Escape — while you can

My evening commute is a very contemplative time for me.  Unfortunately, I often waste it contemplating the wrong things.  Today was an example.

As I drove home, my brain was interrupted by the traditional earworm “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes.  I don’t have the visceral distaste for the song that many experience (and are experiencing right now, no doubt), but I do have the blessing and curse of knowing all the words to the song.  Unfortunately, sometimes that means I think about the words.

Setting aside the obvious problem of their mutual attempted infidelities, consider the following:

1) They both define their mutual relationship primarily in terms of liquids (pina coladas, rain, oceans, champagne, etc.)  Even their mutual appreciation of dunes is primarily driven by the exchange of bodily fluids. Continue reading

The Second Guy

It’s not the guy with the crazy idea you have to watch out for, it’s the second guy.

Take drinking.  Alcohol as an intoxicant is about as old as agriculture.  Rumor has it that beer was the first alcoholic beverage, created by the fermentation of grain.  Fermentation is part a very scientific process also known as rotting.  The first beer was invented by accident, when someone left a hole in the roof of their grain storage.  The rain got in, rotted the grain, trickled through the rotted grain and formed a pool on the ground.  Someone decided to drink this beige grain-water runoff and became relaxed, if a bit dizzy.

Smoking came about in a similar fashion.  Someone took some leaves they found in Virginia, curled them up into a cylinder, set fire to one end, and started sucking the smoke through the other.  No one knows why he did this.  Perhaps there was a nearby brush fire that made the village relaxed after a hard day of whatever Native Virginian villagers did during the day, and one villager got really jittery the next morning, put two and two together, and started setting things on fire until he found something that soothed him.

Here’s the thing, though.  I don’t worry about these two guys.  Well, I worry about the arsonist, but that’s beside the point.  Both of these stories would end quickly if it weren’t for The Second Guy.  The Second Guy is a much scarier figure.  The enabler.  The one who lets the genie out of the bottle. Continue reading

Survey says

As much as I hate spam phone calls, I always make time to take surveys, no matter the subject.  Since I have no aspirations to government or title, surveys are my secret path to power.  You see, in order to be statistically significant, most surveys rely on getting about 1000 respondents.  In a nation of 300,000,000 people, that means that the opinions of every respondent represent about 300,000 people.  That’s about the size of the city of Pittsburgh, according to the 2010 census, or a bit less than half the size of Washington, DC.  Somehow, I find it satisfying to commit that many people to my point of view on laundry detergent or the new fall TV season.

Sometimes, however, marketing people are more selective.  There is a market research company here in Raleigh.  I am in their database, and sometimes they will call me because I “qualify” for one of their studies.  By “qualify”, they basically mean demographically, as in “Hey, we need to represent 300,000 males over the age of 50.  Let’s get John, he’ll be surveyed on anything!”

So I got a call from them last night asking if I would be available to take a survey.  This one was something medical in nature (they won’t tell you ahead of time, but sometimes you can tell from the questions).  And sometimes you can tell what answers will get you automatically excluded, like “I don’t use nail polish” or “I get all my news from reading my neighbor’s mind.”  But you can never be sure, so I just try to answer the questions honestly and hope for the best. Continue reading

Competitive spirit

I was talking to one of the girls at Starbucks earlier, and she was telling me she is in her college’s marching band.  She was quick to clarify two points: they do not actually march at football games, and they do not compete like in high school.

From there the conversation degenerated.  There is a term we used to use for marching bands that don’t march.  We called them bands.  And as we only had one, it really had no one to compete with.  When the football team traveled for away games, our band stayed home, and vice versa for our home games.

Apparently nowadays there is some sort of secret competitive organization of college bands.  Nobody knows about this because the first rule of Band Club is that nobody talks about Band Club.  I think if they did, they would describe giant cages in smoke-filled basements, where people hit each other with oboes.  Or possibly mixed matches, with the cellist facing off against a bassoon player.  I can understand why no one talks about this.

But it got me thinking about competitive cheerleading.  Not Cheerleader Club, where teenage girls hit each other with oboes.  Nobody wants to talk about that.  I’m talking about whatever that was that Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku went to in “Bring It On”.  I was very disappointed with this (obviously fictional) depiction of a cheerleading competition.  Mostly because there was no actual cheerleading.  It was basically a choreographed dance recital featuring cheerleader costumes.  Certainly the performers were very talented, and I could never do any of the stuff they do, with the possible exception of walking onto the stage.  But it’s got about as much to do with cheerleading as Putt-Putt has to do with golf.  There are some incidental resemblances, but it’s all stylized and devoid of meaning.

In that vein, here are a couple improvements I would suggest to make competitive cheerleading both more competitive and more cheerleading-y: Continue reading

Writing about Writing: Why write?

Writing is fun.

Writing about writing is cool.  It’s very “meta”.  Kids these days love that kind of stuff.

Writing about writing about writing (what I’m doing now) is just confusing.  So I’m going to go back to writing about writing.

There is a great quote from Pliny the Elder.  “True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read.”  And Pliny knew a few things, or else they wouldn’t have called him the Elder.  He’d have been Pliny the Guy Who Nobody Listens To. (Note: I did not read this.  In the game Civilization IV, Leonard Nimoy announces this when you discover the technology of Writing.)

So if you want to write, take it from Pliny: write something that deserves to be read.  Think to yourself, what deserves to be read?  What kind of things do you read, and why?  People read all the time, for a multitude of reasons.  I read Dilbert because I want to laugh.  I read Star Trek novels because they’re all plot and dialogue, so they go fast.  I read spiritual books because I want to get closer to God.  I read the instructions on medicine because I want to know what horrible side effects I’m courting with this or that pill.

Writing conveys knowledge.  It conveys emotions.  It conveys wisdom and experience.  Not necessarily all of these, and not necessarily all at the same time.  But the key word here is that it conveys.  It takes knowledge and emotions and wisdom and experience out of one life and dumps it in front of other people for their benefit.  (Note to self: Maybe “dumps” isn’t the most inspiring word here.  Come back and fix it later.)  And that’s the key.  What you write doesn’t deserve to be read simply because you need to write.  It only deserves to be read if the person reading it thinks so.

How exactly does one do that?  It depends.  And that’s a topic for another time.


For me, the most inspiring story of the Bible is the book of Jonah.  Most people know of this as the story of Jonah and the whale.  (This would be the scene in the trailer of the movie Jonah!)  Ask most people what they remember of the story, and they’ll tell you some variation of “Jonah blah blah blah whale something something 3 days yadda yadda lesson”.  The whole story is a lot more interesting to me.  It goes something like this:

(Disclaimer: I am about to take a lot of liberties with the wording and motivations here, because I’m a Catholic, and we don’t consider this to be a literal historical account.  Think of this as a “re-imagining” of the original inspirational story, based on the parts I remember without going and looking it up again.)

Once upon a time there was a man named Jonah, who was largely uninteresting, except for the fact that he was the first person in history to be named Jonah.  So one day, Jonah is hanging out doing whatever it was people did back in those days (after hunter-gathering, before mowing), when he hears God call out “Jonah!”

Jonah, being the only person named Jonah, assumes it’s him that’s being called and answers, “Yes, Lord”.  God says, “I want you to go to Nineveh.  The people there have decided to be wicked again, and I need you to tell them to knock it off and repent.  How about it?” Continue reading


Last year, shortly after I remodeled my house, my dishwasher got lonely and went on strike.  Instead of turning dirty dishes into clean dishes, it began to turn dirty dishes into hot, wet dirty dishes.  This gave me flashbacks to my college cafeteria, which used the same model of dishwasher.  So I was left with an object that generated noise, used up water and electricity, and ultimately achieved nothing.  This, ironically, reminded me of many of the people in my college cafeteria.

The need for sleep

I had a horrible night’s sleep last night.  By the count of my sleep monitor, I got about 2 1/2 hours of sleep.  Since in my experience engineering requires at least 4 hours of sleep (not necessarily in a row), I chose to take the day off.

Come lunchtime, I decided to go get something to eat (eating in is the only level of cooking I’m capable of right now).  So I decide where I’m going to eat, hop in the car, and head off.  I pull into a nearby McDonald’s, get out of the car and go inside.  As I’m standing in line, trying to decide what I want for lunch, I am suddenly struck by an amazing realization.

When I left the house, I was headed for Jersey Mike’s, because I wanted a tuna sub.

Deciding I needed something stronger, I stopped by my local Starbuck’s, which is just up the street from McDonald’s.  It was there I realized that I wasn’t the only one operating heavy machinery on Ambien.  The guy who rang up my order accidentally pushed the button on the register to void my order, resulting in my mocha being free.  (I tipped him nicely.)  The pretty blonde barista (baristette?  baristperson?  person of barist?) promptly made my drink, and handed it to the drive-thru window, where I was not.  (I did not complain, as I technically had not purchased a drink.)  Upon retrieving my drink, I proceeded to try to put a second cardboard sleeve over the first one.  After that, I left, hoping that I had not fully infected them with my sleep deprivation.

I then managed to get my tuna sub from Jersey Mike’s, which I paid for.

There’s a valuable lesson here, one you’ve probably heard from your mother since you were a kid: Sleep is the most important meal of the day.  Or something like that.


I will probably never be on Twitter.  There are many reasons.

1) I refuse to do anything that is called “tweeting”.  It just sounds stupid.

2) I believe in correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.

3) I am far too verbose.  I am a natural born explainer.  Until the advent of telepathy, explaining is going to require words, sometimes lots of words.  I would find Twitter’s 140-word limit very, well, limiting.

Huh?  What do you mean, 140 characters?  Who would write a story with that many people in it?  How would you keep them straight?  The Lord of the Rings doesn’t have that many characters in it, and I’m still not sure that Eomer and Eowyn and Arwen are different characters.  Heck, I’ve seen the movies and read the books, and I can’t tell Merry and Pippin apart.


PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance.  This blog entry has nothing to do with that.

When I was a kid, I remember my dad saying one time that he noticed that his kids (my brother, sister and I) seemed to be the only kids in the neighborhood who were happy most of the time.  It was true, and for me it still is.  (Actually, for all three of us, but this is about me.)  A big part of this is my sense of humor.  Every day is an opportunity to laugh at something, and whether I find it or not, I know it’s out there.

Another part of being happy is that I live in harmony with my surroundings.  Not nature.  Nature’s been out to get me since I was a little kid.  Between taking advantage of my having fair skin that burns easily and a conspiracy to put poison ivy all through the woods behind my house, Mother Nature has had it out for me for almost half a century, and the feeling is mutual, so we’ve learned to pretty much stay clear of each other.  (Disclaimer: Some people say they were born too late, that they were meant to live in the Old West or the Renaissance.  I never say that.  I was born too early.  I was born to live on a space colony, where no one asks you to go play outside, because its 200 degrees below zero and there’s no air.) Continue reading