Monday, December 22, 2003

See You Next Year: Barring some extraordinarily compelling occurrence, this will probably be my last post of this year. The remainder of '03 will be devoted to chillin' and writin' and a little horsin' 'round. (One of the cool things about being a writer without an editor is you can do really fun stuff like put five apostrophes in a sentence.) Hope you all get lots of cool toys and have a righteous hoot time for New Year's Eve and I will catch you on the flip-flop good buddy. (Another cool thing: using godawful '70s CB-radio slang. I do make my own fun.) Zach Everson, master of the curiously named, dropped a line the other day. Unlike someone who shall remain nameless but whose initials are d.a.m., Zach seems to update fairly frequently including a couple of gems from his fearless interactions with the carnival sideshow we call Yahoo -- resulting from a poorly thought through profile update and a fellow who liked his site so much he "bookmarked the bitch". Stop by and have a look, but go easy on the propositions.
Dumb and Dumber: Read this. It is an attempt by someone to get a measure of revenge on an ex-friend for basically scamming him out of 30 large after pretending to be his friend. This fellow so trusted his friend that he made him an authorized signer on two of his credit cards. So his friend promptly maxed them out, promising to repay them from a big trust fund. Turns out the guy was a diagnosed pathological liar and had no trust fund and basically his entire persona was false. He goes on to list all of the lies he was told by his friend. Here are a choice few.
  • Was in a Levi's jeans commercial

  • Had Saddam Hussein in his sights during the gulf war as a Navy SEAL but didn't get the order to shoot.

  • Told his Ex-Girlfriend that he had cancer and needed chemotherapy

  • Dated Heather Kosar (before she posed in playboy magazine)

  • Went on two dates with Alyssa Millano (told ex-girlfriend that he met Alyssa during a Baywatch tryout. He was selected but his C/O in the Navy wouldn't let him participate. Oh also stated that David Hasselhoff was a jerk)

  • Played in the March Madness Final Four -- Cincinnati

  • Been to Area 51 -- saw some incredible stuff. Told me about a plane / whatever that could hover and then shoot to another point miles away almost instantly.

  • Had a story published in Readers Digest

  • Won the local tough man competition in Pittsburg

  • Fought in the Gulf War, came back and his wife was pregnant with someone else's kid.

This guy Todd is a crook, plain and simple, and should probably do time for this (if it's not a hoax). But after hearing that litany of obvious nonsense, to authorize this loser on your credit cards almost certainly makes you the most profound cement-head ever to punch a keyboard. The fact of the matter is you may not have a legal leg to stand on since it is patently obvious that if this asshat didn't steal your money, someone else would have -- maybe Miss Cleo, or some desperate Nigerian diplomat.

The only thing stupider would be me buying into this if it's a hoax. But I have been so desensitized to stupidity from years of dealing with idiots at large that it sounds completely plausible. What's your excuse?
Looking Bad: Al Gore's legacy. Can't you just picture him at Harvard, doing beer bongs and throwing up chili cheese fries all over the carpet? The only thing better would have been if he was wearing this shirt.
Go Joe Willy: Much has been made of the Joe Namath debacle. For those of you who don't know, Joe was being interviewed by sideline reporter Suzy Kolber during the Jets-Patriots game. He was completely hammered -- practically drooling. Calling his enunciation haphazard would be like calling Saddam Hussein slightly unkempt. Then he proceeds to put the moves on her and tell her how he wants to kiss her. On the air. It is a riot. If you haven't heard it here is the audio (about 900k).

Let me just say that when I am like 150 years old, half crippled from having my knees ripped to shreds, and completely butt-faced from pounding hard liquor, I can only hope I will still have the stones to make complete idiot of myself in front of millions of people in the pursuit of the nearest convenient chick. I hereby vow to buy a Namath throwback jersey.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

More, More, More: Not a lot to post, but a couple of new things over at blogcritics.

First, a review of the over-hyped HBO special event Angels in America. I panned it and I may get a strong reaction since most everyone else has adopted it as a sacred cow. Just for the record, I didn't particularly enjoy writing this review. Contrary to what most of you think, I don't get a big kick out of slamming movies, especially if they have produced in a good faith effort to tell a story and not just to generate money-making trash. Also, I am loath to sully myself with politics in any way and Angels is primarily about political ideology (even though many don't see it) so I had to slog through it. Oh well, all done in the interest of trying to generate timely reviews when most of the stuff I read or watch is years old.

Second, I did a quick recap of the books I've read this year in my Book of the Year Award, this one was fun to write.

Now back to promotion of Business As Usual for a while. Joy.
Hang Up and Play: This has to have been one of the most dreary football seasons in history. The games have been fairly dull, by which I mean no team I am interested in has a shot at anything. And I'm beginning to get jaded about the whole notion of parity.

Aside: A magnificently dry analysis of the Lions last game from TMQ: "Detroit held Kansas City to 521 yards of offense."

More importantly, the season has been dominated by idiots, beginning with the Neanderthal Romanowski in pre-season and the latest being the clown who hid a cell phone under the goal post and called his Mom when he scored a touchdown. To the league's credit, they fined this dimwit 30 large. They fined his accomplice 5 large. And they fined a guy who held up a sign asking them not to fine him anymore 10 large.

If this player behavior keeps up, football is in for a serious falling out with its fan base, meaning me.

Another aside: It's interesting to contrast the culture of football, which requires constant misbehavior, trash talk, and fines, but rarely do things come to fisticuffs, to the culture of hockey you are supposed to be polite, modest, and reticent -- except when you're throwing punches, which is fairly common. An odd dichotomy.

The bottom line on this football season has been the fact that nothing in the entire season is anywhere near as compelling as all the off-season moves the Red Sox and Yankees have made. Boston and New York are lining up for a titanic battle next season and, for the most part, baseball has supplanted football as the top dog sport again.
Good Night Nurse: This is not the kind of thing I usually follow but that nasty business of the nurse who murdered dozens of patients is really perverse. It turns out this guy was under deep suspicion before at his previous jobs but everyone's hands were tied by policy designed to protect the killers rights.
Mr. Cullen, who prosecutors now say has admitted killing 30 to 40 patients during a 14-year career, walked away from his job at St. Luke's rather than answer questions, officials said, and investigators, despite dozens of deaths worthy of investigation and few concrete answers, could not prove he had done anything wrong. Word of their suspicions went no further than the State Nursing Board, which said that under the circumstances, it could not tell anyone that questions had ever been raised about him.

Mr. Cullen went to work at two other hospitals in the next few months without word of his past accompanying him.

The most sustained look at Mr. Cullen, when his suspected murder spree might have been stopped, was in the middle of last year. Yet the hospitals and public agencies that looked into him then, like those that encountered him throughout his career, say they were defeated by a system that lacks a way to spread the word about medical professionals suspected of misdeeds, and by hospitals and government agencies that are unwilling to do so.

If you're looking a concrete example of how lawsuit abuse has caused real damage and actually killed people look no further. I have experienced this first hand in a minor way; the company I work for strictly forbids me to make any sort of recommendation for my employees should they leave -- positive or negative. Call for a background check on someone who claims to have worked for us and you will get dates of employment, that's it. If someone left under certain investigation of say, embezzlement for example, I couldn't tell anybody. In my case, that hurts you if you call me because I can't tell you if the guy you are about to hire is a crook or not. I also can't tell you about the wonderful qualities of an employee who, say, had to relocate for family reasons. The only benefit from this nonsense is that my company is insulated from insane lawsuits. Well, now the insane lawsuits have blatantly come home to roost. It would be perfect irony if one of his victims was an ambulance chasing lawyer. I think the families of the victims should initiate a class action lawsuit against the American Bar Association.

But wait there's this:
A nurse who claims he killed up to 40 of his patients and was charged with administering a fatal dose of a drug to a Roman Catholic priest has voluntarily surrendered his New Jersey nurse's license, authorities said Wednesday.


"If Mr. Cullen had not agreed to surrender his license, the Board of Nursing was prepared to act on its own," said Reni Erdos, director of the Division of Community Affairs, which oversees the licensing of nurses.

Bet he was just quaking with fear about that.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Coming Up For Air: I have not forsaken thee. I spent nearly a full week in Columbia, SC; captial of SC and home of the Univeristy of South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks. Their cheer is a short, simple, "Go Cocks!" (The Chippendales always enjoy performing here.) A decent city, although a little heavy on the pawn shops and wig stores. I'm sure if it was sunny and warm it would've been lots of fun, but it was cold and rainy -- uncharacteristically so, according to locals.

Had a weird cab ride from the airport, the guy didn't drive below 70mph the whole way (on side streets), and he drops me off at what must have been the service entrance to the hotel, after he drove off I discovered it was locked and I had to walk around the other side of the building carrying my bags.

Better yet, the charge was $12.50 so I offer him a twenty and I tell him to just give me five back. He says, "I don't have any change." Oh, then exactly what the hell are you doing driving a cab? No idea if he thought I was going to let him just keep the twenty if he said that, but if he did he was hosed. I gave him a ten, three ones, and all the change in my pocket. Loser.

I spent another week catching up, Christmas shopping (just kill me now), and actually writing actual fiction. Not enough fiction, but it never is. And I managed to get a brief article up over at blogcritics entitled Dark Carnivale, my review of the HBO series Carnivale that finished it's season recently. I have violated my habit of waiting to do HBO reviews until immedaitely after the Sopranos season, but Eric Olsen, who runs blogcritics, made an impassioned plea for more timely material so it was my duty.

More soon.

By the way, I can't decide who looks worse, Saddam or Glen Campbell.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Over and Out: It may be a bit longer than usual before my next update. (I know, I haven’t been all that prolific lately so what's the difference?) Lots going on, and I absolutely NEED to write some fiction. Make no mistake, you are not rid of me by a long shot.
It's Not Unusual: There are a lot of ways to amuse yourself for a couple of hours. Some people rent movies, some people play video games, I surf the web. Sometimes I Google subjects of interest, other times I just follow links to see where a hypertext path takes me. Sometimes I get paid off with wonderfully absurd stuff like this. It seems George Bush's brother Neil got in some hot water during his divorce proceedings. Please take a moment to appreciate this exchange:
The Bush divorce, completed in April, was prompted in part by Bush's relationship with another woman.

He admitted in the deposition that he previously had sex with several other women while on trips to Thailand and Hong Kong at least five years ago.

The women, he said, simply knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and engaged in sex with him.

He said he did not know if they were prostitutes because they never asked for money and he did not pay them.

"Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her," Brown said.

"It was very unusual," Bush said.

In not knowing they were prostitutes, we see the fabled Bush acumen at work. But then, why look a gift quickie in the mouth. Don’t ya love the arid response, "It was very unusual"? You have to appreciate the ability to stay utterly restrained in the face laughable absurdity.

Excuse me while I check Expedia for flights to Bangkok.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

You Have Our Gwatitude: I noticed a couple of stellar individuals responded to my plea for reader reviews over at Amazon. Also, you should know you can search Google’s Froogle service for the best price.

Oddly, Amazon has Apple Pie on sale again for 9.98. Since I have recovered the rights from the publisher I can only assume that they had some in stock they are trying to rid themselves of. Whatever the case, if you want to buy you should do it now, it’s the best price I’ve seen.
They Ruint Everything: I’m still riding my recent favorite hobby horse -- how high tech is misused in the auto industry -- so I want to draw your attention to a recent comparison of luxury cars (70k +) over at Car and Driver. Apparently the most extreme case in point is the top of the line BMW. Here’s a quote from the summary:
…the latest luxo crop has become screen dependent, to the point of ruination in the 7-series BMW.

"It wouldn't be that bad if they changed a few things." That's from the staff's most ardent 745i defender. The majority of us think iDrive, as BMW calls its computer interface, needs a clean-sheet redesign.

BMW tried to take over control of HVAC, audio, chassis settings, trip info, navigation, etc., with a screen. You make your choices with a single knob that turns, toggles, and clicks; it's a mouse substitute. Worse yet, the company forced ordinary controls into some contortion of the knob thing; for example, you must select the part of the seat you want to adjust by pressing a button, then twist or toggle a knob to make it move. Okay, but what was wrong with the old way?

In fact, the 745i has buttons and rockers scattered about the dash that let you adjust HVAC and do very basic radio/CD changes without using iDrive. But they're so haphazard in their logic that they only add to the annoyance.

We've given iDrive 18 months to persuade us. It failed. Now the F is in ink. Fearless prediction: The 745i will take a beating on resale.

Here’s the entire article. Lucky I found this considering I was about to pick up one of those 7-series Beemers in charcoal grey. [This is where you do a spit take.]
Good Stories: I have been reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson; an entry in a literary genre called cyber-punk -- wickedly fast paced prose with lots of internet culture/technical references. It’s a rather compelling mystery, a certain insightfulness, and lots of references to the world of the web that I suspect most people wouldn’t identify with, but I do since I spend an unwarranted amount of time in that world (that means I am either way cooler or way more geeky than you -- your call). I may review it in the fullness of time. For now let me recommend a trio of articles that I have found interesting.

First, from Wired, we have a well done story about savants, the Rain Man types who are horrible maladjusted but have ungodly skills in certain areas, usually math or music. They are also remarkably useful to neuroscientists.

Speaking of neuroscience, I happened on this old (1996-ish) Tom Wolfe article about the philosophical implications of neuroscience and the fatalistic world it seems portend. Wolfe puts it all in a thoughtful historical context that makes it more than a little scary, but still ultimately positive, I think.

Lastly, a beautiful article about a monumental 6-man football game in rural Montana. 6-man is played out in the smallest and remotest of high schools where the population doesn’t support full-sized teams. The story interlinks the football game with life in the dying, small farming community. Written with exceptional sensitivity – should get a sports writing award of some kind.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Following Up: A couple of follow ups to previous posts.

First, it's clear the folks at USA Today are loyal readers of a dam site as evidenced by this article verifying my comments about the inanity of the check engine light and subsequent discoveries, and my general disapprobation of auto industry for its obsession with high tech gadgetry:
Thanks to the latest electronics, cars can tell you the pressure in each tire, display stock quotes or give directions to the nearest Italian restaurant. But the complex computer systems required to do all that have broken down on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of luxury vehicles, wreaking havoc on the lives of their owners.

And most tellingly:

"Engine lights come on so easily, and many times they can only be reset by a dealer even if there is nothing wrong," says Dave Hurt, president of Certified Car Care, a company that sells extended warranties. "Diagnosis of problems is a lot more complicated these days because of the amount of electronics in a car."


Emission control systems that have been setting off "check engine" dashboard lights since the 1996 model year now have about 700 possible trouble codes. A problem as simple as a loose gas cap can prompt a warning light.

A dead battery can wipe out the trouble codes, making it impossible to perform state-ordered emissions testing on a car. The owner may have to drive the car for a few days to replenish the codes, then return for the test.

The principle lesson here (not worth pursuing at the moment) is that mechanical design skills and technological design skills are two completely different animals and high tech is not synonymous with design quality.

Second, from the realm of the surreal, last time out I linked to a story about a panic in Khartoum over fears of foreigners who could shrivel a fellow's manlihood (the previous linkapalooza, second from the end). Well it turns out – and this is the surreal part -- there is a syndrome for that. It's called Genital Retraction Syndrome (colloquially: shrinkage). I am anxiously awaiting on a 20/20 expose and a cautionary thriller from Michael Crichton. Select quotes:

The individual afflicted with genital retraction syndrome believes that his or her genitals (or in the case of women, breasts and/or genitals) are retracting into the body. Such a belief would be frightening enough, but local tradition adds the warning that such an occurrence is usually fatal. The majority of persons with GRS are male; cases are reported to occur in women, at least in the Malaysian version, but are much more rare. A typical episode will occur when a man goes to urinate in the cold or while emotionally upset (often due to guilt over masturbation or frequenting prostitutes, while concerned about his sexual performance, or after a fight with his wife) and observes that his penis is becoming smaller, a condition known medically as hyperinvolution. Remembering the dangers of a shrinking penis, the man grabs his genitals before they can retract into his body, and calls for help. If no one is around to help hold onto his penis, the individual may use mechanical devices to keep the penis from retracting, including cords, chopsticks, clamps, or small weights. Episodes of GRS may strike the same indvidual repeatedly, and epidemics of GRS have been noted, most famously the great koro epidemic in Singapore in 1967.

Who can forget the great koro epidemic of '67? The mind reels. Here's the full monty, such as it is. Fear not, there are no pictures.
Tyler Eight Seven One Oh Oh: It wasn't easy growing up in Southfield Michigan. Hard times were everywhere, and keeping food on the table was a struggle. When there was no meat, we ate fowl. When there was no fowl, we ate crawdad. And when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand. (As always, bonus points for naming the movie.) But anyone who grew up in the Detroit area 30 years ago will appreciate Detroit Memories. Note: to anyone else this will be pretty meaningless. The mention of Bob-Lo and The Ghoul elicits a smile, but apart from a momentary nostalgia, this is a chronicle of days past in a pretty dreary place.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Linkapalooza: As promised, a whole lotta links, cleverly designed to undermine your productivity.
  • This measure was actually on the ballot in a city called Bolinas in Marin county (where else?). Reading it made me wax Seinfeldian, "What does that mean!? Can somebody tell me what that means!?" Please be aware that this measure is "advisory only". That's a relief.

  • Check out some of the Worst Album Covers Ever. I guess the secret is out about my alter ego Devastatin' Dave, the Turntable Slave.

  • According to CNN, a study of 3600+ blogs revealed 2/3 had not been updated for two months and 25% never had more than 1 entry. That makes me feel a lot better about my somewhat haphazard posting performance.

  • Do I seem particularly manly? Gender Genie analyzes your writing and attempts to determine your gender. Samples from Apple Pie and Business As Usual were judged male by factors of 1.04 to 1 and 1.12 to 1 respectively. This weblog, on the other hand, was judged to be male by a testosterone laden 2.71 to 1. meat.

  • I found this typical. A literary agency posted the sort of material they are looking for. Not surprisingly, male-oriented comic satire is not on their need-it list. Note what they think they can sell: Chick-lit (deliver us from Bridget Jones) and Romances (more sex, please) of various flavors. I could –- and one day may -– go on for many paragraphs about this, but instead, I'll just resign myself to obscurity and do some serious whining.

  • A very courageous article in Outside magazine following a man who went on a regime of chemical enhancements including everything from Human Growth Hormone to steroids for the sake of the story. Courageous in that it doesn't follow the convenient "drugs-are-bad-mmmkay" line. I can see the attraction for athletes; there is apparently a very real effect, and a very real let down once you stop. The anonymous doctor involved points out that there is not that much danger in mild doses, but the problem is that everyone goes overboard in the desire for more. This stuff has no attraction to me, with the exception of the HGH. I wouldn’t hesitate to go on a mild regime of that if it wasn't so expensive.

  • "Are you any relation to your brother Marv?" The dumbest sports quotes speak for themselves.

  • There are people I know –- who go by the name of The Pixie -- that harbor the mistaken belief that bears in the wild are just big ole friendly critters that want nothing more than to wander around stealing pic-i-nic baskets in Jellystone Park. Tell it to the hikers who encountered this monster. Oh wait, you can't; they've been EATEN. Somebody call Mr. Ranger, sir.

  • How can you not be fascinated by a true story that starts, "During September 2003, mass hysteria spread through Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, which was ultimately quelled by police intervention and statements made by the health minister. The panic was caused by rumors of foreigners roaming the city and shaking men's hands, making their penises disappear. The rumors were spread rapidly by text messages on cellular phones..." Would that my novels started so audaciously. The amazing thing is the juxtaposition of bizarre mystical superstition with the civilized modern logic of cell phone text messaging. What a world.

  • The Best Ebay Auction Ever! This was so good I actually saved a copy of the page for when it disappears from Ebay's database. This guy tried to sell his ex-wife's collection of beanie babies. He naively points out that he has no idea if they are real or not, but some folks just can’t let it go at that. You have to read this; put down that chick-lit romance and take five minutes. You will laugh out loud.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Bad Influence: I've published a new article over blogcritics about the Most Influential Movies Ever. Take a look. I've also got plenty of interesting links to throw at you but it'll take me until later in the week to get them in some semblance of order. I remain unreasonably busy. So sorry.
Engine Checked: So I contact Toyota about my check engine light being on and the first thing out of the woman's mouth was, "Is your gas cap on tight? The check engine light will come on when the gas cap is loose."

Toyota employs tens of thousands of people, many of whom have vast experience in the auto industry, but apparently not a single one of them grasps the obvious fact that the gas cap is NOT PART OF THE ENGINE!

The gas cap wasn't the problem for me, but to make things even more irrational, the light went off just a randomly as it went on. Throw me a bone, people.
A New Theory of Laundry: I have, in the past, been subject to no small amount of ridicule for my method of doing laundry. People tend to get all freaky if you don't separate whites from colors. Well, in reality, whenever I have seen people do this I have been confused. It's not actually pure whites they are separating from colors. The definition of "white" can vary to include white-ish, really-light-colors, and mostly-white-but-with-colorful-patterns. This, to me, exposes the arbitrary nature of laundry segregation and, frankly, puts the entire theory under suspicion.

We are told that whites, by whatever definition, must be washed in hot water, separately, or they will come out "dingy". I don't really understand why that is the case; I expect the chemistry behind it is debatable. But the fact of the matter is, the only clothes I have that are truly white are my underwear. Let me state for the record that the day I become concerned about the albedo of my underwear is the day you have my permission to call the Cuckoo's Nest and set me up next door to Jack Nicholson.

And let's not even start on fabric softener. The purpose of fabric softener is to remove static cling. Exactly what does that have to do with softness? Besides, fabric softener does this by covering your clothes with an extremely thin chemical film. If you think the greedy chemical companies aren't in bed with the military-industrial complex and using this thin chemical film to perform bio-weapon experiments on the unsuspecting population, then you haven't been reading the web closely enough.

No, my friends, as usual I am not bound by traditional thinking and conventional wisdom. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I cannot blindly accept the standard precepts of laundry dogma. I must question. I must contradict. I must agitate (so to speak).

Here's what you do. First, wash everything in cold water. Any self-respecting laundry detergent is valid to use in any temperature of water (they all say "all-temperature" on the box, and cold is a temperature) so it makes no sense waste energy and money heating the water. You will be grateful the first time you decide to shower while the washing machine is going.

Second, separate clothes not by color, but by weight and texture. Jeans, corduroys, thick towels, etc. go in one load; shirts, shorts, socks, unmentionables in another. The reason for this is two-fold. 1) These two groups tend to have very different drying times. By grouping them together you don't have to constantly get up, open the dryer, and remove the dry stuff from the stuff that is still damp, thereby allowing you to remain slouched on the couch for that much longer. 2) I cannot imagine it is good for your thin cotton t-shirts to be commingled with you heavy denim pants. The constant tumbling of the light shirt against the coarse denim has got to be like rubbing it with sandpaper. This means your clothes will last longer. (For you guys, that means your girlfriend will have to let up on you about wearing torn and beat-up clothes all the time and stop trying to drag you to the Gap. You can thank me later.)

So there you have it; a soundly reasoned and flawlessly logical approach to laundry. I am not close-minded, though. I am willing to entertain conflicting theories, but they must be well thought out and argued on the basis of something other than what "everybody knows".

And no fair pointing out that I am a bachelor and therefore incapable of understanding.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Here's to the Winners: I spent the weekend in DC scurrying about the city with HRH Miss Anna trying to keep up with Miss Kate (Anna's mom) and Aunt Molly (Anna's aunt) who were also scurrying about the city, but with a purpose. They were competing with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training in the Marine Corps Marathon.

There is a point in running a marathon where it ceases to be an athletic challenge. It becomes a question of enduring the pain from the constant impact on the feet, the stress on the joints, the searing blisters. Of the estimated 18,000 runners who started the 26.2 mile race a little less than 16,000 finished, among them Kate and Molly, both of whom had the fortitude for a sprint to the finish.

Their race was rife with symbolism -- the impetus for undertaking the marathon to begin with was a show of support for their brother Brian, a marathoner and Lymphoma survivor, and the finish line was in Arlington cemetery under the memorial to the Marines who fought on Iwo Jima, one of whom was Anna's grandfather. The marathoners voluntarily accepted the pain and struggle of the race to honor those who suffered before them.

The race was followed by celebrations and radio interviews and a decadent dinner. The following day, would be when the pain and injury revealed themselves. But those will pass. The achievement, the admiration and the memory will endure. Now, others must live up to them.
Road Rant: I have a question. What, in the name of all that is Holy, is the purpose of the check engine light on your dashboard? If you are 600 miles away from home and it goes off, what are you supposed to do? As instructed, I opened the hood and checked the engine. Sure enough, it was still there.

I don’t mind a warning light when the car detects some suspicious goings-on under the hood, but the technology designer in me says -- out loud, waving my hands, terrifying other drivers -- "How STUPID is this?"

There are two classes of things that can go wrong with your car. One is something that can be quickly addressed with some routine maintenance, like low fluid levels. The other is something that must be dealt with by a mechanic. So which is "check engine"? You don’t know. All you know is that something undiscoverable is wrong with your car. Or maybe not, people I know who have had the check engine light come on have told me it comes on for no apparent reason sometimes and the dealer just turns it off. So actually, all you know is that something undiscoverable may or may not be wrong with your car. To quote Bill Murray, "I want to thank you. You could have helped me, but you've done so much more." (Bonus points if you can name the movie.)

Sorry to get all tech-designy on you, but let's think this through for a moment. Inside your car there is a little chip that gets signals from sensors at various positions in your engine. When one of these sensors detects a problem is sends a signal to the chip informing it that is has detected a problem. Rather than report the location the problem was detected - fuel injectors, coolant system, blown fuse, whatever -- the chip just triggers a "check engine" light, effectively narrowing the problem down to the front half of your car.

Auto Industry, pay attention here. Instead of "check engine" why not tell me what problem was detected or at least where in the car it was detected and how dangerous it would be to try to drive the 600 miles from DC to Ann Arbor before getting it fixed. Here's the design in a nutshell. An unobtrusive two digit LED instead of a "check engine" light. The two digit numbers correspond to a list that is in driver's manual indicating what the actual problem is. You can't tell me that technology doesn’t exist. Frankly, I would prefer that to such things voice response. What kind of loser wants to talk to his car?

And while we are on the issue of stupid car tricks, let me just say that I am disturbed by the trend toward auto-nannying of late. The last car I rented was a Buick. I could not -- as far as I could tell -- control the headlights. They went on at off at the car's whim. I found that truly annoying. Popping open the trunk from the driver's seat was not controlled by a little lever next to the seat, like it is in virtually every other car; you had to remove the key from the ignition and insert it into a keyhole on the door. Presumably that was some sort of safety measure, but it was a pain when I pulled up to a hotel and had to pop the trunk to get my bags before letting the valet take the car. We also have the phenomena of windshield wipers that go on automatically. And you've seen the commercials where the guy asks his dashboard for directions to a Chinese restaurant. Stop doing that kind of stuff and give me better 'check engine' diagnostics.

And another thing. If you want to do something really useful, how about giving me some warning when my tire is about to blow-out? I had the wonderful experience of having a blow-out on the Ohio turnpike. Not just a flat tire, a full-on, tire-shredding blow-out that left me riding the rim at freeway speeds until I could pull on to the shoulder where I had to change the tire with triple trailer semis flying by about four feet from my nose. Lucky for me my check engine light was on.

And speaking of the turnpike, I hereby declare the Pennsylvania turnpike to be the most irritating road in America. First off, I loathe toll roads. Maybe this is because I live in Michigan where there are no toll roads so I believe free access to highways is a God-given right. Second, there are long stretches where the speed limit is 55. You are led to believe this is because of construction, but there is no evidence of construction -- workers, no equipment, no orange cones. Seriously, has anyone except a hamster like Jimmy Carter ever really believed the speed limit should be 55? I am convinced the 55 speed limit is an attempt to manipulate you, which PA has a policy of doing. To wit, and thirdly, they have a policy of posting strange statements on big orange signs get you to slow down. According to the PA DOT:
The Safe Driver Advisory sign sequence delivers six messages to passing motorists:

A couple of those are really strange. "Aggressive driver in high crash area" for instance. That could be an accusation that you are an aggressive driver in a high crash area, but I am not an aggressive driver and it seems they put these things just about anywhere they feel like it which undercuts the notion that you are in a warning that you are in some sort of high crash area. So that's just confusing. The fifth one, TARGETED ENFORCEMENT AREA, is insulting. Assuming that means "speed trap", then exactly how chuckleheaded would I have to be to believe that they were not only going to have a defined, permanent speed trap, but they were also going to warn you about it? Well, I'm not that chuckleheaded, but the PA DOT may be.

And then, there's this whole business of having two separate tolls. It used to be that as you entered or exited through the western border of PA, you stopped at a toll booth and got a ticket which stood you for the duration of your trip. That, apparently, wasn't annoying enough. So they moved the ticketing booth 10 or 15 miles east and added a tollbooth on the border where you have to pay $1 cash on the spot. Now, instead of getting a ticket when you enter PA and paying when you exit the turnpike, you stop at one tollbooth and pay a dollar cash, then you stop at another tollbooth some miles up the turnpike and get a ticket that carries you the rest of the way. What is the possible advantage of having an extra cash stop instead of adjusting the ticket fees so an exit in at the right place would cost a dollar? This is the slippery slope of irrationality that starts with toll roads and Targeted Enforcement Areas.

And what about Breezewood? Anyone who has had to get to DC via road from any point northwest of approximately Pittsburgh (including Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago…) is familiar with Breezewood, a city of hotels. When you exit the PA turnpike and head south towards DC, you don’t just exit on to another freeway like in a state with a relatively sane DOT. You exit the turnpike and are squeezed and hustled through Breezewood for, oh, maybe a mile, including a stoplight or two, then you get on a different freeway for the journey south. If you do this on off times it's not so bad. If you hit an inopportune time of day/week/month/year correctly you will find traffic backed up a couple of miles back on the turnpike to get through this bottleneck.

It has been this way since before I was born and PA has never gotten around to building a freeway-to-freeway exit to bypass Breezewood. It's a particularly ugly stretch of road –- fast food, truck stops, motels – yet everybody gets hustled through it. It's just the price you pay for driving to DC.

OK. I'm done now. I'm back home in Michigan where the roads are free, and the speed traps are hidden.
Football Blues: I'm having trouble getting into football season. Part of the reason that I got caught up in the utterly engrossing baseball League Championship Series. Even without the Red Sox or Cubs, the World series was pretty good. Another reason is all the football news this year has been essentially political.

The biggest story so far has been Rush Limbaugh, on ESPN Game Day, claiming that Donovan McNabb is overrated and is essentially graded on a curve because he is black. Donovan McNabb is almost certainly overrated (he is about as good a quarterback as Brad Johnson of the Buccaneers, who is in the top five on nobody's list). On the other hand Titans quarterback, Steve McNair, who is black, is almost certainly underrated (should probably be on the top of everyone's list). That would suggest race is not a key in ratings, but what Limbaugh said was not implausible. Everyone went wacky over it and accusations of racism were proffered which were generally based on Limbaugh's track record. I wouldn’t know as I've never listened to Limbaugh, but examined on their face, the reaction to his comments was grossly overheated. He resigns from, or possibly is sacked by ESPN, which originally hired him to add an edge to their show. Gutsy.

Next came Warren Sapp behaving like a boor –- taunting opposing players during warm-ups, intimidating referees, etc. Sapp is an ass, for which he is rewarded through the standard mechanisms of celebrity, but the NFL is brutally strict about everything from violent behavior to dress codes, and so hit Sapp with a hefty 50K fine (nothing that would disrupt his lifestyle, but still...). Sapp responded by comparing life in the NFL to slavery – obviously he meant that odd form of slavery that involves fame, fortune, and glory beyond most people's dreams. OK, Warren – whatever. But naturally, we had to have a big to-do about his comment which dominated sports news for much longer than it should have.

The worst came when my favorite football columnist, Gregg Easterbrook aka Tuesday Morning Quarterback, got fired from ESPN. Easterbrook writes on innumerable topics besides football and has published a number of books on everything from religion to technology. In one of his non-sporting venues, specifically the New Republic magazine, Easterbrook published a review of the new Tarantino movie Kill Bill which he trashed as ultra-violent in these terms:
Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

A heartfelt apology followed almost instantly but this quickly swept the world as a horrible piece of anti-Semitism – the old money-grubbing Jews stereotype. Frankly, I don’t see it. He's criticising in the producers of Kill Bill for being insensitive to violence and that, as Jews, they should know better. That's silly, of course, they shouldn’t know better any more than anyone else and Easterbrook is certainly employing a stereotype (what might be considered a politically correct stereotype) but it's hardly a virulent piece of Jew-baiting. But one person behind Kill Bill is Michael Eisner, who happens to be behind Disney, which happens to be behind ESPN, which is where Easterbrook published Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Bottom line: ESPN drops TMQ and, like a revisionist historian, wipes out all evidence that it ever existed from its archives and I am left with one less minor escape every Tuesday afternoon. Here's a third-party summary of the situation. Whatever happened to handling things gently, outside the spotlight, or just taking a deep breath and counting to ten before you do anything stupid?

This one, at least, may have a happy ending. The delightful site I just found called Football Outsiders, where they try to track football as statistically as has been done since forever in baseball, decided to run a temporary TMQ contest to see who could write the best fake Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. In a letter from Easterbrook, we see that he is actually preparing an entry himself and plans to find a new venue for TMQ. Mazel Tov!

If we can get back to football now, I may get interested again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Cheaters Never Prosper: ESPN recently ran a competition to see what sports uniforms were the best looking. They picked 64 unis from various sports and ran an NCAA like elimination tournament based on reader voting. Here are the brackets and the final four. At the end it was down to the Denver Broncos vs. the Michigan Wolverines (football). According to the final report:
Trailing badly in the final round last Thursday, Denver received 20,000 consecutive overnight votes and 42,500 of the final 50,000 e-ballots cast… [snip] When the polls finally closed, the Broncos had rallied to post 137,257 votes, easily outdistancing Michigan's 88,743. However, has discovered that 71,465 of those votes came from one IP address.

So those clever guys at ESPN sought out an expert to find out what was going on -- specifically a guy named Chris Nandor, who is infamous for fixing on-line baseball all-star balloting. His expert opinion:

"My guess (is) someone from Denver."

Insightful. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to just place a call to Captain Obvious? Anyway, in the end, they threw out the bad votes and we can all safely Hail the Victors. ESPN goes on to wax eloquent about the Denver uniforms:

In retrospect, Denver's mere presence in the championship round should have been a tip-off. First, the Broncos barely made it to the finals, beating the Atlanta Falcons by a mere 0.3 percent in Round 1 and never earning more than 53 percent of the vote in a single contest.

Second, the club's monochromatic unis give them the look of human popsicles. Or perhaps Regis Philbin, in his blue shirt, blue tie, Van Heusen endorsin' heyday.

"Be careful with the thick burnt-orange accent on the trouble-spot buttocks and thighs," added Victoria, one of Page 2's fashion experts. "You don't want to call attention to an unsightly entity. Spandex is a privilege, not a right."

Chortle. If I ever get back to doing football picks I shall only refer to that team from Denver as the Popsicles.
Making a Splash: The story of the guy who went over Niagara Falls and emerged unscathed amazes me. Of the 15 daredevils that went over the falls with some form of protection, 1/3 of them died. With one exception -- a child who accidentally went over with a life vest on -- every other person who just jumped in is classified as a successful suicide attempt (although, oddly the province of Ontario won't release numbers). Despite all that, this guy not only survives but he comes out pretty much unscathed, as if it were a big water slide. Here's the scoop; turns out this guy lived just east of Ann Arbor.

Frankly I hope this guy gets a lot of fame and notoriety. He's earned it. There's talk of fining him (10 grand -- yikes!) but he's claiming he was suffering from depression. I'm guessing that claim is just to get him out of the fine. What he's actually done is invent a new extreme sport - Fallsdiving or Watercrashing or something. Turn the Horseshoe Falls into the world's biggest water park -- that would be too cool. Somebody call Disney.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Read All About It: The first review of Business As Usual is up, courtesy of the good dogs over at blogcritics. I hope everyone feels that way. By the way, if you have read Business As Usual and would like to write up a quick paragraph of two, both Amazon and Barnes and Noble are accepting reviews. You have our gwatitude.
Low Lying Fruit: It easy pickins in this link harvest.
  • What web surfing would be like if you were drunk. I am not speaking from personal experience. Really.

  • As you may have heard, using implants, monkeys can move robot arms with their thoughts. I betting the first practical application of this is a TV remote.

  • I have stopped paying attention to the patron saint of lard-asses, Michael Moore. But luckily, for the sake of truth, justice and the American way, others haven't.

  • This site is called Awful Plastic Surgery. That's pretty self-explanatory. Track your favorite celebrity.

  • If one were to translate a certain song into Latin and then back to proper English, one would find oneself saying Large buttocks are pleasing to me, nor am I able to lie concerning this matter.

  • I would love to have this clock on my desktop. Very cool.

  • Some call it pop, some call it soda. People who call it soda are wrong, but I can accept their innocuous ignorance. I simply cannot abide people who call all pop coke. What kind of lunacy is that. Do they not see the absurdity of calling Pepsi coke? Here is your guide to where people are right, wrong, or insane.

  • It's hard for me to imagine a job more grinding than sitting in a tollbooth making change. No wonder they occasionally wig out.

  • Crayola is pointlessly messing with crayon colors. In what circumstances would you describe something as inchworm colored? "The seasonal rains transform the straw brown plains of the Serengeti to a vibrant inchworm." Um, no.

  • How not to run an eBay scam. Roberts…sent his customers a cut-out picture of the high-definition plasma TV that he sold in eBay's electronics section… We have a new candidate for Stupidest Person Ever.

  • These are a crack-up. They sat some kids in front of old school games like Pong and Donkey Kong and recorded their comments. Regarding playing Pong: I'd sooner jump up and down on one foot. You tell 'em, dude.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Not Bad: You know, I have been reviewing Apple Pie again in preparation for its triumphant return and I must say I'm impressed. I hadn’t read it straight through in what must be four or five years (of course, I read it about 900 times before it came out) and there is some good writing in there. If you haven’t read it, I promise you will get an opportunity.

Meanwhile Business As Usual is starting to come available in most places. I am sure you can order it in a brick and mortar Barnes & Noble. I have heard you can order it at Border's, although I have no verified reports. It remains discounted at Amazon. I also know for a fact that there is at least a small bit of marketing behind it in an effort to get it on shelves. No idea if that will work out; I know if you walk into bookstores it seems like they must have every book imaginable available, but in fact it is just a small portion -- there are over 300,000 new books published each year. (How did get myself into this oversaturated industry?)

In case you're interested, here is the official press release (it looks much better as an actual document with proper margins).
National Pastime: You know, I watched that wild Yankees-Red Sox game and I simply cannot fault Pedro Martinez for flinging Don Zimmer to the ground. Frankly, I have no idea how I would handle being violently rushed by a goblinesque senior citizen with a metal plate in his head. It's just something I don’t have an explicit policy on.

What I can fault is the behavior of the Yankees towards the Red Sox employee in the bullpen. Like everyone else, I thought it was a fan assault incident. Nope. It's the players who are getting hauled up on charges. has the official report.
Look Out Below: A fascinating article at the New Yorker about the Golden Gate Bridge as a suicide magnet. Apparently, it is the in place to kill yourself, should you be so inclined. It is no laughing matter, I suppose, but the article is pure black comedy in some parts. Sample quotes:
Many jumpers wrap suicide notes in plastic and tuck them into their pockets. [One] wrote, “Absolutely no reason except I have a toothache.”

And where else but San Francisco would somebody say something like this:

The idea of building a barrier was first proposed in the nineteen-fifties, and it has provoked controversy ever since. “The battle over a barrier is actually a battle of ideas,” Eve Meyer, the executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, told me. “And some of the ideas are very old, ideas about whether suicidal people are people to fear and hate.”

Huh? And as usual, everybody has an angle:

The coverage intensified in 1973, when the Chronicle and the Examiner initiated countdowns to the five-hundredth recorded jumper. Bridge officials turned back fourteen aspirants to the title, including one man who had “500” chalked on a cardboard sign pinned to his T-shirt. The eventual “winner,” who eluded both bridge personnel and local-television crews, was a commune-dweller tripping on LSD.
In 1995, as No. 1,000 approached, the frenzy was even greater. A local disk jockey went so far as to promise a case of Snapple to the family of the victim.

And then there's this:

In 1970, the board of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District began studying eighteen suicide-barrier proposals, including a nine-foot wire fence, a nylon safety net, and even high-voltage laser beams. The board’s criteria were cost, aesthetics, and effectiveness. In 1973, the nineteen-member board, most of them political appointees, declared that none of the options were “acceptable to the public.” (The laser-beam proposal was vetoed because of the likelihood of “severe burns, possibly fatal, to pedestrians and personnel.”)

Am I the only one picturing Dr. Evil at a conference table crying, "Throw me a bone, people!" And lastly, Captain Obvious makes an appearance:

Survivors often regret their decision in midair…

Ya think?
Semi-Quasi Pointless: I just can’t let this short biography of a very rich chick name Paris Hilton (who I had never heard of, but is famous for some undiscoverable reason) pass without pointing out this remarkable description:
...she is also known for being a high-society party girl, part-time model, and quasi-actress.

In case you were wondering, in the pantheon of idiocy, quasi-actress comes right after demi-bimbo.
Sport of the Future: You can still make it to the Rock-Paper-Scissors International Championship. I've been needing something to hold my interest now that World Cup Tic-Tac-Toe is over.

Friday, October 10, 2003

The Southeast Corner: As promised, my latest travel essay, Babylon on the Make, the story of my recent week in southeast Florida, is up. In cased you missed the first one, The Gold Plated Swamp, it might be worth taking a look.

Busy, busy week. I'll try to get more up before the weekend is over.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

No Excuses: I ended up spending the better part of last week in the Annapolis-Baltimore area for my day job. So the bottom line is, I got big ole wad of nothing done. I really gotta get some semblence of order going in my life. Ah, well -- no excuses. Give me a day or three to get myself back in the swing, as usual.

In the meantime, did you have the slightest notion that Business as Usual is available -- and on sale! -- at Amazon? Were you even vaguely aware that you can read the first few chapters on-line? Did you have even a minor awareness that you can order Business As Usual at Barnes and Noble bookstores everywhere? Now you do. No excuses.

(Bloggers and other journalists who are interested in reviewing Business As Usual should send me a note.)

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Status Memo: I don’t know why, but the permanent links aren’t working. Lucky me, because I was just thinking how much I wanted one more annoyance to sort out. I'm sure it's something stupid I'm doing, but jeez. A break, please.

I've been working on my Florida essay, shouldn’t be too far off. I'm also prepping Apple Pie for its second edition. And I'm making grudging progress on Misspent Youth (novel 3) -- a long way to go on that one.

Amazon still seems to be the only place carrying Business As Usual for the moment -- it's heavily discounted, less than $13.00. Buy it. Now. Do not fear, it will be worth it. Apparently, the rest of the book selling industry is stuck in the '70s and still has little old ladies filling out forms on manual typewriters and making calls on rotary dial phones. That's my guess anyway.

I'm about halfway through a book called Hokkaido Highway Blues, by Will Ferguson. Ferguson, a Canadian English teacher (that's an English teacher from Canada, not a teacher of Canadian English, ya hoser) in Japan, took it upon himself to hitchhike the entire length of Japan, south to north, following the sakura -- the blossoming of the cherry blossoms. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for some deeply sincere, weepy-eyed treacle about the natural beauty and culture of Japan, but Ferguson is not the type. He is wry, droll and loaded for bear with an ironic, purely Western sense of humor. I'm sure I'll have a review to post once I'm done.

And I have once again become addicted to an HBO series – Carnivale. It is a very dark and stylish drama, set at the time of the Great Depression and the Oklahoma dust bowl, with religious and mystical themes. It has survived on its sense of atmosphere and the slow building of the overall plot which, after three episodes, we have only been teased with bits and pieces. If it holds up and doesn't descend into to cliche it could become a classic.
Links-a-Plenty: All these poor wittle sites just lying around hoping to be linked to.
  • A lively interview of P.J. O'Rourke at the Onion. Always worth reading. And don’t miss his latest Diary of a Country Gentleman in Forbes.

  • Another interview, this one with Joe Bob Briggs, the king of B-movie hosts. One of the few people who appreciate the difference between high quality trash cinema and plain old trash cinema.
  • This is a wicked optical illusion. In fact I'm not sure I would have believed it if I hadn't used my color checker on it.

  • Take this job and…give it to someone else. The Worst Jobs in Science. I didn’t get past Flatus Odor Judge (aka professional fart-sniffer). "…refuses to divulge the remuneration, but it would seem safe to characterize it thusly: Not enough." Uh-huh.

  • For the Pixie, who is a Monopoly maven, the Probabilities in the Game of Monopoly. And here I thought is was just a matter of evicting widows and orphans.

  • Economists at work.

  • Are the Detroit Tigers the worst ever? Nope. They came through in the end and dodged the record. They even failed at being the worst.

  • Idiots like this EBay scammer should be peeled and rolled in salt.

  • These kids with their Maxims and their FHMs. Didn’t have no silicon or airbrushing in my day. All we had was swanky prose and cheesey graphics. And we were grateful.

  • I'm Greg Brady, the real Greg Brady, all the other Greg Bradys are just imitating…

  • Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny imropetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Banking Off of the Northeast Wind: For the last couple of weeks real life has owned me – I touched no web browser and only checked my email once. For my next trick, I'll give up caffeine, chocolate, and bourbon. Or not.

Part of the reason I was able to do this is because I have spent the last ten days scurrying about south-east Florida – South Beach, Key West, Palm Beach. Hot and sunny. I head to south Florida and a hurricane veers north. There's something to be read into that, but I'm not sure what.

In general a good trip, I'll have more to say about it in an essay. The only really annoying thing about the whole trip was that I had to deal with renting a car. Auto rental is one of the only travel industries that continues to treat customers like easy marks, feeding you half truths and hard sell to get you to sign up for insurance or pay for a full tank of gas up front. It's like haggling with a third world street vendor. Anyway, like I said, more later. I shall be righteously brutal.

I hope to have more material for you this weekend. In the meantime, I should note that Business As Usual is already discounted to $12.57 at Amazon. Get it. You won’t be sorry.
Outhouse, the Second Story: Hat tip to Bob C. for pointing out that my comments (6/11/03 and 6/13/03 -- stupid archives not working) regarding Outhouse Springs bottled water qualify me for the Miss Cleo Award as this article indicates and this article verifies.
“We had woman who wanted us to dump the water out and just send the bottle,” he says. “She wrote back to us once she’d received it, and she told us she now wears the empty bottle on a rope around her neck. I’m not really sure what to make of that.”

I don’t even want to think about in what venues that would be appropriate dress. Truly tasteless. More info is available at We should now begin a campaign to ask for it by name in better restaurants.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Buy This Book, Or the Blog Gets It!: Just a quick note to let you know that Business As Usual is available for purchase at Amazon. The full entry is not there yet, no picture or description, but you already know all about that. So if you REALLY love me you know what you must do.

Now I simply must go back to dealing with that annoying abstract concept called reality for a couple of weeks. Adios, Caiman!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Frog in a Blender: That's how I feel, like a frog in a blender. Except that I'm not getting chopped up into tiny pieces. And I could get out if I wanted to, technically speaking. And I'm not an amphibian really, although I do like the water. Other than that -- Frog in a Blender.

I remain quite busy with Business As Usual, which I have now actually held a copy of in my grimey little paws. Still a week or so away from commercial availability. And as of now, I do not have a publisher for Apple Pie anymore. Do not weep, though. I have been at odds with the Apple Pie's publisher from the get go and am actually pleased that it's over. The downside is that I have to get a new publisher for Apple Pie, which won't be that difficult, just time consuming. So in all likelyhood Apple Pie will slip out of print briefly, but will come back faster, stronger, better than before. (Cue Six Million Dollar Man theme music.)

It also means less time for this place and more begging for your patience. Starting now. It will probably be a couple of weeks before I get anything posted here again. All I have to offer for now is my book review of Bangkok 8 over at Blogcritics.

Peruse some of the existing links, or better yet go read the Business As Usual preview. I'll have more material before you know it.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Great Reading: You can now read the first eight chapters of Business as Usual online in your browser – no charge, no ads, no strings whatsoever. The site is rather basic, but it should grow as reviews and sale info comes in. Commercial availability should come in the next 2-3 weeks. If you want to be notified as soon as it's available, just drop me a note
Web Gems: The usual odds and ends that have struck my fancy of late.
  • The good folks in Bermuda (one very cool place) are getting slammed by Hurricane Fabian – what a wussy name for a hurricane, by the way. It may be an excuse for me to go back when it's all over – gotta be charitable and help them with my business, now don’t you know. They've been through it before and are likely to come through this one OK, especially with comments like, "We've got gin, we've got white wine, we've got red wine and someone's got beer so we are well stocked up as long as the ice machine keeps going."

  • When people decry the state of scientific journalism, I shall remind them of the brilliant innovation of using elephants as a unit of measure.

  • I've never had any great desire to see Europe. Perhaps I'm just not romantic enough. But the Daily Telegraph has no illusions about living in Italy. And the New Yorker has little good to say about the prevailing zeitgeist in the City of Light. Maybe I'm right.

  • On the other hand, the new national symbol of France was chosen because her breasts are "flush, freewheeling, insolently raised in protest or subdued in a state of heraldic order." Yeesh. It's enough to make one yearn for simple prose of Maxim.

  • Excuse me, I really have to take this call…

  • Webheads like me can feel nostalgic for these reminders of web culture past (anyone remember the Dancing Baby?). Maybe this is a head start on VH1's I Love the '90s.

  • M.I.T -- yes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – is putting all it's coursework online. "Every lecture, every handout, every quiz. All online. For free." Talk about a free education. Of course, since anyone can claim to be MIT educated, that makes the sheepskin all that much more valuable as proof.

  • Haven’t had a music industry bashing article for a while, so here you go. CD sales are down not because of pirating, but because the music is sucky (that's a technical term - sucky).

  • There's nothing I appreciate more than an article that includes the line, "A breakaway flotilla of ducks is expected to make landfall in Britain soon…", unless it's an article that contains the line, "Nineteen Beavers then rushed into the stands and got into a scrum with [a fan] on a concourse."

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Scrambling and Rambling: The lion's share of my time is being devoted to getting going. Once complete, you will be able to read the first eight chapters of Business As Usual right there on-line -- no charge, no registration, no pop-ups, no ads. Naturally, I hope it will suck you in and you'll buy it. It won’t hurt that I believe there will actually be some promotion done for this book, which will be a first.

Anyway, I have been very jaded about writing and publishing since shortly after the release of Apple Pie; now I actually getting a bit more enthusiastic.

Once that settles down, more work on this place - I have some ideas for change. More articles. And a redesign to de-emphasize the weblog and highlight the writings.

And then, maybe, if I'm really lucky, I can spend some time on writing more fiction.
The Stupid Decade: Back in the '70s there were a lot of great movies released. I have only come to appreciate them as I've gotten older. From Annie Hall, to The Godfather, to Patton, to Monty Python and the Holy Grail - a killer decade. Of course, that's about all the '70s had going for them, as a viewing of any episode of I Love the '70s on VH1 will quickly demonstrate. I used to wonder whether my hatred of the '70s stemmed not from their inherent abject stupidity, but from my personal memories of my awkward, pathetic adolescent years. Nope, they were stupid. Profoundly, existentially stupid. And not just stupid, they were UGLY -- the hairstyles, the clothes, the music. Worse, there was the pervasive ignorance to how thoroughly stupid they were being.

And then there was the whole drug thing. Nowadays you have a decent stratification of drugs. There are the good-time, happy feeling drugs like Ecstasy, or Prozac for that matter. There are the grimey, slow-suicide drugs, like Heroin and Crack. And of course there's Pot for the folks who never quite made it out of their parent's basement. Civilized people now know what drug is appropriate for how they want to mess themselves up. (In my case, Maker's Mark Bourbon is my drug of choice.) But back in the '70s it didn’t matter -- if there was a drug placed in front of you, you used it. Otherwise reasonable people felt it was appropriate to behave like raging crackheads.

If anything, VH1 missed the enduring lesson of the '70s: Given the proper pharmaceuticals, people will do just about anything.
Broken Bones: Football season is shaping up well. Still no idea how I am going to follow it. I may just track the hometown Lions, since they appear to be fielding something resembling a professional football team this year, and my sentimental favorite Dolphins who have so much talent it is ridiculous. If they don’t make the Super Bowl this year, they will find they have officially become the Boston Red Sox of the NFL and will be cursed to heart-wrenching failure for eternity.

The big story this pre-season has been injuries to marquee players. That, and the Raider's Bill Romanowski punching a teammate and ending his season. For those of you who don’t know, Romanowski is essentially an unfrozen Neanderthal with severe schizophrenic tendencies. Here's a good summary of his existence. I may have to spend the season hating him and calling him names. Too bad, because I like the Raiders otherwise.

The other thing I want to do is get to Vegas and do some betting on the games. They say the best Sports Book is at the Hilton, but that's off strip. I've heard Mandalay Bay is also very good. I could do it right here from my laptop, but I don’t trust on-line gambling houses (note that on-line gambling is illegal in the US -- wrongly in my opinion). Betting on the games makes them a lot more interesting. And Vegas makes everything a lot more interesting.
Those Morons at Burger King: So I'm on the way home the other night and I stop at Burger King for dinner. I ordered one of those Chicken Caesar Club sandwiches. So I'm waiting and waiting and waiting. A good solid ten minutes passes before they notice that I'm still waiting. The counter chick and the manager begin discussing whether the guy working the grill knows about the order. They have a nice long discussion about it and then walk away, never bothering to actually ask the guy if he knows about it or not.

Another five minutes pass, so I ask them if grill boy knows to make my sandwich. They shrug and say something like "I think so." Really, you think so? Well I'll just wait here all night and by the time you close I guess we'll know, won’t we? So I call back to the guy in a rather loud voice, asking him myself if he's making the order. He claims he already made it. I ask him to come out and show the counter chick where it is so she can hand to me.

So he strolls out to the front, grabs one of the sandwiches, unwraps it, takes off the top bun, shows it to me and asks, "Is this it?" No -– that's a Chicken Whopper. He then repeats the performance with another sandwich and asks the same question. Wrong again –- that one's not even Chicken. So I point to the big flashy sign for the Chicken Caesar Club and say, "That's what I ordered." He gives it momentary blank stare and then ambles back to make it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is the reason people go into places like this and SPRAY THEM WITH UZI FIRE.

And actually, it's not such a bad reaction. You see, these are not sentient beings. They do not qualify as human in any legally binding way. The worst rap they can pin on you is animal cruelty.

Sadly, I wasn't carrying my Uzi. So I used about thirty napkins to wipe my face and I didn’t bus my own table. That hosed 'em right and proper.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Progressing Slowly: I've been working diligently behind the scenes on, where you can see my under construction note. More to come, including a good long teaser. I'll keep you all in the loop.

I wish I could tell you that is the only reason, but I've also been working my way through the previously described Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. I'm hooked; I'll probably have to review it when things slow down.
Gotta Have Drama: Speaking of things I'lll have more to say on, it's Sunday night but it's debatable whether I'll get this done in time to post it because the season finale of The Wire is about to come on. It will figure prominently in my next HBO essay, which by habit, will appear upon the season end of The Sopranos sometime later this year

At the other end of the spectrum, you could watch Good Clean Porn, an examination of the dramatic qualities of porn movies with the sex cut out. I''ll be sure to watch just as soon as I'm done listening my new CD, The Best of Fingernails on a Chalkboard.
Winning at Losing: Well this is what happens to journalists when they have some free cash and nothing to write about. The folks at ESPN paid a statistical service to simulate a seven game series between the '62 Mets – generally considered the worst baseball team ever, they lost 120 games – and this year's edition of the Tigers - who are on track to match them in the loss column – to determine the worst baseball team ever. The Tigers won by losing in seven ineptly played games.

Rising from the depression of the Tigers season, the Lions actually appear to be fielding an actual professional grade football team this year. Will wonders never cease? Still haven’t decided if/how I'm going to cover pro football this year. Whatever I do I won’t do it until about half way through the season because you just can’t make any intelligent prediction until the teams reveal themselves in real life. Of course, the more important event is that the always clever Gregg Easterbrook is back with Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Even if you only have a passing interest in pro football (passing – get it?) Gregg "that's two gees, three total" Easterbrook is a must read.
Letters, We Get Letters: Check out this one:
Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2003 6:33 AM
Subject: Dimensional Warp Generator Needed
Importance: High


I'm a time traveler stuck here in 2003.
Upon arriving here my dimensional warp generator stopped working. I trusted a company here by the name of LLC Lasers to repair my Generation 3 52 4350A watch unit, and they fled on me.

Since nobody in this timeline seems to be able to deliver what I need (safely here to me), I will have to build a simple time travel circuit to get where I need myself. While it might be hard to find parts in this time to build anything decent, I need easy to follow schematics from the future to build one which is safe and accurate that will not disrupt the time space continuum with both forward and backward capability accounting for temporal location settings (X, Y, Z, n), which can be built out of (readily available) parts here in 2003. Please email me any plans you have. I will pay good money for anything you send me I can use. Or if you have a dimensional warp generator available, and are 100% certain you have a (safe, secure) means of delivering it to me please also reply with a secure way to contact you. Send a separate email to me at: [[omitted]]

Do not reply back directly to this email as it will only be bounced back to you.

Thank You
Brian Appel

Sorry Brian, I can’t help you out. You may have to just relax and enjoy this retro world. If you do get your time machine built, I suggest you first go back to the point where you cut the deal with LLC lasers and get your money back. That way you won’t have to spam us and we'll know you're OK because this post will disappear.

Or maybe it will have never been here to begin with.

Doh! Stupid temporal paradox. Now my head hurts.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

More of the Same: Still in slo-mo regarding posting, maybe something later this week. Still a lot to do for Business As Usual, lots of other writing to do -- no idea when things will get back to normal; maybe in fall for Back-to-School 'blog season.

I don’t know what I mean by that, either.
Lights On: So I was in Pittsburgh. It started out to be a disaster: I miscalculated the number of days I was going to be there and so ran out of clothes and my return flight was at 7PM the day after my conference was over leaving me almost a full day of empty time -- normally that would have been an opportunity to explore the city, but Pittsburgh, while a decent spot, is not exactly what you would call inspiring. But sometimes fate smiles upon thee.

My request to switch my flight to the previous evening was met with penalty quotes roughly equivalent to the price of another complete fare, so that was out. Lucky for me, because on 4PM of that previous night the lights went out all over the Northeast, including my destination -- Detroit. But not in Pittsburgh, so while everyone was struggling to get through traffic and find gas and light candles, I was sitting in the hotel bar sipping a beer and watching a baseball game.

The serendipity kicked into high gear the following day. I decided to check out about 11:30AM and make my way to the airport to see if I could get standby on one of the three afternoon flights. And boom-boom-boom: as soon as I checked out the shuttle arrived and I got the last seat; there were no lines at the Northwest counter or at security; the first flight I had a shot at was scheduled to leave at 1PM, about a half hour after I arrived and not only did I get on the plane, they put me in first class. If I knew that run of luck was coming my way I would have flown to Vegas instead.

When I got to Detroit there were about two hundred people waiting for the parking lot shuttles. Apparently the roads were flooded out and only a trickle of traffic was able to get through. It took a good solid hour to get to my car, so that sucked…but wait! It took just long enough that by the time I got home, the lights were back on and everything was back to what passes for normal.

So I must confess that I don’t see what all you people were so upset about. You really have to learn to not sweat the small stuff.
Words and Music: You should be listening to Welcome Interstate Managers by Fountains of Wayne. The best CD I've heard in ages -- a power pop masterpiece. It's been playing in my car ever since I got back.

I'm currently reading Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. It begins promisingly, if it holds up it will be astounding. Of course, for me, reading time consists of a stolen half hour here and there so it may be a while before I finish it.

I will probably have more to say about these in due time.
Spam's Victims: I occasionally receive emails similar to this recent message:
From: [not the real address]

Do you know how many rooms has in the pyramidal luxor hotel?
Thanks, David

I don’t really know what to make of something like this. I could assume that it is someone who read my essay on Vegas, and mistakenly took me for someone who knows something (clearly a stranger). But then I think, No it could be some sort of super-sophisticated spammer method to see if my email belongs to someone stupid enough to respond to odd requests. So poor djmak gets nothing but silence thanks to the atmosphere of anxiety created by spammers.

So, djmak, if that is your real name, the answer is No, I don't.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Don't Say I Didn’t Warn Ya: Like I forewarned, it has been a slow summer; well, slow for this place, but quite busy for me. Nothing has changed, Business As Usual is off to the printer and now all the ancillary work begins so I will continue to be neglectful. For now, I need to clean out everything I've been saving to share with you, so here we go. Ain't you lucky?
Health and Science Round-up: Some cool sci-health stuff I've stumbled on.
  • You should know about epidemiology. It's what will prevent you from flipping out over the alarmist nonsense that the media wallows in. Check out, this introduction from Michael Fumento.

  • The late Richard Feynman (Surely, you're joking…) chimes in on Stupid Science Tricks that he calls Cargo Cult Science.

  • A fabulous article on the state of cancer research in Wired, and why, though we just recently found out how phenomenally complicated cancer is, we're closer than ever.

  • A terrific series on misconception about diet and obesity by Sandy Szwarc over a Tech Central Station. Of course, some of it is old news to me.

Just Kidding: Once you are sufficiently jaded about science you can get a new perspective on the recent announcement that there is only a 50-50 chance humans will survive the century (thanks KK) by Sir Martin Rees. Wow – he's both a knight and a scientist, he must be an unquestionable authority.

Or not, check out this review from The Economist.
So how does he justify his suggestion that mankind might have only a 50-50 chance of surviving the 21st century-our final century, to use the alarmist title of the book? Even before your correspondent could ask him that question at a recent literary event, Sir Martin confessed to being a fan of Bjorn Lomborg-a Danish academic who recently caused some controversy when he suggested that greens have been systematically distorting the fact that the environment has been getting healthier in many countries.

Sir Martin then took the reviewer's copy of "Our Final Century" and pencilled in a question mark after the title. His publishers had ruled it out. The American publishers even changed the title from "Our Final Century" to "Our Final Hour". Sir Martin is clever enough to know that the end is not nigh, but he put up with the chicanery in order to gain a wider audience. A small sin, perhaps, in such an important book.

Writers are such whores.
Tech Round-up: Some cool recent techie stuff I've read stumbled on.
  • It may be getting just too darn easy to play real money poker on-line. My problem with this has always seemed like betting on a coin flip with out actually seeing the result. If only there were more hours in the day…

  • I can’t think of a better use for nanotechnology than cheap big-screen HDTV.

  • What is the right cellphone for you?

  • Amazon is going to start a full text search of books. I'm not exactly sure of the value here, but if it sells books, I'm for it.

Random Round-up: Where do I find this stuff?
  • Ten Cars available in Japan that you won’t see here. Curious, but nothing all that compelling.

  • An article about tedious lawyerly doings – not worth reading, but check out this quote.

    The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy is having a coming-out party this week. For three days starting Friday, law students and attorneys will hear speeches by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; attend discussions on the environment, abortion, gay rights, government surveillance, human rights and other subjects; and mingle with dozens of top legal scholars and judges.

    It's not all heavy lifting. There also is a Janet Reno Dance Party on Saturday night.

    Par-TAY! Get down with your bad socio-political self!

  • A fine review of Comerica Park (home of the Tigers, technically a professional baseball team) from ESPN, that makes points about Detroit that I have made before.

  • Fascinating article about the life of an EBay fraudster on the lam. There's a movie in that.

  • This looks like it might be a reason to live.

I Drink, Therefore I Drink: Courtesy of The Legendary KK, we have Signs That You Drink Too Much (don’t know why she thought of me).
  • That pink elephant followed you home again.

  • You're as jober as a sudge.

  • Don't recognize wife unless seen through bottom of glass.

  • Your job is interfering with your drinking.
  • Your twin sons are named Barley and Hops.

  • The whole bar says 'Hi' when you come in.

  • You have to hold onto the lawn to keep from falling off the earth.

  • Your idea of cutting back is no salt on your margarita.

  • At AA meetings you begin: "Hi, my name is... uh..."

  • Mosquitoes catch a buzz after attacking you.

  • The parking lot seems to have moved while you were in the bar.

  • Hey, five beers has just as many calories as a burger, forget dinner!

  • You fall off the floor.

  • Ozzy Osbourne shakes his head when he walks past you.

  • You can focus better with one eye closed.

  • Two hands and just one mouth... - now that's a drinking problem!
  • 24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case - coincidence? - I think not!

  • Your doctor finds traces of blood in your alcohol stream.

  • You lose arguments with inanimate objects.

  • Your career won't progress beyond Senator from Massachusetts.