Saturday, August 12, 2017

Back to School 2017

Summer vacation is ending around the country.  It's a difficult, emotional time.  Children are panicking that their long vacation time is over.  Parents are experiencing a swell of unexpected feelings as well.

In a week (or a couple weeks, if your kids are in public school) your children will be gone all day, every day.  Your house will echo with emptiness.

Perhaps you're wondering how to fill this void in your life.  I have some suggestions:
  • Shout with joy
  • Throw a "first day of school party" for your friends
  • Call your school and suggest your kids have regular, after school detention
  • Laugh nonstop for 3-6 hours
  • Plan summer camps for 2018
  • Hide all your kids' favorite toys and leave ransom notes in their rooms
  • Eat all the desserts in the house
  • Send money to your local teachers' union
  • Contact colleges in other countries and ask about pre-paying tuition
  • Get drunk
  • Watch this video over and over again and laugh.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Merchandise Returns Nursery Rhymes

This is the product sent by Think Geek to replace the broken one
My brother bought my son for his birthday.

This is the step my son got to
Before he realized he got another defective
Product sent by Think Geek to replace the broken one
My brother bought him for his birthday.

This is the switch that does nothing
And won't switch games
On the step my son got to
Before he realized he got another defective
Product sent by Think Geek to replace the broken one
My brother bought him for his birthday.

This is the battery that gave out after 10 seconds
While my son was showing me how 
The switch does nothing
And won't switch games
On the step he got to
Before he realized he got another defective
Product sent by Think Geek to replace the broken one
My brother bought him for his birthday.

This is the face I made 
While I emailed the returns department
After the battery gave out after 10 seconds
While my son was showing me how 
The switch does nothing
And won't switch games
On the step he got to
Before he realized he got another defective
Product sent by Think Geek to replace the broken one
My brother bought him for his birthday.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sixteen Burner Theory

There's a popular work-life balance visualization called Four Burner Theory.  The idea is that you should imagine yourself as a stove with four burners.

OMG, that looks just like you!
Each burner represents something in your life that you spend energy on.  Here's the four most people list.
Hm, BEING A JACKASS isn't on this one. Guess it doesn't work for Trump.
If you want to have a balanced life, you should balance all of these four elements.  However, if you want to be successful, you need to turn some of them off, so the others can burn brighter.

If you want to be more successful at work, you should ignore your friends, stop eating, or hire a bunch of nannies to take care of your kids.  If you want to be really successful, you'll turn off two burners.  And if you want to be at the top of your field...
Like a college student, the successful all cook on a camping stove.
There is a downside, however, to putting all of your fuel into the single burner.
Those who fall asleep while smoking and the successful have something in common.
The main problem I have with the Four Burner Theory is that it doesn't take geeks into account.  We geeks have more diversions than the average person.  A full geek stove would look more like...
Just figuring out the controls to turn one of the burners off would take weeks.  It's best to leave them all going.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to Make Chili for Your Son

  1. Remove chili from can.
    Remember to use even strokes when turning the can opener.
  2. Place chili in a microwave-safe bowl. 
    Cover with paper towel.
  3. Heat for 1:30.
  4. Open microwave to find that the chili has somehow exploded, knocking the paper towel off the top of the bowl, and coating the inside of the microwave.

  5. Clean microwave.
    You can use a wet paper towel, but disinfecting wipes are scented and you don't have to do the arduous work of using a faucet.
  6. Notice the piece of cardboard on the inside of your microwave. 
    Oops!  looks like you forgot to remove it when you unpacked the microwave.

  7. Remove cardboard, cracking a corner off.
  8. Realize it isn't cardboard, but a sheet of brittle, silvery material.
  9. Do research online to find out it is a microwave wave guide cover: "essential to keep the delicate equipment inside the microwave from corroding."

  10. Try to replace the microwave wave guide cover.
  11. Try to replace the microwave wave guide cover.
  12. Try to replace the microwave wave guide cover.
  13. Call local repair service. 
    You may find they are unfamiliar with the cover and special ordering the part may take two days.
  14. Look online to see if you can find a replacement part.
  15. Call a second repair person. 
    You will get the same result.
  16. Attempt to heat your son tamales in a frying pan. 
    Watch him disassemble the tamale with a fork until he finds a palatable piece, about 1/1000 the size of the original tamale.
  17. Make your son a salad.
  18. Call a third repair guy, who will mention local parts stores, but that "They'd never have something like that in stock."
  19. Call the microwave's manufacturer, who will tell you that they no longer service their own products.
  20. Call service company, who will tell you your microwave is under warranty, and they can send you a refund after 8-10 weeks. 
    They may suggest you contact the company that sold it to you.
  21. Email the company that sold you the microwave.
  22. Wait. 
    While waiting, consider how to reheat meals without a microwave oven.
  23. Search for nearby appliance part stores.  
  24. Call one.  "Sure, we have that."

  25. Realize the store will close in half an hour.
  26. Tell kids to get into the car.
  27. Beg kids to get into the car.
  28. Yell at kids to get into the car.
  29. Bargain with kids to get into the car.
  30. Physically pick up kids and place them in the car. 
    Remember to lift with your legs.
  31. Drive to store.
  32. Show broken microwave wave guide cover to proprietor. 
    He will hand you a large sheet of silver material that looks nothing like it: "We used to carry every brand, now we just carry this."

  33. Point out it looks nothing like the material your original piece was made of. 
    He will assure you it'll be fine.  "Just cut it into the right shape."
  34. Return home.
  35. Get your tools out.
    You will need: An exacto knife to cut, a cutting board for safety, a pen to trace, kitchen scissors because the exacto knife doesn't quite work, and your son's scissors because the kitchen scissors don't quite work.

  36. Trace and cut.

  37. Put newly-cut wave guide cover into the slot where the old one was.
  38. Change the orientation and place it in the slot.
  39. Flip it over and place it in the goddamned fucking slot already!!!!!
  40. Replace turntable.
  41. Make new bowl of chili, using plastic wrap to cover so it doesn't splatter.
  42. Serve with freshly shredded cheese.
    I suggest a sharp cheddar.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Outrage Fatigue

I'm all out of outrage.

Outrage -- like oil, fresh water, and fresh, human blood -- is a precious, but limited resource.  There's only so much of it you can use before it stops flowing.  When you run out of oil, cars stop driving and the economy grinds to a halt.  When you run out of water, crops wither and die and people riot.  When you run out of blood, you have to give up your dreams of speaking to Nyarlathotep.
And I so wanted his autograph.

When you're out of outrage, though, you'll accept all kinds of horrors.  Americans have already accepted:
  • weekly mass shootings
  • the merging of church and state
  • the end of civility and public discourse
  • a poor job market
  • and the fact The Simpsons is still on the air.
Now we also have to accept daily (daily!) outrages from Trump:
  • publicly insulting anyone who disagrees with him
  • embarrassing the country before the world
  • destroying economic stability
  • obstructing justice
  • lying
  • and making bizarre statements.
Only a few months into his presidency, I've used up all the outrage I've delegated to this lifetime.  In my next life, when I've been reincarnated as a retired circus elephant's unicycle (I've been really bad), I might finally be able to be a tiny bit upset about something.

A taste of my future.
I'm trying to replenish my strategic outrage reserves, but it's hard in this media-saturated, sensationalism-focused world we live in.  If I want to tune out Trump, I have to avoid:
  • news
  • comedy shows
  • Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Grindr, GeoCities social media
  • conversations with friends
  • conversations with family
  • conversations with strangers
  • conversations with imaginary creatures
  • bumper stickers
  • going outside
  • and staying inside.

The only real way to avoid Trump is not to avoid him, but to focus on something else.  I've compiled a list of fulfilling things you can do to rest your outrage spouts for a little while.  My suggestions:
  • Go outside and breathe in the clean air.
  • Look into your finances.  How much do you invest abroad?  How quickly can you convert your assets into gold or something else with an intrinsic value?
  • Meditate.
  • Look into improving your home.  Does it have a fence?  A storm cellar?  Steel-reinforced doors?  How much freeze-dried food and sterile water can it hold?  How much would it cost to build a bomb shelter?
  • Go for a run.
  • Paint a picture of your neighborhood.  Now paint a picture of what it will look like in eight years.  Will there be any minorities or just white people with guns?
  • Take a class at your local park service or community college.
  • Plan a vacation to a foreign country.  Study their culture, government, language, and immigration policies.  Figure out how long they'd let you stay.
  • Bake a cake.
  • Teach your children how to play an instrument.  Teach your children a foreign language.  Teach your children how to put on a flak jacket and gas mask.
  • Call a friend.  While you still can.
Feel better?  Great!  Now hold on to that feeling, and check Twitter.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Alternate Zodiacs

I don't personally believe in the zodiac, but I'm trying to be more tolerant of different religions.

Millions of people worldwide look to the stars to help make decisions and run their lives.  However, many don't know there are different astrological systems from around the world and are depriving themselves of alternative sources of truth.  For those who want to know more about themselves, I've compiled all the major, modern systems below.

Astrological Zodiac
Astrological signs come from ancient Chaldea and is based upon the date of ones' birth.

Practical, prudent
Friendly, humanitarian
Imaginative, sensitive
Adventurous, energetic
Patient, reliable
Adaptable, versatile
Emotional, loving
Generous, warmhearted
Modest, shy
Diplomatic, urbane
Determined, forceful
Optimistic, jovial

Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese Zodiac comes from (you guessed it!) China, and is based on the year of ones' birth.

Popular, inventive
Dependable, calm
Brave, contemplative
Talkative, trustworthy
Healthy, energetic
Bookish, lucky
Popular, cheerful
Artistic, questioning
Funny, problem solvers
Hard workers, talented
Loyal, worried
Studious, brave

Pomaceous Zodiac
The Pomaceous Zodiac comes from the ancient art of determining the genome from various cultivars.

Bright, artistic
Commanding, watery
Selfish, green
Short, hairy-footed
Chubby, feminine
Collector, overblown
Pink Lady
Tart, crunchy
Sweet, inexpensive
Red Delicious
Mushy, flavorless
Dead, haunted
Got the wrong list
Granny Smith
Sour, painful

Ikea Zodiac
You can learn a lot about people by what they do when shopping for cheap furniture.

Favors cheap over quality
Goes there for the food
Kicked out of kids department
Can't find parking
Likes tiny homes
Sits in the carts
Can't follow the arrows
Uses the childcare
Can't assemble squat
Never saw Fight Club
College student
Not smart enough to realize I put this in twice

Geek Zodiac
Science has determined the best way of learning more about a person is to see what that person does as a hobby.

Loves lost causes
Final Fantasy
Named a kid Sephiroth
Why isn't the game called Link?
Raspberry Pi
Covered with solder buns
Burning Man
Part camel
Owns too many tools
Has no self-esteem
Got the wrong list
Babylon 5
Brilliant, discerning
Not a geek

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On the Star Wars 40th Anniversary

Dear Mr. Lucas,

I'd just turned seven when Star Wars came out, and I was very clear to my parents about one thing: I would not go see it.  Science fiction films weren't my thing.  Now that I'm an adult, I can appreciate 2001, Silent Running, and Westworld, but as a child they left me cold and uncomfortable.  I yearned for something more, but I couldn't find anything and gave up.

So when my parents tried to take me to your film, I dug in my heels and refused to go.

I'm now the father of two boys.  When my eldest was three, I made him his first ice cream.  As he sometimes did with food he didn't recognize, he clamped his mouth shut and turned his head away.  After wheedling and pleading with him to try it ("It's a dessert!"), I finally got some into his mouth.  His face lit up, and he quickly became an ice cream enthusiast.

My parents had the same experience taking me to Star Wars.

Like everyone else, I went nuts over the film.  I saw it over and over again in theaters.  I was obsessed with the toys to the point where my parents used Star Wars action figures as rewards for learning to multiply (I still have the Jawa I got for learning my 7s).

Running out of Star Wars things to spend money on, I dove into the library, tearing it apart for something similar, something more.  I studied science and space travel.  I learned about narrative structure, tension, and character development.  I read about mythology and history.

I began to write.

And now I'm a science fiction author.

Sometimes, when I write, I realize how much your work affected me.  I try to make my worlds varied and mysterious.  I create fights in the framework you created for the duel between Vader and Kenobi.  I see characters, action, and dialogue all differently because of your movies.

So, thank you for Star Wars, Mr. Lucas.  Your work changed my life.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 5: Blacksmithing

Dorath grinned. His eyes went to Taran's belt.  "You carry a fair blade," he said. "It will be mine."

"Dallben my master gave me this blade, the first that was truly mine and the first of my manhood.  The one I love girded it on me with her own hands. No, Dorath, I do not bargain with my sword."

Dorath threw back his head and laughed.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Update: After four weeks of blogging about how hard it was to find the school and how sweaty I was, I'm finally going to tell you about the actual blacksmithing part of blacksmithing class.

Quick Precis: Blacksmithing involves hitting things very hard.

The class I took was three hours a day for a week.  During that time, I created (in order) a hook to hang coats on, a letter opener, a spoon and a two-pronged fork.  Each day, the teacher demonstrated making each piece.

He also had these examples so you could see all the steps.
I grabbed a piece of metal and started hammering.

Note the sexy shoe covers.
 And hammering.

Note the sexy humpback.
 And hammering and hammering and...

At some point, I got the hook into a hook shape.  I had to twist it, but twisted it the wrong number of times, so the hook was on the wrong side.  I then twisted back, ending with this weird wave in the middle.
I meant to do that.
Next I had to brush the scale off.  Scale is a thin, flaky layer of impurities that works its way to the surface when you heat metal.  You have to brush it off while it's hot, so it's important to wear the eye shields.  You really don't want to get flakes of yellow-hot metal in your eyes.

After the scale is removed, you have to take it over to a bucket of vegetable oil and dip it in and take it out quickly.  That way, you bake in a protective layer of oil so it won't rust.  If you do it right, you pull out a flaming piece of metal that looks good on your blog.  If you do it wrong, if you drop it into the bucket, you have to bake it on the edge of your furnace, which looks bad on your blog.  Guess which I did.

At the end of the day, I ended up with this twisted, awkward, hook thingy you might put on a wall if you wanted to make sure nobody hung a coat in your house ever again.

On the positive side, I got to reenact a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark:
"You don't need that. I'll tell you everything."
"Oh, yes. I know you will."
Day two was a letter opener made from rebar.  Scary thing I learned about rebar: it can be made of anything as long as it has a minimum strength.  Most of it comes from foreign countries which accept our castoff lead, make the rebar, and send it back.  The reason we made letter openers instead of knives?  You didn't want lead in your food.

Anyway, my reason for taking a blacksmithing class was to make a sword.  As a letter opener was as close to a sword as I was going to get, I made mine a bit larger than my classmates'.

My cosplay: Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible, fused with Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, wearing Michaelangelo's headband, after forty years of  a sedentary lifestyle.
 Just kidding.  That was one the teachers did for fun.  Here's my letter opener.

 Fun quiz: What's this?

Is it the Loch Ness Monster?

No, it's the end of my letter opener (my camera can't focus that close up).  I made the metal too thin and it curled over.  Now I can open folded envelopes.

[Hevydd, the blacksmith's] eye fell on Taran's empty scabbard.  "Once, it would seem you bore a blade."

"Once I did," Taran answered. "But it is long gone, and now I journey weaponless."

"Then you shall make a sword," commanded Hevydd.

The blade he shaped seemed to him ugly, dinted, and scarred, without the fair proportions of the old one, and he would have cast it aside had not the smith ordered him to finish it.

He flung out a burly arm toward a wooden block in a corner of the forge. "Strike hard," Hevydd commanded.  "The flat, the edge, and the point."

Taran strode to the block and raised the sword.  Doing his best to shatter the ungraceful weapon, he brought it down with all his strength. The blade rang like a bell.  The block split in two.

"Now," said Hevydd quietly, "that's a blade worth bearing."

"It's not a noble weapon, and thus it suits me all the more," Taran laughed.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

I spent the next two days making a spoon.  Spoons are wider on one end, so you have to do something called "upsetting."  ("And it's very upsetting," the teacher said.) You put the metal perpendicular to the anvil and hammer on the top to squish it down like hitting a nail.  It's a pretty complicated process to do right. Within a couple minutes you have to:
  1. Get the metal out of the furnace with big tongs.
  2. Switch to a pair of tiny tongs so you can hold it by the end.
  3. Dip it in water up to a very specific point so only the end is malleable.
  4. Switch back to the big tongs, holding it in the middle.
  5. Put it on the anvil and hammer the shit out of it.
  6. Adjust the shape of the end so it won't squish in the wrong direction next time.
When you finally get the metal to about the right thickness (about 20-30 repetitions), you hammer it perfectly flat with hours of careful work.  Or you just let the teacher hit it with the autohammer.  Guess which I did.

Then you shape it some more, quenching as you go.

Taking care not to drop it to the bottom of the very deep bucket of water.
Then you quench your hand because you weren't paying attention to how hot metal can be when it's not glowing.
Teacher: Leave it in there a long time. Sometimes there's still hot metal burning you from the inside.
Here's my finished spoon.
Works pretty well if you only eat a tiny amount of soup.
Meanwhile, figuring I had extra time (ha), I got to work making my son a dragon as a toy.

The teacher put in rivet in to hold the wings in place.
The final day we made the fork, which was cool because I got to latch it to the anvil and whack it with a fucking axe to split the two tines. I was falling behind (I still had to finish my spoon, dragon, and letter opener).  This was as far as I got with the fork.

A lost verse from The Mikado describes making convicted gluttons eat with this fork.
On the last day, the teacher (ignoring how poorly my work ended up) told me what I'd cover in Blacksmithing 2.  After Blacksmithing 2, I'd be able to take Bladesmithing .  After Bladesmithing, I could make a sword.

I really wanted to make a sword, but looking at my finished projects, I decided to stop.  Everything I made was lumpy, awkward, black and pitted.  Although, having a lumpy, black sword with a straight, shiny edge would be really cool.


With a mocking laugh Dorath raised his weapon, and Taran saw the blade that once had been his own glint sharply as Dorath swung it down with all his strength.  Taran saw his death upon him and flung up his sword in a last attempt to ward against the blow.

The blades met with a grating, ringing clash.  Taran's weapon shuddered in his hand, the shock threw him to earth.  Yet his blade held.  The sword of Dorath shattered on it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander