Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the month “April, 2017”

Ants In My Plants

Out of extreme boredom, I took my new Canon T6 out into the backyard to try and find something interesting to photograph.  Unfortunately, I have the most boring back yard in the entire western hemisphere.   Here is all I found.  I found a branch that had been broken off of a tree and when I peered into it I saw half a dozen carpenter ants busily and diligently doing …. something.  Whatever it was, they were giving it their all.  Good job, little troopers!  Keep on doing … whatever … it is …that you’re doing.

This first photo is just for perspective.   The lens was about 1.5 to 2 feet away from the end of the branch.  You can barely make out the ants.

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This next photo is the exact same photo as above, but I cropped it and zoomed way in using some freeware photo editing tool.  Now you can see the ants doing their thing.

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Sorry my back yard is so boring.  I’ll go further afield next time.

 

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Yellow Rose of Texas

A yellow rose outside my house that survived the storms yesterday.  Beautiful, but strong.

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Caution: Angry Weather Ahead

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If you are a regular reader of my blog (and modern internet triangulation techniques may have located this individual who is living in a small hut in the Azores), you know that I complain quite a bit about the weather here in Texas.  It’s hot.  It’s cold.  It’s dry.  It’s rainy.  It’s hail-y.  It’s tornado-y.  And it is often all of these things in the same day.

For example, while I was outside mowing the yard today, it was 87 degrees (30.5 C) at 60% humidity.  It was miserable.  And the ground was dry as a bone and hard as a brick.  This heat persisted until about 6:00 when the temperature suddenly began plummeting.  Within an hour it was down to 63 (17.2 C), which was a drop of 24 degrees (13.3 C) in an hour.  And we are on our way to a low tonight of 50 (10 C).  Rains have rolled through and soaked the area.

Also, again, if you are a regular reader of this blog (or, I should say THE regular reader of this blog), you know I have a weakness and an affinity for flea markets.  For the past several weeks we had been planning a trip over to Canton, Texas, home of the First Monday Trade Days, the largest flea market in the region.  Since this is the weekend of the first Monday of April, it was this week.  However, for one reason or another, we decided not to go today.

Imagine my surprise and horror when, later in the day while our local temperature was plummeting 24 degrees, Canton was being pummeled by tornadoes!  We watched the TV in horror as the very place we might have been standing was strafed by a very large tornado.

It just reminded me that, no matter how much I might dislike the weather here in Texas, there is always someone somewhere else in Texas having a worse go of it than me!

 

The Battle for Space Has Begun

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I’m getting too old for this.

The other day I read an article on some site or another — I can’t even remember what the article was about or where I read it.  It was that unimportant and insignificant.

However, as is my wont, I tend to read the reader comments after articles because often they are more entertaining than the article itself.  It is like getting to watch a train wreck … in slow motion.  Within 2 or 3 comments, the commentators are attacking each other personally.  In less than ten comments, someone has made a reference to Hitler or Nazis (even if the article was just about how cute bunnies are).  Within fifteen comments, someone has said something along the lines of “I have traced your IP address and I am going to come to your house and kick your derriere!”  There are no rules in comments.  Bad grammar abounds.  It is a punctuation-optional zone.  What little punctuation there is, is often used incorrectly.  Spelling?  Don’t even get me started!

But on this one particular day, someone made a comment about how amateurish the author of the article was.  Someone chimed in and said, “Yes, you can tell he’s an amateur because he uses two spaces after periods between sentences.”

A flame war then erupted on whether two spaces or one was correct after a period between sentences.  I mean … people were HOT.  I don’t think they could have been more upset if someone suggested reanimating Hitler as a zombie to see what would happen.

I, for one, was not even aware that there was a controversy surrounding the use of two spaces after a period between sentences.  I took typing in the eleventh grade many decades ago and that is how we were taught.  It was beat into us.  The implication was “Only chumps, cretins, anarchists, sociopaths, and cannibals forgot to put two spaces after a period.”  I never questioned it.  Why would I?  Everything I’d ever read had two spaces after a period.  Books.  Magazine articles.  Official documents.  Everything.  There was literally NOTHING that did not have two spaces after periods.  It was as universal as anything can possibly be in this world.

So why suddenly is it the fashion to only use a single space after a period between sentences?  Is it to save space?  (Ha ha … but seriously …)  Is it merely aesthetics?  Is it because some bored academic somewhere felt he needed to leave his mark in the world by stirring up a useless controversy?   Does it utilize less memory in the servers that store the world’s documentation?

I do not understand this controversy.  It is quite literally an argument over nothing.

I personally prefer the two spaces because it is a visual signal to the brain that one sentence has ended and another has begun.  When using a single space between sentences, both the period and the single space get lost in the jumble of other letters.  But that is just me.  I can read either method equally well.  I have this wonderful thing inside my head called a brain that allows me to perceive a single space just as well as two spaces, and to ignore them both.

But some people like to argue over nothing.

 

(P.S.  I wrote this article with two spaces after every period between sentences.  Let the flame war begin!)

Poor Biff’s Almanac – Friday Finally

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Friday is finally here, and not a moment too soon.  I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on with the workweek that just ended.

You might have noticed that I have not posted in awhile, though I flatter myself to even think that.  Well, the reason for my absence has been a perfect storm of events.  Each of the events, if isolated and looked at in a vacuum, are singularly uninteresting.  However, taken as a whole, and observed as the swirling variegation of events that they were, they remain just as uninteresting and probably a little more so.  It is the same sort of uninteresting you experience when someone relates to you a long, drawn-out, incoherent dream they had.

So I’ll just sum up the whole tiresome mess in as few words as possible.

A.  I have been putting in a lot of hours at work.  In fact, I had my 40 hours for this week in by Thursday morning.

B. My spending so much time at work has taken up all the time that I might have spent doing something more interesting.

C.  Even in my free time, I don’t do anything that is interesting, so scratch item #B above off of the list.

I think that is about it:  lack of free time and lack of anything interesting in my life to write about.  I probably could have just written it that way up front and saved us all a lot of time.  But it’s too late now.  The damage is done.  You cannot unread what you just read and I certainly cannot un-write it (though I suppose I could just delete it all, but I have too much invested in it at the moment to let it go).

And to top it all off, I think I am catching a cold.  I began getting a sore throat yesterday afternoon at work.  It was significantly worse this morning when I woke up, but a good dose of Tylenol, a hot shower, a cup of hot coffee, and gargling with Listerine downgraded my condition from “extremely miserable”  to “merely miserable”.  The sore throat has just become scratchy and raw.  The lack of energy and general malaise persists, but I am hoping a full weekend of intense lethargy and idleness will cure that.

Though I’m not sure if my body will ever forgive me for gargling with Listerine.

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Ode to Saturday; To Hail and Back; A Photo Finish

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Tonight’s Background Music is provided by Justin Hayward (of The Moody Blues fame).
Album:  The View From the Hill
Best Song:   “Promised Land” … though they’re all good.

It’s been quite a day in Biff-land.

In Praise of Saturday

For one thing, it is Saturday, which is my favorite day of the week.  What’s not to like about Saturday?  It is virtually the only day of the week that affords me the luxury of sleeping in a little.  Though I often do get up early on Saturdays, there’s usually nothing that compels me to.  The alarm clock is given the day off.  Even if the cat wakes me up demanding to be fed, I can usually feed him and go back to sleep without much difficulty.

Another thing to like about Saturday is that I have time to eat a proper breakfast.  It may only consist of a bagel and a cup of coffee, but it is a breakfast fit for the gods because I get to eat it leisurely while reading something or watching TV or surfing the internet; not grabbing something frantically as it pops out of the toaster and then gulping it down as I run out to my truck to go to work.

And not only do I get to eat a leisurely breakfast, but the Science channel actually wises up and plays back-to-back-to-back episodes of How It’s Made.  They lose their minds again later in the day and begin to play schlock until the following Saturday, but I enjoy it while I can.

Another good thing about Saturday is that, even though I always have a good long list of things that need doing around the house, I can start and stop them at my discretion.  I can also just leave the house without having to send out an email to the department telling them that I’m going to be out of the building for a bit.  I just get in my truck and go.  That’s about the closest many of us get to tasting true freedom.

And finally, another good thing about Saturday is that it is far enough away from Monday that I don’t spend the entire day lamenting the end of the weekend and the looming threat of Monday.  For this one day a week I can pretend to live a life of indolence and leisure.   But Monday morning is always eager to remind us that we have mortgages, utility bills, insurance payments, food bills, etc. etc. etc.

There Will Be Hail to Pay!

If you were one of the five people who read my blog from yesterday, you may remember that I was discussing my doubts as to whether or not it would rain.  I was wrong.  It rained.  As some of my relatives in Alabama might say using one of their quaint rustic idioms, “It rained like a cow on a flat rock.”

There was much thunder and lightening.  The storm warning sirens went off.  There was very loud rain and wooshing winds.  When the calm of morning arrived, I could see from my handy-dandy rain gauge that I bought just a few weeks ago, that we got just over an inch of rain in about 2 hours.  Sweet!

I was lucky, though.  There were areas nearby that got 3-inch diameter hail.  I happened to drive through one of those areas later in the day and took the following pictures.

Here you can see that the hail very nearly stripped this tree of all it’s leaves (which can be seen on the ground underneath).  I just took a single picture of one such tree.  There were hundreds and hundreds of trees like this.  The hail had already melted away by the time I took these pictures, making it look like the trees just spontaneously shed their leaves.

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Here you can see some leaves surrounding a storm drain where they were washed to.  Again, this was just one of dozens of such drains.

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I stopped and took this picture through the fence surrounding a back lot of a luxury car dealer.  Pretty much every car on their lot looked like this.   And there were several dealerships that were affected by the hail.  There were dozens of cars that had had their rear windows shattered.

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This was a flower bed outside of a business.  It was nearly obliterated by leaves.  You can see some pink sticking up through all the leaves.

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And this was just a random fire plug I found which caught my eye.  No storm damage here.  It looks white in the picture, but it was painted silver.  I liked the look of it against the red brick.

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A Photo Finish

And finally, I finally decided to get myself a real camera.  Many, many years ago (okay, a few decades ago), I had a Canon AE-1 SLR 35mm camera and I loved that thing.  But it was eventually rendered useless by the digital age and so for the past 15 years or so I have had a series of point-and-click cameras and phone cameras, all of which were universally disappointing as cameras.

Phones especially make abominable cameras.  I am continually frustrated by things like the camera taking the picture about 10 seconds after I click the button.  Or there being so much glare on the display that I can’t see what I’m taking a picture of.   Or it focusing on random items in the background instead of what I want to take a picture of.

Finally, I’d had enough of trying to get my phone’s camera to behave and decided to buy a real camera.  I used to quite enjoy photography in my youth and I let technology ruin that for me.  But now I feel like the technology has finally caught up to the experiences I used to enjoy back in the 35mm film days.

I bought a Canon EOS Rebel T6 and though I’ve only gotten to play with it for about 20 minutes so far, I really like it.  I wanted an DSLR camera to mimic my Canon AE-1 SLR.  I like the SLR rather than the all-in-one cameras because I like looking through the viewfinder to compose the shot rather than looking at the display.  I like seeing what is actually going to end up in the image in real time.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with a lot of camera talk, but I hope to present a few photos now and then that I’ve shot with my trusty Canon T6.  For now, here is a sample of a picture I took earlier today.

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Poor Biff’s Almanac — Friday Recap, Rain Threats, B&N, Half-Priced Books

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Tonight’s Background Music is provided by Paul Hardcastle.
Album:  Hardcastle 1
Best Song:   Forever Dreamin’ is tied with Feel the Breeze

Yes, it is Friday evening.  I am finally home … finally in my pajamas … finally drinking a cup of coffee … finally writing in this blog … finally listening to some soothing music.

Outside it is mostly dark, but every few seconds the whole world lights up as if lit by a giant Klieg light with a wonky power switch.  A few seconds after each flash I hear a distant booming, like a Civil War cannonade.

They are predicting rain, but I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.  I love rain more than any of Mother Nature’s other gifts.  For Her part, she withholds it as a matter of course.  Apparently, she doesn’t like me very much.  Much of the sparkle has gone out of our relationship.

Earlier this evening, Lady Luck smiled on me and I  got to enjoy a visit to both Barnes & Noble and Half-Priced Books … all in one evening!   It was like winning the lottery ……  except without all the money, of course.  I love walking around Barnes & Noble.  It is like a miniature sabbatical to me.  It soothes my soul.  However, I can’t bring myself to pay fifty dollars for a soft-bound book.  So, much like going to Tiffany’s or to a Rolex store, I just look but don’t buy.

So I went to HPB and browsed around.  I found the book I had almost bought at B&N for $30, but it was only $7.99 at HPB.  It was about two years older so not as up-to-date, but good enough for my needs.  What book, you ask?  I am extremely embarrassed to admit that I bought “WordPress: The Missing Manual” by Matthew MacDonald.

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After 4 months of diddling around with WP, I still feel like a novice.  I feel I need to jazz things up a bit.  In other words, it’s time to figure out what I’m doing.

I also bought a DVD of “The Outlaw Josey Wales“, which is one of the greatest western / post Civil War movies ever made.  I paid a whopping $2 for it.

I found a fascinating book.  It is a coffee table book about Alexander Girard’s works.

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I had never heard of him before and the book looked fascinating, so I hefted it down off of the upper shelf where it was displayed prominently.  And when I say “hefted”, I mean hefted.  According to Amazon.com, it weighs 15 pounds!  It was chock full of pictures and reproductions of his textiles and furniture and interior designs and architecture.  It was fascinating, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay the $50 price for it (though that is only $3.33 per pound).  Also, my arms were getting tired, so I had to set it down.

Also, as part of my continuing “What Year is This?” series, I overheard yet another conversation at HPB that made me want to go home and check the calendar to see what year this is.  As I’ve mentioned in another blog post (as well as this one and this one), vinyl albums are all the rage, so it wasn’t surprising to me that tonight a fairly large section of the music department was devoted to vinyl albums.  I was also not surprised that there were quite a few “young folk” (i.e. people in their 20s) flipping excitedly through all of the albums.  But I heard a snippet of conversation that nearly made me drop my teeth.  A young-ish woman exclaimed excitedly, “Oh look!  I found a Slim Whitman album!”

It was all I could do not to chuckle out loud.  When I was a young man way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, every 3rd commercial on television was by Suffolk Marketing flogging a Slim Whitman album or by Heartland Music hawking a Boxcar Willie album.  We all collectively rolled our eyes when any of these commercials came on.  They were viewed as poorly made albums by artists that were, shall we say, not at the peak of their careers.  So, it was quite amusing to hear people in their 20s fawning over these albums nearly 40 years after the point where the artists were 20 years past their prime.

I really don’t know what is going on nowadays.  Vinyl albums.  Polaroid cameras.  Slim Whitman albums.  Lava lamps.

If 8-track tapes come back, I’m moving out into the wilderness somewhere.

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Thursday Evening Edition

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It has been an arduous journey, but I have managed to stagger from Monday morning to Thursday evening.  I still have the Friday workday to get through, of course, but the weekend is so close that I can practically smell it.  It smells sort of like funnel cake at an outdoor carnival.  It is the aroma that helps you realize you’re having a good time.  Or about to.

One of the things that has made the week so toilsome is a “special project” I was assigned at work a few weeks ago.  Whenever anyone approaches you with anything labeled as a “special project” you should run, not walk, to the nearest exit.  Leave your personal belongings behind, forget about your dignity, and gallop towards the door like the Roadrunner avoiding Wile E. Coyote.

Another phrase that should make your ears prick upwards as your internal alarms go off is the dreaded:  An opportunity to excel.   If you hear this phrase come out of anyone’s mouth that is above you in the org chart, you should spring upwards like a bunny who just saw an eagle’s shadow and bolt violently (remembering to run in a serpentine fashion).  Run!  Run like the wind!  Run until your little bunny heart explodes (figuratively) from the exertion of exercising your choice of flight.  (Fight is rarely an option in corporate America unless you enjoy being unemployed.)

“Opportunity to excel” is really just management euphemism for one of the following:

  • Career-ending debacle
  • Reputation-shattering fiasco
  • Soul-sucking disaster
  • Confidence-crushing catastrophe

The worst part about being saddled with a “special project” is that it is like the tar baby from Southern folklore.  Once you have gotten your hands on it, you can never rid yourself of it.  It will follow you for the rest of your career.  You will become known as “the guy who worked on that special project that time“.  Your fingerprints will be all over it.  Your name will be on all of the drawings and documents.

What’s worse, you will become known as the expert in that thing.  Which means every time another “special” project arises, you will be the go-to guy.

 

Biff on Music — Night and Day

I swear this is a post about music, but bear with me a minute while I talk about television.

We in the Biff household are semi-avid fans of the television show “America’s Got Talent” (aka AGT).  I like the show better than your typical “we’re looking for the next big singer” shows because AGT is a variety show and you never know just what you’re going to be watching next.   It might be a comedian, a magician, an opera singer, a lady on a tall unicycle spinning plates, a man being shot out of a canon, trained dogs …. you just never, never know.

My favorite acts are those that come out of nowhere and go far in the show.  I love underdog stories.  I love people that one week are working 3 menial jobs to support an ailing mother and the next week are singing in front of millions of people.  What can be more satisfying than that?

That being said, my all time favorite moment from AGT is this one featuring Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.

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What can be more satisfying than that?  Is that not what that show is about?  Is that not the American Dream writ large?  I love his voice.  I love his delivery.  I love his personality.  I love his look.  And I love his attitude on life.

So yes, I was very happy when he won Season Six of AGT.

And I bought his CD as soon as it was out.

My favorite song of his is this beautiful rendition of Night and Day.   I actually like his version better than Sinatra’s.  Yes, I know that as blaspheme.   So sue me.  🙂

Anyway, give it a listen.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac: The State of the Blog Report

It’s hard to believe that we’re already halfway through April.  It seems like just a day or two ago that I was bemoaning the fact that the Christmas holidays were over and that I had to return to work after being off for two weeks.  It was January 3, 2017 and the new year yawned in front of me like that stretch of desert highway that is used ubiquitously in movies and pictures to signify a long, arduous (and probably interminable) journey ahead.

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And yet, somehow it is already midway through April.  We are already more than a quarter through the “new” year.

Except that it isn’t that new any more.  It is a slightly used year.  One owner.  Low miles.  Non smoker.  Maintenance records upon request.  Shimmies slightly when accelerating.

If I was a business (and thankfully, I’m not), I would have had to write a quarterly report, explaining our losses to date and presenting plans for recovery in the second quarter.  It might go something like this:

Blog post inventory was high, but low foot traffic led to a year-over-year loss in same-blog readership over the same quarter last year.  A slow January start (seasonally adjusted) was followed by a strong February.  Month-to-date (MTD) data for March looked impressive, but when scaled to account for the 5-week month, performance was slightly below February’s numbers.  April is shaping up to be disappointing, especially among new readers.
An unusually warm 1st quarter led to declining rates of torpidity among readers as they sought more fulfilling activities out of doors.  Long term forecasts indicate seasonably warm temperatures for the 2nd quarter and so torpidity rates are not likely to increase, and thus readership is expected to continue declining.

So there you have it.  That’s how empty the well of ideas is.  I’ll try to come up with something soon.  If I can’t find something interesting in my real life, I may have to resort to writing more fiction.

(No, that was not a threat.)

 

Easter at a Flea Market … and Other Signs You’ve Hit Rock Bottom

Happy Easter everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful day.

I spent part of my day at the Third Monday Trade Days in McKinney, Texas.

Now, I know to a huge percentage of the world’s population, Easter does not scream out “flea market!”  And, before today, it did not to me, either.  “Going to a flea market on Easter” is as nonsensical a phrase as has ever been uttered by anyone to date.  My ancestors would come up out of the grave and haunt me if they knew I did such a thing. (Hopefully, they’re not reading this blog.)  And my living relatives would be just as astonished and dismayed.

But in my defense … the flea market was open … so if I am insane, so were several thousand other people today.

Even more in my defense, it was a lovely spring day begging for an outdoor activity.  Since I am too old to go look for Easter eggs, I thought “Why not?”  It was warm without being hot (about 75 F at first … 85 F by the end of the day).  It was overcast, so no chance of sunburn.  And there was a pleasant breeze to help one forget about the high humidity (about 85%).  It was very festive (lots of kids and parents in their Easter finery).  The food booths were in full swing, cranking out kettle corn, hot dogs, Frito chili pies, roasted corn, funnel cakes, and just about any kind of food that can be served on a stick.  The vendors were selling anything from Pampered Chef on down to rusted out license plates from every state in the nation.

I once again found my spirit animal.

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You may remember from my trip to the Ennis Bluebonnet Festival last weekend, that I stumbled upon this very same animal.  But this is a horse donkey of a different color.  Literally.  But the similarities are so striking, it makes me wonder if there isn’t a giant factory over in China just cranking out metal donkeys as fast as possible.  It just seems too fantastical that I would find two such beasts at two different flea markets 60 miles apart.  All I know is that, if there is indeed a metal donkey factory, all of the workers in it know for a fact that Americans are certifiably insane.

I also found these cute little guys.

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Now what’s not to like about these little fellas?  I suggested that they would look awesome on the mantle.   Surprisingly, the suggestion was vetoed.  As was my suggestion of putting the metal donkey in the entryway.  I’m beginning to think that my interest in art is not fully appreciated!

Anyway, I hope you all had a happy Easter … and I further hope that you did NOT spend it at a flea market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Not Sure What Year This Is …

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You may remember a post of mine in which I was shaking my head at the fact that Polaroid cameras were becoming a fad and that one could buy brand-new cameras from Polaroid and also Fuji.

Well, today I was at a flea market (yes, I know … not a traditional activity for Easter Sunday) and I was at a booth that was selling miscellaneous rubbish treasures from yesteryear, when suddenly there appeared a 20-something hipster and his hipster girlfriend who were oohing and aahing over a couple of original Polaroid cameras that had seen better days (days that were several decades in the past).

You would have thought that they had found an original Holy Grail in good to very good condition and in the original box.

The huckster proprietor shared their enthusiasm (though for perhaps different reasons) and was telling them which of the models they could buy brand-new film for and which models they had to go online and buy original, antique film for.  I found myself wondering exactly what sort of condition the film would be in that had been manufactured almost 50 years ago.

Anyway, one just never knows what fad is going to catch fire next.  I sure hope boxes of old computer cables, speakers, keyboards, mice, 5.25 inch floppy disks, and mouse pads become a big fad.  If they do, I can clean out my attic and finally retire.

Fun With Music: Crowded House

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Tonight’s Background Music is provided by Crowded House.
Album:  After Glow
Best Song:  Private Universe

I’m adding a new feature to my blog entries.  I’m going to indicate what background music I’m listening to at the moment when I’m writing a journal-type blog post.  Why am I doing this, you ask?   No good reason.  It fills up space.  It adds a bit of color to an otherwise uninteresting blog post.  It’s like when the teacher would ask you to write a 500 word essay on something, you very quickly became adept at padding the essay with a lot of unnecessary words.  This is no different.  Padding R Us.

By the way, when I pick out what music I’m going to listen to when I write, it is largely random.  My iPod has over 6000 songs on it and choosing a song can be a little overwhelming sometimes.  So I just sort of “spin the wheel” and see what comes up.  However, I veto a lot of things that pop up.  For instance, I don’t like to listen to anything too abrasive  or “heavy”  when I’m writing.  This would include artists such as Nazareth, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (or any ELP spin-offs or derivatives), Def Leppard, GooGoo Dolls, etc.

Also, I generally don’t like to listen to songs with lyrics to them if I’m going to be writing, though there are exceptions.  Crowded House is one of those exceptions.  Their music is just so evocative of a certain mood that I really like.  Their songs are very literate and cerebral, as well as very complex musically.  Pink Floyd is that way, too.

When i write, I usually like to listen to jazz (e.g. Kirk Whalum,  Chuck Mangione, Dave Koz, Larry Carlton, Eric Darken, the Rippingtons, etc.) or “new age” (e.g. David Lanz & Paul Speer, Andreas Vollenweider, Acoustic Alchemy, Jim Brickman, Secret Garden, etc.) or “international” (e.g. Loreena McKinnet, Enya, Basia, etc.).  Those types of music help block out ambient noise without intruding into my thoughts too much.  They shape my thoughts in subtle ways, but they don’t derail my thoughts.  I feel they enhance, rather than distract.

What about you?  What kind of music do you like to listen to while you write?

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Friday Afternoon Edition

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At long last it is Friday.

Yep, I’m standing on the threshold of another weekend that starts out as an overly-ambitious to-do list but that ends up as a rumpled piece of paper in the recycling bin with nary a check-mark on it.  Usually, my sole accomplishment for the weekend is coming up with the to-do list.  My enthusiasm wanes pretty quickly after writing down the list.

But this weekend will be different.

For one thing, I am not going to make a list this weekend.  It would be pointless since it is Easter weekend.  My to-do list this weekend would look something like this:

  1.  Go to Target and look at all of their Easter candy and basket-stuffing knick-knacks.  Browse for 30 minutes without picking up a single thing.  Become disillusioned with the modern world.  Leave Target.
  2. Go to World Market and buy a bunch of overpriced German and Belgian chocolates in cool shapes and packages.
  3. Return home and assemble an Easter basket while suffering buyer’s remorse at having spent $100 on chocolate that will sit in the pantry for six months and then get thrown away.
  4. Boil eggs.
  5. Use all the eggs that cracked during boiling to make egg salad.
  6. Ponder if anyone likes egg salad besides me.
  7. Shrug shoulders and realize it doesn’t make any difference.  Just more for me.
  8. Suffer another bout of buyer’s remorse regarding the overpriced candy and doo-dads, but eat a big dollop of egg salad to blunt the remorse.
  9. Ruminate on how saving for retirement is really just a fool’s errand anyway.
  10. Get everyone together to dye Easter eggs.  Discover once again that dipping an egg in all of the colors just makes brown eggs.  Also realize once again that I don’t have an artistic cell in my body.
  11. Ponder briefly on if I can pass off brown Easter eggs as organic, free range, eggs.
  12. Travel to visit in-laws.  Eat too much.  (This seems to be common to all holidays.)
  13. Spend the post-Easter denouement Sunday night eating chocolate and egg salad.
  14. Wonder just what the heck I am doing with my life.

 

I think it is pretty obvious why I am not making a to-do list this weekend.

 

Happy Easter, everyone!

Poor Biff’s Almanac — Thursday Night Edition

writer

Work was kind of a grind this week.  Lots of tedium.  Lots of spreadsheets.  Lots of sitting in meetings.  Lots of generating PowerPoint slides.  Lots of wondering if all of human history has been leading up to this.

I remember watching a movie a long time ago.  Sorry … I can’t remember the name of it; I was only a child.  The only thing I remember is a scene with a mule tied to a horizontal pole that was attached at the other end to a sugar cane press.  The mule walked around and around in a circle, the pole turning the sugar cane press as he walked.  I remember noticing that he had worn away the grass on the ground and was walking in a deep rut.

The mule had blinders on, which I thought was gratuitous.

I’m not sure what made me think of that scene 40 years later.  Just one of those weird things that pops into our minds sometimes, I guess.

Life Is Better With Bluebonnets On It

I mentioned a few blog posts ago that the Texas Bluebonnets are blooming with wanton abandon.  I also mentioned that I have lived in the Dallas area for over 30 years and I have somehow managed to miss out on ever taking a single picture of them.  (Some might call that procrastination or laziness, but hey!  I was busy.)  The annual blooming of the Bluebonnets is a Big Deal™ here in Texas.  They are the state flower, after all.  People will risk their lives pulling over to the side of a busy freeway to take a selfie in a patch of bluebonnets.  Every year people go tumbling end over end when they attempt to take a selfie on a steep hillside full of Bluebonnets.  It is Texas’ version of the running of the bulls.  Except a lot less exciting.  And instead of being trampled or gored, people are filling up the Internet with cheesy selfies with bluebonnets in the background.

Be all that as it may, it was decided this past weekend that we would drive down to the town of Ennis for their annual Bluebonnet Festival.  I’ve never been there before and had no idea what to expect, but the weather was beautiful and it was a lazy day and so why not?   And it is only about an hour south of Dallas and in Texas terms, that’s practically next door.

We finally found our way there with the help of the imperious GPS lady.  The downtown area was cordoned off so that people could walk through the streets.  The streets were brick.  How cool is that?

Brick streets

There were a variety of food trucks and the air was thick with the wonderful aromas of corny dogs, cotton candy, fried alligator (I kid you not), quesadillas, bratwurst, barbecue, etc etc etc.   Here are a couple of the food trucks.  It was hard to get pictures of them because there was always a crowd gathered in front of them.  (Please ignore my horrible attempts at photo-shopping out a hungry patron).

German Food Truck.jpg

Later Gator food truck.jpg

See?  I told you they had alligator!

There were also people selling crafts.  I am generally not very attracted to crafts, but I must admit that I was quite taken with this metal sculpture of a jackass.  It spoke to me.  (Brayed to me?)

Donkey Sculpture

Luckily, I talked myself out of buying it.  I felt the homeowner’s association would have strong opinions about me putting this out in my front yard.

There was live music (country, of course).   I have no idea what the name of this band was, but they sounded pretty good.

Live Music.jpg

On the outskirts of town, a short drive away from the downtown area, was Bluebonnet Park where there were, not surprisingly, all the Bluebonnets.

Texas Bluebonnet #2.jpg

And Texas Paintbrush.

Texas Paintbrush

And a bunch of other types of wildflowers.

Floral Mix.jpg

I also found a wolf spider!  How cool is that?  Made my day.  This picture makes him look like he could take down a Great Dane, but he was only about the size of a quarter (leg span).

Wolf Spider

So anyway, I hope you enjoyed my first tavelogue or whatever the heck this was.  Texas can be very beautiful if you catch it just right (i.e. not summer or winter).

 

 

 

 

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Monday Evening Edition

writer

It is Monday evening and my blog has gone to hell.

Not literally, of course.  Who does it think it is:  Dante?  It certainly isn’t Virgil!

No, I just haven’t written much in it lately.  This was because I decided I needed to correct a shortcoming I saw in my blog, namely my repetitiveness.  I tend to write about the same things over and over and over.

My attempt to correct that problem resulted in me having nothing to write about.

That’s when I realized that my life is very repetitive.  However, I prefer to think of it as my life having a particular rhythm all its own.  Unfortunately, the rhythm of my life is a series of never-ending quarter notes played in 4/4 time with no varying of the tempo or pitch.   But hey, that counts as a rhythm!

So there you have it.

Now I’m having this nagging feeling that I’ve written this exact same blog before, not so very long ago.  So stop me if you’ve heard this one before . . .

 

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Why the Day Started Out Not Sucking, but Got Better

Hair band and bobby pin

It is a lazy Saturday here in Biff-land. Well, technically, the day itself isn’t lazy.  I am the lazy one and I am just blaming it on the day.  I’m one of those people that projects my own failings onto others so that I don’t have to do anything about them.  (Just kidding!  I’m really not.  But Saturday really is a big slacker!  Ha ha!)

Not much exciting going on here in the thousand-square-mile desert of suburbia known as North Texas.  I have been cleaning house most of the day.  It really shouldn’t take most of the day, but nothing is ever simple in life.   For instance, I was going to vacuum the carpets.  No big deal.  Should take about 30 minutes, tops, AND it’s good exercise.

But of course, the vacuum cleaner sucks.  Or rather, it doesn’t suck, which sucks.  I could hold the nozzle right up to a wimpy little dust bunny and … nothing.  The dust bunny would actually drift away from the vacuum cleaner.

So, I took apart the vacuum cleaner.

[Fair warning to the squeamish.  Just go to the next post.]

Wrapped around the agitator brush, I found enough hair to donate to Locks of Love.  (Don’t worry, I’m not the sort of person who donates vacuum cleaner hair to charities.)  Using scissors, knives, needle-nose pliers, and a steel brush, I got the agitator looking brand new.  Then I cleaned out all the ports and hoses.  In the little hose within the body of the vacuum cleaner, I found several bobby pins, hair bands, a square plastic clasp that holds bread wrappers closed, clumps of hair and dust that could easily have passed for gray mice at a pet store, and several plastic “dongles” that are used to attach tags to new clothes.  Obviously, I’m the only one in the house with a “look before you vacuum” policy.  Others, apparently, have a YOLO approach to vacuuming.  They no doubt believe that, as long as the item is flat enough to be run over with a vacuum cleaner, then it deserves whatever it gets.

So, after I’d completely cleaned the vacuum cleaner inside and out, I took it for a test drive.  It worked like a charm!  It worked as well as it did the day I bought it.  It worked so well that it was actually hard to push across the carpeting because the suction was so strong.

Anyway, that’s why cleaning the house takes so long.  Because every time I start to do a 30 minute task, I have to perform a 45 minute task beforehand in order to be able to do the original 30 minute task.

Life in the modern world!

I’m a Centenarian!

100 Posts

This is a momentous day for me.  I reached my 100th blog post!

I have had other blogs in the past, but I don’t think I got anywhere near 100 posts in any of them.  Heck, maybe even if you put them all together I didn’t have 100 posts!

So, I’d like to thank everyone who has encouraged me with your follows, your likes, and your comments.  You have put the fun back in blogging for me and I am very grateful to you all!

An Interview With the Author of the “Alistair and Alexis” Comedy Series

Biff, author of the wildly unpopular “Alistair and Alexis” series of allegedly humorous short stories was recently interviewed by Yuks and Chortles Magazine.  What follows in an unauthorized, copyright-infringing excerpt from that interview.

Y&CM:  We understand, Mr. Biff, that you consider yourself a humor writer.

Biff:  Please.  Just call me Biff.

Y&CM:  Right-o.  Biff it is, then.  And you consider yourself a humor writer?

Biff:  Not originally.  No.  I was an ordinary writer, but in college I kept getting my papers back from my professors with things written in red pen at the top of the paper like “Oh, you think you’re funny, huh?” and “Funny guy, eh?” and “Very humorous.  Please see me after class.

Y&CM:  And that led to a life of comedy writing?

Biff:  No, it led to a life of ostracism and privation.  It seems comedy writers are held in the same regard as carpetbaggers, used car salesman, and people with pinkeye.

Y&CM:  I see.  Most interesting.

Biff:  Not really, no.  But thank you for saying so.

Y&CM:  I would like to ask you about your “Alistair and Alexis” series of short humorous pieces.

Biff:  Must you?

Y&CM:  Yes.  Your check cleared the bank and so this was our agreement.

Biff:  You’ll edit this part out, right?

Y&CM:  Oh yes.  Without a doubt.

Biff:  Good.  Carry on.

Y&CM:  A lot of humor experts and analysts say that comedy very often comes from a dark place, a place of pain.  Is that true of the “Alistair and Alexis” series?

Biff:  Oh yes.  Indubitably.

Y&CM:  And what is the pain that is reflected in “Alistair and Alexis”?

Biff:  The pain and anguish that resulted from my not being born into a wealthy family.

Y&CM:  So you live vicariously through Alistair?

Biff:  No, I live precariously through myself.  Alistair and I are nothing alike.

Y&CM:  How so?

Biff:  Well, Alistair is shallow, self-centered, highly educated while not being very bright, and he tends to drink alcohol when he feels nervous and unsure of himself.

Y&CM:  And how do you differ from that?

Biff: Well, I prefer chocolate to alcohol.

Y&CM:  But you’re alike in every other way?

Biff:  No.  As I pointed out earlier, he is fabulously wealthy.

Y&CM:  And you’re not?

Biff:  Well, I’m a comedy writer …. soooooo …

Y&CM:  So, no.

Biff:  No.

Y&CM:  And what of Alexis?

Biff:  What of her?

Y&CM:  Is she symbolic of something or is she merely a foil for Alistair?  His “straight man”, as it were.

Biff:  I think the politically correct term is “straight person”.

Y&CM:  Straight person, then.

Biff:  Or Person of Straightness.

Y&CM:  As you wish.

Biff:  Or “Human of linear extension with non-curvature”.

Y&CM:  And you feel that accurately describes her?

Biff:  Who?

Y&CM:  Alexis.

Biff:  Oh!  Alexis!  No, she has curves.

Y&CM:  So if she is not merely the … er … um … foil to Alistair’s antics, then is she symbolic of something else?

Biff:  Yes.  She’s symbolic of his wife.

Y&CM:  But she actually is his wife.

Biff:  Right.

Y&CM:  So that’s not symbolic.  That is, in fact, who she is.

Biff:  Symbolic.  Symbiotic.  Semiotic.  Schmimbolic.  Potato, puh-tah-toe.  She just sort of appeared in the first story.  What was I supposed to do?  Tell her to hit the bricks?  They seemed to hit it off okay so I thought, “What they hey?”  And the rest is comedy history.

Y&CM:  Is it?

Biff:  No.  It’s not.

Y&CM:  So what’s next for the “Alistair and Alexis” franchise?

Biff:  Well, Y&CM … do you mind if I call you Y&CM?

Y&CM:  No, go right ahead.

Biff:  Well, Y&CM, I hope to write enough “Alistair and Alexis” stories to be able to mimeograph them out into a small booklet and leave it in the waiting area of Gate 32 in Terminal C of the DFW International Airport.  The plan is to have a literary agent, who might be traveling from Dallas/Fort Worth to, say, Wilmington Delaware in order to scout out a good military school for his bratty son, find the booklet and read it on the plane.

Y&CM:  And you think he will find it so good that he will publish it?

Biff:  No, I expect the mimeograph fumes will be so strong that he gets so high that he thinks it would a good idea to turn “Alistair and Alexis” into a TV series or a movie.

Y&CM:  I see.  That is actually fiendishly clever!

Biff:  Thank you!

Y&CM:  Well, Biff, I see from the time that your check for $32.50 has been consumed and so we must bring this interview to an end.

Biff:  Must we?

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Please Don’t Shoot the Bluebonnets

Here in Texas, the bluebonnets are in full bloom and it’s time for my annual tradition.

Throughout most of the year, north Texas is a bland, colorless place.  However, at the moment the medians and easements are ablaze with bluebonnets.  Bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas and every spare inch of government-owned green-space is seeded heavily with them every year.  For a few glorious weeks in early spring, nearly the entire state is blushing a beautiful blue.

So now that it is spring and the bluebonnets are abloom, it is time for my annual tradition.  My tradition is to promise myself for weeks that I am going to stop and take some pictures of the beautiful bluebonnets, but then to let bluebonnet season go by without a single picture of them.  I have lived in Dallas for 30-ish years and I don’t have a single bluebonnet picture to my name.

So here’s one I appropriated off of the internet.  The tradition continues.

Texas-bluebonnets-field

Photo Credit:  http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/texas/state-flower/bluebonnet

Terry Kath — One of the Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time

Terry Kath

I’m not going to pretend to know much about guitars, guitar playing, or guitar players, but this must certainly be one of the top ten guitar solos of all time.  Be patient … he begins to absolutely tear up his guitar at 2:58 into the video.  At around 4:30 the guitar is begging for mercy.

This is one of those occasions when you look at someone doing something and you realize that they were destined to do that thing.  If it hadn’t been around, they would have invented it.  I don’t know for sure, but I believe he is improvising a good deal of this solo.  It says a lot that Jimi Hendrix (reportedly) said that Kath was his favorite guitarist.

It is a damn shame that he died tragically at the early age of 31.

Guitarist:  Terry Kath

Band:  Chicago

Song:  25 or 6 to 4

Date:  7/21/1970 (Tanglewood)

Alistair and Alexis Go to a Board Meeting

boardroom

It was time for the annual meeting of the board of directors at Gargantua Enterprises and Alexis and I wanted to get there early for the pre-meeting elbow-rubbing that always preceded the actual board meeting.  And by “we”, I mean “Alexis”.  Alexis found schmoozing to be great sport and was a big fan of anything corporate.  I, on the other hand, was just hoping there would be snacks and spirits and a motion to adjourn early.

Things were well underway as Alexis and I made our way into the board room.  We walked through the large double doors which were no doubt made of some exotic species of wood from the Amazon rainforests.  The executive board of Gargantua spared absolutely no expense in the lavishness of their board room or the compensation of their top executives.  This was in evidence even more as my leather wingtip shoes sank into the plush emerald-green carpeting of the boardroom like cinder blocks in quicksand.  I only hoped their budget for food was as lavish as their budget for boardroom accoutrements (or, as the French would call them, accoutrements).

“How do I look?” I asked Alexis, shooting my cuffs nervously.

“You look great,” she said, somewhat distractedly.  I could tell she was looking keenly at everyone in the room and cross-referencing them against the leather-bound copy of Who’s Who Among Business Titans which she keeps on her nightstand and which she has committed to memory (along with the quarterly supplements).

“Is my tie straight?” I asked, straightening it just a bit.  The haberdasher had assured me it was of the finest silk, produced by pampered mulberry silkworms in a quaint little Italian village overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.  However, one can never be sure if that is enough in these situations.

“It’s as straight as an arrow,” she said, glancing at it for nearly half a second before resuming her field studies of our city’s industrial elite.

“Thank you, my little rose,” I said, beaming at her compliment.  “And may I say you look absolutely ravishing!”

She glanced at me sharply and held up a dissuasive finger.  “There will be no ravishing,” she said.

“It’s merely an expression, my beautiful little daisy.”

“Well, that’s what you said at the charity ball last month and as I recall, you got entirely too handsy.”

“It was a tango,” I said.  “I hardly think I was taking any liberties.”

“Well, all the same, we need to stay focused tonight and not let ourselves get distracted.”

“Oh!” I said excitedly.  “Hors d’oeuvres!”

My outburst was caused by a silver tray passing before my very eyes like a vision, being borne by a somber man in tails, striped pants, patent leather shoes, and a nametag that identified him as Ivan.  Ivan looked as if he bore the weight of the world upon his shoulders in addition to the weight of the tray of nosh he held somewhat morosely.

“Hors d’oeuvres, sir?” he said in monotone, obviously unimpressed by his own wares.

“Oh, my, yes!” I said excitedly.  It had been hours since my petite little dahlia and I had strapped on the ol’ feedbag.

However, Alexis slapped my hand lightly as I reached for an amuse-bouche which I suspected might contain wild salmon.

“We need to stay focused,” she said.

“I hardly think an amuse-bouche will make me distrait.”

“Oh?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.  “Remember the deviled eggs at League luncheon last year?  You became obsessed with them.”

“In my defense, it was the first time I’d ever had one.”

“Well, somehow your brief introduction of the League president to the assembly turned into an homage to deviled eggs.”

“Well,” I said, becoming a bit reminiscent, “They were quite amazing.”  I looked at the hangdog countenance of our present Hors d’oeuvres hander-outer.  “Do you have any deviled eggs, Ivan?”

“No, sir,” he said, sounding as if he were delivering a eulogy.  “Just assorted bruschetta, canapés, caviar, charcuterie, spanakopita, and amuse-bouche.”

“That’s a pity,” I said.  “I would give anything for a deviled egg, up to half my kingdom.”

I noticed Alexis had become distracted by someone across the room who looked important, so I quickly grabbed an amuse-bouche and popped it in my mouth.  It was absolutely heavenly, though I had no time to savor it.  I had to swallow quickly before Alexis turned her eagle-like gaze back on me.

“We should take our seats,” she said.  “I think they are about to get started.”

I quickly swallowed the flaky perfection of the amuse-bouche and said somewhat dryly as I tried to avoid choking, “Lead on, McDuff!” I grabbed a frosty goblet of white wine off of another tray as it passed by me like manna from heaven to help me clear the ol’ throat.

We took our seats down in the lower-rent section of the mammoth boardroom table.  Dear old Pops may have been a member of the board of Gargantua Enterprises, but not one of the more important ones.  That was the sole reason he trusted me to be his proxy and to cast a vote in his stead.  If it had been for one of the corporations of which he held a higher stake, he would not have let me within a hundred miles of the place.  He had resigned himself years ago to the fact that I did not have a head for business.

There were opening statements by various bald-headed, portly men who looked like they might clutch at their hearts at any moment and make gurgling noises.  At appropriate junctures in these blatherings, their fellow board members harrumphed and said “hear hear” periodically.  I suddenly realized my wine glass, though still frosty, was empty.  I made eye contact with Ivan and raised my glass slightly.  He morosely walked over and filled my glass with a fine Port wine and then resumed his post against the wall.  He looked like a man who had spent a good deal of his life standing against walls before managing to defect from his home country and make it here to America.

Alexis leaned over to me and whispered, “Lay off the sauce.  It’s almost time for the vote.”

“What vote?” I asked, also whispering, for apparently that’s what we were doing.  I sat my empty glass on the boardroom table.  There was no coaster, so I just set it on the copy of the Annual Report that was sitting in front of me.

“They’re voting on whether or not to merge with Leviathan Industries.”

“Well that certainly sounds ominous,” I said.  “Gargantua and Leviathan teaming up?  Didn’t Hobbes warn us about that sort of thing?”

“What are you babbling about?” she whispered, trying not to attract the attention of the Chairman.

I whispered back, ” … a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death.”

“Are you soused?” she asked in a whisper.

“After two glasses of sub-standard port?” I whispered sniffily.  “I hardly think so.  Oh, thank you, Ivan!”  My somber sommelier had refilled my glass and shimmered noiselessly back to his position against the wall.   I lifted my glass in a wordless toast to this Gunga Din.  He may be dour, but he knows a man in need when he sees one.

“It’s time for the vote,” she whispered, her voice becoming higher pitched and fraught with anxiety.  “It’s a voice vote and it’s almost around to you.  Are you ready?”

“Vote?” I asked again.  “What are we voting for?”

“I’m not voting,” she said quietly.  “You are.”

“That hardly seems fair,” I said, incensed.  “Our forefathers fought valiantly for universal suffrage.”  And then added, in the interest of fairness, “And our foremothers.”

“No,” she whispered, seeming most distraught.  “You are voting proxy for your father.  About the merger.”

“Ah, yes,” I said, suddenly remembering.  “Father was telling me something.  About something.  Or other.”

“About Leviathan.”

“Ah, yes,” I said.  “Leviathan.”

“Mr. Callington,” came a booming voice from the head of the high-rent district of the boardroom table, which seemed to be in a different zip code from the part I sat at.

“Present!” I said, standing, forgetting for the moment that I was no longer in Sister Theresa’s Latin class.  Her stentorian voice always had an effect on me not unlike a gunshot near a skittish horse.

“How do you vote, sir?”

I gazed around the august assemblage (though it was only April).

“Let me start by saying,” I said, setting my empty glass on the annual report.  “That Hobbes was an ass.”

I felt my dainty Alexis tug at my sleeve, but I patted her fondly on the shoulder to assure her that I had the matter firmly in hand.

“To whom are you referring, Sir?” asked the Chairman of the Board.  He was an intimidating chap who stood about six foot seven, had a burr haircut like he had just returned from several months at Parris Island where he tested the mettle of Marine recruits.

“I refer, sir, to Hobbes,” I said.  “He was a most colossal ass.  Are we living in a Kingdom of Darkness?  Are we Leviathan?”

There was murmuring among the board along with more tugging at my sleeve, but I extracted my arm with some difficulty.

“Sir,” said the imposing and impatient chairman, “We are Gargantua.  Are you for or against the merger with Leviathan?”

I drew myself up.  I may have pounded the table, but the presence of the Annual Report, now somewhat soggy from the perspiration from my wine glasses, dampened the results and robbed them of their effectiveness.

“Never!” I said, feeling quite strongly about it.  “We are not Leviathan!   Look at Ivan here,” I waved my hand at my old friend, who now suddenly looked less morose and more surprised.  “Does he benefit from Leviathan?  I think not.”

“Yea, or nay, Sir!” said the beet red Chairman.

“Nay!  Always nay!  We must never become Leviathan!”

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The back of the limousine was very quiet on the ride home.  Alexis looked at me periodically, but mostly looked out the window at the passing scenery.  But finally, she spoke.

“Your father wanted you to vote yes on the merger with Leviathan,” she said quietly.

“Did he?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “He was quite explicit about it.”

“He is always quite explicit about everything,” I replied.  “The man doesn’t have an ambiguous bone in his body.”

“Do you think he will be upset at your vote?”

“Oh, most assuredly he will be.”

“Will he cut you off?”

“Perhaps for a bit,” I said.  “But he will eventually come around.  He will say I take after my mother’s side of the family.  Apparently he has a soft spot for my mother.  And anyway, this is really his fault.”

“His fault?  How?”

“He was the one who insisted on giving me an Ivy League education.  That’s where I learned what an ass Hobbes was.”

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Tuesday Evening Edition (and Some Talk of Disco Music)

writer

It was another good day in Biff-land.  And by good, I mean I survived it without experiencing too much corporate absurdity.

Or maybe the reality is that I’ve been subjected to corporate surrealism so long that it is now my normal and I just don’t notice it any more.  I sure hope that isn’t true!  It was never my intent to become one of the inmates at the asylum.  I thought I was merely passing through.  But I’m sure all of the inmates say that when they first arrive.

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I am embarrassed to admit that I am listening to the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever” at the moment, in particularly the Bee Gees (“Stayin’ Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love?”, “Night Fever”, etc.).  I didn’t even know it was on my iPod, but here it is.  Boy, this sure takes me back!  Saturday Night Fever came out when I was at the height (or depth) of my teen years.

You never would have believed it, if you’d known me back then, that I would ever have been caught dead (or severely maimed) listening to disco music.  I was staunchly in the “Disco Sucks!” crowd back then.  Around my friends or in my car, I listened to real rock (as we referred to it back then) at top volume.  I listened to Nazareth and Rush and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Rush, Boston, Kansas, Yes, and Judas Priest, Pink Floyd, and the Who (to name some of them).  I sneered most superciliously and derisively at disco or anything disco-like.

I’m sure I was just overcompensating.  My aversion to disco was mostly to hide the fact that I couldn’t dance a lick.  And I that was painfully shy around girls.  So, given those two handicaps, disco was anathema to me.  But secretly I liked it.  I was (secretly) a big fan of the Bee Gees.  I think their music was amazingly complex to be dismissed as being so simplistic.  Their harmonies were stunning.  And they invented voice vibrato.  Their melodies were engaging and complex.  Even their lyrics, in spite of having to fit into a disco format that demanded overly-simplistic phrasing, were surprisingly sophisticated (again, given the format).

But like anything that becomes popular, disco music began to become a parody of itself and it was easy to wean myself off of it.  But even now I cannot listen to “Stayin’ Alive” without walking like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever as he walked down the street carrying the paint cans.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to a little Who to cleanse my palate.

 

Less is . . . Less

Man and Machine

I had an epiphany today.

My epiphany is that all of human history has been driving towards writing humans out of the human equation.

This came to me today at a meeting at work while we were discussing ways to do things better and more efficiently.  What does that mean if not “How can we change what we do in order to do less of what we do?

From there I realized that I have spent the past 6 or 7 years in my current job trying to make my department run more efficiently, to do be able to do more work with less effort and fewer resources.  Things need to be done as quickly as possible with as little human intervention as possible.  I suppose, in an ideal process, the process would run quite on its own and humans would merely observe to make sure nothing went wrong.  Even more ideally, the process would be infallible and no humans at all would be required.

As I reflected back further back in my career as an engineer, I suddenly realized that the vast majority of the decisions I’ve had to make at my various jobs have not been technical decisions.  They have been efficiency decisions.  How can we make this circuit cheaper?  By making it simpler.  Why do we want it to be simpler?  So it will be easier to build, easier to test, easier to set up, easier for the customer to use.  What does that boil down to?  Fewer people.  Fewer people required to build it, test it, set it up, and operate it.

Then I reflected back even before I was old enough to have a career.  Back through history and time.  Every new innovation required lots and lots of people to bring about, to operate, and to maintain.  But then the pressure appears almost instantly to make it simpler.   Cars used to take hundreds of people to build.  Now they can probably be built with a few dozen people and some robots.  It used to take millions of farmers and millions of acres to feed the human population.  Now it takes a few hundred thousand farmers.  Soon it will require even less.

As the humans who create these products and processes, we must ask, why are we trying to write ourselves out of the equations it takes to build them?  Or even use them?  What is our ultimate goal?  What are we going to do with all of our free time if we become so efficient at everything that we are no longer required to do any of the things we strove to make so efficient?

Will we have a sense of accomplishment if we accomplish our goal of arriving at the point where there is nothing left to accomplish?

How will we feel if we create a world that can continue on its own without us?

Will that be heaven?  Or hell?

 

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