves during the French Revolution. His name was Fergal McClusky, though everyone called him "Ferg." He wasn't a large man, but he was a powerful man. He once won a competition at a county fair by lifting a rock that weighed 11 stone (1 "stone" is 14 pounds; this rock weighed 154 pounds) above his head with one hand.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Man "who invented Love" now talking about inventing immortality

All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Put. The test tubes. Down. Put the test tubes down and step away from the incubator and lab equipment. Keep your hands where we can see them.

Vital Signs host and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be joined by best-selling author Dan Buettner who has done extensive studies on the areas in the world people live the longest, healthiest lives, known as Blue Zones, and shares their formula for a long life.

The other panelist is geneticist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, best-selling author of "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime." He believes regenerative medicine could, in a matter of decades, extend life expectancy to 1000 years.
Of course, Dr. Sanjay Gupta could not leave a good thing alone. Since inventing Love in the mid-1990s, he's been haunted by the spectre of the "sophomore jinx." No easy feat getting over that. Just look at Gawd Almighty -- after the success of inventing the world, he followed up with an utter flop by inventing human beings. Or, Thomas Harris, who followed up his novel Silence of the Lambs with the execrable Hannibal. It happens to the best of us.

But now Dr. Sanjay Gupta is delving into the netherworld of anti-aging. He's a humble man, that's why his research is being couched as simply part of a program where he is hosting a panel of experts. But we all know what's happening -- he wants to invent immortality. How wrong can one guru be? He wants to extend the lives of the most selfish, short-sighted, counter-intuitive, violent, frivolous, stupid, sanctimonious, theocratic, psychosomatic populace that has ever walked this planet.

A devil's advocate might argue, "He'll never do it. We can't even get people to live out their own natural life-spans by getting them to eat sensibly and exercise once in a while. How could anyone bridge the Food Porn gap?"

Persuasive and compelling as that argument appears, there is no question Dr. Gupta will succeed. Worse, he'll probably find a way to make us all better people while succeeding.

So, Dr. Gupta gets people to live to be 1,000 years old. What good is that in our youth worshipping culture? What's the point of being 987 years old in a world where 30 year olds are considered "passed it"? Kids are entering puberty earlier than ever before due to better nutrition. At the same time, we're seeing adults living a prolonged adolescence -- as evidenced with the toyification of automobiles, consumer electronics, and our increasing need and obsession with gadgets -- due to our already prodigious life-spans.

Can you imagine 881 year old Wal-Mart meeter-greeters? How in the world will Bob Evans and golf courses keep up with the avalanche of immortal, milkshake humanity knocking down its doors? If I'm about to have an aneurysm driving behind a pokey 78 year old on the highway, what cardiac and psychological horrors will motorists have to endure driving behind someone who's 778? Will we have to institute a cut-off age? No driving after the age of 600? By that time, AARP will be in control of the One World Government, and will probably outlaw youth. Bob Hope, Milton Burl and Sarah Palin will be on our one-world currency.

The frightening part of Dr. Gupta is that he's probably taken all these scenarios into account -- and is still moving forward! He'll be the Overlord of the Aged. The L. Ron Hubbard of the string-saving-buffet-and-bargain-obsessed. The Immortology uniform will be sun visors, Yoko Ono shades, pastel colored trousers and blindingly white sneakers. The new call of the wild will be "Whaaaat? You want vermin on your stereo?" "No, I said 'Lemon on my sturgeon'!"

It'll turn out to be the reverse of what the sci-film Soylent Green depicted in our future: suicide stations will, indeed, be opened, but they'll service the young rather than the grudging, angry aged.

Groups of people in their chemically sustained 400s and 500s might descend like jackals on fetuses of a mere 30 or 40 years old, clubbing them so that there will be more pharmaceuticals for people in their middle hundreds. Such instances of violence will be "Age Rage."

No matter what, it must be stopped. Personally, I do not want to be held hostage on this earth for potentially 1,000 years. Dr. Sanjay Gupta must be halted, if not outright destroyed. There is only one sure way for this to happen:

Someone please take him to Las Vegas for a long weekend.

Black (& Blue) Friday - shopper within the maelstrom

Being a person who "thinks outside of the box," I did my Black Friday shopping on Saturday. A few sacrifices had to be made: living with the disappointment that I would likely not witness anyone being trampled to death; knowing the odds of witnessing shopper-on-shopper violence had decreased from the day before. But I made do with the day, anyhow.

One thing I did notice -- paying for purchases at Borders Books is like checking in for a flight at the airport. You're holding a product(s) in one hand, a mode of payment in the other. The transaction should move at the speed of the electronic cash register. But it doesn't. There is a litany of questions to be answered: "Do you have a Borders Reward Card?" If you don't: "Would you like to open one?" Once that is over with, the customer is asked if they'd like to donate a dollar to some Borders-sponsored charity -- complete with brief explanation of said charity and even mode of gift and delivery. And then finally: "Would you like a gift receipt?" I answered "no" to everything -- even the query, asked in semi-shock: "Would you like open a Borders Reward Card?" -- and it still took me about three to four minutes to checkout. This after waiting in line behind people who answered "yes" to these various questions, and whose checkout procedures took between four and eight minutes. Honestly. To buy a fucking book, CD, DVD or calendar? I wouldn't be surprised on my next visit to Borders if I should bring my metaphysician to help me explain whether or not I am worthy of my purchase.

I was not only engaged in my own shopping, but had the pleasure of chauffeuring -- and it was a pleasure, though they were a little light on the tips -- three Shopping Titans for whom Saturday outings are treated like Olympic events. As they conducted their commerce, I availed of my freedom in the car, spinning by to pick them up at various venues when summoned telephonically.

So, in picking up my passengers, I had occasion to venture into other stores where I would not normally have gone.

I was disappointed to find that Costco wasn't under martial law. It appeared to be hemorrhaging 50" television sets, but aside from that, all was in order. We even had lunch there. Turkey wraps. And I was endlessly amused to see an octagonal metal box bolted to the napkin and condiment counter, which bore the following legend: Onion Dispenser. At a glance, I guessed that the box was bullet proof and probably impervious to radiation.

Target looked like it might offer more action. For instance, there was a bird flying around inside the store -- a small sign of nature's intent to one day encroach and overtake the place, growing wild mushrooms in dressing rooms, saplings in the toy department, tar pits in the music, movie and "books" departments. Other than the usual bovine, mouth-breathing lumbering set in electric wheelchairs and wheezing over laden carts, there was no need for tear gas or truncheons.

One place where tear gas, truncheons and water cannons were needed: on the roads.

Michigan is the only American state where I've logged enough hours and miles to make a true judgment on its drivers: they're dangerous, unthinking, with the red needle of their mortality quivering every moment between homicide and suicide. Although I've yet to secure verification, here is my best guess at how their driving system works: Michigan drivers are rewarded (probably with fuel credits) for every accident in which they're involved. Instigators of accidents are eligible for more rewards, but the victims aren't left out entirely. That's the only explanation for the way people conduct themselves on Michigan roads.

Where I come from, automobile accidents are viewed as something negative. There's the risk of injury or death -- then dealing with doctors, hospitals, recuperation, rehabilitation, lawyers, and the whole mire of insurance. There's also the damage to a needed vehicle, and once again dealing with the insurance company. Even when the accident isn't serious, it's an enormous inconvenience. Often, the police are involved. At the very least, the drivers involved must convene at the nearest safe location to exchange insurance information -- or blows. In fact, automobile accidents in my neck of the woods are so inconvenient, so no-win, that most people actually do their utmost to avoid them. The problem for me driving in Michigan is I do not know how to collect the rewards for engaging in a collision, and thus appeared to be a bit of a kill-joy on the motorway.

By afternoon, my party was in the Great Lakes Crossing shopping center. There, things began to get dicey. There was no violence, not even a whiff of a threat of violence. There was only the untended mayhem of so many people in the same place at once. I'm sure there's a formula from the realm of physics to explain a phenomena I witnessed -- the larger the single group of people walking together, the slower they walked. Whole systems of round, planet-shaped people clogged the walking area like asteroid fields.

This is where shopping mall cops -- some hilariously on Segways -- need to act a little more like rangers on golf courses. Gotta get those herds moving. One method I think would work is to make any person moving substantially below the average speed of the other walkers (some calculations would be required, as well as speed monitoring equipment) should be made to wear large orange cones on their heads. This would give the dual messages of "Pylons" and "Dunces Ahead." I mean, clearly, intelligence is linked to how quickly a person walks. Margaret Mead or Thomas Edison determined that.

One final sociological note: health care in America costs a fortune and obesity is the leading cause of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, etc.. You see where this equation is going. Yet, the same counter-intuitive curveball I witnessed on the roads was on display everywhere I encountered shoppers: people are eating themselves right into intensive care wards, which few of them can afford. So, there must be some hidden reward system at work that I could not figure out. I did see an enormous number of tattoos, though I didn't stare long enough to make sense of any of them. Maybe these peoples' bodies are like NASCAR cars, covered with logos of sponsors. Maybe they're sponsored by the makers of corn syrup and all the other science fiction ingredients found listed in soda or chocolate bar.

I believe there is a documentary to be about that hidden world.

So, after a day of disappointing civility, no reward points from any car collisions, I took my charges away from the action and delivered them to safety. We had engaged in commerce on the most herniated shopping weekend of the year and had only our purchases to show for it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiger Woods: Isn't it wonderful what money can do? Choose when or if you speak to the police

From Yahoo! News: Police: Woods, wife unavailable for interview.

Inside the Hotdog Factory has learned from an anonymous source, that Tiger Woods was possibly high on a combination of cough medicine and 5-Hour Energy "when his Cadillac SUV struck a fire hydrant and a tree just beyond his driveway at 2:25 a.m. Friday." Both are legal substances, and most of this short drive was done on his own private property. The man is free to do as he pleases.

And that's the message being driven home (pun intended) by Woods' refusal to speak to police about the incident. Surely, he's feeling a little sheepish about reports that his wife had to break a window in the vehicle with a golf club -- they're probably as plentiful in the Woods household as hash pipes or typewriter ribbons were on the compound of Hunter S. Thompson -- and dragged him to safety where she performed some vague form of "first aid" on him.

"Police said his lips were cut and blood was in his mouth when officers arrived." So, maybe he's been reduced to communicating with grunts and hand gestures. Being the pathological perfectionist he is on the golf course, it's quite possible that he won't communicate with police until he's an expert in this new mode.

Or, maybe he's waiting for something to clear his system. Inside the Hotdog Factory would never irresponsibly conjecture about drug use. Tiger Woods doesn't look like he's ever had a beer in his life. We all know he doesn't shave -- those Gillette ads are just a brilliant act.

Most importantly about this story is that Tiger Woods demonstrates that money -- actual, stinking, make-you-sick wealth -- is the Great Smoother-Over. You have a enough money, you decide when and if you speak to the police after crashing your car outside your home. I'm sure this saga will take the same turn as Dick Cheney's hunting mishap, years ago, when he accidentally shot a hunting partner in the face. When the injured hunting partner was finally well enough, he spared no time in apologizing to Dick Cheney for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, it's only a matter of time before the City of Orlando issues a written apology to Tiger Woods for ridiculously positioning the fire hydrant he hit where it was.

If you have the money, you have free access to the Rule Book Etch-a-Sketch -- and you can give it a shake whenever you want to clear the rules and start over so they work more in your favor.

Or, maybe it's just a case where he and his wife were fighting, she hit him in the mouth with a ubiquitous golf club, he crashed his vehicle fleeing her, and they're now cooking up their story. When you mix Orlando with the parallel universe of professional golf, anything is possible.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Women’s Beach Volleyball: Sports Porn?

Discussion Board Post
Does anyone else think this is the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of the Olympics? Did anyone else notice how contrived all the ass slapping and full-body hugging was?

And uh ... how 'bout those replays? Did they show ANY points being scored, or did they only replay shots of the physical contact between the players?

Discussion Board Reply:
Beach volleyball has a noble and lengthy history dating back to 584 B.C. on the Isle of Lesbos. The girls played nude, using a wiffleball of sorts made from palm leaves. They played only at night, guided by the phosphorescent properties of the palm leaves. No spectators were allowed, only the unblinking moon, the Eye of All Things Les.

It was a better world back then -- there were no tampon commercials on the television to make us squirm while watching the Olympics with our mothers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Apple, Microsoft -- an inexpert opinion of a long-time user

I was endlessly fascinated and entertained by the documentary series, Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires. The documentary also, however, filled me with conflicting feelings about the genesis of the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows.

I know that in creative life -- particularly in the most profitable areas of creative life -- there is much "borrowing" that goes on. Borrowing that looks and smells pretty much like stealing. Nobody in the documentary denies that this went on and continues to occur. Where my conflicting feelings emanate from is how the theft is couched and rationalized by the perpetrators.

In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs had heard about Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which housed a team of truly innovative computer programmers and designers whom the Xerox executive titans seemed to keep on retainer merely to have a dedicated group to consistently ignore. The PARC team had come up with something called SmallTalk, which was the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) that shifted users away from punching code into a computer to make it perform functions. SmallTalk had a mouse along with the keyboard, and the screen was filled with windows and icons that were manipulated by the mouse.

Somehow, the corporate braintrust at Xerox allowed Steve Jobs to see a demo of this technology. Even more mystifying, that same brainless braintrust ascented to Steve Jobs' demand that the entire Apple programming team view a demo of SmallTalk. Adele Goldberg of PARC was horrified. As with any large company, the higher-ups in Xerox had no idea what innovations their grunt workers had created -- no matter how often those innovations were presented to them. They simply didn't understand the landmark technology they possessed. Adele Goldberg made a gallant effort to impress upon the dozy, dollar-drunk executives that they'd be giving away the farm if they showed that technology to the Apple programmers. The suits didn't listen. They told her to do the demo. Goldberg said she would only do so if she were ordered to. So, the princes of the Xerox penthouse offices ordered her to give the demo.

Steve Jobs, of course, downplays the technical prowess of SmallTalk, saying the Xerox programmers had gotten a lot wrong, and that the system was incomplete. From what is shown in the documentary, it appeared that the Xerox programmers had created a very creditable GUI in SmallTalk. It was much more on its feet than Jobs lets on.

So, Apple stole from SmallTalk and Microsoft stole from Macintosh. Stealing is stealing. However, I can say that Apple certainly improved upon the idea they stole, and expanded upon it. Microsoft bastardized the idea they stole. Apple sells over-priced computers. Microsoft sells over-priced, faulty beta versions of their software. Steve Jobs accuses Microsoft of making "truly third-rate products." Bill Gates is learning how to change water into wine in his spare time.

I believe that Microsoft gained and deserves the enmity of users because it ships incomplete, unfinished products as though they're new. Microsofts turns their users into unpaid QA testers for their crashing, glitchy products. Microsoft attempts to literally patch over this breach of responsibility by sending out their Windows Updates, which fills users' machines with digital barnacles that negatively affect the performance of those machines. I've experienced this first hand. I had a Dell laptop that I used as a dedicated digital typewriter. In order to attain truly distraction-free writing, I vowed never to go on the Web with that machine. The laptop was fast and instantly responsive to commands. A few years after buying it, I eventually went on the Web with that laptop. Of course, there was a dumpsterful of Windows Updates to be poured into it. Within weeks, my once speedy, responsive laptop became a veritable paperweight. It was sluggish to the point of making me think it had just frozen up while trying to carry out a function. It took several minutes to boot. It took a long time to do anything, even simple things like opening MS Word. Clearly, it was stuffed full of Windows Updates Christmas turkey, and Bill Gates' patches had turned my laptop into a $1,000 beer coaster.

Apple has its own software updates, but a year after buying a MacBook, and allowing the Apple updates through, the machine is still as fast and responsive as the day I bought it.

Bill Gates is not only the king of corporate brutality, he's also the king of excuses. I've heard him interviewed dozens of times, and have always marveled at the variety and creativity of reasons why Microsoft products don't work as advertised. Maybe the excuses are downloaded to his mind via Windows Update. Gates always seems to be saying some variation of, "Well, computers are complex machines and we create software that performs complex functions. Not everything is going to work all the time."

No shit.

That's as reassuring as a brain surgeon removing a tumor from a patient's brain, but leaving that patient quacking like a duck every time they try to speak, shrugging, "Well, brain surgery is complex. Ninety-five percent of the procedure went flawlessly." Problem is, you've got to pay attention to that five percent that slips away.

The worst thing about Microsoft is this: they got it right with their operating system XP. They got it right with Word '97. Their sin is paving over what works along with what needs fixing, and making their users relearn technology they already know. For instance, I used to use MS Word as my primary writing tool. It wasn't long before I grew weary of it creating a new style every time I Italicized text, or bolded something, or simply sneezed. When I printed my work, there would often be lines that didn't look right -- where the spacing was off or inconsistent, where the font was different. When I went back into my Word doc, I found that the styles in various paragraphs were different. I certainly didn't make that happen. Word just had so many differing styles racked up, it belched a few times and assigned the wrong style to the wrong paragraph. For all the patches I've received from Microsoft, none have ever rectified that situation.

I once read prognastications of the future of computers by Bill Gates in which he forecasted the advent of tiny, tablet-sized computer screens. Well, anywhere I go, all I've seen are larger and larger monitors -- designers working on multiple monitors. Sure, cell phones on which people text are ubiquitous, but aside from getting former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, into trouble, texting is no sustainable, long-term mode of doing business. You can't create a PowerPoint presentation on a BlackBerry.

Where users and programmers who know what they're doing want to see the technology go is toward lighter, faster, more elegant software. Also, cheaper. Ubuntu linux is less than 700 MB and it's free. Macintosh computers do cost more, but their software -- at least what I use -- is substantially less costly than Windows. For instance, I write using a word processing program called Bean. It's free. For something more robust, which can do spreadsheets and presentations, I have NEO Office. Users of Windows machines are getting more savvy and using OpenOffice and other free, open source software.

Word 2003 2007 presented users with a real beaut of a curveball -- the .docx file extension. If you save your work in that format, you can only open it again using Word 2003 2007. No problem if you only use only one machine and never have occasion to open that file on another. It caused me a hell of a lot of trouble when using my thumb-drive and moving from my desktop computer to my Dell laptop, which didn't have Word 2003 2007. It was a familiar Microsoft experience for me: like riding in a car with a standard transmission with a driver who's learning how to use the clutch -- that stomach-jarring bucking and sudden stopping. Maybe the .docx was a hamhanded Microsoft attempt at introducing security to documents. But even that backfires if someone stealing your work has Word 2003 2007.

So, in a world where users want leaner, smaller software footprints in their machines, Microsoft rolls out Windows Vista, an embarrassing copy of Mac OS X, which weighs in at 15 GB. Talk about bringing together lack of vision with worldclass unresponsiveness to the needs and wants of users. Sure, Microsoft is trying to get back in the saddle with Windows 7, but by now, I have no patience for relearning technology I already know.

Lessons learned from Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires:
  1. Patent your innovations.
  2. Answer the damned door if a company like IBM comes knocking.
  3. Don't invite the competition into your workshop to see what your programmers and designers are doing.
  4. Learn a little about PR / Learn a little bit about being a gracious billionaire.
  5. Your product should be at least 75 percent as good as all your boasting claims it to be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My old Mac Classic, circa 1991

I was watching an excellent documentary series, Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires and grew nostalgic for my old Mac Classic, which I bought instead of a car back in May 1991.

I began writing a few years before that, using a program called Pocket Writer on a Commodore 64. The machine only had enough memory to accommodate four pages of text. When I hit the bottom of that fourth page, the cursor would go no further. But Pocket Writer allowed me to connect documents for printing purposes, which was good, but as my short stories got longer, it became unworkable. So, I graduated to an IBM clone; it's outer shell was made of the same material that shields the outside of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It had no hard drive, but came with a 3.5 and a 5.25 floppy drives, respectively. I wrote using a program called WordWriter, which seemed to have no page limits or restrictions. It didn't look as good as Pocket Writer, but all I was interested in having was a digital typewriter that would allow me to edit onscreen.

As my writing progressed, my technological needs increased -- or, at least, my inner geek wanted more horse power. So, in May 1991, I bought a Mac Classic. It came with a 40 MB hard drive. For a few extra bucks, I was able to soup that up to 44 MB. As quickly as I could get the computer out of the box, once I was home, and assemble it on my desk, I was up and running, writing and printing on my LaserWriter printer.

The word processing program I used on it was FullWrite by Ashton Tate -- the same program Douglas Adams used on the final installment of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. For the first time, what I saw onscreen matched what I would print out. No more glitchy surprises after I got rid of my Panasonic dot matrix printer. By the end of June I had written a 440 page novel on my Mac Classic. That novel went through numerous versions, but ultimately became my suspense novel, Randham Acts, which came out in 2006.

The computer not only worked flawlessly, it worked the way my mind worked: simply. I worked steadily, daily, hourly, on that machine right up until 1997 when I moved overseas and simply couldn't bring the machine with me. Just before leaving, though, I do recall my LaserWriter printer breaking down. I had printed thousands of pages on it, and it had been a very reliable workhorse. I took it into my woefully ill-equipped Apple dealer, who said that it just needed a part to continue working. Could he get the part? No. I called the 1-800 Apple Customer Service number in Canada and was mystified to get a recorded message telling me the number was unlisted.

While away, I used whatever computers were available to me for my writing. All of those were Windows machines. And when I finally returned home, the only machines available to me were Windows machines. When I got around to buying my own, I went with a Windows machine because it was substantially cheaper than an Apple.

As of last year, I'm back on an Apple: a MacBook. I also have an old Dell PC.

After seeing that wonderful documentary, Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires, today, I just had to pull out the old Mac Classic. If I had a workable printing option for the machine, I'd still use it to write.

"We've got to take this country back!" Yeah, back to the Dark Ages

America's Top MILF is on the book-signing circuit. Recently, when asked if she had any advice for Canadian conservatives who have worked so tirelessly to destroy their own socialized medicare, Sarah Palin replied "Canada needs to dismantle its public health-care system and allow private enterprise to get involved and turn a profit."

This exchange occurred in two parts. Canadian comedian and political commentator, Mary Walsh, posed the question to Palin while inside the bookstore, but was quickly hustled away from the Diva of Indoctrination by a wall of Blackwater-like toughs. They had to wait outside to catch Palin on her way to her bus for a reply.

Sarah Palin didn't start the "We've got to take this country back!" movement among conservatives, but she's certainly risen to among its figureheads. No, she when that movement was gaining ground, Sarah Palin was courting the Alaska Independence Party, which sought to break away from the United States of America; she was also having demons and witchcraft cast out of her body, while still finding time to see Putin rear his head from nearby Russia.

Yes, the calls for "We've got to take this country back!" have grown to a deafening pitch since President Obama was elected. Unfortunately, conservatives want to take the country back to the Dark Ages.

It's a continuing mystery how conservative live in society as though there is no society; how they live in a community as though there is no community.

Interesting further reading: Confessions of a former Republican

Monday, November 23, 2009

Balancing all our baskets on one egg: The idiocy we call our economy

Regarding the economy, my current mindset is not: "I once had faith in the mechanisms of our economic system, but now I do not."

My crisis is: "I've never thought much about our economy. Now that I have, I think it's an absurd rollercoaster designed to plow right into the pavement after zooming down the next steep incline."

The premise of the North American economic system is ludicrous: it's based primarily on consumption, yet the jobs that allow consumers to consume are being shipped overseas at a staggering rate. Explain our system to a child, and a six year old could tell you that it's stupid and unworkable.

This consumption economy is diversified only by "debt products" and science fiction investment products (such as derivatives; see The derivatives bubble = $190K per person on planet) that seem to have been created out of the air during power lunches of Wild Turkey and crack cocaine.

All of which is part of our baseline Rape and Pillage Economic model that's geared more to decimate than cultivate the economic landscape. Who has time to develop a relationship with an investor when that investor and his family can be skull-fucked into damnation with investment tools that would drain the blood from the face of the fiercest interrogators of the Spanish Inquisition.

Not that anyone would care, but I've never had any use for investments, investment advisors, the stock market, or any other arm of the World Casino we call The Markets.

A TV ad, years ago, summed it up best when it asked the question, "If your financial advisor is so good, why is he still working?"

My skepticism began in my early 20s when I consulted a financial advisor on the advice of friends. The advisor was slick, had more buzz words and industry lingo than I'd ever encountered in one place -- and gave off the singular stench I associate with shysters. I invested some money with him, but took it out a few months later, losing $50 in penalties. The people who had recommended him to me lost tens of thousands of dollars with that jerk.

My Rule of Thumb: If an expert in any field can't describe something about that field to me in a way I can understand, then that expert doesn't know what he's talking about. That goes for auto mechanics, computer techs or chiropractors. If they know what they're talking about, they can describe a particular problem or situation to me in a way I can understand.

Not that I'm leaving my future financial to the deities to sort out. My grandfather worked at Ford Motor Company through the 1940s, '50s and '60s. He bought Canadian Savings Bonds his whole life, and never wanted for anything in his retirement. I realize the mere mention of government savings bonds is grounds for laughter and ridicule. I get into that every time with the financial advisor through whom I buy my RRSPs. No matter how I lay the groundwork in an email before going in to buy an RRSP, the advisor assails me with a myriad of other options. Far from sitting there, a meek listener, I am quite vocal about my feelings about this legalized rip-off we call "the stock market." Every time I leave my advisor's office, I feel like I've spent the previous 45 minutes punching a side of beef.

No, my impression of the stock market is that the only people making money there are insider traders. It's schlubs like me who fill the fish tank with money so that piranha like AIG executives and Bernie Madoffs can feed on it at will.

So what do we do? The people driving our economy off a cliff are not elected officials. Elected officials don't seem to have any better idea about how to fix things than I do. And the situation doesn't look like it's going to change for the better any time soon. In the meantime, as long as I continue making my financial advisor turn green with nausea with my decisions, I'll consider myself on the right track.

PBS Frontline's: The Warning

The Madoff Affair

Hall of Shame: 12 of the Worst Financial Gurus

Jim Cramer's Advice Slightly Worse Than A Coin Toss?

The History of the Credit Card

The Day of the Dollar

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"New citizenship guide says no to 'barbaric' practices"

Rare is the day when the Canadian government does something worth applauding, but when it does, compliments should be as forthcoming as criticism ever is. The publication of Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Canadian Citizenship marks a new, clear-minded day in multiculturalism. Most notably, expressed on Page 9 of the guide:
"In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, 'honour killings,' female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."
That, of course, should be a no-brainer, but alas, it's not. We live in a world where such things need to be spelled out. And kudos to those who had the guts to spell it out because there will never be any shortage of hand-wringers and hurrumphers who are quick to trample on their own culture in deference to others coming to this culture.

It's good that Canada is not a melting pot. It is good that we are a mosaic. What the hand-wringers and hurrumphers don't seem to understand is that it's tough having a coherent mosaic when one of its tiles is trying to mutilate the genitals of another.

This is a step forward.

There remain, however, other objectionable aspects of Canada and Canadian citizenship that still need to be worked on. The Quebec language police is one. Another is the line in the Oath of Citizenship that states ". . . To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second Queen of Canada . . ." Come on, we're adults. People can and should make their oath to the flag or entity or idea of Canada. Over the years, Queen Elizabeth has demonstrated that she's hardly queen of her own family, much less of Canada.

Those, I guess, will be saved for another day. For the moment, it's a positive step forward having updated citizenship guidelines that uphold Canadian ideals, rather than bending them for the most objectionable among us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Xecs: Prose Poem

After World War Two, a team of American scientists were given a top secret assignment to cultivate a life form known as Xecs, in an experiment to see just how much sadism and avarice could be fitted into humanoid ambulatory bipeds. Extracting DNA from centuries-old bankers frozen in amber, cultivated in Petri dishes the size of garbage can lids, watermelon-round homunculi soon spawned. They were then quick-aged in a light/dark pod that manipulated their circadian cycles, speeding their physical development one week for each actual day that passed.

Many of the Nazis who went missing after the war were part of the Xecs program, training these new life forms, amplifying their avarice, honing their sadism through a complex process of arrogance-immersion and entitlement-enzyme-bombardment.

So then, at the physical age of twenty-eight and a mental age of four years, the Xecs were then fitted into business suits, given briefcases filled with forged, bogus educational and employment credentials, and sent into the world to fulfill their function as corporate executives.

In the mid-1960s, the program went horribly wrong. The first crop of Xecs perpetrated a hostile takeover of the front company of the Xecs program, and bringing in Bay of Pigs-surviving CIA personnel and Jesuits embittered by decades in the missions, the program was ratcheted-up to a malevolent level not even conceived by the program’s original, remorseless scientists.

The Xec life forms from this second phase of the project now pock the earth like hemorrhoidal pods of hostile, alien life in the forms of Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, executives of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Bear Stearns, Bank of America and oil companies—among countless others wreaking unfathomable harm.

At last report, the Xecs program’s unstated mandate was to conspire biologically into creating a fully functioning replica of Satan himself. Progress is said to be "going well."

Food Allergy: Prose Poem

Eating eggs is like putting a unionized monster in my body, who drops his bowling ball on the parquet floor of my stomach, snorts and spits on my chest wall, rubs his calloused, tradesman's hands together and then pushes against the sides of my torso with Hercules bravado, shoving all moister out of my body, so it's streaming down my sides, neck and back like condensation crying down a toilet tank in a truck stop john in July.

Teamster-monster relishes this havoc, chuckling as he reaches into his bowling bag and retrieves and old fashioned egg beater. He raises it into my skull, grips the crank handle and runs the beater like God spinning clouds out of confetti.

My digestive system's chemistry set floods the scene in desperation, pooling morose fluid around the Teamster-monster's work boots and his bowling ball resting in a dent in my parquet. This is the start of things righting themselves.

When the Teamster-monster's shoulders tire, he lowers his arms, drops the egg beater into his bowling bag; fits his bowling ball in there, too. He looks around, sees he hasn't wrecked the place—everything will soon be, again, as it ought and should. He shrugs. It doesn't matter what state I'm in when he leaves, he's paid by the hour.

Lenny Bruce Without Tears - 1972 Documentary

Lenny Bruce was to stand-up comedy what Sir Isaac Newton was to mathematics: he may not have invented it, but he sure as hell owned it. The Fred Baker documentary, Lenny Bruce Without Tears (1972), brings a fascinating, sympathetic, unvarnished portrait of Lenny to audiences who may have never heard of him.

Lenny revolutionized stand-up comedy by bringing to the stage a level of honesty, razor wit and social satire that was so cutting and controversial, that by the 1960s, police routinely observed his performances and sometimes arrested him right on stage. The charges against Lenny? Obscenity. It was the time of "Uncle Milty" and I Love Lucy, and bringing the issues of the day to the nightclub stage with frank, unprettied langauge, was virtually unheard of.

Against a backdrop of stock film footage, Fred Baker lets Lenny speak for himself, running long excerpts from Lenny's numerous albums while hilariously timed images - from cowboy, football and historical movies, as well as news footage of politicians and military leaders - flit across the screen. All Lenny ever wanted to do was make his own case for his act. Fred Baker afforded him that opportunity, albeit, too late.

Time Magazine referred to Lenny Bruce as a "sick comic," and much of the press jumped onto that superficial bandwagon. Ever after, Lenny battled the semantic trap of "bad taste," ably, articulately, humorously defending himself in his nightclub act. Lenny was deemed "sick" because he held up a mirror to a sick society. Audiences got it. The authorities wanted to kill the messenger.

Born in Mineola, New York in 1925, and named Leonard Alfred Schneider, Lenny was once asked by a police officer, "If your name's really 'Schneider' whyja change it to 'Bruce'?" Lenny replied, "Because 'Schneider' sounded too Hollywood."

In speaking about modern life - sexuality, drug use, racism, and the hypocrisy rampant in organized religion - Lenny packed audiences into nightclubs, some of them undercover police. What commonly occurred was that Lenny's show would be attended by a plainclothes police officer who would make note of each "dirty" word uttered by Lenny. "He sees my show at eleven o'clock at night," Lenny described from a San Francisco stage near the end of his life, "and then does the act for a judge at eleven o'clock the next morning. The cop bombs, but I get busted!"

He called his routines "bits", and among the best of Lenny's bits was called "Christ and Moses," in which he imagined Jesus Christ and Moses returning to modern America of the 1960s, and what they'd find: the opulence of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the $8,000 ring on the finger of Cardinal Spellman.

Another bit titled "Religions, Inc.," satirized religious leaders of the day -- among them Billy Graham and Orel Roberts -- and carrying on as though at a business meeting.

On the subject of media's influence on children, Lenny once said, "I'd prefer my kid watch a stag movie rather than 'King of Kings.' Because there's killing in 'King of Kings' and I don't want my kid to kill Christ when he comes back."

Regarding racism and bigotry, Lenny once said to an audience, "You and I know what a Jew is" -- Lenny was Jewish -- "one who killed the Lord." He then took the satire further: rather than trying to reason with that faulty, ridiculous logic, he decided to confess: "We did it, I did it -- my family did it. We found a note in the basement that said, 'We did Him in,' signed Morty."

Lenny was considered "dirty" in America, but in Canada and Europe he was regarded as a satirist on par with Rabelais and Jonathan Swift. London Observer critic, Kenneth Tynan, was among his proponents, as were the young cast of comedians who would ultimately become Monty Python. In the end, though, Lenny was deported from England and from Australia because the establishment simply felt too threatened by his comedy.

By 1964, Lenny had been arrested more than a dozen times and had cases pending in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. He began arguing his legal case on the nightclub stage. Nightclub owners across the country were threatened by authorities not to book Lenny Bruce. At one point, authorities took away his cabaret card, rendering him unable to work.

The trials and the lawyers and legal arguments exhausted Lenny, who never gave up hope that if he just perform his act before a judge, everything would be solved. But courts do not work in such a straightforward manner. To the end, Lenny believed in the power of words, but the judicial system kept him from harnessing them to bring his argument to the fore in any meaningful way.

After years of countless arrests and court battles across the country, Lenny Bruce died of a morphine overdose on August 3, 1966. He was immediately enshrined as a secular saint in popular culture, as "Father Bruce," in a Jefferson Airplane song, and a song about him appeared on Bob Dylan's late 70s album, Saved. Only a few years after his passing, stage plays of his life and act and comedy were performed to rave reviews and packed theaters. In 1974, Bob Fosse directed Dustin Hoffman in a bio pic titled Lenny.

Fred Baker's documentary Lenny Bruce Without Tears delivers what it promises -- an uncompromising look at one of the most brilliant and controversial public figures in the later part of the 20th century. It's not a sentimental, hero worshipping look at Lenny, but a fitting eptiaph for a comedian who left the world much changed from how he'd found it at the beginning of his 40-year life.

Lenny found his voice and vision as an MC in third rate strip clubs, introducing dancers and doing shtick in between acts. Since the audience was there to see the strippers, Lenny found he could say anything that came to mind and always got the same reaction: no reaction. After a while, though, he found that he was consistently cracking up the band, jazzmen earning stale pay checks accompanying the dancers.

By the late 1950s, Lenny was headlining in nightclubs in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. He took his act from his daily life, commenting items in the news, and generally riffing on the hypocrisies of the day.

The film opens with Lenny entering an office in what appears to be a courthouse. There are fans and observers and even a camera crew on hand. When asked by a voice offscreen what the purpose of his visit is, Lenny states, "I'd like to report a crime."

XML Choking Incident

12:14 p.m. instant messenger transcript taken from the IT department of WorkplaceUSA:

Zuber1101: We might have our own choking incident going on now. Look behind you

LockKnot4: nice

Zuber1101: Clem's trying to mask it but I think he’s having trouble If I get to do the Heimlich maneuver I want you to write the newsletter article

LockKnot4: < ?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"? >
                  < choke >
                  < /choke >
                  < eject > < /eject >
                  < /xml >

Zuber1101: Hey, I think that actually worked

LockKnot4: whew good

Zuber1101: Just what he needed

LockKnot4: well-formed safety training technique It’s all in the parser I can’t take the credit

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hurrah for Laziness: The Imbecilization of Children

Lawyers do what they do: they sue. And rotten parents do what they do: anything to get out of parenting. And the kids . . . well, who the hell cares about them?
From The Guardian: Sherri and Tom Milley, two lawyers from Calgary, Alberta, launched their highly unusual case after years of struggling to make their three reluctant children do school work out of the classroom.

After waging a long war with their eldest son, Jay, now 18, over his homework, they decided to do things differently with their youngest two, Spencer, 11, and Brittany, 10. And being lawyers, they decided to make it official.
What a victory for the further imbecilization of children! Of course homework won't turn any child into Stephen Hawking. No, it's worse -- having to do homework might teach responsibility and self-discipline; impart the notion that one is responsible for one's actions. None of which has any place in our drive-thru, zombie-consumerist, Me first! world.
More from The Guardian: "It was a constant homework battle every night," Sherri told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. "It's hard to get a weeping child to take in math problems. They are tired. They shouldn't be working a second shift."

"Why were we putting our family through that stress?" she wondered. "If we don't want it all, we shouldn't have to have it."
. . .
"We think it's a parent's right to choose what's in our children's best interests," said Sherri. "But we're thankful the school did the right thing."
Well, I'm sure Sherri was thinking of someone's best interest, but I don't think it was her kid's. If we don't want it all, we shouldn't have to have it should be emblazoned on a bronze plaque.

So, good on you Sherri and Tom Milley, liberators of children, freers of the oppressed, lifters of the lowly, speakers for the mute, and excuse forgers for the terminally lazy. Score one in the Win column for mediocrity, ignorance and the further erosion of character in the North American ambulatory biped.

The following suggestion may fall into the category of the accursed "homework," but I do hope that Sherri and Tom Milley's children do learn a couple phrases before they grow out of tween-pain-in-the-asshood to shiftless twentynothinghood. Those two helpful phrases are: "Welcome to Wal-Mart" and "You want fries with that?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Soundboarding Part II

Read Part I

One day, the doorbell rang. A lanky man in a pinstripe suit, and sporting a Chaplin mustachio, stood on the front stoop. When Corman opened the front door, the man introduced himself as Nipsey Krimp. He said that he represented a research company called Microsecond Arbitrage, which was interested in speaking to his wife. Corman asked how Krimp had heard of her.

"We're a technology company," he said slyly. "We have ways of finding new talent."

"New talent?" he said. "But she already has a job."

"Yes, I understand that," Krimp said. "But still, I'd like to make her an offer."

He had certainly timed his visit right -- it was then that Alva came home. Corman was about to ask Krimp to leave, but Alva wanted to hear what he had to say.

"I can only speak to Mrs. Corman," Krimp explained. The look Corman got from his wife told him to leave them alone. They adjourned to the living room, and Corman pretended to go to his office.

Being a Hearist, however, Corman was able to hear the conversation by lingering in the hallway outside his home office. He didn't catch everything that was said, but did hear "special skills", "security clearance", and "national security."

Corman went to his office and ran some Internet searches on Microsecond Arbitrage. He learned they were a military contractor that worked closely with the CIA. He couldn't imagine what they'd want with Alva. When Krimp finally left, Alva said she wasn't at liberty to fill him in on the purpose of the meeting.

"But that's crazy!" Corman said. "A stranger comes here out of the blue, demands to speak to you privately, and you can't tell me what he wanted?"

"I'm sorry," she said and went into the kitchen to make something to eat. As she made a BLT, it sounded to Corman like she was using claymores and marching band cymbals to accomplish the task.

* * *

A week after Nispey Krimp's visit, Alva informed Corman that she had been offered a job that would take her out of the country for an unspecified amount of time.

"Does this have anything to do with Krimp and his outfit?" Corman said, incredulous.

"I can't say," Alva said.

Two weeks later, after Alva finished up at her job, she left to work for Microsecond Arbitrage. Following a two-week orientation with them, the nature of her assignment was revealed. Nipsey Krimp, her case manager, filled her in.

"You're being assigned to a location known as 'The Barracks.' It's a reconverted cruise ship, outfitted with cells and interrogation rooms, where only the most high value prisoners are kept."

Luckily, the employee living quarters there hadn't been changed from those the luxury cruise ship had before becoming The Barracks. The mess hall was the same opulent dining room -- complete with patriotic ice sculptures -- where passengers once dined. There was even a swimming pool and gym area available to all employees. Alva settled in quickly and soon felt like she was on vacation.

Then Krimp paid her a visit.

He was grim as he showed her a picture of the first prisoner she would assist in interrogating. "Ozi Blaze Kuku is impervious to physical pain," Krimp explained, leading Alva from her cabin down several decks to the windowless interrogation room where she would be working.

"His pain threshold is off the charts, so we've been unable to induce him to give us information using any of our conventional methods," Krimp said. "We're hoping that you can break him."

Krimp led Alva into the interrogation room. It looked like the kitchen of any ordinary middle class North American home. There was a counter with a stainless steel sink, cupboards filled with dishes, drawers filled with cutlery. There was a refrigerator stocked with food, and even a dishwasher. The only thing that appeared out of the ordinary was the heavy wooden chair bolted to the tile floor a few feet away. It had thick leather straps for binding occupants at the arms, legs and head.

Off to the side was a table with recording and stenographic equipment.

As Alva familiarized herself with the interrogation room's kitchen, Kuku was led into the room under guard. He was in shackles and had a black hood over his head. The guards placed him in the chair, fastened him in place without taking off his shackles. Then pulled the hood away. The guards left the room and remained at the door outside.

Kuku blinked, blinded momentarily by the fluorescent lights beaming off the white kitchen walls. When his eyes grew accustomed to the surroundings, his dark gaze fell on Alva. His face cracked into an unpleasant smile. Suddenly, he laughed. He spoke something in his native language, Mqqistani. Alva didn't understand.

A slight crackle came from a speaker in the ceiling, followed by Krimp's voice: "Agent 48Q, You may commence loading the dishwasher."

Kuku watched Alva open the dishwasher. After his extraordinary rendition from Mqqistan three years before, he was subjected to months of waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation and sirens blasting in his cell. Little did the infidels know that these techniques merely replicated the experience of attending a Kuku family reunion. Now it appeared that the Agents of Satan were trying to bore to death.

"It will never work," Kuku said in Mqqistani. He began to laugh again, but the cackling caught in his throat when a coffee mug slipped from Alva's hand. The mug slammed onto the kitchen counter and crashed to the tile floor.

Alva began loading the dishwasher.

Outside the interrogation room, the two seasoned guards heard Kuku's moans morph into wails, and finally into shrieks. His cries were counterpointed by a bizarre onslaught of banging and crashing, and the random clank of cutlery in the stainless steel sink. By the time they re-entered the room thirty minutes later to return him to his cell, Kuku was a gibbering, weeping mess.

* * *

Back home, Corman soon found the silence in the house overwhelming. He piled dishes precariously in the sink, hoping they would slowly dislodge themselves over time, and clank and shift, and fill some of the void. He asked friends to come over and attempt to simulate the racket Alva made. They were no help. They broke a pile of dishes, but never recreated his wife's dynamic discordant noise.

At one point, Corman hired prostitutes to come to the house and load his dishwasher, bake brownies, or cook omelets. Most of the bewildered girls balked entirely at the weirdness of the request, but the few who made the attempt only managed to arouse Corman's lonely missing of his wife.

He eventually took the radical step of buying several sets of dishes, piling them on the roof of his house at various points, and waiting for the wind to blow them off. The noise of it was random, all right, but it did more to unnerve the neighbors than assuage his missing Alva.

When the doorbell rang one day, Corman rushed to answer it, hoping it was Nipsey Krimp come to say Alva's assignment was complete and she would be coming home.

No such luck. It was the local police making a "wondering if everything's all right" visit.

* * *

For her own part, Alva made short work of the high-value captives in custody. She had reduced them all to pliable, pitiable putty. After two months at The Barracks, she was reassigned to The School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia where she was made instructor of advanced interrogation techniques. It seemed the military was on the verge of a near-fool-proof mode of interrogation with her "soundboarding," as they called it. The only trouble was, no student -- regardless how accomplished a torturer or dedicated a murderer -- could master Soundboarding. No one could replicate the sheer randomness and spectrum of Alva's domestic cacophony. Her students were tested by physicians, and finally she went through a battery of physical and psychological tests.

Dr. Fangolini, senior physician of the S.O.A., summed up the findings this way: "Mrs. Corman is the absolute embodiment of Chaos Theory."

In order to allow her to return to civilian life, several weeks' worth of video footage of her making omelets, baking browniess, and, of course, loading and unloading a dishwasher, were made. They were played back during interrogations.

After almost ten months away from home, Alva returned. During her time away, she'd only been allowed to write to him once a month, and was not allowed any of the mail Corman sent in care of Microsecond Arbitrage. She was given a bundle of Corman's letters to her to read on the flight home.

She returned to find a chastened Corman, and kitchen filled with regular dishes and cutlery -- gone were the carbonized silentware Corman had purchased in the months before Nipsey Krimp's initial visit.

Life in their ordinary neighborhood returned to normal. Exhausted as she was from traveling, Alva gave in to Corman's request that she make them omelets for dinner. As he sat in his office -- listening to sounds that brought to mind lead pellets being dropped on the roof of a tin shed; machine gun fire striking empty oil drums; and ceramic cats being hackey-sacked with hollow, aluminum feet -- he strove to hear the percussion in it all. Alas he could not, so he simply decided that his nervous system now wore a dog collar and a gimp mask.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You think it's tough in the Marines?

Fuck Chuck Norris. Letting your Freak Flag fly in locales where the flag of choice is of the Confederate variety takes balls. Thanks to The People of Wal-Mart, we have visual proof of the most underrated tough guys in America.

Take these dudes in Kill Your Mama, Arkansas. You can't run in heels like that.

Or, these soldiers of personality in Screwjack, Louisiana.

Who are these emissaries of Freakarctica, the nation state of the fashionably audacious, up against? What sinister force opposes their individualism? Who is their chief malefactor?

The Great Wheeled Bigot who scours the landscape with his sniper's gaze looking for an opportunity to tear down someone's Freak Flag. Like this tough-o in I-Am-Who-Am, Mississippi.

The Culture of Rip-off

Why are most packages of food we buy only half-full?

I'm not saying that cereal boxes should be so jam-packed that they'd explode like a box filled with gag spring-snakes if they fall to the floor. I am, however, sick of this "hocus pocus" packaging where I buy a box of cereal that's X size, only to find a bag within it filled half-way with the actual cereal. It's not that I believe I've been overcharged; the cereal box has a weight stamped on the front, and I'm paying for that. I'm talking about the psychological effect of buying a bag of Doritos, opening the thing, and seeing it's only half-full.

I think that would be a pretty easy eco-solution right there to stop wasting energy and resources on extra, unnecessary packaging. Product packaging should fit its contents, with a spread of no more than five percent in the case of bags of chips, and the like. When it comes to more sturdy packaging, the spread should be no more than one percent.

I bought some protein powder mix because I wanted more protein in my diet, but didn't want to eat more meat. The smallest thing I could buy was an industrial-sized bomb-like container of the stuff. I got it home and was mystified to see that it was barely half-full.

Is all that excess empty space there in the event the customer happens to drive their car into a body of water, and might last a few minutes longer by breathing the spare Dorita oxygen from the bag? Or by pricking the seal in the top of the protein powder, and breathing in its excess air? I can see some poor sap pulled from a river after driving his car off a causeway, and while he's still dripping, saying to a probing news camera, "I never would have made it if it hadn't been for the extra oxygen that came with my granola cereal. I owe my life to Post!"

That might be an interesting experiment: Take a corporate executive from one of these food companies, and see how long he could last under water on the excess air found within a week's worth of groceries for a family of four. We would, of course, have the git floating in the tank dressed in his business suit. He'd be given an eye-glasses screwdriver with which to puncture the packaging, and then we'd watch him suck all of that "good corporate citizen" oxygen right from the packaging. I'd watch that on Oprah.

Makers of ground coffee are the only ones who get it right. I open a new can of coffee and I'm completely satisfied with how full it is. So, there is a precedent. This can be done.

It's all part of the culture of rip-off: people have been conditioned to expect less for more. You'd never know that by the execrable advertisements that bombard us every hour of the day. To go by those works of science fiction, you'd think all businesses operate at a loss, and areound simply due to their love for the brotherhood of humankind.

Consumers should demand "actual packaging": packaging that actually fits what they're buying. I'm tired of being conditioned to feel that getting ripped off is OK.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hunter Ceiling Fans: Spinning nowhere fast

First volley
Bought my Hunter ceiling fan at Costco months ago, and was appalled to find that the product came missing parts -- the "remote control receiver" and 3 6-32 machine screws. That's completely unacceptable, but what's been worse is the absolutely atrocious Hunter customer service. My wife and I have called more than once to have these items sent to us, and after literally months, we've only received the remote control receiver. The screws sent to us were the wrong ones. How does a company like Hunter pass itself off as a credible entity when it cannot get even the most basic aspects of packaging and problem resolution straight? Well, I'm a blogger and plan to share my experience with the Better Business Bureau and with I don't take kindly to being treated like a fool.

Reply from Hunter
Thank you for your email. We apologize that you have experienced a problem receiving replacement parts. Please provide the order number or phone number used when you contacted us so that we can locate your order in our system. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please contact us again with the requested information for further assistance.

Second volley
"Please provide the order number or phone number used when you contacted us so that we can locate your order in our system."

Is that a joke? Are you joking with me? Could you put an already inconvenienced customer to more trouble? Should I also include the birthday and favorite color of the operator to whom I spoke?

After an arduous 17 minutes, most of which was only various forms of "hold", I spoke to a Hunter operator today and learned the screw I need is on back-order and won't be available until January 2010. Where do you get your screws? The planet Crypton? IT'S A SCREW. Do you have a single person machining your screws for your entire customer base? Ridiculous upon ridiculous. Hey, I'm only some moron who was stupid enough to buy your product. I mean, who am I that I should impose myself upon Hunter? In fact, accept my apologies for bothering you, for taking up your time.

You know what? You know that strange mental meme in Korea called "fan death?" Where Koreans are terrified of being in a room, or sleeping in a room where is a fan? I hope the fear of fan death sweeps North American. I hope it sweeps your entire customer base. Because given the level of incompetence Hunter has exhibited in my brief experience, I think it's equally irrational to purchase anything from a company that is so backward and upside-down that it takes upwards of nine months to provide a customer with THREE SCREWS. It takes nine months for a human being to form in the womb and be born -- and that's how long it takes Hunter to send me three screws that should have been in the fan I bought in the first place. Screw. Human being. In Hunter's world, both have the same gestation period. Insane.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soundboarding Part I

Corman couldn't help himself. When he heard a sound from outside, or even from another room, that he could not place, he immediately ascribed it the oddest, most absurd origins. When he lived in an apartment, the rolling sound that came from his upstairs neighbor (probably an office chair on the hardwood floor), brought to mind an image of her rolling cannon balls across the floor, or playing snooker while lying on the floor: the object to send balls through the legs of chairs, banking them off the molding so they came out from under the center of the couch. Or, the times random bangs of objects falling startled him, he imagined her learning how to juggle with lead replicas of parakeets.

During college, Corman rented a room in a neighborhood that had a strangely dense population of dogs whose owners left them tied up in their respective back yards all day and all night. Few of them, though, even seemed like actual dogs. Most were mangy, sloppily cross-bred hulks, seeming to be part hyena, part jackal, part hobo. Taking the back alley as a short cut to school was like walking the gauntlet in a maximum security prison: the dogs all coming to malevolent life as Corman passed. All of the dogs rushing their back fences, growling, barking, snarling. The din was terrible, but what was worse was that it somehow seemed personal. The dogs seemed to single out Corman as someone they hated and cursed, reviled and spat upon. The dogs only lacked were bandannas and tattoos, to make the prison gang scene complete.

That was years ago, and Corman was now married and a homeowner, struggling each day to sustain the pretense of ordinary life in his ordinary neighborhood. But the ordinary neighborhood was its own hotbed of alien clamor. Once, while relcined on the couch, Corman heard a loud, insectile sound circling the block. He imagined a teenager on the street was flying a fully weaponized remote control kill-drone around the neighbor; a military-surplus eBay gift from his engineer father. When Corman finally troubled himself to look out the window after the sixth or seventh pass, he saw a full-grown man astride a motor bike the size of a lapdog. It was incredible he could fold his body onto the tiny contraption. By the look on his face, one might have thought the man was test-piloting some nano-technology death-machine. As Corman went back to his book, he imagined the man taking the mini mini-bike to a gas station for fuel, cradling it like a cat and gently feeding it the gas pump nozzle.

Other times, the neighbors further down the street blew off fireworks (there was no rhyme or reason that brought out the fire crackers; it need only be sundown and not snowing outside), Corman imagined a hillbilly, musket shoot-out amid the beer-swilling horde, whom he mentally monikered "The Philistines." They were harmless people, he guessed, but there were very much outdoor people, who gathered around picnic tables like a hunting party, like some primitive council; like the start of society. Especially when they gathered around a bonfire that they built in the middle of one of their driveways. They hooted and hollered into the night. As Corman grew restless one night against their snarling-jovial sounds, he wondered if he might walk by the driveway the next morning -- fold-out lawn chairs askew and overturned, beer bottles everywhere -- and see the charred remains of a human leg or torso in the raised metal pit where they fired up the ritual flames each night.

Proximity had everything to do with the amount of mental anguish the sounds caused Corman. Low-flying jets rankled him. The mini mini-bike irked him. The Philistines annoyed him. But, unfortunately, some of the most torturous sounds occurred right in his own home: Corman was married to a Soundist.

Soundists don't hear their own noise. No one has yet determined if "Soundism" is a neurological condition, psychological in nature, or simply a myth created by complaining Hearists (those who seem to hear everything).

On the grand whole of things, Corman was enormously lucky. His wife was lovely in all ways: temperament, looks, sense of humor, compatibility, etc.. All except one: she was a Soundist. Not only that, she was a virtuoso Soundist. When she loaded the dishwasher, the cacophony was so great, Corman imagined her standing in the kitchen wearing a football helmet and smashing plates, bowls and cutlery into the open dishwasher with a tennis racket. Everafter, he demanded that the dishes and their cleanliness and use-readiness be my responsibility; that the dishwasher be my domain. Eventually, he found us clang-resistant carbon-wrapped cutlery; indestructible, yet made no more sound than a rubber ball when dropped on the tile floor.

The slamming and banging that occurred when she cooked filled him with images that she worked with mallets and jackhammers and small explosives. Afterward, he ensured that dinner preparations were under my purview, silent salads and quiet frozen lasagnas and quesadillas became the order of the day.

When she cleaned, he imagined her punching holes into the walls with white phosphorus and C4. He took care of that as much as he could while she was at work. That, and the laundry as well. Whenever she went downstairs into the unfinished basement, sounds began to emanate upward like those that might be heard in a mine shaft: the screech of metal against stone, the rumbling rock of explosives splitting great mounds of earth, strange clanging as though someone dropped a metal lunch bucket down a narrow, stone-walled well.

She never meant any harm, that was obvious enough. There were times the noise was so egregious, Corman would huddle in his home office and simply listen to the great crashing and rending beyond his closed door. When he emerged, he always expected to find structural damage to the house; blackened holes in the walls, the smell of burnt hair and wiring pervading. But he never did. Everything was fine.

Part II

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bent over the barrel so long, it hurts to straighten up

My favorite café recently tried an innovative promotion: Name Your Own Price Night. Patrons were invited to pay whatever they wanted for their drinks. If they chose, they could have treated themselves to some special concoction that might have normally run four or five dollars, and paid only a dollar for it. Or, if they were of a charitable mind, they could have paid a little more for their usual, and helped the proprietor out.

Of all the possibilities such a night held, what actually occurred was rather surprising to all involved: patrons were irked, rankled, put-out, bothered, cheesed-off, displeased and otherwise unwilling to name their own price. They just wanted to pay what they'd always paid.

I didn't happen to be there that evening, so I didn't witness this firsthand. But hearing, later, from reliable sources, I was mystified. As described to me, patrons were utterly baffled and bewildered by the prospect of naming their own price for their drinks. It rattled them. The response to the evening's promotion was overwhelmingly negative.

Which made me wonder: Did the proprietor unwittingly tap into the rancid gene within our fellow citizens that makes us all such easy prey for our wanton, irresponsible, tax-addicted politicians? Have people been bent over the barrel for so long that it's too painful to straighten up? Must be.

In the 1980s, there was a popular television show called Real People, which featured strange and quirky -- usually funny -- people from around the United States. I recall one segment they did on a restaurant that allowed patrons to pay whatever they wanted for their meals. On its face, it sounded like a business plan drawn up by the Mel Brooks character, Max Bialystock, fully aimed at sinking the restaurant. But, strangely, patrons were not only honest -- no one ever ordered a full meal and then paid only a dollar for it -- they tended to overcharge themselves. It was a great story about common decency and honesty.

The concept can and has worked. So, what's wrong with the people where I live?

I believe this case is the first tangible evidence I've come across of not only the existence of the flaccid tyranny under which Canadians live, but also its effect. Canada has no PATRIOT Act, no Guantanamo Bay, no Blackwater, no extraordinary rendition.

What we have may be worse: A decades-long bureaucratic coup d'etat. Domination by pencil-pushing, paper-shuffling career civil servants. Beancounters as potentates. All of whom have bent The People, not with brutality, but with bland fish-eyed blankness, officiousness, and a lust for the fine print. They have broken The People with the death-of-a-thousand cuts insult to the brain, to the spirit, to the soul with fine upon fee upon surcharge upon tax. Taking and taking and taking, whittling away every corner and edge of a citizen's income and sustenance and pleasure. And always devising new attacks, such as the so-called Harmonized Tax.

My overwrought imagination sees the people who wouldn't name their own price for their drinks as abused children who go stand in the corner on their own the moment they sense they may have done something wrong.

Where is civilization at when civilians have been so woefully mistreated for so long, that they cannot partake in a fun night where the foot of the Crown is not firmly on the back of their neck? It's as though people don't recognize freedom or fairness when they're faced with it. Or, at the very least, don't know how to enjoy or avail of it.

Being allowed to stop banging their heads against the Wall-of-Taxed-to-Death-life, my friends and neighbors didn't enjoy the cessation of pain, they worried that they might have broken the wall. And might have to pay for it. And pay tax on that payment. Or be fined, or written up, or marked down in the "red" column of some desk jockey's ledger.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Canadian Indoorsmen name new Poet Laureate!

The Fraternal Order of Canadian Indoorsmen announced today that Robert Earl Stewart, author of Something Burned Along the Southern Border is its new poet laureate -- in recognition of this book's important contribution to literature.

Brother Stewart was among the founding members of The Fraternal Order of Canadian Indoorsmen, and pioneered "Frontporchmanship" in 2002. He has been a loyal and dedicated member and shall hold the position of Poet Laureate for one calendar year.

Congratulations Brother Stewart!

Taobh istigh go bhfuil ár amach na ndoirse (Indoors is our out of doors)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Reading

It was autumn, once again, and time for The Festival of the Book in the wee city of Boilston. The largest meeting place in the locale -- the Arnold "Gabby" Goone Local 758 union hall -- was spiffed and stocked with bookmarks and programs, flyers and stacks of 70- and 80-page books authored by the events' readers.

The emcee for the poetry evening was Graydon Gobshyte, "professor of Humanities and Inanities at the university," he chuckled, introducing himself.

Graydon dressed in Lord Byron black, cinematically contrasting his white push-broom mustachio and hair, which he wore in a "come-as-you-may" Princeton cut. He sat upon "a stool-like structure," as he pithily referred to the tall stool at the narrow lectern at the head of the room. He surveyed the audience for the poetry reading.

"Birds are like raisins," he addressed the audience. "Verse are like caymans. Incandescent. Omnipresent. Apoplectic. Epileptic." He enjoyed the sound of his voice in the ringing silence; pinging on the mind of each eager listener like a felt mallet on a xylophone bar. His British-Albertan-Kentuckian accent was in fine tune.

"Poetry is sheer, shocking, volatile and eggshell. Tomahawk. Roadblock. But most of all -- as Summerhanz said of Quarendon's work -- 'It does nothing.'"

Graydon smiled without smiling, pleased with his parry. "It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first reader in our program. He is a poet who has won numerous national and international awards. Among them, he has worn the Fitzcummings Poetry Speedo three years running in Grand Bend, Ontario. Was awarded the Clint Astor Quill in Pegasus, Illinois. Held the Hamish Ludon Chair for an entire half summer session semester in Fogshire, U.K., and whose work has been anthologized throughout eastern Europe and the Caribbean."

Dramatic pause.

"I give you, Oscar Winner."

Polite applause.

Oscar came forward, a bent, balding man who might have been forty or sixty years of age. His countenance was a circuitboard of tics and twitches. He regarded the audience with a series of quick, bird-like glances. In his hands, he clutched a saddled-stitched copy of his most recent book of poems: Dreamcatching Canoes of the Solar Distance Fog Bank.

"Thanks," he muttered in a voice like a rusty hinge; his "S"s sounded like a blast of static coming from the back of his throat. "Thanks so much."

He read part of a sonnet cycle in which he envisioned quilts his grandmother quilted as canned preserves; marmalade mosaics of memory.

When Winner finished the third Petrarchan sonnet, Graydon led the polite applause, seeming more to chase the anemic poet away from the lectern, clapping his hands, than applauding his reading. There. Graydon had his audience back.

"I don't think it's too early in the day to quote Aristotle," he chuckled, "who was at his most priggish and provocative when he said, 'Από ό, τι έχουμε πει ότι θα πρέπει να θεωρηθεί ότι η λειτουργία του ποιητή είναι να περιγράψει, δεν είναι αυτό που συνέβη, αλλά ένα είδος πράγμα που μπορεί να συμβεί, δηλαδή ό, τι είναι δυνατόν ως πιθανή και αναγκαία. Η διάκριση μεταξύ ιστορικός και ποιητής δεν είναι στην πεζογραφία μία γραφή και το άλλο στίχος-μπορεί να θέσει το έργο του Ηροδότου σε στίχους, και θα εξακολουθεί να είναι ένα είδος ιστορίας? Αποτελείται πραγματικά σε αυτό, ότι εκείνο που περιγράφει το πράγμα που έχει, και το άλλο ένα είδος πράγμα που θα μπορούσε να είναι. Εξ ου και η ποίηση είναι κάτι πιο φιλοσοφικό και της εισαγωγής πιο σοβαρή από ό, τι ιστορία, δεδομένου ότι οι δηλώσεις του σχετικά με τη φύση της μάλλον καθολικές, ενώ εκείνα της ιστορίας είναι singulars. Με την καθολική δήλωση εννοώ ένα ως προς το τι έχει ή τέτοιου είδους άνθρωπος είναι πιθανό ή κατ 'ανάγκη να πω ή να κάνουν-που είναι ο σκοπός της ποίησης, αν και σφραγίζουν τα ίδια ονόματα με τους χαρακτήρες? Από μια μοναδική κατάσταση, το ένα ως προς ό, τι , λένε, ο Αλκιβιάδης είχε ή είχε κάνει γι 'αυτόν.'"

Humble pause. Graydon then introduced the next reader: a shockingly heavy woman named Maryanne Haywire, who read several poems about works of art, she explained, which didn't exist. She smiled over her clever premise as the audience pretended to understand it.

Halfway through her reading, Rena Carmichael -- a dedicated bingo player who had come to see her neighbor, Cyril Beacon, read -- burst into a hectic coughing fit. She was led from the room by Ron Crux, the undertaker, who was also there to support Cyril. Maryanne was sufficiently unnerved and knocked out-of-synch by the coughing fit, that she stopped reading and returned to her seat. The audience encouraged her to continue, but Maryanne waved them off, her eyes watering, cheeks burning, hoping Rena was showing the first signs of esophageal cancer.

Graydon returned to the lectern with bon mots in Latin and French, and reminders of wine and cheese following the reading.

More poets were introduced, their awards and accolades recounted like obscure battlefield victories: The Poetry Necktie of Nile, Newfoundland, The Platinum Slipper of Provance, Yukon, The Knotted Rope of Scarfansky, New Jersey.

Finally, the evening came to the point where the final reader was introduced.

"It's my great privilege," Graydon said, mustering all the "hurrah-for-the-little-guy" he had, "to introduce a first-time reader, Mr. Cyril Beacon. You may know him as the owner of Beacon Hardware, but his poetry is raw as newly turned earth, supple as the first buds of spring, and khaki. His work is tremendously khaki." Then, with a gracious bow: "I give you Cyril Beacon."

Polite applause was supplanted by surprised applause, interspersed with curious applause. Cyril made his way to the lectern. He'd never stood at one before, but he was glad for it. He set the pages of his poems atop it, and steadied himself. "Thank you," he said.

Cyril proceeded to read a prose poem about a man who never had time to write, so he feigned insanity in order to be committed to a psychiatric ward. There, he had all the time in the world to covertly work on his novel, in between sessions of fooling doctors and nursing with his charade. Interacting with fellow patients, however, was another story. They wore on him. The prose poem ended with the man finally being released from the psych ward, pronounced sane, but by then actually severely mentally ill.

The audience didn't seem sure that the poem had ended when it ended, so Graydon led the polite applause to break the awkward silence following the piece.

Cyril read another prose poem. This one was based on an image that when people were born, they materialized in a forest with one end of a rope tied around their waist, and the other end tied to a tree. The people picked up the excess rope and began their journey through the forest -- through life. They made turns, here and there, and every once in a while tugged on their rope to feel the resistance of the tree by which they first awoke. But as people got older, and made more and more twists and turns through the forest, they no longer felt the resistance of that original tree, but of subsequent trees. When people ran out of slack, that was the end of their lives. Some people materialized in the forest with short ropes, and some with very long ropes. Some peoples' ropes criss-crossed and became tangled.

Cyril received polite, if diffident, applause when he finished his reading. Graydon returned to the podium, moving as though he'd been kicked squarely in his pocket Proust. He applauded, but his mustachio twitched.

"And on that very khaki note," he said, "let us now enjoy some wine and cheese."

During the reception, there was muffled talk about Cyril's work and reading. The pervading opinion was that he was a good soul who should stick to selling shovels and pliers and lengths of chain.

"He sounded so ordinary," Myrna Swinebuff stage-whispered to her book club friends. "He didn't have any of the natural presence of Graydon, or any of the other readers, poor soul."

"You know, there wasn't a single grandmother or quilt or canned preserve in any of his work," Oliver Hazelwood said to his partner. "Graydon said it perfectly when he described the poor man's work as 'khaki.' It so was."

As it turned out, the whispers of the literati gossipers were prophetic: Cyril was never again invited to read his work at the Boilston Festival of the Book.

"That's OK," Cyril said to his collie, Seamus. "They weren't really my crowd, anyhow."

But he thought of the Festival of the Book, and the literati, every once in a while. In fact, he did so every time he sold a shovel or bucket.