Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

Two-fer Tuesday:  Words That Aren’t Words

2-fer-tuesday

It is Two-fer Tuesday, which is the day I offer you two of something, where one would have been more than sufficient.  And since two-fer isn’t actually a word, I thought I’d share with you two other words that are not really words, but that are widely used (at least here in Texas and throughout the Deep South).

Disclaimer:I was raised in the Deep South and I live in Texas, so I am allowed to talk about our odd words and phrases.  🙂

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Nother

(nŭth′ər)
[Adjective]

(1)  The most common usage of the word “nother is as a synonym for the word “other”. For example:

“That’s a whole nother story.”

(2)  In some cases, this word is actually just the second part of the word “another”.  When written down, it is indistinguishable from “another”.  However, in many Southern dialects, it is just a stylistic inflection when saying “another”.  For example,

“I’d love uh nother biscuit, but I’m fuller than a tick on a hound dog.”

It manifests itself as a slight pause between the “a” sound (pronouced “uh”) and the “nuh-ther” sound.  In some Southern dialects, the “nother” part is actually pronounced “nutter” or “nudder”.

 

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Purt

(pert)
[Adverb … sort of]

(1)  Ironically, the word “purt” on its own is meaningless, even in the South.  It is always paired with the word “near”.  When used with near, as in “purt near”, it means “almost” or “very nearly”.  The closest definition to the word “pert” on its own is “pretty” in the sense of being moderate.  For instance, in the phrase:

He purt near ran over me with that tractor.

which means “He came very close to running over me.”

Some other examples:

I purt near won the sack race.    [I almost won the sack race.]

She purt near burnt the biscuits.   [She almost burned the biscuits.]

Clem: “Are you almost done?
Jed:  “Purt near.”   [Yes, nearly.]

Anyway, there you have it.  Two words that aren’t really words for Two-fer Tuesday.  I hope you enjoyed!

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Comments are always welcome.

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Random Tidbits (1/28/2017 Edition)

random-tidbits

Here are this week’s leftovers.  I’m clearing out the refrigerator.  If nobody reads them, they’re going in the trash.

 

1

The weather here in Dallas the past few days has been beautiful, which is disappointing.  By beautiful, I mean it has been in the high 50s (~13 to ~15 C).  The sun is so bright one has to wear sunglasses in the car at all times (as I mentioned in a post a few days ago).  It is warm enough you don’t want to wear a jacket, but if the breeze picks up to more than one mile per hour, you are suddenly freezing to death.  So you have to wear a jacket.  But then the sun makes you burn up.  In the car, there is so much sunshine pouring in through the windows and heating up the cabin that one sometimes has to turn on the air conditioner, even though it is quite chilly outside.  Strange days, indeed.

2

There was an expedition to Hobby Lobby to pick up something for … some other thing.  I can’t remember.  I’m a man.  I have the memory retention of a gnat.  But there I was.  As I usually do when at Hobby Lobby, I announce, “I’m going to the man aisle” and I depart thither.  Unless a man is a painter or a calligrapher or a scrapbooker or something like that, there is only one aisle in Hobby Lobby that is “man friendly”.    We all go there.  When a new man appears on this aisle, we do the single head nod at each other.  It is our universal greeting.  It is our little way of saying, “Hey … welcome to the man aisle.”  What is on the Man Aisle, you ask?  Car models.  Ship models.   Airplane models.  Glue.  Paint.  Xacto knives.  Toy trains.  Slot car racers.  Airbrush equipment.  I can’t speak for the other men, but I like to look at all the models and think, “I could build that.”  And then I think, “If I had any skill.  Or patience.  Or hand-eye coordination.  Or an attention span longer than a gnat.”  And then, as if to prove my point, my attention wanders and I find myself reading the label on a package of model putty for no particular reason.  All of us who are exiled to the Man Aisle know better than to wander even an aisle away.  If we do, we will find ourselves on the jewelry making aisle.  Or the caligraphy aisle.  The women who are there look up at us as if to say, “Shouldn’t you be in the man aisle?”  And so we return to that aisle … even though we’ve all looked at these same models twenty-nine dozen times.

3

I found myself in Trader Joe’s today.  I’m not sure what to make of that place.  It is a poky little place that is about a quarter the size of a traditional grocery store.  Everything is a little cramped and claustrophobic.  There are lots of foods I don’t recognize from companies I’ve never heard of.  Packaging is simple and generic looking.  Some of it looks like it might have been made in someone’s garage.  There are a lot of interesting people there.  Hipsters, mostly.  And little old ladies in fur stoles carrying tiny dogs, looking for all the world like aged stars from the silent movie era.  Lots of men with gray ponytails.  Everyone is talking on their cell phones.  I mean … EVERYONE.  Nearly everyone in the store looks down on their luck, but the vast majority of them go out and get into BMWs, Lexus’, Audis, etc.  I really have no idea what is going on there.   Such an odd vibe.  They have excellent chocolate covered raisins, though!

 

4

I went to Half Price Books today to “sell” them some of my old books that I no longer want.  It was quite a load!  I didn’t weigh it, but I’d estimate I took them 20 to 30 pounds of books.  There were all sorts of things; anything from old computer games, to paperbacks, to college textbooks.  Even a set of encyclopedias!   Now, I know the drill at HPB.  They’re there to make money.  They sell stuff very cheap, so I don’t expect to be able to retire at what they pay me for my old books.  Today I got a little over ten dollars for my books, so about fifty cents a pound.   That is a fair price to pay to save myself the pain and anguish and guilt of throwing books into the recycling bin.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  So I pay HPB to do it for me.

5

The doorbell rang today, causing widespread panic and confusion.  The doorbell never rings.  No one visits anyone here in Dallas.  Besides, doorbells are an anachronism.  People just text nowadays and say, “We’re here!”  I had almost forgotten what the doorbell sounded like.  At first I was like, “What is that weird bonging sound?”  Then I realized it was the doorbell.  So I answered it.  There was no one there.  There were no packages laying by the doorstep. I walked out to the street and looked both ways.  No one was in sight.  No cars were driving away.  Then I caught a flash of red jacket catty cornered across the street.   Two boys in their early teens were darting away.   It was just a prank.  I wasn’t upset.  I was just amazed that kids still do that.  I thought that died out in the 1970s.  I’m glad to see kids nowadays showing some gumption.

================= That’s All, Folks! =================

 

A Lot on My Mind This Morning

59755

It is not unusual for me to wake up with weighty matters on my mind.

For instance, this morning I woke up with a 15 pound cat standing on my head with all four feet.

This happens sometimes.  I generally wake up in the morning laying on my stomach, my head turned so that the side of my face is on the mattress, and my pillow completely covering my head with only a little bit of an air gap to allow me to breathe.  This is my Fortress of Solitude.

Cats are nothing if not opportunists, so when they see someone with a pillow over their face, it is not in a cat’s nature to let“I dare not” wait upon “I would”.  No doubt he thought to himself, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly” and quickly ascended to the throne.  However, he failed to take into account my patented Breathing Gap™.

I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps he was just trying to find a perch that afforded him a better view of the sunrise.  But if he could tell time, he’d have known that that was still a way away.

 

Glaring Error

1ff8ed2ff81509fde0a01d08c023d9ed_cute20sun20with20sunglasses-sun-with-sunglasses-clipart_1000-847

Some of the greatest minds of the last hundred years have argued vehemently against the notion of Intelligent Design.  They have presented many cogent and well-reasoned arguments.  They have, using logic, proven to their own satisfaction that there could not possibly be an Intelligent Agent behind everything that surrounds us.

But I’m here to tell you that they are all wrong.  Every one of them.  Dead wrong.

How can I be so certain?

It’s simple.

How could anything but some Grand Designer create a world in which, while you are driving to or from work in the morning in winter, the sun shines directly into your eyes no matter which direction you are driving in, no matter what angle your sun visor is tilted, or how low or high you adjust it, no matter if you are driving up a hill or down?  The winter sun mysteriously pivots, turns, and gyrates in the sky so that it is always beaming directly into your eyes.

There simply has to be an Intelligence behind that.

Either that, or it is entirely possible that, during the winter months at least, I am the exact center of our solar system.

Big Wheel, Keep on Burnin’

car-swerving

I saw something on the way to work this morning that one doesn’t often see.

Like most stories (or, more accurately, anecdotes), this one starts out with the hackneyed phrase “I was minding my own business …”  I read that that is a good opening sentence in the “Helpful Hints” section of the “Blogging for Fun and Profit” book I found at the used bookstore for 25 cents.  Anyway …

I was minding my own business while zipping along the five-lanes-in-each-direction freeway, on my way to work.  Apparently “my business” was to be going too slow for the prevailing traffic conditions, even though I was doing about ten miles an hour over the posted speed.  But in my defense, I was listening to “Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot on the CD player, and the song was admonishing me to slow down and enjoy life.  Okay, maybe not explicitly, but it was implied.  So I was taking it slow (at the poky speed of 75 miles per hour).  I was on a trip on down to worker-land, where time gets logged, with a straw boss tallying up the hours.  (That was just a little something for you Gordon Lightfoot fans out there.)

Suddenly, traffic began to slow down (as it often does, for no apparent reason).  In the lane just to my left I began to see two eight-inch-wide black stripes on the pavement running parallel to each other.  They paced me for a bit and then made a graceful parabolic arc away to the left and off the road.  There was no burning wreckage at the end of the marks, so I’m assuming the driver that created them managed to regain his composure and continue on his merry way.

The cause of these skid marks was a little odd.  There, right in the middle of the road was a metal wheelbarrow.  It was upside down, resting on the rim of the barrow part.  It was just sitting there innocently while cars weaved and swerved and darted around it.  I managed to make my way by it with no problems.   I kept looking at it in my rear view mirror.  Everyone seemed to be avoiding it okay, though I’m sure there were plenty of salty monologues being delivered to no one in particular.

At about that time, the inside of my truck was suddenly filled with the acrid smell of burning car tires.  Apparently, whatever vehicle had made those thick rubber skid marks on the freeway just in front of the wheelbarrow had done so just moments before I arrived.

Egad!  What a smell!  It instantly reminded me of the year of my youth when I lived with my uncle, aunt, and cousins on their farm in rural Alabama (VERY rural).  My uncle apparently believed that the way to dispose of a cow that had expired was to surround the dearly departed with about three dozen car and truck tires and then set the rubber pyre (see what I did there?) on fire.  You might say it was a funeral tire. (I did it again …anything worth doing, is worth doing twice in a row for maximum comic effect.)

The tires would burn for days and days, creating a plume of black smoke that could be seen from outer space (or at least from Demopolis).  The air was filled with the pong of burning tires.  It became a topic of discussion around about those parts for as long as the plume was visible.

What’s really bizarre, is that at the time I didn’t think there was anything bizarre about my uncle’s behavior.  Why WOULDN’T you bury a dead cow under a pile of old tires and set it on fire?  Made perfect sense to me.  At that innocent time in my life I believed that grown-ups held all of the secrets of the universe in their minds and that if they did something, then there was no reason to question the sanity of it.  But we grow up.  We realize grown-ups are fumbling around in the dark for answers just like we are.  I must admit, though … I’ve always been curious as to the sequence of thoughts that led from “Hmm … ol’ Bessie died” to “I’m gonna bury her in tires and set the whole shootin’ match on fahr.

But the real point I’m trying to make is that it’s funny how an aroma can take you instantly back to a distant time of your life with such clarity that it is startling.

Not quite as startling as suddenly encountering a wheelbarrow in the middle of the road at 75 miles an hour.  But nearly.

Monkee Business: Auntie Grizelda (A Review)

more-of-the-monkees

I have a confession to make.  I like the Monkees.  I have never admitted this to anyone before.  You can understand my shame.  When I was a wee lad my older brother had several of their albums and that was my introduction to them.  I was quite surprised a few years later to find out that not only did they make music, but they had their own TV show!  They were aired as re-runs on Saturday morning when I was a kid.  Of course, they weren’t reruns to me.  They were fresh and new and exciting  and unlike anything I’d ever seen or heard before.  Later on in my life I saw “A Hard Days Night” by the Beatles and I was incensed (incensed!) that they were so blatantly ripping off the Monkees trademark zany antics.  Just goes to show you how subjective history is.

At any rate, because it is the 50th anniversary almost to the day that this song debuted on the Monkee’s TV show (and in order to shamelessly pump up my blog hits), I’m going to review one of my favorite songs from the Monkees, “Auntie Grizelda.”  You can find the song here, and the lyrics here.

“Auntie Grizelda” features the forgotten Monkee, Peter Tork, which is why I was probably initially drawn to it.  I identified with Peter in some way I can’t explain.  He always seemed to be the odd man out, even in a group as strange as the Monkees.  He didn’t say much.  He seemed to be in a perpetual state of bewilderment, which, in my youthful innocence, I attributed to his pure heart and his innate naivety.  As an adult, however, I was made to understand that he was supposed to be the “high” one.  I like my interpretation better.  Peter  was also (usually) the last one to get the girl.  And on top of all that, he played the bass guitar, which is arguably the least chick-magnet-y instrument you can play in a band.

The gist of the song is Peter talking to some unnamed girl about her aunt and how she (the aunt) hates Peter and disapproves of their being together.  On it’s surface, the song is just sort of a funny series of insults about Auntie Grizelda.  Lines such as

No bird of grace ever lit on Auntie Grizelda

This is one of my favorite lines from the song and one of the best insults I have ever heard.  It is a subtle wind-up … and then the pitch … and boom!  You just got insulted.  Then there is:

She couldn’t budge a smile and do it for free

But the song isn’t just a collection of insults towards Auntie Grizelda, it is Peter begging the girl to please don’t be like her Aunt.  He is trying to tell the girl that, though it’s harder to be your own person while being raised under an oppressive thumb, she must make the effort or else she will end up bitter and judgmental like her Aunt and, ultimately, alone.

I’ve never quite understood Peter going off in the middle of the song into a series of gutteral noises and gibberish.  It certainly makes the song unique and memorable!  My only interpretation is that his frustration at not being able to get through to the girl he is talking to finally gets the best of him and he just snaps.  He is doing the equivalent of burying his face into a pillow and screaming to give vent to his frustration.  Or, another explanation is that they were the Monkees and he was just trying to live up to the band’s shtick and to stop being in the shadow of the other three Monkees.  But whatever the reason, he made for a memorable moment in Monkee history and one of the more stand-out songs that the Monkees ever recorded.

Additional Links

Here is an alternate video which apparently is a clip from the show.  However, the video has nothing to do with the lyrics.  It is pretty random.

Here is another clip from the show which just has the Monkees running around and imitating the Beatles from “A Hard Day’s Night”.  The sound quality isn’t that good, though.

And here is a bizarre clip of an elderly Peter Tork singing “Auntie Grizelda” live on stage.  He sort of sleepwalks through it and actually seems to forget the lyrics at one point.  Oh well … I can’t say anything about memory lapses!

And here is some random information about the song.

Recording Date:  October 23, 1966

Lyrics by Diane Hildebrand

Music by Jack Keller

Song appeared on the 1967 album “More of The Monkees”

Recorded at:  American Studios, Studio City

The song appeared in Season 1, Episode 18 of the Monkee’s TV show on January 16, 1967. The show was entitled “I Was A Teenage Monster”

 

 

 

 

Random Tidbits (1/22/17 Edition)

random-tidbits

The following are just some random thoughts and ramblings that were left over from the weekend.  None of them were, on their own, enough to warrant a blog post.  So I will just bundle them up and put them on the clearance rack and mark them way down.

1

I just watched comedian Wayne Cotter on Johnny Carson (original air date:  1/31/92).  He was pretty funny, as always.  But what really struck me as funny as that I used to own that exact same tie he was wearing.

2

I had lunch at Taco Cabana today because, as a Texan, we are required to eat Mexican food at least once per week (no excuses).  I made the mistake of asking for some tortilla chips with my meal.  They charged me a dollar fifty (!) for a tiny little cardboard dish that is the same size Sonic serves their Frito chili pies in.  It contained about 15 chips (so about ten cents per chip).  On top of that, they were so paper thin and flimsy, every time I tried to scoop up a tiny bit of guacamole or sour cream, the chip would just break.  So I’d try it again.  And again.  Until there was nothing but tortilla chip crumbs all over my guacamole.  I was perturbed, to say the least.  Every other Mexican restaurant in Dallas gives free tortilla chips, and they are capable of supporting the weight of a butterfly without shattering.  Get your act together, Taco Cabana!

3

I had to go buy a new pair of sneakers today.  Like most men, I hate shopping for clothes, and especially shoes.  Someone recommended that I try DSW; claiming that they had a good selection.  They were not lying on this point.  The S and W in DSW stands for Shoe Warehouse.  I walked in the front door and immediately blue-screened.  In the men’s section, there were no less than about 40 styles of men’s sneakers.  Once I had rebooted myself a few times (which is odd, because I was looking for sneakers, not boots), I found myself overwhelmed by the selection.  I ended up buying a pair that looked almost exactly like the pair I went in with, except they were cleaner and didn’t squeak when I walked.  The squeaking was what drove me to buy a new pair of sneakers in the first place.  How can one sneak while wearing squeaking sneakers?  At work on Friday, my sneakers sounded like a seagull with croup.  My new ones are quiet.  Back to stealth mode.

4

No less than four times today, I had to switch the thermostat in the house back and forth between heating and air conditioning.  I hate Texas winters.  It’s like playing weather roulette. Just spin the Wheel o’ Weather and see what comes up.

5

I passed some trees in a parking lot today that were covered with ten thousand grackles.  I think the unseasonably warm weather has caused them to think it is time to migrate back north again for the summer.   Boy, are they going to be in for a rude awakening!

———————-

That’s it for this edition of Random Tidbits.  I hope you all have a wonderful week!

 

 

A Sunday Morning Ramble

american-gothic-inspiration1

Here we are at the unofficial halfway point of the weekend.  It’s funny:  as long as it seems to take for weekends to get here, they always seem to go by so quickly.  I’m sure there’s a passage somewhere in Einstein’s book “A General Theory of Relativity” that explains this phenomenon, but I was trying to read it in the original German.  Inasmuch as I only know about six words of German (and I am nearly certain none them appear anywhere in any of his writings), my attention span faltered, and then tripped, and fell into a deep physics-related sleep (or possibly a coma).

It is a beautiful day here in North Texas.  It will be around 60 F today (9 C), sunny, and springlike. The only possible downer is that later today the wind will be gusting at around 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hours, or 30.4 knots, or about 94,080 furlongs per fortnight).  However, I don’t mind high winds too much.  It should move along the remainder of those pesky leaves that have been blanketing my front yard since just before Christmas and which have been duly noted by the homeowner’s association.  But knowing my luck, rather than move them along, the wind will probably just deposit even more leaves from neighbors’ trees from up and down the block.  So, someday soon, I will be standing in my front yard holding a rake (very American Gothic-esque) and saying, “But there’s not even a silver maple tree anywhere around here!  Where the heck did all these leaves come from?”  This is exactly the sort of inexplicable phenomenon that spawns myths like the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and neighbors who clean up after their dogs.

Moving on ….

I got new bedroom furniture yesterday.  I only mention that because it might help the coroner write a more thorough report.  All my life I have heard people say things like “I love new-car smell!”  Or, “I love the smell of new furniture!”  I was never a fan of such aromas, even before I knew what they were.  Most people just love the insinuation, the ambiance, the symbol of newness and freshness.  I, on the other hand, feel my sinuses closing up and my lungs recoiling in horror.  Now I know that new-anything smell consists of volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde,  ethyl acetate, and acetone.  And I slept all night in a London fog of such lovely compounds!  So I shall be the first person in America who shall, on the coroner’s report, have his cause of death listed as “new furniture”.  Hopefully, the chalk outline of me on top of my mattress can be laundered out.  My glowing obit shall contain the expression “He died as he lived … gasping for breath and fumbling blindly for the Claritin-D.

On a brighter note, the preparation for the arrival of the new furniture forced a deep cleaning of the room such as it hasn’t seen in awhile.  The dust bunnies put up a good fight and the vacuum cleaner struggled mightily, but in the end there could only be one victor … and it was the furniture salesman, Victor, who made a handsome commission off the sale of the VOC-riddled furniture he unloaded on an unsuspecting consumer.

So I plan to spend the day outside, breathing in giant lung-fulls of Dallas air (which consist primarily of pollen, mold spores, dust from west Texas, and mosquitoes).

Come On, Brain! Try to Keep Up!

 

brain-in-wheel

I’m a pretty intrepid dude.  I can face pretty much anything with coolness and unflappability. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is (or will be) a starship class named in honor of my intrepidity.  But I have to admit, when I am moving my mouse cursor up towards that write-icon-50 icon in the upper right hand corner of my screen, I am filled with angst and trepidation (which I found out is not a starship class.  Who would want to serve on a starship in the Trepidation class?).

Hey, I can blather-write free-associate and commit stream o’ consciousness with the best of them.  In fact, it’s kind of my shtick.  It’s what I do.  It’s in my wheelhouse (on the bridge of my Intrepid Class starship, which is permanently dry-docked in my mind undergoing unspecified repairs and upgrades).

So what is it about that dreaded write-icon-50 icon that makes me quail and flinch?

Perhaps it is because, unlike the really popular, really good bloggers here on WordPress, I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about when I click that icon.  I just start typing and hope something comes to me.  This blog post is a perfect example of that.  I just start typing as fast as I can and hope my brain can keep up and that I can get to the end of the post before I realize I have nothing to write about or before I get distracted by something else.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, my fingers have crossed the finish line and they are going to go enjoy a quick sauna while they wait for my brain to arrive.

 

 

How Not to Excel at Your Job

excel-errors-1

You may remember from my last exciting post that our intrepid protagonist was waxing philosophic (i.e. babbling) about it being Wednesday.  Well, that was then; this is now.  Wednesday is so yesterday.  Thursday is trending.  Thursday is the new Wednesday.  And, using the tortured metaphor from yesterday’s post, we are now past the Continental Divide and we are trudging through Oregon (i.e. Thursday), even though we haven’t quite reached the Willamette Valley (i.e. Friday) yet.  But you can see it from here if you squint really hard and make binoculars of your fists.

But not to worry.  I am not going to continue to torture yesterday’s poor Oregon Trail metaphor.  It has suffered enough.  As have you, Dear Reader.  So, let’s move on, shall we?  The less said about it the better.

It occurred to me today as I sat in my taupe colored box at work struggling with uncooperative PowerPoint bullets … (“If I wanted pips, I would have chosen pips!  I would like a simple round bullet, please!”) … it occurred to me that there is nothing worse than inheriting someone else’s work.  I mean, we are all guilty of creating things we are less than proud of,  such as incomprehensibly complex spreadsheets that only we can understand (and that even we struggle with sometimes).  We create these Frankenspreadsheets ostensibly to make some part of our job easier, but in the end they end up taking on a life of their own and creating more work for us, because, in addition to our regular jobs, we now have to maintain and update this mind boggling Rube Goldberg contraption of a spreadsheet.  We get to the point where we are afraid to touch anything inside it because the cells and formulas are so complexly interwoven and interlinked that the slightest change will result in  an eye full of cells displaying the dreaded #VALUE! admonishment.

But there is something worse.  Much worse.

And that is …… inheriting someone else’s monstrosity of a spreadsheet because they did something selfish and inconsiderate like retiring or taking a better job. Worse still is having everyone in the company begin to refer to it as “your” spreadsheet.  No matter how many times I declare loudly and definitively that this is NOT my spreadsheet, that I would never create such a convoluted labyrinthine piece of garbage (not that I’m not capable of it), people still keep referring to it is Biff’s spreadsheet.  And, eventually, just like the tar baby in Southern folklore, you find yourself helplessly attached to this torturous piece of inscrutable codswallop.

So every time the Boss sticks his head into my taupe colored sensory deprivation chamber and says, “Hey, how soon can you have this month’s numbers cranked into your spreadsheet?” I am tempted to rear up on my hind legs defiantly and shout, “I am not an animal!”  But what comes out of my mouth instead is something more along the lines of, “As soon as I figure out this circular reference.”

 

That is the kind of biting retort that people say when they have mortgages and dependents and a looming retirement.   The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that someday this monstrosity of a spreadsheet will get passed on to its next victim.  I think that makes me merely a carrier for this virus-like spreadsheet.

And that’s not nothing.

 

 

Blogging Along the Oregon Trail

 

oregon-trail-1a

Today is Wednesday (stated merely for the benefit of those who keep track of such things). I rarely do.

Wednesday’s only claim to fame is that it marks the halfway point between weekends.  We always feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment when we reach midday Wednesday.  It’s very similar to what pioneers in the 1800s who were struggling along the Oregon Trail must have felt when they finally got to the South Pass in Wyoming at the Continental Divide.  Sure, they were happy to have gotten this far without getting cholera or scurvy … but then they would realize that they still had a lot of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon to get through.  There would still be plenty of opportunities to get cholera, dysentery, hypothermia, or shot (which the travel brochures had lumped under the bullet point of “…excitement and adventure for the entire family!”).

Not that I’m comparing the tribulations of the modern workweek to the hardships faced along the Oregon Trail.  After all, how does one compare paper cuts, PowerPoint poisoning, low toner in the copy machine, and bad tasting coffee in the break room to the threat of constant death along the Oregon Trail?  One doesn’t.  Not without risking a loss of credibility.

I’ll be the first to admit that I would not have lasted a mile on the Oregon Trail back then.  There is a high likelihood that my fellow travelers would have voted to chuck me over the side of the covered wagon just a few miles into Kansas.  What good is an ersatz comedian to a wagon train of emigrants making their way across the rough and dangerous terrain of a wild, untamed country?  My fellow travelers would have had a clandestine meeting one night and the trail boss (played by George Kennedy) would have said, “Look … we either gotta get rid of the mime or the comedian or the interpretive dancer.”  The  Festus-type character (played by Ken Curtis) would shout out in a stage whisper, “The other day I saw him writing words on a birch log … though he called it a blog!

Well, that would settle it.  The vote would be unanimous and at some point along the trail, when I least expected it, I would be heaved bodily over the side of the wagon, narrowly missing the wagon wheels as they slowly churned their way westwards.  After that I would have to rely on my wits to survive (i.e. the credits would begin rolling as I wondered off in search of a pastrami sandwich).

I exaggerate, of course.  But only a little.

Happy Wednesday!

Poor Time Management and the Voice in My Head

eeyore-sitting-on-clock-sad-huh

It is Tuesday evening.  My brain keeps telling me it is Wednesday evening.  We often have this disagreement.  I think it is one day, my brain thinks it is another.  My brain is usually the optimistic one.  It will tell me it is Friday when it is really only Thursday.  Or it will tell me it is Wednesday when it is really only Tuesday.

I, on the other hand, tend to be more pragmatic (a fancy word for “pessimistic”).  Even if all evidence points to it being closer to the weekend than not, my brain (which sounds like Eeyore, for some reason) will say, “But it couldn’t possibly be Friday.  Because Friday is a fun day.  And today is definitely not fun.”

Not that I’m pessimistic by nature.  I tend to be an optimist in most things.  But when it comes to trying to hold out for the weekend, I always tend to think that the weekend is further away than it is closer.  I think it is the same tactic runners use to keep their energy levels up during an endurance race.  They will tell themselves they still have five miles left to run, when they really only have two.  That may be a bad analogy.  I don’t know.  I’ve never run more than about 50 yards in my entire life.  And the few times I have, it was because I was either being chased by something or because I had to in order to get a passing grade in gym class (or both).

But the point I’m trying to make is that sprinting towards the weekend goes a lot smoother if we lie to ourselves about where we are in the week.

No, that can’t be the point I was trying to make.

I think the point I was trying to make is that the human brain is a very bad at measuring time accurately.

Or . . . maybe …. my point was … um … that … let’s see here ….

My point is that we don’t get to choose the celebrity voice that plays the role of our inner voice.  If we could, do you think I would have chosen Eeyore?  How cool would it be if my inner voice was Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart)?  Or perhaps Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood).  Ooh!  Ooh!  James Earl Jones!  (This is CNN!)

But … nope … I got Eeyore.

And it’s still only Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the Abyss

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to finally clean up my home office.  Over the years it has sort of become the designated “junk room” in the house.  I blame this outrage on the fact that the door to the attic (also known as the “Portal to Non-Being”) is in my office.  Things that are one infraction away from being banished forever into the attic seem to end up in my office.  In that regard, my office is sort of a halfway house for junk.  Junk is given one final opportunity to prove that it has some value to society before being banished to the limbo of the attic.

Oh, I try valiantly to keep some order in the room, but you know how it is.  Things accumulate.  Then accrete.  Sedimentary layers appear.  Then strata.  The next thing you know, archaeologists are in your office in pith helmets and kerchiefs tied around their necks, wielding trowels, picks, and hand brushes.

Well, in order to fulfill one of my New Year’s resolutions, I became that archaeologist.  The time had come to try and find the floor of my office (if, indeed, there was one).

I began emptying storage bins and, while working hard to overcome my mild pack-rat tendencies, I began chucking things into two piles:  trash and recycling.  I’m happy to say that the recycling pile was winning.  Score one for the green team!

I found some very interesting archaeological finds that I’d like to share with you all.

The first of these was a box for a Kodak EasyShare CX7300 3.2 megapixel camera (complete with accessories within).

img_0888a    img_0889a

Sadly, the camera is long gone, but the box lives on (though I’m not sure why).  What possible reason could I have for holding onto such a box?  Well, I’ll tell you why.  I have been conditioned by stores that sell electronics to keep the original packaging that things come in.  I have been burned so many times by getting a piece of electronic gear that didn’t work, trying to return it, and then finding out that I couldn’t without the original packaging.  So, I developed a sort of 30-day retention policy regarding the boxes that electronics come in.  However, this particular box survived well past the 30 day mark and lived to the ripe old age of  12 years old (according to my 30 seconds of Google research into the introduction date of this camera).  But now its time has come to pass into the next plane.  God speed, little box.  You have fulfilled your destiny (of taking up space in my office for 12 years).

The second item up for your consideration is a classic!  It is a Diamond Supra Express 56K modem.  Except, unlike the camera box above, this box actually contained the modem card.

img_0887a   img_0891a

Ah, what sweet memories finding this fine piece of technology invoked in me!  How well I remember the wave of emotions that would swell within me when I’d click “connect” in some program or another and my ears would be treated to the symphony of whines, whistles, shrieks, strange boings, and pops!  I would cross my fingers and rock back and forth and chant, “Please connect!  Please connect!”   And roughly half the time it would.  And oh, what  a treat to attempt to surf the web at a whopping 56000 bits per second?  However, 56K was wildly optimistic.  Typical speeds were in the 36K range due to phone line conditions. Modern Internet speeds are in excess of a million bits per second, so you can imagine how long it took to download a simple picture at 56K bps.  And heaven forbid that Microsoft would decide that your PC needed a Windows update!  You might as well go to bed if that happened, but not before getting on your knees and praying that the modem would stay connected all night long during the update.  Otherwise, you’d get up in the morning and see a “disconnected” window and a status message from Windows saying something like “3 of 75 updates installed”.  It was enough to make us cry out in the same screeches, cries , and boings that the modem makes when connecting.

The next treasure is a classic game called “CEO”.  It was endorsed by CNN, no less!

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I must confess, I never actually played this game.  I was going to, but I started reading the manual (remember when software came with paper manuals?), and my eyes rolled back into my head and I had to be revived by a martini with 2 olives (stirred, not shaken … because I was a rebel) thrown in my face.

The system requirements for this lovely game was as follows:

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Remember DOS 5.0 running on a 486?  Man, those were the days!  Personally, I’ve never really enjoyed PCs since Intel broke with the 486 architecture and went down the Pentium road.  My favorite computer was a 486/66 running DOS.  I knew that machine like the back of my hand and could write software for it, script for it, interface things to the hardware, and, best of all, play Doom on it.  But now … sheesh!  I’m running Windows 10 on a state of the art laptop and frankly I’m happy if Word starts up and remembers where my files are.

Moving on …

This next item up for your consideration is one that it actually pained me to have to throw away.  It was my beloved copy of Eagle Automated PCB Design 1, 2, 3.  It pained me because I actually had to pay good money for this software.

img_0894a  img_0895a   img_0896a

A long, long time ago I started my own business designing electronic things for hire (I was a sort of migrant engineer worker).  This was the only PCB (printed circuit board) software I could afford.  I think I paid about $595 for it, which was a princely sum to me at the time.  It wasn’t a top-of-the line router, but it was good enough for my purposes.  It even came with a license dongle, so that’s how you know it was official.  Sadly, I lost the dongle, so even if I had a computer that could read a 3.5″ floppy disk AND run software written to run under DOS, I’d be out of luck for lack of a dongle.  To paraphrase Richard III, “A dongle, a dongle! My kingdom for a dongle!”   As an added bonus, dongle is a funny word to say.

We’re walking …. we’re walking …

Next up is my beloved copy of Microsoft Visual C++ (Standard Edition).

img_0898a     img_0899a

I also bought this while I was a self-employed engineer.  I actually preferred Microsoft Quick C (the predecessor to Visual C++), but I was writing a program that was so big that I broke Quick C.  So I had to upgrade to Microsoft Visual C++ (and port over all that code I’d written in Quick C).  I never really did take a shine to Visual C++, but one must use whatever tool works.  Oddly enough, even though I payed dang good money for the above software back in the day, you can now get a free version of Microsoft C++ on the Microsoft website.  I sure wish that had been true back then!

And, finally, we come to my old copy of Microsoft Word 2.0.

img_0903a  img_0905a

You can see I paid a whopping $129 for it.  I was able to buy the upgrade version of it because I had some ancient version of Word Perfect on my painfully slow 386 computer at the time.  WordPerfect was such an abomination that I nearly gave up writing because of it.  Luckily I still had my pens and notebooks.

But anyway, there you have it.  All of the beautiful items above, things I paid good money for and used faithfully for years and years, are now sitting at the bottom of my recycling bin (except for the modem board and floppy disks, which are in the trash).  I threw away much more than that yesterday, but these were just the most interesting items I found.  And by “interesting”, I mean not interesting at all.

Thank you for being patient while I droned on about my archaeological dig in my home office.  The excavation will continue over the next couple of weeks.  If I find more interesting things, I will let you know.  (Unless you beg me not to, or send one dollar in a plain, unmarked envelop to me c/o WordPress.)

 

 

Read More? I’m Out.

 

 

We no sooner vanquish something annoying about the Internet before the Internet strikes back and comes up with something equally or more annoying.

First there were viruses.  We got virus scanners.

Then there were popup ads.  We got popup blockers.

Now there is the dreaded “Read More” link in virtually every story.

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It is so hard to find articles worth reading on the Internet any more.  There are literally tens of thousands (or more) new articles on the Internet every day.  Trying to sort through them all to find one that is actually interesting or well written or somehow relevant to our lives is tedious and time consuming and soul-sucking.  But then we finally see something that piques our interest and our eyes light up and our pulse quickens and we think, “At last!  Something worth reading!”  And so we click on it.

But alas!

What we are presented is a short lead-in paragraph followed by the annoying “Read more” button.  Now, I know why they do this.  Clicks equals dollars.  So if they can get you to click on their story twice rather than just once, then they’ve won.

But I don’t WANT to click twice.  It’s annoying.  I feel like I’m being manipulated and exploited (which I am).  And it happens so often that 99% of the time I don’t click on the “Read more” button.  I click on the little “X” in the upper right corner and I’m out.

Take THAT, you marketing parasites!

Friday the 13th and the Grackle of Happiness

grackle

Today was Friday the 13th.  I’m sure none of you knew that before I told you just now.  Not being superstitious, it was just a normal Friday for me; no more unlucky or lucky than any other Friday.

Fridays are inherently lucky, because they are the gateway to the weekend.  Whenever I emerge from work after I’ve worked my final hour of the week, I feel like singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” while a bluebird alights on my shoulder to whistle in harmony.  Of course, bluebirds are in short supply in Texas, so it would be more likely a boat-tailed grackle (the unofficial state bird of Texas) that would alight on my shoulder and begin to sing in a basso profundo voice a song such as “Sweet Chariot” or “Sixteen Tons” or some other uplifting song.  Of course, by the time I got to my truck with a one pound grackle sitting on my shoulder, I’d probably need to sit and rest a minute (and perhaps take some ibuprofen and bandage up my shoulder).

Today as I emerged from work, it was overcast and raining and was quite chilly.  I made good time across the parking lot to my truck because I was not weighted down with any unnecessary bluebirds or grackles as I sprinted across the rain-soaked concrete to my truck.  After sitting in my truck for a few minutes, contemplating where I could go to enjoy a few hours of glorious freedom, I decided on an antique mall that was about 20 minutes away.

I have a love/hate relationship with antique malls.  I love looking through them because I always have such feelings of excitement and expectation.  I feel like at any moment I could stumble across something truly wonderful that would fulfill some lifelong dream or bring back some wonderful memory of my youth.  I also hate them because they are stuffed from floor to ceiling with the detritus of our civilization, most of which should have been recycled into something more useful.  The items they house are also dusty, in ill repair, and in various forms of decay, so they remind me that everything in life, even the quisquiliary dross we have been producing at a mind-boggling rate for the past 200 years, is transitory.

But since my love of antique stores has a slight edge over my dislike of them, I tend to go to them more often than I would like.  My two weaknesses are old books and old technology.  I have gotten more selective in my book buying because I am nearly buried alive with them at home, but I am a sucker for an old radio or clock or movie projector.  I can usually talk myself out of buying them because they are, more often than not, outrageously expensive.  That was certainly true today and it was only obscene price tags that kept me from buying a stereoscopic camera and an old frequency generator.  The camera was similar to the one shown here:

stereo-camera

The frequency generator was similar to this one:

signal-generator

But since they were both well into the 3-figure range, it was easy to talk myself out of getting either of them.

So, I left the antique mall empty handed and simultaneously happy (that I didn’t spend any money) and sad (that I didn’t find a piece of junk that would make me temporarily happy).

I will have to await another day for a visit from the grackle of happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Eve

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Today is Thursday … or Friday Eve, as it is known in the Biff household (but only by me).

I often will refer to Thursday as Friday Eve at work, only to get blank stares from my coworkers; or perhaps contemplative frowns, as if they are considering throwing me down the stairs.  Fortunately, the stairs are at the far end of the building and so part of their contemplation is the mental calculus involved in determining the bother of getting me all the way down the hallway and to the stairwell and then having to make it look like an accident on top of all that.  I can almost see them think, “Nah.  Too much work” to themselves as they return their attentions to the presentation on the overhead projector screen which is displaying, ironically, a safety slide on stairwell safety.   (“Always use the handrails when tossing co-workers down the stairs!“)

It has been a long week in Biff-land, the most notable feature of which was a week of all-day meetings with querulous customers, imperious upper managers, and disinterested, detached, and disengaged co-workers (of which I, apparently, was one).  There were two dozen of us crammed into a conference room; with two relatively equal teams (us versus the customers).  Our side was skins.

We were served coffee that came in boxes (so you know it was good!), packages of donuts (covered with either chocolate or powdered sugar, depending on which would go best with whatever corporate attire one was wearing), and bottles of water that were so generic that the only thing on the label was the word “water” (misspelled, of course), a bar code, and a microscopic list of ingredients that was disturbingly long (with water being only the third ingredient on the list).  We spare no expenses for our customers!

So I have had to endure a week of:

  • PowerPoint presentations concerning topics I am only marginally interested in,
  • Spreadsheets so poorly composed and so incomprehensibly complex that I felt at times that they were really Magic Eye drawings that would reveal a 3-D image if only I stared at them long enough (though the only images I could get to appear may have actually been self-induced hallucinations caused by staring intently at the overhead screen with my eyes crossed for too long), and
  • Long discussions that were so inane, so riddled with acronyms, and so bloated with overwrought and meaningless corporate-ese expressions, that I kept looking to see if the meeting was being filmed as part of a show about practical jokes.

But, sadly, the entire experience was real and all of my attempts to wake myself up or to return to my own dimension just resulted in me ending up in the same meeting, but with blue marks on my arms and legs from pinching  myself.  “Well, I’ll be darned,” I thought incredulously to myself after awhile, “This is actually my life.

So I, for one, am quite happy that today is Friday Eve.  Tomorrow will seem almost normal by comparison.  And the bruises should be healed up by then.

 

 

Un-Blogging the Brain

 

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I typically go through my days (especially Mondays) in a kind of haze.  I get up, shave, shower, dress, and head off to my life in the taupe colored box where I sit and play Excel or PowerPoint or Word, three massively single-player fantasy role-playing games (MSFRPG). These are games in which the player fantasizes about living a more interesting life and can role-play that what they’re doing actually makes a difference in any way.  But that’s not what I set out to write about.

I was saying that I usually go through my days in something of a haze, only to awaken at quitting time so that I can go home where the walls are not taupe, but Winter Orchard white (though some have argued that it is either dove white or Swiss coffee white … an argument that just causes me to stare and blink, like a pigeon staring at a Space Shuttle console).

However, now my daily routine has been changed somewhat by my having this blog.  Now, rather than walking through my day in a haze, I now walk about staring at everything keenly, trying to find a topic for a blog post to be written later that evening while surrounded by my Acadia white walls (or are they Chantilly Lace white?).

This new me stares at everything like a frog contemplating a stipule on a water lily and thinks distractedly, “I could write about that, I guess.”

I will pick up my stapler and contemplate it like Hamlet considering Yorick’s skull.  “Alas, poor Swingline! I know it well.  An office tool of poorly feeding staples, many of which are rusty or will bend the wrong way even when joining a single sheet of paper to itself.  It hath defied removal a thousand times as I tried to remove the misshapen staple; how embedded in my thumb it is!

It is slightly unnerving how I now stare at everyday objects, thinking I can extract a blog post out of them if I could but squeeze them hard enough in the wine press of my mind.  But soft!  What blog wine through yonder word press breaks?  It is Ethyl acetate (or possibly cork taint).

But after awhile I will set down the stapler or tape dispenser or stress ball and get back to my spreadsheet.

 

Dallas Weather Conspiracy Revealed

funny-art-on-car-in-snow-03

It is another frigid, freezing day here in Dallas.  It is a mere 15.9 degrees (-8.94 C), though the weather site says it feels like 16.0 degrees (-8.89 C).  I guess it is the heat index that makes it feel so much more warm and balmy.  But as we all know, it isn’t so much the heat that gets you; it’s the humidity.

I’m joking of course.  Cold is cold.  And I know Dallasites have a reputation around the world for being weenies when it comes to cold weather, and particularly when it snows.  (See my earlier post on this subject here.)

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.

Dallasites, as a rule, are pretty hardy folk.  After all, we deal with summers here that last 6 months long and which routinely inflict temperatures on us of 105 degrees (40.6 C) or more.  Such a thing is not for the faint of heart.  And though the rest of the world doesn’t think we do, we actually look forward to winter.  In winter, Dallas, for a few short months, becomes like “normal” parts of the world.   The average temperature falls down into a range where people can go outside and engage in normal activities without the fear of dying from heat stroke or dehydration.  In winter, there is an upsurge in the number of people one sees bicycling, jogging, walking dogs, picnicking, hot air ballooning, or just being outside and smiling.  We even look forward to the occasional snow day.  We love waking up and seeing everything blanketed in the white stuff.  Every snow day feels like a holiday here and it fills people with elation and joie de vivre.

Unfortunately, Dallasites do not know how to drive in ice or snow.  That isn’t because we are worse drivers than are found elsewhere.  It’s just a lack of practice on our part, as well as not really having the proper equipment.  We don’t have snow plows to clear the streets.  We don’t have special snow tires, or snow chains.  Hell, we barely keep ice scrapers in our vehicles!   There just isn’t that big of a need for them.

But here is the secret I promised you.  People in Dallas drive poorly in the snow and ice on purpose.  I mean, if we suddenly became very proficient at driving in the snow … if a day of snow was no more debilitating than a day of light rain or sunshine … then the city would go on as normal on those rare days when we get an inch or two of snow.  And that means we would not get to enjoy those rare days of snowfall we get but once or twice a year, because we would have to go to work or school just like we would on a “normal” day.  And, after enduring 6 or more months of 100+ degree temperatures, we feel like we deserve a snow day once in awhile.

Everyone is in on the scam.  Even the city governments and businesses.  Even the TV meteorologists beg everyone to just stay home when it snows.  That is why no one here invests in snow equipment.  Cities don’t buy snow plows.  We buy just enough salt and sand to keep the bridges from being death traps, but otherwise we just sort of throw up our hands, and like the bad actress who only got the role because she sleeps with the director, we say in our best tragic voice, “Oh dear!  However will I get to work today?  I’d better stay home in my pajamas and drink hot cocoa today.”  [Stage direction:  Place back of hand against forehead for dramatic effect.  Collapse on fainting couch dramatically.  Await smelling salts.]

So, please, feel free to ridicule us all you like about how a light dusting of snow shuts down the entire city.  Hell, we even make fun of ourselves for that!  We laugh at how incompetent we are at driving in snow.  But just please don’t rat us out.  I beg you, let us have this!

It’s all we’ve got.

P.S. Your Blog is Dead

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We’re sorry to inform you, Mr. Biff, that your blog has died.

We began treatment on December 27 and have administered approximately one new blog dose every day since then.  As you can see from the graph, the blog rallied on December 31 due to a large number of visits (though there is some debate among the staff that those visits were actually you before you before you realized how things work here at the WP Medical Plaza).  There was another brief moment from January 3 to January 4 when we thought the patient might rally and be out of the woods.  However, as you can see, we lost the patient on January 6.  Some attempts were made to to revive it on January 7, but there was no signs of life.

We here on the staff are generally in agreement that the title of this blog entry would have been much funnier if James Kirkwood, Jr. would have named his 1972 novel “P.S. Your Dog is Dead”, rather than going with “Cat”.  Still, it was the best we could do given the … er … um … feeble nature of your insurance plan.  Going forward, we recommend choosing titles that have a less flimsy connection to popular culture.

Oh, and we’ll need you to pop around to the service entrance and collect the remains of your blog.  Environmental laws forbid us from just tossing its bloated carcass into the landfill as we used to do in older, better days.

Oh … and here’s our bill.  You can pay the receptionist on the way out.  Also, we don’t validate parking.

Have a nice day!

 

 

 

 

How to Break Dallas

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Some of you might have heard on the news that we here in Dallas had a major weather event today.  It was horrible!  Roads were closed.  Cars piled up on the side of the road.  Businesses closed.  All of the weather people and news anchors took to the air to wring their hands, pull out tufts of hair, and rend their clothing.  Roving reporters were dispatched to every corner of the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex to cover this weather disaster.  They stood on bridges overlooking roadways that were littered with the broken remains of semi trucks and cars.  You could practically feel the reporters wanting to cry out in despair, “Oh!  The humanity!”   And as I watched them standing on those bridges, I kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t jump, Mr. Distraught News Reporter Person!”

What was this weather event that caused so much chaos in one of the largest, most educated, most technologically advanced cities in the Western Hemisphere?  Was it a massive tornado?  Was it a fracking-induced earthquake?  Was it torrential rains?

Why, it was no less than a trace of snow!  It flurried big snowflakes for maybe an hour.  The temperature was so cold that the snow was dry and powdery when it hit the ground and so it mostly blew away and accumulated in grassy areas.  The roadways remained mostly dry.  It piled up on car windshields, but blew away like powdered sugar at the slightest breeze.

It took me twice as long to get home from work as it usually does because a major bridge I have to cross had been constricted from 3 lanes down to 1.  When it was finally my turn to cross it, the bridge was almost completely dry.  Two cars sat on the bridge in the closed-off lanes about 30 yards apart with no apparent damage to either vehicle.  Perhaps they just panicked and parked there.  In fact, every accident I passed looked to be a case of a driver seeing a snowflake hit their windshield, them screaming in terror, and then driving off the road, up on the curb and into an embankment, bridge abutment, or median.

I love Dallas.  There is a lot to be proud of here.  It is a very dynamic, cosmopolitan, can-do kind of city.

But we lose our collective minds when a single snowflake hits the ground.

Stay strong, Dallas!  You’ll get through this tragedy!

 

Weather Beaten

 

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I’ve noticed the weather people now only present wind chills in the winter or heat index in the summer.  I guess actual temperatures just aren’t sexy enough or sensational enough to today’s sophisticated and discerning weather consumer.  Presenting only the wind chill is the same as saying, “This is what the temperature would be if it was much, much colder outside than the thermometer says it is.  Please buy our sponsor’s products!

Personally, I call it “weather inflation”.

Why say it is 45 degrees outside on a winter day if you can say it is 28?  More ratings!

Why say it is 87 degrees outside in the summer if you can say it is 105?  People tune in!

But why stop there?  Why not have some sort of “Rainfall Intensity Index”?  After a mere trace of rain, the breathless TV meteorologist could declare, “We have received the equivalent of 12 inches of rain!!”   (Only if it were to continue raining at this rate for another 40 days without stopping.  Brought to you by Acme Ark Company, Inc.)

Why not have a cloudiness index?  “The clouds are so thick we will never see the sun again!”  (If the jet stream dissipates and the clouds have nothing to move them along.)

A wind index?  “Winds are expected to reach 70 miles per hour!!”  (If we were 70,000 feet above where we are now.)

Frankly, I am quite put off by the whole thing.  I can never tell anymore just from watching TV or listening to the radio what the weather is actually doing.  In spite of decades of improvement in weather measuring technology, the advent of the Internet, satellite weather monitoring, and mind-bogglingly powerful computers, I now have to do what my forefathers did back in the 1930s to find out what the weather is doing.

I have to go outside and look up.

 

 

Nettlesville

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Some Piffling Fiction by Biff

Fair Warning:  This story is currently incomplete.

The town of Nettlesville was nestled in the foothills of the Mount Sable, near the Onstoff River.  It was a small town of about fifteen hundred people, most of them retired or nearing retirement.  The young people in the town didn’t seem to want to stay any longer than it took them to grow up, get their education, and find a job elsewhere.  In spite of that, it was a quaint little town, neatly kept and picturesque, and a favorite weekend spot for people looking for quaint bed-and-breakfast inns, antique shops, curiosity stores, and rustic cuisine.  It was especially popular in the fall when the leaves were ablaze with all the warm colors of the spectrum: reds, golds, and saffrons.  However, it was mostly a ghost town in the winter due to the complete lack of anything to do.  After all, there were only so many times a tourist could visit an antique store or a coffee shop before the thrill began to pall.  Even a beautiful and heavy snow did not attract tourists, for there were no ski facilities nearby.  All of the ski slopes were on the other side of Mount Sable.  On the Nettlesville side of the mountain, it was far to craggy and steep and inhospitable to anyone trying to navigate its slopes on anything other than a sky lift (of which there were none).

The denizens of Nettlesville, though warm and friendly and welcoming to everyone, including outsiders, preferred it this way.  They did not care for the traffic and the noise and the frenetic pace in the ski resort towns on the other side of the mountain.  They much preferred the bed-and-breakfast, antique-hunting, farmer’s market crowd since they tended to be quieter, more sedate, and more appreciative of Nettlesville’s slow pace and quaint ambiance.

However, that is not to say that interesting things didn’t happen in Nettlesville.  For instance, a few years back, Mr. Hafner, the owner of The Craggy Sable tavern on the edge of town, was found murdered in the stockroom in the back of the tavern.  There were some slight signs of a struggle, but he was finally subdued with a bottle of Coastal Mist whiskey.  He died of his wounds before he could name the murderer.  Everyone suspected it was Hank Tieger, who was the boyfriend of Nancy Bowdler, the receptionist at the Nettlesville Inn, whom Mr. Hafner had had more than a passing interest in.  However, nothing was ever proven.  Hank moved away shortly after that to go live with his son in Florida and though Nancy stayed on in Nettlesville, she quit her job at the Inn and became a secretary at a law firm in Jandle, the next town over.

Then there was Mark Shaver, the young man that worked at the gas station filling up cars with gas, checking oil, washing windshields, and doing other odd jobs for Steven Billington, the gas station owner.  A few years ago, when Mark was about 23 years old, a long, sleek Cadillac convertible pulled up to the gas pumps and a gorgeous blonde woman wearing sunglasses and a tight skirt and a silk blouse and her hair in a scarf to protect it from the wind asked him to fill up the tank with premium and check the oil.  Well, while Mark was filling up the tank, he couldn’t take his eyes off of this beautiful woman, the likes of which he’d never seen.  He filled up her tank and told her it would be 23 dollars for the gas and she asked him if he’d checked the oil and he’d said “No ma’am, I plumb forgot.”   She then proceeded to chew him out and talk to him like he was a dog.  She was so irate and made such a scene that Mr. Billington came out of the office to see what was going on and after he’d heard the story, he told that pretty blonde lady to drive on and to kindly not come back to his gas station any more.  He didn’t even charge her for the gas.  Turns out, that lady was Georganne Lancer, the star of that movie that came out a few years ago about a World War II flyboy who came back with only one arm and tried to keep his marriage alive even though she (the wife played by Miss Lancer) wasn’t interested in a man with only one arm, war hero or no.   It was a big movie from all accounts though not many people in Nettlesville saw it.  Certainly after word got around how Miss Lancer had treated Mark, no one was much interested in seeing it.  The worst of it was that poor Mark, who’d always been painfully shy when it came to women, practically became a hermit after that.  He asked Mr. Billington if he could stop pumping gas and just work in the back changing oil and wiper blades and headlights and such and not deal directly with the public.  Mr. Billington tried to talk him out of that, but eventually gave in and let him have his way.

So people who say that nothing worth mentioning ever happens in Nettlesville, well, they just don’t know what they’re talking about.  You take any town that’s got more than four or five people in it and things are bound to happen.  It’s just human nature.  In that regard, towns aren’t much different from people themselves.  Every person that’s ever lived has a hundred different emotions welling up inside of them at any given time.  Which one wins has as much to do with the weather or the angle of the sun or just some random bit of foolishness as anything.  I’ve lived here all my life and though the town hasn’t seemed to change much in all those years, it can be as unpredictable and as fickle as any human being I’ve ever known.  If you observe a town long enough (or a person), what seems normal and ordinary can start to look a little eccentric.  Or downright loco.

I sat down at my usual table in the Rainbow Cafe near the big plate glass window that looked out onto Main Street.  From here I could see the post office and the court house, the florist and Mr. Jensen’s law office and a few other little odds and ends businesses.  I like to watch people.  They are never boring, even when they’re doing things that on the surface seem boring.

“Your usual breakfast, Mr. Pratt?”

I looked up at Jenny, the cute waitress who started here about a year ago and was probably the youngest person in Nettlesville except during the summer when all the tourists showed up.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, though she was considerably younger than me.  All women were “ma’am” in Nettlesville.  Didn’t matter if they were 3 or 30 or 93.

I put about six sugars and five creamers in my coffee when she set it down in the heavy ceramic mug and saucer.  The Rainbow Cafe’s coffee was so strong it had to be blasted out of the coffee pot with dynamite, but it was good fuel to help you get through the day.  Rocket fuel, that is.

(To be continued … or not)

 

© 2017 by BiffSockPow

 

 

 

 

Biff’s Piffling Fiction: An Introduction

 

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Sometimes I am struck with the urge to write a bit of fiction.  However, more often than not, I get a page or two into it and lose interest or get distracted or come to the realization that what I’m writing isn’t worth finishing.  Therefore, I’m coming up with my own category of fiction that I call “Biff’s Piffling Fiction”.  It is fiction that doesn’t rise to the level of a short story.  I’m not sure what you’d call it.  Perhaps it is merely a treatment of a short story.  It is what an author might write to the publisher of a magazine to pitch the idea of a short story.  Remember when magazines actually paid authors for short stories?  For that matter, do you remember when magazines actually published short stories?

Anyway, that’s what this category is all about.  The things I put here might be as short as a paragraph, or as long as a chapter in a Russian novel.  Some of them might be incomplete bits of fiction; short stories that I started and then gave up on.  I’ll be sure to warn you at the beginning of the post if it is incomplete.

And just so you know, I really struggled with the title of this category.  Here are some of the titles I rejected.

  • Fractured Fiction
  • Fractional Fiction
  • Fleeting Fiction
  • 60-second Stories
  • Five Minute Fiction
  • Micro Fiction
  • Footling Fiction
  • Bite-sized Fiction
  • Fiction by the Ounce

There were some others, but I forgot them.

 

On Almost Losing My Wallet and Cell Phone

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For sheer heart-stopping thrills and excitement, there isn’t much in this world that can compare to realizing that you just left your wallet and cell phone sitting on a table at Starbucks.  Especially if the Starbucks is inside of a very busy Barnes & Noble.   Which, in turn, is inside of the region’s most heavily trafficked mall.  I am not too proud to say that I was in a state of near panic as I fought my way through the throngs of post-Christmas bargain hunters as I swam upstream towards the Barnes & Noble.

I never realized how often people just stop in the middle of the busy main promenades of malls before.  There will be a group of 5 or 6 people walking and talking, oblivious to other’s attempts to maneuver around them, and then they will just stop for no apparent reason and decide to have a symposium or colloquium on … what exactly?   The most efficient way to impede foot traffic in a public area?  The best way to raise the blood pressure of people who actually know where they’re going?  To discuss how they all suddenly and simultaneously realized they have no idea where they are or where they’re going.  I’m being sarcastic, of course, but it is a curiosity.  Surely some animal behaviorist could shed some light on this for us.  Or, if they can’t, perhaps this would be a good time to apply for a government grant to study it.

As I fought my way upstream through the throngs of people, much like Scarlet O’Hara fought her way into Atlanta as everyone else was leaving it because it was being burned to the ground by General Sherman at the time (and because it was the summer season and anyone who’s everyone was going to the shore), I thought about all of the inconveniences I would have to endure if I had indeed lost my wallet.  I’d have to cancel my credit cards and get new ones, of course.  My collection of mostly-used gift cards that all had 23 cents on them for some inexplicable reason would just be a loss.  My frequent eater’s card for Der Wienerschnitzel, which is only one hot-dog stamp away from a free Junkyard Dog, would also be a total loss.  My coupon for 20% off of a dry cut at The Clip Joint would be gone.

But the thing that made the blood turn to ice in my veins was the fact that my driver’s license would be gone.  That would entail going to (gulp!) the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a new one.  They would have to take a new picture.  The old one, where they very skillfully made me look like a drunken cadaver, would not be good enough to satisfy their desires to make the driving public look like, well, drunken cadavers.  And then they would give me that temporary driver’s license that looks like a hall pass from the seventh grade, a giant piece of yellow paper that identifies the holder as a loser and a flight risk.  Just holding it my hand would make my voice raise and lower several octaves randomly, make my face break out, and put the proverbial “kick me” sign on my back.

These were all the things I was thinking as I fought my way through the throngs of very slow moving people.  Fortunately, when I got there, my wallet and cell phone were miraculously still there.  I guess I won’t be going to the DMV after all.  Faith in human nature restored.  (Or faith in the unobservant nature of people restored).

Moral of the Story:  There’s nothing more useless than a gift card with 23 cents left on it.

 

Biff On Books: Father of the Bride, Vanity Fair, & Transistors

Free retro clipart illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

My latest excursion to HPB was on December 31 so that I could take advantage of one of their 20% off sales that they have 3 or 4 times a year. This particular one ended on the 31st, so it was important I get in there when I did! My finds that day included two classics and two technical books.

Father of the Bride, by Edward Streeter (1949)

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I have loved Edward Streeter’s books ever since I stumbled across the first one about ten years ago. I read “Mr. Hobbs’ Vacation” and then “Father of the Bride” (not realizing that it was the book that the Steve Martin movie was based [very loosely] on), and finally “Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter”. I really like Mr. Streeter’s writing style. It is relaxed and casual and cozy and in someways very Wodehouse-esque. The books of his that I’ve read all follow the same theme that I identify so closely with, which is that of an everyday man who finds himself overwhelmed by the pace of modern life and by the monkey wrenches that other people throw into his desire to lead a quiet, uneventful life. The main characters in his books are all modern-day Walter Mitty’s, though they are more grounded and pragmatic and don’t spend their time fantasizing about alternate realities.

This particular copy of “Father of the Bride” which I found is in good condition and even has the dust jacket. The dust jacket itself is in pretty sad shape, but to find one at all is pretty rare. In spite of the dust jacket’s poor condition, it is actually the reason I bought the book. I really liked the colors they used and the drawings by Gluyas Williams. In fact, I am a big fan of Gluyas Williams pen sketches, so that is definitely a bonus. The book also has a Mylar book protector on it, which is nice. Unfortunately, the book itself is a “Book of the Month” club edition, which are considerably less desirable than “actual” copies. However, even “actual” copies of the book are only worth a few dollars, so I wasn’t too upset that this was a BOTMC edition.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackaray

(1977 Franklin Library edition)

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I don’t usually buy ornate, leather-bound copies of books because, though they are beautiful, they don’t make good reading copies. They are heavy and unwieldy and I live in fear of spilling something on one or accidentally tearing a page or something. However, this one caught my eye. It mostly caught my eye because I just finished reading Vanity Fair a few weeks ago and it instantly became one of my favorite books of all time. It is certainly in my Top Ten favorite books of all time, and probably in the Top Five.

Mr. Thackaray’s writing style is absolutely brilliant. It is at once sympathetic towards individual characters, and yet bitingly sarcastic of the society (particularly the class system) in which they move. However, I like his form of sarcasm and parody because it is subtle and never mean. It merely points out the truth and he often does it in an apologetic, “please don’t shoot the messenger” style. He wields his rapier like a master and even though he eviscerates Victorian sensibilities regarding class and wealth, one cannot help but marvel at how beautifully he wields the instrument with which he cuts those he feels are hypocritical, pompous, arrogant, or who believe they deserve the gifts that Providence (or more accurately, the class system) showers them with. But more importantly than that, the book is delightfully amusing. Mr. Thackaray’s wit is brilliant. Is it subtle at times, though always brilliant. What is more, many of the vanities and foibles and absurdities he points out in Victorian England, are still very much alive and well today.

What is even more remarkable, is that, though this is a book of parody, skewering Victorian England sensibilities concerning class and wealth and mobility, he manages to create characters that we end up actually caring about. I found the book, taken as a whole, created emotional roller coasters for me as the various characters’ fortunes rose or fell, as relationships formed or fell apart, as misfortune fell upon the heads of characters who did not deserve it. And, of course, the relationship between Amelia Sedley and William Dobbin was extremely frustrating, at times amusing, and on the whole gut-wrenching and tragic.
In short, “Vanity Fair” is a work of sheer genius and I marveled on every page at his mastery of the craft of writing and of social commentary. As if those gifts were not enough, he also did all of his own artwork for the novel. Frankly, I consider Thackeray to be a better writer then Dickens, though Dickens was much more prolific and well known. Interestingly, they were rivals throughout their writing careers.

So, being such a fan of the book, I bought this leather-bound version of it just so that I can see it sitting upon my shelf. My previous copy of the book, the Barnes & Noble Classics Series version, is looking a bit worn and is not particularly impressive to look at. I should point out, however, that I loved the B&N Classics Series of the book because it is annotated and that helped tremendously. In fact, I recommend it highly as a “reading copy” of the book. It explained some of the archaic language or phrases, it provided insight into tastes, fads, and activities of that time period, and also explained some of the esoterica that Mr. Thackeray referred to that would not be readily known by modern audiences.

Transistors, by Milton S. Kiver (1962)

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I can’t really review this book because I haven’t read it yet. I bought it for two reasons. One, I am interested in designing and building my own audio amplifiers as a hobby, both transistor and vacuum tube. My interest at the moment is in vacuum tube amplifiers, but right after that I plan to turn my attentions to transistor amplifiers. I found this particular book while browsing the “Technology” section at HPB, hoping to find a book on vacuum tubes. Not surprisingly, they didn’t. But I did find this book instead and I flipped through it and liked it for several reasons. The first reason is mostly because it was heavy and printed on thick, glossy paper (the kind that text books used to be printed on). Secondly, it had lots and lots of schematic diagrams and graphs. And thirdly because a huge portion of the book was dedicated to amplifier circuits. I read chapter one and really like Mr. Kivers writing style. It is informative without being dull (though a certain amount of dullness is to be expected given the topic).

I have not reviewed transistor theory since I was in college (a few millennia ago), so I am hoping I can refresh my memory pretty easily.

Vacuum tube theory, on the other hand, I’ve never been formally taught and what little knowledge I have I’ve picked up from some old codgers I’ve worked with over the years. So that will be more challenging.

Fundamentals of Electronics, by E. Norman Lurch (1981)

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I bought this book for many of the same reasons I bought “Transistors” above. It has a big section of transistor theory and its application in amplifiers. Also, it looked like a good, general-purpose reference for electronics to have laying around.

Plus, what’s not to like about a book by someone named “Lurch”?

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