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.

 

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

No Space

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.)

 

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