Observations Observations

Perfect Marketing

November 20th, 2014
Marketing is about delivering a simple message. Nice job, Duluth.

I’m sitting in a bar right now, pooping out NaNoWords, and Thursday Night Football is happening all around me. Another day I will tell you how I personally cursed the Oakland Raiders, and how I’m not sorry and you shouldn’t expect the curse to be lifted any time soon. But not tonight. This episode is about a television ad.

The product was Duluth Fire Hose Pants (or something like that). It was a simple animated affair where a guy in non-firehose pants gets his leg torn to shreds when he fails to catch a wild boar that someone offscreen threw to him. Butterfingers!

The scene is then reenacted with the man (who vaguely resembles Bret Favre) wearing the proper indestructible pants. The wild boar deflects harmlessly off his leg, and our firehose-pants-wearing pal picks the vicious animal up and sends it back.

I want those pants. Seriously. I want those pants – as long as they extend the indestructible ethic to the pockets.

Observations Observations

Another Stupid Security Breach

November 19th, 2014
Once more, people are surprised to find that email is not secure.

Recently, the State Department’s emails were hacked. Only the non-classified ones (that we know about), but here’s the thing:

Why the hell is the State Department not encrypting every damn email? Why does ANY agency not encrypt its emails? It’s a hassle for individuals to set up secure emails with their friends, but secure email within an institution is not that hard.

JUST DO IT, for crying out loud!

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The Message I Just Sent to Duraflame

November 15th, 2014
Maybe one of y'all has some advice?

We bought a box of duraflame logs from Costco and they just don’t burn right. They smolder for hours and hours, but never flame up.

Before you send me a boilerplate response, please understand that I followed the instructions meticulously, especially after the first one in the batch just sat there smoking for 16 hours or more.

This last time I tried to blow on the log and I could get one area to glow brightly, but I never coaxed a flame out of it.

The chimney is clear and drawing fine; other things burn well, and the copious smoke from the Duraflame logs does go up and out.

Right now it’s approaching 14 hours for the most recent log, and it’s still in there, making smoke but accomplishing nothing else.

I looked to see if there was any sort of expiration date printed on the log wrappers and didn’t find anything, but one possibility I considered was that these are old, out-of-date logs that Costco dug up.

What can I do? This isn’t so much about the money spent on logs as needing to consider a better alternative for our fireplace.

—————

Note: this is almost exactly what I sent, but I fixed one awful spelling corrector substitution.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

An Elevator Conversation

November 13th, 2014
Some random encounters are less forgettable than others.

I stepped into the elevator and held the door for the person behind me. I pushed the “3” button for myself.

“Where you heading?” I asked the other.

“Fourth floor, I guess. Where are you heading?” I glanced over at my elevator roomie. He had an emo haircut, black. Sardonic smile. His outfit featured denim. Things had suddenly gotten existential.

“My short-term plans call for floor three,” I said. “After that, things get fuzzy.” My first stop after the elevator was going to be the men’s room, but I didn’t feel the need to tell him that.

He smiled sideways. After a few seconds he said, “Gotta sit in a room for an hour.”

Although his statement struck me as curious, it never occurred to me to ask him to expand. It’s an elevator. “Hey, those rooms aren’t going to sit in themselves,” I said.

“Yeah.”

The elevator pinged once and the doors opened much more slowly than they had before the elevator was upgraded. Off I went on my third-floor business.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about Klein bottles, rooms that can sit in themselves, and the implications for security. Those would not be practical rooms.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

100 Commutes

November 12th, 2014
A milestone, and answering "why?"

Yesterday marked the 100th time I used a bicycle to get to work rather than a car. Since July, I’ve ridden at least twenty times per month (Well, until I took a week off in October).

On the list of benefits: That’s about 100 gallons of gasoline not burned. That’s a lot of carbon not combined with oxygen and pumped into the atmosphere, but even more important… well, let me tell you a little story…

I was southbound on Los Gatos Creek Trail. I had just crossed a street when a guy flagged me down and gave me a little handbill, explaining that it was to complete an online survey about bike trail usage. “Awesome! Thanks!” I said, taking him aback just a bit with my enthusiasm. I took it as an opportunity to be counted, perhaps to influence the electorate.

Once home, I took the survey. I entered which trail I spent the most time on, how I thought rangers could best spend their time, and stuff like that. Included were questions about why I use the trails in the first place. On one question I told them I primarily biked to get to work. Later it asked why I biked instead of drove. There were plenty of good options, but health wasn’t one of them. I guess commuters aren’t concerned about their health. So I was forced to choose the second-most important reason I rode.

It came down to two choices: to save the environment or to save money. I talk up the environment a lot, and I believe, but I had to be honest with myself. I’m a cheap bastard. I clicked the “save money” option.

… even more important, I’ve saved several hundred dollars in gas money. It will be a long time yet before I save enough to pay for the bike (and also, I suppose, before I save enough gas to offset the energy required to manufacture the bicycle), but I just have to keep at it.

And my calves are looking pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

All in the Name of Science

November 10th, 2014
I assume drinks will be served at the Nobel awards ceremony.

A while back, in anticipation of America’s Favorite Holiday That Includes Encouraging the Youth of Otherwise Calm Neighborhoods in a Sanctioned Protection Racket, some chick online somewhere put up a list of ideal pairings of wine with Halloween candy.

She got it horribly, badly, wrong. My sweetie, who is exposed to these random “memes” (as the kids call them today) much more than I, decided it was time for someone to do this right. She assembled her crack research team, and off we went to buy booze and candy, focussing on the candy that typically lands in pillow cases and plastic pumpkins between 6 and 8 pm on Halloween night, along with some other iconic candies that appear on the shelves this time of year.

At the booze store, we huddled around the miniatures rack for much of the time, so our shopping cart wouldn’t set off the “Leaving Las Vegas” alarm at the cash register. We loaded up with many, many tiny bottles of booze, some that made me nervous just to look at the labels (marshmallow vodka?), and larger bottles of things that we thought might come in handy on other occasions long after the science was complete.

Oh, and I accidentally chose a very expensive bottle of scotch, rather than the usual rather expensive bottle.

After a pass through Cost Plus to find a few more exotic boozes and brews, we made our way home, pulled out all the stuff, and it started to sink in: science is not always a walk in the park. Doing this important research was going to require dedication, hard work, and more than one fuzzy morning.

Much (but not all) of the alcohol we tested. I knew the panorama feature on my phone would come in handy one day.

Much (but not all) of the alcohol we tested. I knew the panorama feature on my phone would come in handy one day.

With all the different boozes (many in limited quantity) and this array of sugary treats:

The loot from our raid on the impressive candy aisle at Walgreens (expanded for Halloween!).

The loot from our raid on the impressive candy aisle at Walgreens (expanded for Halloween!).

We knew it would be impossible (and palette-blowing) to test every possible combination. We leave it to those who follow to continue in the name of Science, and to try combos we may not have considered.

The results are exhaustively (and humorously) presented at Poetic Pinup, including descriptions of why each pairing worked, and links to some of the more obscure beverages.

Methodology:

Science is meaningless if you don’t show how you got to your conclusion. In our case, we often (but not always) started by choosing an alcoholic beverage. We would each take a sip, then scan over the available candy, looking for ones that our palette memories thought might work:

Zombie Zin on the test bench.

Zombie Zin on the test bench.

Naturally, we also had to try pairings that had a lower chance of success. (Side note, Skittles make a reasonable palette cleanser between tests.) By stepping outside the obvious we allowed Serendipity to stagger into the party with a package of Sugar Babies in one hand and a bottle of 100-proof cinnamon-flavored schnapps in the other, shouting a little too loudly for the room, “Hey, check this out!”

Tastes diverge, of course, and so while the light of my lab enjoyed Seagram’s Sweet Tea flavored vodka with Hot Tamales, I found the beverage undrinkable, and while I prefer Kraken to Sailor Jerry, the sea monster didn’t tickle the palette of the head researcher (she being the one who actually took notes) and I don’t remember the match I liked for that one. Guess it’s time to get back in the lab!

In the end, however, I was a bit surprised by how often we agreed. Some things simply taste good together.

The highlights for me (in no particular order):

  1. Jim Beam Honey and Baby Ruth. I didn’t even expect to like Jim Beam Honey.
  2. Peeps and Absinthe
  3. Hershey’s Special Dark and Black Russian
  4. Honorable mention: Crabbie’s Ginger Beer and More Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. Snappy!

There are a couple of things missing from the list, most notably:

  1. Super-dark high-cocoa-percentage chocolate. I love the stuff, but you won’t find that in a halloween bag in any neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.
  2. Scotch. Remember that expensive bottle? Yeah, Science doesn’t deserve that much love. Blame government funding cuts.
  3. Krackle and Crunch bars. The chocolate is different in the two, different enough that they didn’t pair well with booze in different ways, but in the end we just didn’t find a good match for either. Perhaps someone out there can pick up this loose thread.

A final note:

Always the bridesmaid: Kit Kat Bar. It was good with so many things, but there was always some other option that was even better. It was late in the game when we found Kit Kat’s One True Love, but perseverance paid off. But if you’re going to throw a candy-and-booze bash, Kit Kat will play well with a lot of the liquid offerings.

Politics Politics

Vox Populi or Vox Luchre?

November 5th, 2014
A flawed ideal

Philosophically, California’s proposition system appeals to me. It is a chance for the people, the you and me kind of people, to override the jerks and criminals in Sacramento and enact the laws we want.

On a practical level, the system has become a way for money to buy laws. The biggest winners in this cluster are the media companies who pocket fat wads of cash from both sides of every controversial issue. If I were an unscrupulous media mogul I’d be getting all kinds of controversial shit onto the ballot.

But what to do? Frankly, I’m stumped. Take away the voice of the people? That certainly doesn’t appeal to me. But until we can defang big money, the system will remain broken.

Writing Writing

Here Comes November Again

October 22nd, 2014
Trying to find the right vehicle to get me out of my rut.

It’s that time of year again; NaNoWriMo is fast approaching and as usual I really don’t know what I’m going to write. I’d better write something, though, because I really, really need to get back in the habit of punching out words every day.

I’ve had a few vague thoughts of possible novel ideas, but none has taken root. On the science fiction front, I have a time travel idea that’s intriguing, but falls short of qualifying as a plot. I could combine it with some ideas that are set in the asteroid belt, and maybe get things rolling. But there’s a reason those ideas have been bouncing around in my skull for a few years now — there’s not a real story attached to them.

I could always write a sequel to The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy, which would start immediately following Bixby recovering the Important Thing and discovering that the Evil Guy is not his father after all (much to the Evil Guy’s surprise). Perhaps it could be called The Quest for the Operating Instructions for the Important Thing.

Sometimes I wonder if the Tincaniverse is a good place to set a novel. My last few attempts at short stories in that world haven’t had the same vignetty yumminess as the successful ones of days gone by; maybe it’s time to use a novel to get deeper inside the spacer psyche. Once again, I’m not sure what the conflict would be.

There’s another short story I’ve never quite got right, that maybe I could succeed with in a different format. It’s a deal-with-the-devil thing, that has our main guy installing air conditioning in Hell, and using the heat of Hell to run a power plant to solve humanity’s energy woes. The story could include many chances for humor as the main dude has to convince people to do things that make no sense at all. It’s the only idea I have so far that includes a story arc and a try-fail cycle that can steadily increase the pressure on the good guy. One false step and his soul is forfeit.

But maybe it’s another story entirely. None of those ideas have really taken fire in my heart.

But I gotta write something, dammit. Maybe I’ll just have a guy walk into a bar and see what happens. Any suggestions from y’all are certainly welcome.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The Power of a Well-Chosen Word

October 17th, 2014

Riding to work today, I noticed a white pickup truck with a construction company’s logo emblazoned on the tailgate. The tag line: “We exist to build great things.”

They could have just said, “We build great things”, but by using the word “exist” they redefined the word “we”. No longer is the slogan simply about the construction company, it’s about humanity. Humankind exists to build… and hey, look at that! We’re builders! They’re not simply slapping an extra bedroom on your house, they are helping you achieve humanity’s highest aspirations. Pretty sweet.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Son of Spam

October 14th, 2014
Sometimes it's nice to have a second crack at an idea. I hope Ms. Shaw agrees.

A week has passed since my last episode, for which I am profoundly sorry. Happily, young Ms. Shaw from the previous episode (I picture her as a college student with the unenviable job of combing through responses to emails that robots send out with her name attached) wrote a follow-up letter (well, a robot did, anyway) which inspired me to compose another response.

This time I actually sent it to the poor benighted young lady, to give her a little smile, a brief ray of sunshine as she toils in her corner of the sub-basement of a decaying building, her only sources of light her flickering computer screen and a feeble incandescent swinging naked from a wire, while water drips from a large pipe that runs horizontally through the middle of her “space”. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of her job are visits from her cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed ogre of a boss.

I’m pretty sure, if you read between the lines of the original message, that all that is in there. And more. But this isn’t about poor Katie, who really just needs to earn enough money to pay for her mother’s new kidney before she’s out of there for the bright lights of Hollywood. This is about me. Here’s what she will be reading when she comes in to the office tomorrow (at 6am, after the early shift at Dunkin Donuts, with just enough time to study for her Quantum Electrodynamics exam):

Dear Ms. Shaw,

Indeed I do remember your previous email. I get messages like this from time to time, but yours struck a particular chord with me. I think it was the phrase “professionally written in line with your site’s theme and voice.” An intriguing dialectic, that.

First, this thing you call “theme”. The theme of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas is much like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster; while there may be a few crackpots who believe a theme exists, the more level-headed among us realize their ravings are just a cry for attention. We smile and nod and move on, trying not to encourage them, but we remain mildly worried what they might do if we too readily dismiss their silliness or roll our eyes once too often.

Second, your humorous use of “professional” and “my … voice” in the same sentence did indeed give me a little laugh. Trust me, Katie (may I call you Katie?) there’s nothing professional about MR&HBI. On a good day I might achieve “whimsical” or more often “snarky”, but professional is right out. The site’s been active for over ten years, is approaching a million words of content, yet “professional” remains a distant dream, my Xanadu, if you will; glimpsed in a fevered vision only to shatter on the jagged shore of reality.

My metaphors aren’t very tight, either.

Ironically, despite all that I have just said, cher Katie, you have already provided me with content for Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. You see, I was tickled enough by your first request that I devoted a small episode to it, including another, briefer hypothetical response that contains no references to opiate-addled Romantic poets. So I guess I owe you one.

Yours in Perpetuity,
Jerry Seeger

Note: for veracity I left in the improper semicolon.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Fun With Spam

October 7th, 2014

I get messages like this on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share one with y’all, followed by my (unsent) response:

From: Katie Shaw
Subject: Guest editorial on muddledramblings.com

Hello,

We are interested in working with you and producing editorial content for your site, muddledramblings.com.

The content will be professionally written in line with your site’s theme and voice. If you are interested in exclusive content for your site, please let me know.

I appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Katie Shaw
Marketing Assistant

Dear Ms. Shaw,

Thank you for your kind offer, but I’m afraid I’m a bit confused. Professionally written in line with my site’s theme and voice? That’s inherently contradictory! Even if you could identify Muddled Ramblings’ theme (I sure as hell can’t), I assure you there’s nothing remotely resembling professionalism going on here.

TOTALLY Sincerely,
Jerry Seeger
Editor in Chief, Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas

Observations Observations

The Squirrel of Darkness

October 1st, 2014

I pass through a cemetery on my morning commute, and I’ve come to know many of the residents. There is, for instance, a family of red squirrels that live in an ancient tree that shades a primarily Japanese section of the graveyard. It is a tradition in many Asian cultures to honor the departed by leaving offerings, including citrus fruits and other items of food.

The squirrels play a vital role as agents for the spirits, gathering and appreciating the offerings. It is not theft; the squirrel is a proxy for things that can be felt but not seen, things that cannot eat but gain their nourishment through their furry surrogates.

Sometimes the squirrels make a mess of things, knocking over the cup that holds the burned-out incense sticks, scattering flowers and decorations. Spirits can be mischievous; it is the duty of their agents to express that in the physical world.

I said it was a family of red squirrels, but that is not strictly true. There is one among them with fur as black as the heart of a killer on a moonless night.

The dark spirits need their sustenance as well.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Sound and Fury

September 22nd, 2014
... accomplishing (almost) nothing.

I ride home in the evenings via Homestead Road, which intersects with Wolfe. Currently, construction on Wolfe causes traffic to back up approaching the intersection, and drivers pull into the bike lane and stop, long before the intersection, even though it gains them nothing. Others pull out from parking lots without looking my way, push their noses into the bike lane, and stop, even though it gains them nothing.

Then of course there are the people who pull into intersections before there’s space for them on the other side, to block both cars and bikes when the light changes. Unfortunately, they do gain from their obnoxious behavior.

If I had a giant, super-loud air horn on my bike, it wouldn’t improve the situation in any way. It might even make things worse. But I’d feel better.

bikehorn

Get-Poor-Quick Schemes Get-Poor-Quick Schemes

Regular Guy Sports Network

September 19th, 2014

Sports broadcasting is changing, and the fan is the winner. Now let’s give the fan even more control.

Consider this article by Bill Barnwell at Grantland.com. You don’t have to read the whole article, but there are two key messages: television will not be the best way to consume sports in the near future, and Barnwell is willing to pay $20,000 to not hear the announcers.

That second tidbit was presented as a little bit of humor at the end of his article, but he’s missed the greater opportunity: not only can we happily marginalize the network announcers, we can choose commentators more to our liking. Enter the Regular Guy Sports Network.

There’s not much sadder than the partially-clothed American male sinking ever-further into his sofa cushions as he watches sports on his television. Alone. Or maybe there’s a group of people with no charismatic nucleus. Or just some guy who can’t stand the voice of Bob Costas. What if, with with a few button-presses, our Costas-hater is able to surround himself with a crew of wise-cracking pals? They love the home team as much as he does, they rip on the calls that go against them, they say inappropriate things about the opposing star player. They shred Costas. It’s pretty clear they’re drunk, and talking around Cheetos. Just like real friends would be.

With digital media, it’s a free market. It’s a way for aspiring comedians and articulate fanatics to get an audience. I tune in to the game, but I choose the regular guys that will be in my living room with me. My pals.

When I first thought of Regular Guy Sports Network, it was a digitally-enabled extension of current network broadcasts. Now I wonder, “who needs those guys?” The technology is there, all I need is a directory service to hook me up with my new sports buddies, and a way to keep their words in synch with what I’m watching. Easy peasy.

So come on, RGSN, make it happen!

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Keeping up with the Spandex Crowd

September 18th, 2014

I crossed the 2k line on Monday, a day I was feeling especially frisky. The second thousand miles on my bike went by quickly. Added to my vocabulary: “Monday legs” when I’m fresh and rested, and “Friday legs” when I’m worn down. This leads to laments like “It’s only Tuesday and I already have Thursday legs.”

Monday I even managed to keep up with Chunky Bald Guy for a fair distance. The first time I ever saw Chunky Bald Guy he was waiting at a traffic light. Despite his narrow tires and spandex shorts, his sausage legs made me think that perhaps I should move in front of him at the light. I did not, and good thing: When the light changed and he started to pedal his calves blasted into superhero-style muscle definition with an audible “BLAM!” He quickly left me behind.

Time has passed, I’ve gotten stronger, and on Monday I was hanging in there, trailing Chunky Bald Guy. Then Gray-Bearded Black Guy passed me easily, the way he always does. GBBG pulled up even with CBG, and it was on. Soon they were a pair of tiny dots, disappearing over the horizon.

So, while I might be able to keep up with one member of the Spandex Crowd, there’s no way I can keep up with two.