Guide to Understanding the Language of the LATE

Photo from flickr user miehana
Having been surrounded almost all my life by people with a not-so-rare condition called "persistent and chronic tardiness," I've become a sort of expert on deciphering their language. In case you are wondering -- your boss at work who keeps you later because he didn't get there until 10, or that friend who rolls up at 5:30 when you were supposed to meet at 5 -- these people aren't going to change. They're not going to wake up one day and think, "I'd like to make an improvement in my life that will directly and positively affect the most people around me. I know, I'll start being punctual!" No, these people will probably be late for their own funerals. So the best way to deal with them is just to learn their language.

That said, here are a few common expressions of the chronically tardy, and their translations for the rest of us:

"I'm on my way."
"I'm thinking about leaving in the next half hour. And yes, I know I was supposed to be there an hour ago."

"Why don't I swing by later?"
"At one point I intended to make it there at the specified time, but as soon as I got out of bed this morning I knew it would be a wash."

"Wait, what time does this start?"
"I know the event is already over. I'm not coming."

"I'm just heading out the door now."
"I just woke up."

"I just need to finish a few things up and I'll be there. 10 minutes, tops."
"There are approximately 6 stops I have to make before getting to you. And they're all over town."

"I'm running a little bit late."
"This is the truth. I really am actually only running a little bit late."

"Just getting ready to go."
"I'll be there anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours."

An 80's glimpse into the future

We got a Wii machine as a gift for our wedding a few months back, and I've been having fun tinkering with it and playing all sorts of games on it. Just read about how to play the original Duck Hunt on the Wii, so I was giving that the old college try. It's fun, but definitely not the same.

I have fond memories of playing Duck Hunt and holding the gun right up against the TV to "cheat," and still not being able to get past level 10 or so when grandpa, who hunts real ducks with real guns, came along, grabbed the gun, and wasted ducks like he was Rambo and killing was going out of style.

However, something occurred to me while playing this new version on the Wii... How the heck did the original Duck Hunt work?

This was the early 80s, before the iPod, before the World Wide Web, and before Jamaica had a bobsled team. We didn't have the cool techno-craziness we do now where we can push a button on our phones and cook dinner, mow the lawn and flush the toilet at the same time. We just had a big gray box called a Nintendo Entertainment System and an orange gun that looked like it belonged in a cartoon version of "Star Wars."

Well, apparently I'm not the only one who has wondered this. A quick Google search led me to my answer:
You think you're using the gun to shoot at the TV, right? But really the TV is shooting the gun.
Here's what happens. You shoot at a duck, which appears on an ordinary TV screen. The gun is connected to the game console; pressing the trigger blackens the screen, then causes a duck-shaped white target to appear momentarily. If your aim is true, a photo sensor in the gun detects the shift from dark to light, and bingo--dead duck. In short, the TV emits the light pulse and the gun detects it, not the other way around. [via The Straight Dope] 
It's when I find out about something like this -- a simple, yet ingenious trick that provided endless entertainment throughout my childhood and adult life -- that I wonder to myself if we as a species just aren't as creative as we used to be.

Important information for world travelers!

Stay away from Britain if you're afraid of uggos. According to a dating website called, the British are some of the ugliest people in the world. Scandinavians, on the other hand, are some of the most attractive. From the Reuters news article:

Photo from user Ayla87
Fewer than one in eight British men and just three in 20 women who have applied to have been accepted, an emailed statement from the website showed.
Swedish men have proved the most successful, with 65 percent being accepted, while Norwegian women are considered the most beautiful with 76 percent accepted, the website said.
I wrote a similar news article back in 2004 without any concrete sources and entirely based on anecdotal experience from studying abroad in Spain and traveling around Europe. However, my conclusion was as follows:
German chicks are cute. British chicks are attractive. Italian chicks are hot. Spanish chicks are hotter. Swedish chicks are hottest. And Scottish chicks are downright ugly.
Based on this information, one of two conclusions can be drawn.
     A. I must have seen a disproportionate number of attractive British women during my brief passes through.
     B. British women has devolved and become less attractive in the last 5 years.

I'm not sure which would be sadder. If 'A' is accurate, then British women have always been unattractive and I just got lucky with the visuals. However, 'B' does not bode well for the future, because we can reasonably assume that they will continue to become less attractive over time, as illustrated in the graph below:

In conclusion, it's not a good time to be British.

Greetings from 11-year-old Mark J. Lehman!

I've been doing a lot of packing, moving, organizing, and going through old stuff lately because I've had a few life changes (more on that in later posts). However, I came upon a gem when I was cleaning out my closet: an old journal from 6th grade. My 6th grade teacher use to schedule journaling sessions every so often, and being a 6th grade boy, it seems my journaling was only used as a channel to air my grievances about the unfairness of life.

It starts innocently enough, but quickly devolves into madness. Here's the first entry:

Sept 11
I like hamsters because they’re cute and furry. Whenever you get bored you can hold them and pet them. Most of them are really nice. I had two but they both died of the same disease.
I think the technical medical term for that disease was the "silent killer."

For the record, I still agree with all of those points, but through life experience, I've learned that when it come to animals, nothing quite beats the turtle -- they're just so wise. I learned that from the Tootsie Roll Pop commercials of yesteryear:

Of course, every time you think you know something with any degree of certainty, life turns it on its head. Example:

Just goes to show, I suppose.

Stay tuned for more entries from my 6th grade journal.
What's the point of pages in a booklet that say "This page intentionally left blank"? I’ve seen this so many times in so many different publications, and it has always irked me. Always.

Just thinking about it, right now, I’m feeling irked.

A quick Google search came up with this, which I have deemed as the best answer to my question (via Calvin Sun /
This sentence, when I first saw it in an IBM manual, totally confused me. “What is the point,” I asked myself, “of having this sentence? Of course I can see that the page is blank. What’s more, doesn’t the sentence actually contradict itself, because the page really ISN’T blank anymore?”
Then I thought about it some more, and realized that they had a reason for printing that message: they didn’t want people to think they had “messed up” by forgetting to print material on that page. The material from the previous page DID really end on that page, and the material on the following page DOES really start there. In other words, they were saying, “It’s OK, we know what we’re doing, and we didn’t make a mistake here.”
His point is all about credibility: if people who read your documents see a blank page, they will immediately think “Wow, this company doesn’t even edit their documents to make sure they don’t have blank pages,” or “I hope they didn’t forget to print something and I’m not missing part of the instructions!” Calvin’s point makes sense for including the sentence “This page intentionally left blank.” But what about the fact that they’re including a blank page in the first place?

When someone gives a speech, or when you see a public speaker, he or she might pause every now and then in order to put emphasis on certain phrases or drive home a point. But you never hear, during that pause, a speaker say “This pause is intentionally left silent.” Do people think the speech is over, or the speaker screwed up if he or she pauses for a moment? Probably not, unless he’s a terrible speaker.

You might think that paragraph is inconsistent with my argument; actually, it helps prove my point. Public speakers can pause like this to add effect because they likely have a meaningful message to relay and because they’re controlling the experience. Novelists and writers have a meaningful message to relay, too, but they don’t have as much control over the experience. Once those words are down on paper, it’s up to the reader how slowly or quickly they want the experience of reading them to last, and no amount of blank pages in between is going to make a significant difference. The only thing pages that are “intentionally left blank” will do is confuse and frustrate the reader.

The worst of it is that the places you see this type of thing are standardized tests, operations manuals, technical documents, etc. This is exactly the place where pages like this are most unnecessary. Are you skipping to the next topic? Fine. Start a new page, slap on a large header, and people will get that we’re moving forward. We’ve got a lot of stupid people in this world, to be sure. But I refuse to believe that they’re so stupid as to not understand something as simple as this.

So be a selfish hippie : stop wasting paper, stop wasting my time and stop wasting your money. Don’t print extra blank pages with “This page intentionally left blank” on them. If you don’t, you’re going to start finding your publications and manuals in garbage cans with the handwritten phrase “This bunch of papers intentionally left where it belongs.”

This makes me very sad.

2.01% if you have $10,000 in the bank. Just a short while ago I remember banks offering 5% APY savings accounts with no minimums. I guess that's why they all went belly up.

I'm having a bad driving day.

Really, only a bad half of a day.

(Don't worry, this picture isn't my car. I've never been in an accident while I was driving. Though I have been in a remarkable number of car accidents as a passenger. I don't read much into that, though.)

Anyway, I get off work at 4:30, hop in the car, and start cruising. I'm sitting in traffic, watching some ridiculous driver speeding and whipping around people in a Celica. A Celica! Kids these days... I take a drink out of my water bottle and almost drop it on my lap. Then I start imagining making a scene in a movie where someone driving drops a hot cup of coffee on his lap and swerves around and smashes into the guy next time him. Maybe it's been done before, but it makes me laugh. Either way, I'm not paying much attention to the road.

Next thing I know, a Chipper (CHP - California Highway Patrol) goes by, and I look down and realize I've been speeding (only 5 mph over, but still). So I watch him in the rearview and see him pull over, as though he's going to turn around and come get me. I slow way down, and keep watching him in the rearview as I come to the stop sign.

The guy in front of me goes, and I stop and then go as well, all the while keeping my eye out to make sure I don't have the Fuzz on my ass. Of course, as I'm going through the stop sign, I see one of the other cars at the stop sign and notice that the two teenage bros driving and flipping me off and mouthing (probably shouting, but I couldn't hear them) F-bombs at me. So engaged was I with making sure I didn't get in trouble for driving poorly that I continued to drive poorly.

The rest of the way home went without incident. Oh, except for the fact that I'm sweating in my car when it's 60 degrees outside and I finally realize a mile from my house that I've had the heater on the whole trip.

I'm an excellent driver. I swear.

A glorious paradise on a weekday work day

As soon as I stepped into the room, my eyes were filled with the sights of golfing on astro turf and oversized sports equipment, the splendor of giant playgrounds and rock walls, and tears of joy. I had to restrain myself from kicking off my shoes, running up the nearest ladder and sliding down the closest slide.

This was the beauty (and the torture) of the California Park convention in Santa Clara last week.

As I’ve said before, my new job is interesting and fun at times, but often torturous because I sit all day looking at pictures of kids having a blast on magnificent playgrounds and water slides and don’t get to enjoy any of it myself. Well, that wasn’t quite the case at the CPRS expo.

Though the day started with a two and half hour drive at 6 am down to Santa Clara, it quickly became much more interesting when I arrived at the convention and was greeted by my company’s booth. It was a small gazebo-like area, covered in SofTILE (rubber playground surfacing) and the highest quality turf. It had park benches and trash cans, a few large plastic playground peripherals, and even a giant dragon neck and head that spewed fog out of its nostrils. If we had some archers, catapults and a few flying buttresses, it would have almost resembled a castle.

Of course, most of the morning was spent schmoozing park and rec folks, getting the word out about our products, and doing lots of salesman-type activities. But as soon as lunchtime rolled around, I grabbed some free food and then let loose on the convention center. I skipped right over Baggo , a rehash of those old toss-the-bean-bag-through-the-hole carnival games, and went straight for the good stuff: the climbing wall.

Even with my fancy pants and my fancy pants shoes I scrambled up to the top to achieve maximum invigoration. After, my boss wanted to get back to our booth so we didn’t miss any customers, but I wasn’t having it. I needed more fun.

We found an awesome spinning carousel doohickey where people would grab the handles, run around to get some speed, and then enjoy the centrifugal forces lifting your feet of the ground, endowing temporary Superman qualities. So of course, when I saw that, I ran and jumped on. Then I promptly flew off and took a tumble on the heavenly softness of the fake grass and got up to do it all over again.

I still restrained myself and didn’t get too childish/childlike on all of the equipment. Of course, some of it looked more like torture devices than play structures anyway. If I’ve come away with one thing, it’s this: there’s a definite advantage to selling playground equipment. Just like anything else, you have to know your product in order to sell it, and to know playgrounds, you’ve gotta play.

Jesus is like heroin? What?

It’s always a little unsettling when a white Dominican man starts talking like a drug dealer during a Catholic mass. Even if he is a priest. Scratch that—especially if he is a priest.

Fr. John Bowman (names have been changed to protect the fact that I don’t remember them) was visiting St. Mel Church over the weekend, so he got to do the sermon on Sunday. Of course, Bowman doesn’t sound very Dominican, or Latin at all, but that would be because he was a priest of the Dominican order. Most of the time it’s easy to tune out or sleep through the morning homily. Not with this guy. His voice boomed like a drill instructor giving an inaugural address. He went on for roughly 10 minutes about why everyone should spend “a little more quality time with your best friend, Jesus.”

Whatcha got there, Father?
Catholics believe in this thing called the “real presence,” as in when the priest holds up the holy Necco wafer and the bells ring, Catholics believe that it turns into Jesus. Not just symbolically; the belief is that that little cracker is Jesus himself. So what this Bowman guy was talking about was recruiting people to spend some time in the chapel, where a piece of Jesus is kept on display and has to be constantly accompanied by somebody (I guess because Jesus craves companionship like Rush Limbaugh craves attention).

“Find some time, and spend it with your good buddy, Jesus” Father tells us. And then tells us again. And again. Even with a booming voice, one can only hear the same thing so many times before it becomes white noise. Then he said something that grabbed some attention: “Re-up on Jesus!”

I’ve been watching a lot of reruns of “The Wire ” lately, and this phrase “re-up ” is used just about every episode. Typically it’s the at-risk youth peddling heroin on the corners of West Baltimore that are saying it. For example: “Yo, we short, we need a re-up” = “We’re out of our supply of heroin to sell. We need to restock our inventory.” So essentially, this old white priest was comparing Jesus to heroin.

But I guess I actually listened to that part, and it even made me think long and hard enough to want to write an entire post about it. So I guess if he was trying to spread awareness, he succeeded. Well done, Fr. Bowman, or whatever the heck your name was.

Now I just hope that this Jesus/drug comparison doesn’t go too far. I’d rather not see any religious groups cropping up with names like “Jonesing for Jesus.”

I feel like an old man

And I don't mean in all the ways that it's awesome to be an old man.

I got a new job at a company I'd never heard of before that is a vendor for recreational systems. In other words, they sell and install playgrounds and water slides, among other things. Sounds great, right? Well... it's kind of what I imagine Hell might be like.

Don't get me wrong, the job is interesting. I'm learning all kinds of stuff about contracting and estimating, my boss is young and pretty friendly, and the pay is actually better than I was making at my last job after being there for two years. Plus there's the whole "the economy is dying, the sky is falling, you should be glad you even HAVE a job" jive talk that everyone keeps saying. Here's why this job bites.

I spend eight hours a day looking at pictures of little kids running around with huge smiles on their faces, playing on playgrounds that I could never have dreamed of when I was a kid. They've got "climbing adventures," rope swinging attachments, tunnels, slides, the works. I mean, some of this stuff looks like they're trying to recreate an Indiana Jones movie.

Don't even get me started on the water activities. They've got hoses, sprinklers, shower systems, slides - all the cool gizmos at water parks except for the really big stuff. And everyone in the pictures is laughing and splashing and playing along, having a gay old time.

And then there's me, wishing I was a kid again, or at least wishing I was on the playground, swinging and climbing and having a ball. Instead, I'm going to bed at 10 pm so I can be awake at 7 am to go sit at a desk in an 8' x 12' room and be tortured all day long.

And here's the icing on the cake: with the five minutes of my thirty minute lunch break when I wasn't eating, I found out there's shuffleboard in the break room.

My own little personal Hell.

(And yes, those pictures are actual products we sell, so if you're in the market for something like that, hit me up.)

More valentines for the loved and the lonely

Unloving, uncaring, and oh-so-un-Hallmark-y valentines are back on There's a new one up every day until Valentine's Day, so check back often. Here's a sample:
And if you'd like, you can have new ones delivered straight to your e-mail. Try it, you'll like it.

Busting out the big one

Not to worry; despite the title, this story will not be pornographic.

Senior year of college I was burned out. I had been working on finishing my thesis, applying to jobs for when I graduated, and just generally had had enough of school. Unfortunately, there was still one more final to study for: Modern Ireland. I was also Managing Editor of our school newspaper, and since we were in the midst of transitioning to next year’s team of editors, I had very little down time. Of course, due to the aforementioned burnout, I did not want to spend any of it studying when I could just as easily be spending it drinking and making out with my girlfriend.

The day came for the final, and I showed up with pen and blue book in hand. I don’t remember the exact essay question we were assigned, but I know that it had something to do with the establishment of religion in Ireland and how the Church of England was in conflict with Irish leaders about this. I had very little idea of what to say, but I practically had a B.A. in BS, so I started writing.

I was whizzing along, making stuff up but using lots of big words so it sounded legit, when all of the sudden it came to me. I started talking about those English folks, the establishmentarians, who wanted to impose the Church of England on the Irish as the national religion, then talked about the perspective of the Irish who opposed that—in other words, those who agreed with disestablishmentarianism. You can probably see where this is heading. I put a few more sentences together, and then dropped the bomb: antidisestablishmentarianism. This wasn’t just a hundred dollar word, this was basically a million dollar word, and I was sure it would redeem me for the rest of the garbage I was spewing forth into my essay.

Needless to say, the teacher ate it up, and I pulled off a ‘B+’. Not quite the ‘A’ I was hoping for, but probably two full letter grades higher than I would’ve gotten without my stroke of genius.

Bald, bold, or bull: a treatise on lies

I grew up a soft-spoken child, the strong silent type who settled disagreements through action rather than lengthy discourse. However, somewhere along the line I became a bit of a wordsmith, enjoying dropping large and complicated phrases to make myself sound smarter and, partially, with the hope of attracting ladies with my huge... vocabulary.

That said, I came upon a phrase I enjoyed quite a bit: bald-faced lie. I don't know why, perhaps because it suggested that only completely bald men lied. In high school, I had a friend that also liked this phrase. The problem was he said "bull-faced lie."

My world was turned upside down. Admittedly, though, a bull-faced lie was even more fun to picture than a bald-faced one.

Years pass, and I continue using "bull-faced lie" with reckless abandon. Then, just like that, someone comes along and flips my world over again. Apparently, I hadn't just been wrong since high school, I had been wrong all my life. "It's not bull-faced lie," my friend tells me. "It's bold-faced lie."

"Not bald-faced lie, either?"

"Nope," she assures me, confidently. So, of course, I believed her. I thought the entire debacle was kind of funny, so decided to write a little story about it. Then, just moments ago when I started writing this, I thought I'd Google "bald-faced lie" to see if anyone else has ever had similar linguistic trouble. And if you hadn't guessed already, my world did another somersault.

Seems I was right all along. According to WikiAnswers...
The correct term is bald-faced, and refers to a face wihout whiskers. Beards were commonly worn by businessmen in the 18th and 19th century as an attempt to mask facial expressions when making business deals. Thus a bald-faced liar was a very good liar indeed, and was able to lie without the guilt showing on his face.
...though, apparently...
It's just the last 5 yrs or so that "bold" has come into usage. It refers to typeface. It is used metaphorically in speech. In the same way that a typesetter uses bold face type to highlight specific text and set it apart, a bold face lie stands out in such a way as to not be mistaken for the truth.
"Bull-faced lie" was only found on the Urban Dictionary, as an alternative to "bold-face lie."

To put all this lying business to rest, I did the old Google search result litmus test. Here are the results.

Bull-faced lie: 1,130 results.
Bold-faced lie: 79,500 results.
Bald-faced lie: 91,400 results.

We've got a winner. The way I was first taught was the right way, and everyone around me steered me wrong. I guess the moral of the story is: I'm smarter than everyone.
This is the story about my first day volunteering at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, CA. You can read the first part here.

After the snake cages, we make a plate of food for Marcie the possum. “She’s been getting a little chunky lately, so we’ve put her on a diet.” Marcie’s diet actually looks pretty good, besides the portion of dog food. She’s got some eggs, some grapes, some blueberries and some apple, all in equal 1/5 of a plate portions. I don’t get to actually feed her, though. “One of our volunteers startled her once by accident and Marcie bit her hand. She was wearing a leather glove, but it was still pretty deep,” Neil explains.

Finally, it’s time to dry off the thawed rodents that we pulled out of the freezer earlier. Neil dumps the hot water out of the bucket, then dumps the animals onto a towel, and we each grab them one at a time to towel off individually. I look down at the baby mouse in my hand, rubbing his belly like he’s an old friend, and can’t help but feel a little sorry for him, knowing that in the next 20 minutes he’ll be making his new home in the belly of a large owl. After all, growing up with a pet guinea pig named Hobbes and a pet hamster named Spikette, I’ve always been much more of gerbil guy than a bird dude.

On our way to the raptor enclosures, Neil and I make some small talk. “So you’re married? You’re pretty young, was that recently?” I ask. “Yeah, about a year now. I wore an orange tuxedo to the wedding.” I choke for a second, and ask, “How’d she feel about that?” Without missing a beat, he tells me, “Oh, it was her idea. She suggested that when I told her I wanted to wear the T-shirt with the tuxedo painted on it.”


We went inside the cages, and Neil turns to me with a smile and says, “Check this out.” He walks up to a small white box attached near the top of the wall, whistles, and sings, “Hey Luuuuuunaaaaa....” Then he takes a small black mouse, waves it in front of the small entrance hole, and makes a few kissing noises. Suddenly, a flash of white, and the mouse is gone. All that is left are the sounds made by a barn owl’s beak crunching into mouse bones.

“Pretty awesome, huh?” Neil laughs.

We feed the other birds, and then I wait outside the screech owl’s cage because “she’s very territorial, and she’ll try to attack you as soon as you come in if you’re not careful.” Neil heads inside to give her food, and remarks, “she’s nesting right now, but she’s infertile, so anytime she has an egg we take it and use it for an exhibit or food for the possum.” He wrestles around in her nest for a second, then comes out with an egg about half the size of a chicken’s.

We took the egg back to the animal care area, and Neil says, “I’m going to hollow this out to use for education.” I’ve never seen someone hollow out an egg before, so that was an experience itself when I saw him poke a hole in each end of the egg and start blowing as hard as he can. “It doesn’t taste too bad, actually. I’ve tried most of the stuff here: crickets, kibble... I haven’t had mouse yet, though.” I look at him for a second to see if he’s joking, and when I realize he’s not, I don’t really know what to say except to mumble something like “oh ok.”

I watch him finish blowing egg out of the shell, then he says “Alright, well I think we’re done for the day. Think you might want to come back?”

With such a great story from just one day of work, how could I not?

Farting snakes and frozen mice make for a strange morning

The first thing we do is defrost the mice. This involves pulling the Ziploc bags of frozen mice and birds out of the freezer, grabbing a couple handfuls, and tossing them in a bucket full of hot water, letting them float around and intermingle as they thaw.

It’s my first day as a volunteer at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, CA, and I’m already using paper towels to rub the water off of dead rodents. Why do I have to dry off the mice? Apparently the birds of prey are picky and they don’t like their food wet. I can’t really blame them—I wouldn’t eat a wet mouse either.

The Effie Yeaw Nature Center is an environmental and cultural education center that houses a variety of rescue animals, from snakes to turles to owls to birds of prey. Every day there are groups of schoolchildren coming through on tour, learning about the animals and their place in nature, and coming to understand how to be better citizens of planet Earth.

That seems to be the goal, at least. What I remember taking away from my visit to the center as a small child was how awesome it was to watch a bird tear apart a mouse. Luckily, as I realized during my day volunteering, that feeling doesn’t go away.

After prepping the raptors’ food, we cleaned some of the snake cages. The first cage was missing its snake, who was out for a visit to one of the local schools. I got to clean this one, and I learned that cleaning a snake cage is no more exciting than cleaning anything else anywhere ever. The second cage needed a special treatment from the animal care specialist, Neil. So while he was cleaning, I would be picking up the 3.5 foot long king snake named Ringo and making friends.

“Are you afraid of snakes at all?” Neil asks me. “Only that ones that can kill you with one bite,” I respond casually.

I then learn that most snake bites, if in a somewhat timely manner, won’t kill you. In fact, rattlesnake bites often don’t even contain venom. They bite if they are surprised or threatened, and often just as a warning. “It’s the baby rattlesnakes you have to worry about,” Neil tells me. “They can’t control how to use their venom yet, so they get a hold and just pump everything they’ve got into you.”

Delightful. Maybe that’s why nobody coos over baby snakes like they do over baby everything else.

Apparently, Ringo is nesting right now, so Neil is fixing up her cage just the way she likes it so she’ll lay some eggs. “She’s infertile, but the eggs will make good exhibits when on display,” informs Neil. “In fact, let’s see if she’s got anything cooking.” He then proceeds to poke around her belly, squeezing here and there, until he wrinkles his nose and says “Aw, Ringo. Why would you do that?” I assume it’s some kind of fart, but Neil says it’s called “musking.” It’s a release of some kind of smelly liquid, “as a defense mechanism. They only do it when they feel threatened,” Neil assures me. Except that moments ago he told me they only bite when they feel threatened, and since this one is obviously threatened, it’s time to move on.

To be continued. Look for the next post about salamanders eating crickets, a bird ripping up a mouse and a man blowing owl egg out of its shell.

A bucket of tiny balls and one big mistake

For late April, the stifling mist and general sogginess of the weather was somewhat uncharacteristic. So naturally, when my friend Asa asked if I wanted to go to the driving range, I said “Sure!”

Past golf experiences have not exactly motivated me to take up the sport again. However, Asa turns out to be the kind of friend who, when he decides he wants to do something, he does it, no matter what anyone says. As his friend and therefore accomplice on most of those activities, I was lucky that he was also the kind of friend who can make even the most mundane activities entertaining, such as hitting a tiny ball a hundred feet or more into a vast expanse of grass.

We roll into Royal Oaks Golf Course parking lot and head into the pro shop. Since we’re just high school students, neither very serious about the game, we don’t have clubs, but Royal Oaks has a nice little deal where you give them your driver’s license and they let you test drive up to three different clubs. The idea, I think, was that if you like the club you’re using, you come back and purchase it. We never liked that idea because we didn't have $200 to throw away on a stick of titanium.

Asa would go for the drivers and the woods, most likely because he has some kind of small man syndrome, always hitting as far as possible. That’s also probably why he has such a lousy short game, but that’s neither here nor there. I enjoyed grabbing random clubs and picking them by how cool their names were. Ping was a favorite. So was Cobra. We grabbed our respective favorites—he with three of the biggest drivers he could find, me with a wedge, 7-iron and 5-wood—and headed out to the open range.

Now I’m not exactly Tom Lehman out on the grassy knolls, so I’m usually asking a few questions about the best way to use the tiny stick to hit the tiny ball more than a tiny distance. First swing: 5-wood – swing – THWACK – Plop – right in the mud, 15 feet Northeast of my current position.

“Choke up a little bit on it,” Asa tells me, then hauls off and whacks one a mile and a half. “And don’t choke this time.”

“Don’t choke up on it?”

“Choke up on the club.”

“But you just said not to.”

“No, I said don’t choke.”

“That’s what I said you said.”

Hesitation, then a long sigh, then “Man, do I hate you.” Then – WHACK – another four miles.

I did a little stretching, a few windmills to loosen up, then I did some shoulder rolls, let my head do a few circles around my neck, put the club out in front, took a wider stance, did one last little shimmy shake, and went into deep focus mode. Since it mostly just involved closing my eyes, taking a couple deep breaths, and staring fiercely at the ball then at the 400 yard sign in the distance, deep focus mode didn’t really do anything other than delay the inevitable. But what the heck, I had time to kill.

After a lot of breathing and staring, I brought the 5-wood back, paused for just a moment, and then swung it mightily forward with the strength of ten Tigers.

And boy would that ball have launched out of there if I had hit it.

“Swing and a miss, strike two,” said the older gentleman to my right.

“Yeah, I’ll get it though,” I explained to him, as though he cared or believed me.

“Oh I know you will,” he said, grinning back, a knowing spark in his eye. I could tell he was one of those guys that if you prompted him, he would go on for hours with stories about golf, or war, or sales. The kind of guy you’ve met a million times and places before, with a million different faces. The kind of guy you wouldn’t mind meeting another million times. I had started to get a bit of a confidence boost from the friendly old guy, until—

“Except you won’t, because you suck.” Then – WHACK – and Asa’s ball was gone, halfway around the world in three seconds.

“Whatever dude, I’m gonna get a good one before the day is done,” I told Asa, defiantly. “Just watch.”

I got another ball from the bucket and teed it up. “This is it. This is the one. I can feel it.” I squared up to it, took a deep breath, and swung that club like I had something to prove.

“Daaaaammmmnnn!” I heard from Asa, and if my hands weren’t still vibrating with the club, I would have been swelling with pride. As it was, I could tell something went slightly awry, because my hands have never vibrated like this, and the club suddenly felt a lot lighter. I saw, not quite to the 100 yard sign, my ball coming down for a landing. Then, shortly after, a stumpy brown thing landed with a splash in the mud, about 120 yards out.

“Oh man, you are so busted! Do you know how much those things cost?” Asa was incredulous, but still laughing hysterically. All I could do was stare at the end of my club, where instead of a 5-wood there was a splintered shaft. “That was so awesome! The club went farther than the ball. Nice hit, bro!”

Seeing as how it was a fairly expensive club borrowed from the Royal Oaks Clubhouse, I wasn’t finding this funny just yet.

In between spurts of Asa’s laughter, I’m running through options in my head. I could just jet out of there; no, they have my driver’s license. Well, I could always get a new license; no, they take a couple weeks, and I’ve got to drive myself to school every day. I could blame Asa...

That’s a possibility.

I finally just decided to be a man and tell them what happened. Luckily, the attractive clubhouse girl smiled and said that this sort of thing “happens all the time.” Somehow I doubt that, but was too happy not to have to pay for the club to realize that she might have been flirting a bit. She sent out one of the groundskeepers in a caged cart to look for the club head, but after driving around for about 20 minutes, he came back with the conclusion that it had been lost in the mud, and they’d find it eventually.

After it was resolved and I had my license back, I took a seat behind Asa and watched him hit a couple more into the clouds.

“You’re not going to hit any more?” he asked.

“Well, it’s clear that I don’t know my own strength, so for the safety of myself and those around me, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

He shook his head at me. “Please.” As always, in true Asa fashion, our mundane rainy April afternoon activity had turned into something quite a bit more exciting than it ever should have been.

Then – CRACK – and Asa’s last ball was headed out of the galaxy.

A simple pleasure dashed to the ground.

They came last Spring, just as the girls were beginning to wear their Spanish-style skirts and pastel-colored clothing, and warm weather lust began to descend on everyone. I tore open the package with zest, as though the contents were the remedy to an incurable disease I possessed.
Glorious. If one had seen my face at that moment, one would know what happiness looks like.
I kicked off my sandals and slipped my new shoes on my feet. They were snug, but that was expected. I wore them the whole rest of the day, and even though they hurt my feet incredibly, I still felt like I was walking on sunshine, and even sang the song in my head most of the rest of the day.
Life continued thus for a fortnight or two.
Then, one hazy afternoon, I was shaken violently from my reverie. Strolling down my usual Wednesday path, I happened upon a fairly well-dressed young man. We both looked each other in the eye for a moment, then I glanced down at the flash of white coming from below his ankles. I felt his glance on my feet as well.
It can’t be. He had my shoes.
The coolest shoes I’d ever seen, both because they look sweet and because I had never seen anyone with them before, and now, just one week after receiving mine, this guy had them too. I looked back at his face just as his eyes moved from my feet to my face. I saw in his eyes the same emotion that was surely in mine: sadness, anger, and surprise. We both looked away, quickened our pace, and quietly hoped that the other would leave the country and never come back.
One thing we both knew for sure: we could never be friends.

Microsoft is definitely the devil.

WARNING: The following contains some extreme nerdspeak. Proceed with caution.

I've moved steadily away from Microsoft products over the last few years because I've gotten fed up with their lack of ease, constant crashing, and general ineffectiveness at the tasks I like to accomplish. Yet, like a vindictive ex, Microsoft keeps finding ways to toy with me and make my life difficult.

Example 1
I don't do much video editing, but I've been doing a lot lately because of my Christmas present (which you can read about in another post). Having only really used iMovie to edit video before, and that came pre-installed on the Mac at work, I figured the pre-installed Windows Movie Maker would do just fine. Shyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Not only is it incredibly slow (which I admit may be more my computer's fault than the program's), it freezes up every other time I use it, has very few options for titles and file types, and is just generally confusing in its layout and structure.

Example 2
Vista sucks. Mom got a new laptop, and since she knows how to check her e-mail and write something in Word and that's about it, I've been setting up her computer for her. I had heard people complain about Vista before, but I typically attribute people's complaints to the majority of people being whiny-complainy-pants and not to anything being wrong with whatever they're complaining about. However, in Vista's case, I'm joining the whiny-complainy-pants team.

Everything about it bothers me. They've changed the menus around enough to confuse, but not enough to actually add any functionality. They've created this annoying pop-up message that basically asks you anytime you do anything "Do you want to allow the program you are trying to access to run?" Yes, idiot computer, otherwise I would not have tried to access it.

I've been trying over the past months to discontinue using illegally-downloaded software such as programs that rhyme with Schmotoshop and Schmoffice, and I've been pretty successful with GIMP and Does anyone know of a free or open-source video editing software that works well? But as far as Vista is concerned, it's mom's computer so there's not much I can do other than stay the hell away. I should write an angry letter, as I am apt to do when feeling scorned, but I'll probably just take the passive-aggressive route and start using Linux instead. That Ubuntu program looks pretty suave.

What a sham.

A long while back, I signed up for this website called InboxDollars. It offered $5 free just for signing up, said that you could earn money reading e-mails and completing surveys, and basically sounded like easy money for looking at advertising. At the time I was bored and didn't have many hobbies going on besides drinking and an occasional trip somewhere to drink in another city with different people.

Granted, I figured it would be a bit tedious, but I soon found out that the e-mails I had to read paid out about 1 cent each, the surveys were 50 cents to $1, and you couldn't request a check until you'd hit $30. Still, it took very little time so I figured "what the heck."

As you can probably guess, it did not go well. I tried doing a couple of surveys, usually got about 10 minutes into them only to have an error come back to me explaining "We're sorry, but you don't fit the demographic needed for this survey." After a few times I just gave up on the surveys, but kept punching in those e-mails and racking up the pennies.

Finally, nearly a year and a half later, I've made it to $30, so when I go to cash out, here's the message I get:

Two whole months. You MUST be kidding me. What a SHAM.

So, the moral of the story is "If you think someone will actually pay you decent money to read e-mails, then I guess you're as gullible as I was." (Yeah, I know, not very impactful, but true.)

I resolve to start updating this again.

Happy New Year, folks. And happy holidays to those folks who didn't get an ecard.

I'm back in the U.S.A. It's been an incredibly smooth transition so far, especially since it's the holidays and I've been indulging myself on all the foods I've missed (sausage balls, rice krispie treats, etc.).

I haven't posted anything since I've gotten back partly because I was spending time with the fam, and partly because I've been playing with one of my Christmas presents: Diamond VC500 One Touch Video Capture Device. It's been a goal of mine for the past year or so to try to scan in the best of our old photos and upload old home videos to the web to create a living history of our family. And yes, I know, I'm a nerd. Deal with it.

I've already got a lot of our old pictures online. For example:

Now I'm working on videos. Here's a couple gems I've finished so far.

My brother's 5th birthday party with our extended family (the tiny round blond kid stumbling around is me).

Gymnastics lessons when I was 4. Yes, I did gymnastics and no, it wasn't my choice. Although I do recall they had a huge trampoline that was amazing. Something similar will be part of my dream home one day.

Hopefully everyone else is enjoying their presents as much as I am enjoying mine.
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