Thursday, September 30, 2010

DBIM: About a Boy

Media: Movie
Date: 2002
Severity: 1
Description: In an outing at a park, the title character throws a giant loaf of bread to a duck in a pond and kills it.
Mitigating Factors: None.
Aggravating Factors: Later on, the killing of the duck becomes a bonding moment for the two main characters and a humorous interlude.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The DTs

From my journal for today:
8:30 – I was going to have my last can of soda today, but I drank it last night instead. I am now without soda and am starting my attempt to go “cold turkey.”

9:00 – Glass of milk. Bleah. I guess I’ll have to get used to this.

10:00 – Large glass of lemonade. Have to keep hydrated! Hm. I better make some more. Luckily I have a lemon tree.

10: 30 – Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Ha ha. Hm. Out of lemonade again. Better get more lemons.

11:00 – Ran out of lemons. I wonder if I can use the leaves.

11:15 – Ran out of leaves. I wonder if I can use the bark.

11:30 – Well, at least I’ll have wood for fires when winter comes.

Noon – Lunch is worthless without a caffeinated soda. Otherwise, I tend to get sleepy. The only obvious solution is to not eat.

Little After Noon – You know the water tastes different in different areas of the house. I think I’ll label each faucet with the taste it has. “Cinnamon-y,” “Loagy,” and “Shimmery.”

More After Noon – This house is has too few faucets. I’m a gonna put in some more so I don’t need to walk so far to get a drink.

Later Than That – Shoot, I need more labels. How am I going to tell which faucet tastes “Brillo?”

Zero Hour – I’m pretty sure that water doesn’t talk. It does sing to me. Why does it sound like Justin Bieber?

After Hours –I went to pick up my children from school and found they weren’t there. I even went looking in all the offices and cubicles. Man, I got some really funny looks from Google security. Now where did I put them?

24 - I think my mind is cracking. I got to get a grip. It’s just withdrawal from aspartame. I can get past this. Where are my sugar free mints? WHO TOOK MY MINTS?!

1408 – The mints are hiding in the attic. I can hear them calling my name. I won’t answer because that’s how they know where I put my ice cream bar.

3:00 – Okay, things seem to be getting better. I tied myself to the bed to keep from hurting anything. Shoot, how do I get to the bathroom? I really gotta pee.

4:00 – Still gnawing through ropes.

5:00 – Whew. Much better now. That wasn’t so hard! I’m through it and back to my normal self. I’m glad I’m not crazy any more.
Now, I’ll just sit down and turn on Fox News.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sick Child Schedule

When caring for a sick child at home while another child is also at home, you may find yourself overwhelmed.  Don't panic!  Here's a list of helpful activities to fill your day.  You don't have to do them all in order, but I did!

1. Make toast for healthy child while sick child is vomiting into the toilet.
2. Clean vomit from bathroom while healthy child dumps toy box onto living room floor.
3. Put toys away while sick child vomits again.
4. Throw out two untouched breakfasts while both brothers lie on the floor while kicking each other in the head.
5. Put sick child on the swing outside to get fresh air while his brother yells at him for not playing with him.
6. Make toast with jelly for sick child while healthy child pours a cup of water on his bed and floor.
7. Offer juice to sick child while healthy child pours his juice into cat's water bowl and then adds their cat food on top.
8. Clean up cat area while sick child lies in his bed complaining that he doesn't want to eat anything.
9. Bind and gag both children.


Full disclaimer: I haven't tried number nine yet, but I may try it this evening.  I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ivy

I saw Cal for the last time when he came into my office a month ago. He was in for the usual problem: poison ivy rash. There wasn’t much I could do for the blisters except give him a cream, but Cal’s a bit squeamish, so I applied it for him. As usual, he defended his outdoor activities.

“When I’m outside, I’m at one with nature.” he said. “I live with nature. It feeds me and I do what it commands.”

“By ‘doing what nature commands,’ I assume you mean walk around without pants on.” I said as I washed the lotion off my hands.

“You didn’t seem to mind in college,” he said, pulling his clothes on.

I felt my face redden. When we were both in pre-med, he had taken me out camping on Cape Cod. We had gone into the woods near Barnstable and I had watched him catch fish with his bare hands, light a fire with sticks, and raise a tent: all practically naked. That night, he told me all about the Cape, its history and legends. As the campfire light reflected off of his perfect chest, he told me about the geology that formed Cape Cod; it was essentially a giant sand bar and nobody knew why it hadn’t washed away into the ocean. Okay, it was a pretty dull story, but he was beautiful, and I was in love with him, and his words cast a spell over me.

Then he sat in poison ivy. The spell broke as he swore like he had Tourette’s and hopped about the fire, scratching like mad. Honestly, I was amazed he had managed it. Cal was the most natural outdoorsman I had ever met, knowing the names and uses of every plant we had seen, yet poison ivy was invisible to him. It was worse than invisible, it was almost magnetic. Over the years, I treated him for exposure dozens of times.

“Have you considered looking where you sit?” I said, handing him a prescription. “It’s not like ivy is all that hard to recognize.”

“I won’t need to any more,” he said, crumpling up the prescription as he stuck it in his pocket. “I’ve got a new plan.”

“Cal,” I said, suppressing a groan, “your plans never go well.”

It was true. A skilled geneticist, his first “plan” was to create a new kind of orchid that grew like kudzu. The new plant did, in fact, grow like the weed, but never blossomed like an orchid. Over the next few years, the plant slowly covered rural Virginia, unnoticed by the authorities, but studied carefully by a terrified Cal. Luckily he was also a skilled chemist and came up with a new plan. He chartered dozens of crop dusters to fly over the state, dropping a herbicide he had created. It worked and nobody every found out what he did.

“This time I’ve been more careful,” he told me. “Aerial spraying is too haphazard. Besides, ivy’s roots are too long. Seriously, they go down for miles! So, I’m using a microbe that eats at the roots.”

“But that would devastate the ecosystem,” I said. Was he crazy enough to do it again?

“Nah, poison ivy doesn’t do anything useful. It just grows everywhere making everyone miserable. They’re like mosquitoes.”

“But lots of animals eat mosquitoes!”

“Yeah, but they don’t have to,” he said, shrugging me off. “They could eat something else.”

“Cal, please don’t do this,” I said, grabbing him by the arm as he turned to leave. “Remember what happened the last time? A third of Virginia still doesn’t have any grass!”

“It’s already done!” he said, smiling. “I applied batches to ivy groups all over the Cape last week. I’m going to go check on how fast the microbes are spreading, but it should be over in a month.”

My stomach dropped. He had already started.

“Don’t worry Joseph,” he said, noticing my distress. “I’ll call you when it’s over. We can go camping again, but you have to go naked.”

He smiled at me, and then he was gone.

Over the next month, he was proven right. There were no reports of missing poison ivy, since nobody kept track of things like that, but I checked the sales of rash creams and ivy-specific herbicides, and they had all dropped precipitously. Within that predicted month, all the poison ivy had disappeared from Cape Cod.

The next day, Cape Cod sank into the ocean.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

DBIM

Name: Stuart Little 2

Media: Movie

Date: 2002

Severity: 1

Description: The evil falcon (with the creative name of "Falcon") is knocked from the sky into a nearby garbage can.  Monty, a villain from the previous movie, eats him.

Mitigating Factors: One of Stuart's friends (Margalo) is a canary.

Aggravating Factors: In the previous movie, the bad guys are cats and their punishment is being knocked into a river and coming out wet.

A Humbling Moment

A month ago, I ran into an acquaintance at a park.  He had seen pictures of my friends and I taking a glassblowing class and it had inspired him to take a blacksmithing class.  I asked him how it went and he told me it was the best weekend he'd had in five years.  Then he spent the next ten minutes talking about how much his son had grown from the experience and how good a job he felt he had done as a father.

He didn't say one word about how much he liked it, or what he made, or anything at all about himself.  The entire story was about his parenting.

He set an example I hope to, in a small way, follow.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Someone Take Away My MasterCard

New bicycle:
$85.99

Squeaky horn for handle bars:
$7.99

Helmet:
$19.99

EZ Training wheels:
$18.99

Service to fix training wheels that I couldn't manage to put on myself:
$20.00

New training wheels and (service to install them) to replace the ones the broke after one use:
$40.00

Bike seat for adult bike so younger brother can ride along on bike trips:
$93.00

Sweeping the dust and spider webs off the bike before putting a tarp over it for the winter:
Priceless.



BTW, why is everything for sale at Toys R Us have a price that ends in 99 cents?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Did I Say to Larry Ellison?

Continuing on from yesterday's theme.

Shortly before I started my somewhat unsuccessful career as a game maker, I had a somewhat unsuccessful career as a technical writer.  If you don't know what a technical writer does, buy a toaster, get out the manual, and flip to the end.  You see those "Frequently Asked Questions" that only morons would ask?  For example:
Q: The toaster doesn't work.  What do I do?
A: Confirm toaster is plugged in.
or
Q: I've plugged the toaster in, but it still doesn't work.  What do I do?
A: Have you tried turning it on, dumbass?
That's what technical writers do.  We interview engineers and try to figure out what they're doing and then write it down in a way that the average person can understand.  Of course, engineers change their minds, so we have to constantly update what we're writing until the time of release.  The moment the engineers finish, they ship the product out with our manuals, even if we haven't had time to document all the changes.  As a coworker once said: "It's like frosting a cake while it's still in the oven."

Anyway, I used to work at Oracle writing manuals for massive, relational databases.  (Don't know what a relational database is?  Neither do I.)  One day, Larry Ellison -- our billionaire CEO and a man famous for dating supermodels and having a cameo in Iron Man 2 -- invited everyone to a rare,Town-Hall-style meeting.  He stood on a stage and talked about racing boats, wrestling Olympic athletes, and the future of the company.  Then he asked if anyone had any questions.  I raised my hand.

(Here's a useful technique.  Always raise your hand immediately when someone asks for questions.  You're sure to get called on because it takes most people half an hour to carefully construct a question.  By then, it's too late, since everyone else has a hand up, too.)

I got the microphone an asked: "What do you see as the future of Oracle documentation?"

Big laugh from the crowd.  Really big laugh.

In Larry's defense, he answered the question well, speaking about getting away from paper manuals and moving to just-in-time documentation.  Then he asked me if he had answered my question.  To this day, I wish I had said: "Yes, but did you notice that everyone in this room laughed when I asked about the future of my career at your company?  That's how technical writers are treated at Oracle."  Perhaps it's best I didn't say that.  Maybe they weren't laughing at my career.  Maybe I had made a joke that I, to this day, don't get.  However, I just nodded and handed the microphone on to one of the other thousand people who had figured out what they wanted to ask.

A week later, I quit my job.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What Did I Say?

There is a moment from High School that, to this day, I don't get.  Okay, so I don't get most of High School.  (If you're all going to play video games and watch science fiction/fantasy movies, what was the point of picking on me for doing it?)  However, one moment stands out more than others.

Our teacher had a guest one day, a recruiter from a technical college whose name I won't mention to protect the guilty.  As part of her spiel, she showed us a movie about the importance of going to college that was "made by high school students like you!"

The next day our teacher asked us what we thought.  Several students pointed out that the video seemed awfully slick to have been made by college students.  The teacher agreed and mentioned that she had cornered the recruiter after the film and she had admitted that it hadn't so much been made by "high school students like us" but that they had been used as "consultants."  The teacher then went on to mention several other things she had noticed the recruiter do that she didn't like. 

I raised my hand and asked "So why did you invite her?"

Big laugh from the class.  Really big laugh.

Afterwards, I approached one of the other students and asked her why it was funny and she couldn't answer.  To this day, I still don't know and it bugs me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thoughts After a Trying Weekend

Before you say anything, children are a joy. Children are bundles of sunshine and kittens. Children are our future.

Sometimes, however, children can be a giant pain in the butt. They scream, they cry, they knock drinks across the room while screaming and crying. Did I mention the screaming and crying? If you ever had criticisms of the way your parents raised you, you should try raising children of your own. I promise you, you’ll consider writing a letter to the Pope about fast tracking your parents for sainthood.

The problem with unruly children, other than the fact that they force you to realize what you were like as a child, is that there isn’t much you can do about it. Sure, you can work to modify their behavior, but all the effective methods are slow and involve being calm and thoughtful. None of them involve flushing your kid down the toilet.

Most of all, you can’t ever hit. There are mountains of research that now show spanking or other physical punishments are no better than child abuse and don’t curb bad behavior. In some places, spanking is coming close to being prohibited by law.

Luckily for you, I compiled a list of enjoyable, punitive measures that are perfectly legal. Feel free to use them on your children without fear of prison:

• Playing Garth Brooks music
• Waterboarding (during Republican administrations, only)
• Buying a pet your child is allergic to
• Spending the college fund on scotch
• Repainting your child’s room in chartreuse and mauve stripes
• Legally changing your child’s name to “Snot Rag”
• Making your kid appear on “Jersey Shore”
• Enrolling him or her in a school with embarrassing uniforms
• “Decorating” their stuffed animals with permanent marker
• Taping a sign on your kid’s back that says “Bed Wetter” before a birthday party

I could go on listing these for days, but I’m sure you could come up with better ones. You should probably use them sparingly, but keep in mind your children will hate you no matter what you do.... Or they will until they have their own kids.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Search Terms and Google Analytics

So, I have Google Analytics up for this blog.  Why?  Because I like knowing that my audience (all both of you) are paying attention.  One day, when I finally pass into that giant pop-up toaster in the sky, you'll know I'm gone within 24 hours because I haven't posted.  If I can't keep your attention, it could be weeks before you notice I'm dead, so I have to keep your attention.

GA has this nice feature where it shows you what search terms people entered and ended up with your site.  Mine are:
1. "estate auction" blogspot
2. death watch beetle in costco chair
3. does "music rot your brain"
4. katy perry ice blue hair

I must admit, I'm a bit perplexed by these results.  #3 and #4 I can kind of get.  I did several pieces on blue hair and even mentioned Katy Perry.  I also mentioned how much I hate music, especially sung by children.  However the first two have me flummoxed.  Did I ever mention an estate auction?  And what the flying heck is a death watch beetle costco chair?

Yeah, that last one has me freaked out.  Isn't the deathwatch beetle supposed to warn you of an upcoming death?  Maybe I just took the movie Practical Magic too seriously.  Wait, does this search term mean the beetle is warning me I'm going to die in a Costco chair?! 

Quick!  Google Analytics!  Tell me they're still reading!  Aaaaarrrrrgggg!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Red Day

Today, I received an ad in the mail for a new business card from American Express. They call it the Plum Card. It has a number of (frankly unimpressive) features. I could go on about them, but I need to touch on one important point.

Plum?

Seriously? Plum? You couldn’t have called it American Express Crimson or American Express Ruby or, heaven forbid, American Express RED? You have to wonder where they got that name. I imagine they spent a lot of nights playing Clue.

Shortly after I found that in the mail, I took my kids to a bakery in Los Altos. Across the street from the bakery was this store:

Notice the color of the sign? It’s purple (lavender if you’re female). The store is purple inside and out. Notice the name on the sign? Scarlet. The store is called “Boutique Scarlet.” Last year, when I asked the store owner if she had been trying to be ironic by naming her purple store a shade of red, she informed me that Scarlet had been her grandmother’s name. I assume that having a sense of humor is necessary for running a successful business, as the purple Scarlet Boutique is out of business.

Oh, and my phone broke, my son wouldn’t nap, the kids are screaming and fighting and breaking things, and my stomach is upset. So, I guess you could say I’m seeing red.

Yeah, okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The DBIM

It's nice to say "I don't know where this idea came from" so you can claim it just appeared out of thin air like it isn't your fault. However, the idea for the Dead Birds in Media (DBIM) list has a very obvious history.

I bought a maroon-bellied conure (a small parrot) in 1994. Throughout my childhood I had always wanted a pet bird, but I hadn't realized what the experience was like. My parrot had a complete range of emotions, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor (although not a good one; his idea of a good joke was to sit on my head and call to himself), and many other personality traits we only attribute to mammals. You could have knocked me over with a feather, so to speak.

A few years later, I visited Atlanta with my brother. We met with some of his friends and they took us to a laser show at a nearby park. The show was a bunch of cartoon music videos projected on a cliff face with music and fireworks.

In the middle of the show was a piece about a woman in a boat being pursued by sharks. I don't remember the song, but the sharks were meant to symbolize men. They wooed her with candy and flowers while her pet parrot, a cute green bird in a sailor hat, tried to warn her of the danger. In the end, she sails away unscathed. We then see a shark chewing something with a satisfied smile; he burps and a few green feathers float out of his mouth.

I was appalled, but it seemed I was the only one. Of course, I have always been sensitive. Ever since I was a kid, I felt sick to my stomach when I saw someone in a movie die in a way that was meant to make the audience laugh. Now it seemed I had extended that sensitivity to birds as well as humans.

Years later, I saw the movie The Mummy Returns with my wife. Early on, we see that one of the main characters has a pet hawk . Without knowing why, I turned to my wife and said "That bird is going to die." Sure enough, an hour later, I was proven right.

On the walk home, I realized that the only reason filmmakers put birds in movies is to kill them. Over the years, I have found little to contradict this theory, though some people I explain this to strenuously disagree. I have finally decided to put together as comprehensive a list as I can. Why? Partially to show the world I’m right. Mostly in the hope that someone making a movie will see it and CUT THAT SHIT OUT.

Here’s today's entry:

Name: The Mummy Returns
Media: Movie
Date: 2001
Severity: 1
Description: One of the characters in the film (Ardeth) has a pet hawk named Horus he uses for scouting and delivering messages.  Halfway through the film, he is shot and killed.
Mitigating Factors: Horus is shown as a beloved pet, and Ardeth is clearly upset by his death.
Aggravating Factors: None.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Lost LOST Episode

There’s been a lot of criticism of the ending to Lost over the past few months, most of it justified. The general vein of the criticism seems to come in two flavors: the whole afterlife thingy was stupid and there were no answers. While both of these are valid criticisms, I have one more: they never used my spec script.


See I wrote this whole flashforward thingy that they never used. It’s painful to think that my hours of work on the flashforward wasn’t appreciated, that they never paid me for it and that it never saw the “light of day.” However, as I don’t have an agent, didn’t submit it, and (in all honesty) never actually wrote it down, it’s hard to blame them. Nah, who am I kidding, it’s pretty easy to blame them. Jerks.

Anyway, here’s a treatment for my piece of Lost.

Kate, dressed in a dark suit is standing before the judge. He takes a paper from the officer and reads the “not guilty” verdict. The crown explodes. Kate, fighting back tears, hugs her lawyer and turns to the audience, looking for Jack. She spots him and smiles, but then notices a middle-aged woman behind him. The woman is staring at Kate with such intensity that her smile falls. Kate stares as the woman turns and leaves the courtroom.

Later that night, Kate has dinner with Jack, and describes the woman. That night, she sneaks out of bed and starts looking on the internet. She finally finds the woman, the widow of Edward Mars, the bounty hunter who spent years of his life pursuing Kate before finally dying on The Island.

The next morning she tells Jack. He tries to convince her to put it out of her mind, but Kate can’t get past the fact that she is not only responsible for his death, but also keeping him from his family (as he was chasing her) for years. She resolves to find them, give them some of the money from her settlement with Oceanic, and apologize.

She arrives at their door, nervous, and rings the bell. After a moment, the door opens and it’s Mrs. Mars, who gasps when she sees Kate. The words tumble out of Kate’s mouth, incoherent apologies that she can’t seem to keep straight. Then, suddenly, Mrs. Mars hugs her and thanks her.

Kate is confused. Mrs. Mars drags Kate inside where she meets his three children. They all hug and kiss Kate. Mrs. Mars explains that her husband had been an violent drunk. He spent all their money on drinking and gambling and that the only time they had a reprieve from his abuse was when he was chasing her. Kate tries to offer them a check, but they refuse, telling her that she’s done more for them than she could possibly imagine.

Then they invite her to stay for dinner.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Battlestar Galactica Ending

I didn’t watch the Battlestar Galactica reboot when it was broadcast, but everyone raved about it so much that I have been watching the DVDs over the past year. I like Ron Moore (more on that below), but man did he create a depressing show. Still, it held my interest for four seasons. Then, I got to the ending.

I don’t usually rant about such things, but I’ve just had it with all the bad endings to good show. I can handle the occasional “They’ve been dead all along” ending, but I really wanted to see where BSG was going. I’ve been watching the DVDs and avoiding the spoilers (there are several below, by the way), and I really hoped to get more than what I got.

My specific beefs:

1. They give up all their technology
I can sorta get that several thousand people who have been cooped up for years in a ship would want to start over, but give up all their technology? All of it? Really? All of them were good with that?

Apollo must have given one hell of a speech. “Hey, so, we want a fresh start, so we’re giving up all our technology. There are still Cylons out there, so they may come back, and we’d have no way of fighting them off. Of course, with no medicine, a good percentage of women are going to die in childbirth and your children... Well, lets just say they won’t live past their twenties. Who is with me? So say we all?”

Come on, Ron, at least tell us they ditched the technology to hide from the Cylons or SOMEthing.

2. That whole angels thing
Wait, all those visions Baltar had were real? Seriously? All those strange things that happened in the show that we expected to be explained were just done by God? Ooooookay. I guess the “Ship of Lights” was rebooted, too, but in an irritating way.

3. Father Shmather
As a father, this one got me more than the other two I listed above. Both Admiral Adama and Chief Tyrol have children. Both have difficult, but loving relationships with their children. Both decide to leave those children to spend the rest of their lives completely alone. Let me say that again. Both fathers decide they’d rather live in isolation and never know if their children are alive or dead. Guess that explains why our society evolved with such “daddy issues.”

I like Ron Moore’s writing a lot. His work is poignant in a non-smarmy way, which is rare for a modern writer. Still, I think he could have done better.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why I Believe Bill Clinton

I was in the High School theater taking Driver’s ED. The teacher stood on the stage as we sat in fuzzy, red, auditorium seats, and watched him as he tried to keep our attention while he explained the rules of the road. He talked about how the speed limit used to be “Reasonable and Proper” when he was our age. He talked to us about how you shouldn’t drive right behind a semi truck to save gas, because trucks can stop faster than cars and you’ll crash into them. To this day, I’m not sure if anything he taught us was true or just sounded good.

A student came in late and slipped into the seat next to mine. I don’t remember much about him, except his breath. When he turned to me and said “What I miss?” it hit me like a brick. It was this harsh, oddly woody, smell that spiked itself into my head.

I choked out an answer to his question and turned back to our teacher, who was telling us we shouldn’t flash our brights at other cars as revenge. He pantomimed someone stepping on a floor pedal because, when he was our age, the brights were controlled by a foot pedal.

Suddenly, my nose felt wet. Something warm was pouring out of it at an alarming rate. I grabbed my shirt and pinched my nose with it as I tilted my head forward trying to stop the bleed. The flow continued and I was afraid I would bleed to death before reaching the school nurse. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. I looked down at my, now disgusting, shirt and was surprised to see it wasn’t covered in blood. It was covered in mucus. The smell from his breath had been so bad, it had caused my body to react like I had a severe allergy.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized what I had smelled on his breath was marijuana. Now, with California Proposition 19 nearing a vote, I feel my sense of anxiety rising. Normally, I would be for legalizing anything that causes no harm to others, but I have to take a stand on this one. Should Prop 19 pass, I will find myself in a world where my nose will suddenly jet mucus like a drinking fountain several times a day. Sure, it might be fun for my kids, and I might be of some help to the local fire department, but I think that would wear thin after a while.

So, please vote against Prop 19, or the next time you light up a joint, I’ll come stand next to you and inhale deeply.