Holy conditional assistance!

The other day I was leaving my grocery store. As I’ve written before, there’s a bank just inside the door, and they have a whiteboard out front that often has some mention of their latest loan rate or some special promotion. Or a list of things to do before you die on Christmas.

The sign above was sitting out front a few weeks ago, and the sheer inanity of it made me want to capture the sentiment. At first, I just figured it was a dumb play on words: SUNtrust… SHINE… get it??? Very clever.

But wait! What’s THIS!* A disclaimer?!


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Regret and forget

I received the following e-mail today:

Don’t Regret Missing Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy

Natalie and Donnell are going to put on a night to remember!
Award winning Cape Breton musician, Natalie MacMaster, began her fiddling career at 16 releasing her debut album Four on the Floor. Her musical venture now spans over three decades, completing 11 albums, performing thousands of shows and collaborating with a multitude of world renowned artists.
The most recent album by MacMaster, Cape Breton Girl, has been self-described as a “straight-ahead, traditional record.” The album is filled with an invigorating collection of toe-tapping jigs, reels, and strathspeys that embodies her most cherished values, her family and home, tradition, and faith.


I hereby promise not to regret missing Natalie and Donnell in the slightest.  Partly because I have never found strathspeys particularly invigorating.  Partly because there has been no independent analysis as to whether Cape Breton Girl is either straight-ahead or traditional.  But mostly because I can’t trust Natalie and Donnell to provide me a night to remember if they can’t even remember to tell me who Donnell Leahy is or what he will contribute to the evening.  He might just be the guy who taps his toe during the jigs.


What the heck’s in a name?

Not to be too judgmental (WARNING: Extremely judgmental post ahead), but one of the most important tasks of a new parent is naming your child.  That name will be with a child for a long time, and could have a profound impact on a child’s emotional and psychological development, as well as limiting their choice of vocation in the future.

I’m not talking about trendy Hollywood idiots who name their children Apple or North or even Dweezil.  They can live in trendy hipster enclaves and get trendy hipster careers in colour science and technology or goat arousal, although their options in the real world can be limited.  (Good luck winning a seat on the Omaha City Council if your parents named you Moon Unit Lynn Anderson.)

I’m not even talking about clueless simpletons like Lord Marmaduke Scrumptious and the lovely Lady Scrumptious.  Go ahead and name your daughter Truly Scrumptious.  You’ll get your comeuppance on prom night.

No, I’m looking at you, Bob and Margaret De Vil of Columbus, Ohio.  Of all the names in the baby book, you decided on Cruella?  Your last name already looks and sounds like “devil”.  Never mind being elected Municipal County Clerk.  You’ve pretty much guaranteed your daughter a lifetime of “poor attitude”, detention, shady boyfriends, and making coats out of dalmatians.  I hope you’re pleased with yourselves.

Editor’s Note: Many states allow you to apply to the courts for a change of name.  If your last name looks and sounds like “devil”, you might want to look into it.  This also applies if your last name happens to be Von Doom or Sinestro.  You’ll thank me later.


Gifts from the 9 of hearts

(Disclaimer: Why is there a cat staring at a dove on my 9 of hearts?  Beats me.)

A number of people have come up to me recently and asked, “John, what should I get my loved one for Valentine’s Day?” (Disclaimer: I checked with a mathematician friend of mine, and zero (0) is a number.)   And I always respond “Why are you asking me?  She’s your loved one.  I can barely stand to be in the same room with her!”

So this year, I went to my good friends at Hammacher-Schlemmer for some holiday gift ideas.  (Disclaimer: I am good friends with neither Mr. Hammacher nor Mr. Schlemmer.  Based on the fact that I constantly mock their products and refuse to endorse them, I’m probably banned from their store.  If they even have a store.)  So here are my top 9 Valentine’s Day gift ideas.  (Disclaimer: It appears that 9 is no longer a number, but has been demoted to ‘dwarf number’ status.  Please plan accordingly.)

(Disclaimer: These gift ideas are primarily for Him.  For Her, I don’t know.  There’s a reason I’m single.  Get her flowers, I guess.  Girls like flowers.  And maybe tell her she looks 23.  Just don’t get her any of this crap, particularly if you want her to stay around.) *

shearling moccasins

Mongolian Shearling Moccasins – $79.95

These hand-sewn indoor/outdoor moccasins are made from the coats of sheep that roam the indoor/outdoor steppes of Mongolia.  The leather uppers’ abrasion resistance provides years of wear, in case you have to walk on the tops of your feet for years.  An EVA midsole cushions the foot during extravehicular activities such as repairing heat tiles and orbital thrusters, and the sheepskin insole can be removed when a more uncomfortable moccasin is desired.  The moccasins have a waterproof thermoplastic rubber sole, keeping feet soft as a Mongolian sheep’s hoof.

himalayan singing bowl

Authentic Himalayan Singing Bowl   $199.95

Used since 560 B.C. to invoke a deep state of relaxation, meditation, and chicken soup, this is the authentic Tibetan singing bowl.  (Disclaimer: Bowl does not sing, and may not actually be from Tibet.)  The bowl is hand-hammered by a guy with a hammer in his hand from gold, silver, spare change, recycled beer cans, and stuff we found on a beach outside Kathmandu with our metal detector, ensuring every bowl is at least partially Himalayan.  Etched on the side of the bowl is “Om mani padme hum,” a Buddhist mantra which probably means, “Almost done polishing your nails, Queen Amidala.  I’ll just sing quietly to myself while I finish.”  Running the wooden striker along the rim creates complex, harmonic tones with subtle variations that differ from singing in almost every way.  Tapping the bowl with the striker generates a bell sound that signifies that your host is about to invite the Dalai Lama to say a few words.

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Can anybody really know what time it is?

(Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement.  As I said last winter, I wouldn’t buy this stuff with money I found in the street.  Your money may vary.)

After my recent misadventure with the time-space continuum, I started wondering whether there was any sort of device I could use to help me navigate these trying times.  Fortunately, there’s help.  My good friends at Hammacher-Schlemmer have been sending me e-mail offers since 2013, so I know there’s a world of gift ideas for the time-challenged among us.  With that in mind, I offer the following gift ideas from the H-S Temporal Obfuscation catalog, home of the original Faceless Watch (above).



The Classic Calculator Keypad Watch  $59.99

Simply press any key, and white LEDs behind the corresponding numbers will illuminate, in order to show the hour and minute.  0-6-4-5, for example, means 6:45, or 6:54, or 4:56, or maybe 5:46.  Pressing the pound sign reveals the month and day using the same method.  1-2-3, for example, means January 23rd, or possibly December 3rd.  Its chunky plastic keycaps recall the ugly design of the world’s first handheld calculator, while the order of the numbers mirrors the layout of IBM’s seminal Model M keypad, which didn’t have a pound sign, because it wasn’t a telephone.  The links in the silicone strap resemble a chain of space bars (Quark’s, Ten-Forward, the Cantina from Star Wars, etc.), unless you look at them, or are familiar with bars in space.

tick mark watch

The Tick Mark Wristwatch  $99.95

This wristwatch has 28 LEDs that illuminate in sequence to indicate the time, date, and day of the week in some weird form of digital cuneiform that linguists have been unable to translate.  Two vertical rows of blue LEDs match with numbers etched into the watch face, which would make the LEDs superfluous if the etched numbers could be seen without a microscope (not included).  As the time elapses, the corresponding LEDs illuminate to create an ever-changing display of meaningless tick marks.  (10:15 is shown above, according to UFO crackpots who believe ancient aliens built the Pyramids using base-28 math.)

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The hits from coast to coast?


This afternoon, as I was coming home from work, I happened to catch an ad for the weekly Top 40 countdown on SiriusXM’s 90’s on 9 channel.  The spot featured host Downtown Julie Brown(above), my second favorite Julie Brown in the history of MTV.  She previewed the show this way:

“We’ll be counting down the top 40 hits from this week in 1993, featuring artists from the U.S. to the U.K. and literally everywhere in between!”

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Time passenger

(Disclaimer: The following story is not a dream.  At least not for me.  You may be dreaming that you’re reading it, but that’s not my problem.)

Friday morning, I woke up late.  I had been home the previous day partly scrambling to prepare for a possible emergency trip that I didn’t end up having to make, and partly waiting to find out if I was going to need to make it.  As a result, the day was pretty much a blur.  I had trouble getting to sleep, so as I often do, I went downstairs and slept on the couch.  (Disclaimer: For some reason, I sleep better on my couch than I do in my bed.  I suspect that if I were married, I’d end up picking a lot of fights with my wife, just to get a good night’s sleep.)

Anyway, I apparently slept through my alarm.  I only woke up about 15 minutes later than usual, so there was no panic.  I got up, showered, got dressed, checked my e-mail, read the news online, and finally headed off to work, much as I do every Friday.  Traffic was light, but that’s because I go to work after rush hour is over.

So I got to work, turned into the parking lot, and it was empty.  Maybe three or four cars, total.  Since I come in late, the parking lot is usually full, so this was unexpected.  Where was everybody?

My first thought was that there was some sort of site-wide meeting that I was missing.  (Being out the previous day, I had not checked my work e-mail.)  But that didn’t make sense.  No manager, from the first line to the CEO, commands that kind of attention.  In fact, the farther up the chain you go, the sparser the attendance at “all-hands” meetings.

Having discarded that, my next thought was that the power was out, and everyone had either been sent home or decided to work from home.  As I approached the building, I saw lights on inside, and the badge reader on the front door worked, so it wasn’t an electrical issue.  Maybe they’ve evacuated the building for other reasons…

As I entered, I was hit by the smell of paint fumes.  Ah, maybe they’re painting the building, and sent everyone home?  I called up to one of the painters and asked if the building was closed, but his reaction indicated that I was not speaking a language he understood.  So I continued inside.

At the elevators, I met a man shouting orders into a walkie-talkie in English.  I asked him if the building was closed.  He said no.  I told him I thought maybe it was because of the painting, but he said they were only painting the stairwells.

I rode the elevator up to the floor where I work.  It was completely deserted.  This wasn’t a total surprise.  A lot of the guys in my department work from home on Fridays, so the office can have a ghost town vibe.  But the entire floor was deserted.  I was hoping there would be some lone survivor who would be able to tell me with his dying breath what had happened to everyone.  No such luck.

By this time, I had exhausted all the boring, reasonable answers, and was moving into the bonus round, where I get to come up with ideas that are more interesting than real life.

  • Radiation leak
  • Warp bubble where everyone had disappeared but me
  • Temporal shift where I was slightly out of sync with the rest of the universe

I briefly considered that maybe my company had decided to celebrate MLK day on Friday instead of Monday, but that was crazy talk.

Finally, I decided to give up.  As I started to leave, I texted my old manager (who is now my second-line manager): Why is the building empty?  Did I miss an e-mail?

I was driving past all the other empty buildings on campus when I got a call from my manager.  I pulled into the empty parking lot of another of the buildings and answered the phone.  The conversation went like this:

Me: I just got to the office, and the place is a ghost town?  Did they make an announcement yesterday that I missed?

Her: John, today is Saturday.

Me: What??

I was in the office all of 15 minutes on Friday before my sister’s text.  For the rest of that day, I had no context clues about what day it was.  Friday night I went to bed thinking I had to get up for work the next morning.  Saturday morning I didn’t turn on the TV, never looked at my watch or cell phone, never read the date on any of my e-mail, didn’t talk to anyone, and listened to satellite radio on the way to work.

At no time did I ever doubt that today was Friday.

My joke response when asked “How’s it going?” is to say, “Not bad for a Monday!” regardless of the day, because most weekdays are pretty much the same.

I rest my case.


Out of their depth

In mythological maritime metallurgy news, scientists announced that a pile of wet metal on the floor of the Mediterranean means maybe Atlantis is real.

Scientists located a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily containing 39 ingots of orichalcum, a metal so unique that it only exists in the imagination of Greek philosophers.

According to Sebastiano Tusa of Sicily’s Sea Office, “The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century.  It was found 1000 feet from the coast at a depth of 10 feet.”  Until recently, humans have not been able to explore the ocean deeper than about 7’2″ without getting their hair wet.

“Nothing similar has ever been found.  We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects, but those got put in a box when me moved the Sea Office to Sicily last spring, and nobody knows where it went.  My favorite coffee mug was in that same box.  If you happen to find it, let me know.”

The real metal is a brass-like alloy.  The metal found by the Sea Office is an alloy of dilithium, kryptonite, and flubber.

One oceanographer involved with the discovery indicated that the shipwreck was over 2600 years old.  He was granted anonymity when casual observers determined that for a 6th century wreck to be 26 centuries old, the discoverer would have to be a time traveler from the 32nd Century.

Plato’s account of Atlantis was written around 360BC.  Many argue that Plato’s tale of the sunken city is fiction meant to illustrate his political theories that global warming was caused by people living on a giant hidden continent 1000 feet off the coast of Sicily.  The ingots offer a tantalizing hint that Plato’s stories of Atlantis might have been an attempt to manipulate the Aegean orichalcum futures market in the first quarter of 359BC.

Plato described Atlantis as glittering “with the red light of orichalcum”, a common sight in Atlantis’ seedy red-orichalcum-light district.  He later claimed that he had never been there himself.  “A friend of mine told me about it,” he told ancient Greek reporters at a news conference.

The philosopher wrote, “It was a way to the other islands, the ones that don’t have names, and from these you might pass from the nonexistent land of Hyperia (see map above, bottom left) to the undiscovered continent of America (right), named after the not-yet-born Amerigo Vespucci (not pictured).”

Click here to explore the original story for yourself.

The Internet of sticky things

After Mass today, I stopped at Jersey Mike’s, a local sub place, to get lunch.  As they were making my sandwich, I noticed that their Mountain Dew dispenser was out of order.  I found this odd, because the lack of Mountain Dew did not inconvenience me in the slightest, and it has been my experience that things only break around me when it’s inconvenient.

When my sandwich was ready and I went to pay for it, the young lady at the register asked me for my loyalty card.  (Disclaimer: I find that the term “loyalty program” is something of a misnomer.  Jersey Mike’s has never been there for me, even when I needed them.  As a result, I feel free to see other restaurants.)  Anyway, I showed her my card, whereupon she told that their loyalty card processor was down.  As she explained, “We got a new internet, and this week it’s been up and down.”  (It was nice of her to ask, but you see what I mean about loyalty?)

Now, with age comes wisdom.  (Disclaimer: Wisdom not available in all models.  Some assembly required.  Additional charges may apply.  Wisdom offer void where prohibited.)  And age plus wisdom equals aphorisms, those weird little one-liners that substitute for thoughtful consideration, like “You can lead a gift horse to water, but you can’t look in his mouth,” or, “A bird in the hand makes waste.”  (Disclaimer: I couldn’t afford the high-end Age+Wisdom package, so some of my aphorisms are factory seconds and “irregulars”.)

Anyway, as they say, there are no coincidences.  (Disclaimer: “They” are idiots.  Coincidences — along with inconvenience — are the building blocks of human civilization.)   I worked in customer support for a few years long ago, so I know the kind of problems that can come up with a new installation.  I didn’t have time to fix it, but I told the girl what I thought the problem was.  “It looks like when they installed your new internet, they must have connected it to the Mountain Dew by mistake, and vice versa.  When that happens, the data gets all sticky and won’t flow to the terminal.  Try turning on the Mountain Dew.  If it smells like Spam, and keeps trying to pop up out of the cup, then that’s probably your problem.”

As the saying goes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever’s left, no matter how likely, is boring.”  (Disclaimer: Hey, Occam has his razor, I have mine.)

Good deed done for the day.


Yesterday I was perusing some legacy software at work, and I came upon the following comment:

* generated cc file provided by the union of code generating robots.

I’m not sure if this was a joke, or the output of some tool I’m unfamiliar with, but if it is real, it’s the best robot apocalypse news I’ve read in years.  This code was crap.

Go human!