I'm starting a new category of Blog posts: TYMTMA.

It stands for "Things Your Mom Told Me About." I know this guy named Abe Lincoln (his real name is David T. Libby) and he always wants to tell you about all the latest stuff on the intersweb. The problem is that he's always about eight days late with his news. This weekend he'll be telling everyone about how Lawrence Lemons (the guy who used to get snacks for Bruce Springstern) just died. The standard response when honest Abe gives you news is this – "Yeah, I read about that when your mom sent it around a few days ago." His mom is a really nice person, and it turns out that she's incredibly well connected to the latest trends.

So, here's the idea: when I hear about something cool, even if it's something that I'm pretty sure that 99% of everyone has already heard about, I'll post it here so all the latecomers can catch up. Perhaps I'll be the latest comer, and then everyone can make fun of me.

So here's something that's only been viewed 3,800 times (at this writing). I account for about five of those views. It's a great cover of "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin (from Houses of the Holy).

This cover is so accurate that you can start the album cut and the Youtube video at the same time and they will stay in sync (for quite a while, at least). I can't even fathom how much time and effort that must have required. This video was produced by the bass player from Osaka Zeppelin, which is a Led Zeppelin tribute band from Osaka Japan. They're phenomenal – here's what's wrong with this effort.

First, the guitar is all wrong. It's spot on accurate in terms of the notes & sound, but just listen to the way the acoustic guitar comes in. It's too precise. Where are the Jimmy Page sloppy, heroin-stained strokes.

The second problem is the bass. You can hear the bass. John Paul Jones had some great bass riffs in a lot of Zep tunes, but in the album version of this song his bass gets absolutely swallowed by the Mellotron (synthesizer). That said, where's the high bass fill? On the album, at about 6:04 (right after Plant sings "wonder of emotion"), Jones has a nice fill that starts way up there and then gracefully comes back down. On Osaka's version (at about 6:10), he doesn't climb to the same heights or exhibit half the grace. I don't think this is a proficiency issue (he can clearly match Jones on this song), but maybe attention to detail? I find it hard to write that, after witnessing the amazing detail of this cover, but what else could it be?

Osaka's Mellotron is also a little brassy compared to the original. To be fair, it might be tough to reproduce the 1960's Mellotron sound. It kinda sounded like reguritated feces, but they were mellow feces. Osaka's synth sounds better, richer, throatier, but slightly choppy and inauthentic. The notes don't flow as well.

Finally, drum machine. DRUM MACHINE? Yeah, I guess I get it. I might take the better part of three months to really learn a Zep drum line, and this is a seven minute song. But with the amount of effort on the rest of the song, the drum machine seems like a bit of an ABOMINATION. You'll certainly notice the other percussive element missing – where is Robert Plant's mouth noise? I'm not talking about his singing, which is wonderful on the original, I'm talking about the smacks and pops you get every time he opens his mouth.

If you have it, queue up the original Zep to 0:45. Robert sings "the sunlight in my growing," and then you hear the following:

  • "Gnohf" – the sound you make when you close the back of your soft palate and force air up through your nose; almost like a mini-clearing of the throat
  • "mlup" – the sound of a moist mouth opening
  • "kEH"  – the sound of the back of the throat opening and a little air escaping

Then Robert hits the next line – "So little warmth..."

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the mouth noises; they're a part of the whole Zep experience. In fact, I miss them on Osaka's cover. If anything, he should have programmed them into the drum machine. 

This is a great song though, and great cover. The guitar is incendiary (hi A.W.). Your mom will probably call soon to let you know about it.

This is day 88 for me on P90X. I haven't missed a workout so far, and all I have left is StretchX, Core Synergistics, YogaX, and StretchX again. You might notice that although it's called P90X, it's actually a 91 day plan. That makes it an even 13 weeks, so it makes sense.

I don't have anything bad to say about the program. It's challenging. Even the days that seem like they shouldn't be that hard are still difficult. It makes me sweat just as much as biking ever does. I've lost about ten pounds, but that was mostly in the first month. Even after the weight-loss stopped, my waist continued to shrink, so I believe that I've added some weight in muscle.p90x

When you're doing the resistance days (the lifting days), you write everything down so you can track your progress. With those logs, it's easy to see the changes in your ability. On day 5 (this was back on March 27) I did Legs & Back for the first time. On the calf raise exercise, I held 14 pounds in each hand as Tony showed me how to do the 75 lifts. That was really hard. When I got up the next morning, walking was just a tiny bit outside the scope of my capabilities. I stretched next to my bed for several minutes in order to move around enough to complete my morning chores.  After a nice drive in to work, in the same position for thirty five minutes, my legs had stiffened into nice right angles. I had to prop myself on the railings just to get down the stairs at the parking garage.

This past Sunday (day 82), I did the same calf raises with 40 pounds in each hand and I barely felt it. I would move up in weight, but the lifting takes almost three minutes and my hands give way from holding the dumbbells that long. I might need to get some lifting straps to keep moving up with this exercise, but I think that my hands/wrists/forearms will strengthen more too.

It does feel like one thing is missing though. The program doesn't really have an ending. You have 12 videos that you do in different combinations and orders. The first three weeks are just like the ninth and eleventh week. The last week is just like the fourth and eighth week. There's some repitition, but it changes enough that I didn't mind. But for the last few weeks I've been envisioning the last day, and I think, "What's he going to say?" After that last StretchX, on day 91, what's Tony going to tell me at the end of the video. Nothing, of course, he'll say the same thing he always says at the end of StretchX: "Nice work. See ya next time."

But I've finished the program, shouldn't he give me some kind of pep talk? Shouldn't Tony tell me all about how I can come back and do it all again, to live a healthier, more "Bringing It" life every single day? It's just hard to believe that Tony wouldn't have a special message at the end for everyone who has toughed it out for 91 days.

So I guess I do have something bad to say about it. It needs an ending. Not that I'm planning to stop – I've got round two queued up and ready to go. But it would be nice to have the milestone acknowledged.

 

Have you read The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry? Here's a version of it on the intersweb: http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/Gift_of_the_Magi.html

I'm sure people had different ideas about gender equality back in 1906, but something about this story still bothers me. You remember the story: the wife wants to get her husband an extra-special watch chain for Christmas, so she sells her hair. The guy wants to get his wife some combs for her hair, so he sells his watch. Oh, what a merry mixup!

The story starts with a good cry. Della can only scrape together $1.87 to buy a present, so she flops down on the shabby little couch and howls. Then, the author gives us some very specific details: Jim brings home $20/week and the rent is $8/week. First, they're spending 40% of take-home on rent — that's too much. You're not supposed to spend more than 25-30% of net pay on housing. He mentions that Jim used to make $30/week, which is a much better ratio, but if you take a pay cut at some point you have to adjust and start living within your means again.240px-William_Sydney_Porter_by_doubleday

Still, the money is a little confusing. Della saved up the $1.87 by saving every penny and managing the expenses. She's upset because she thought she should have saved more. That's understandable, she's managing all the expenses and she wanted to put enough away to get Jim something nice, but where is Jim supposed to get any money for her present? If she's managing the money, shouldn't she be saving for both of their gift budgets? Maybe he's skimming something off the top before he hands over the dough, but you think O. Henry would have mentioned that in his careful accounting of the income.

Anyway, she cuts off her hair. All couples have a certain responsibility to each other. Certainly a relationship is not all about looks, but it's also not all about personality. There has to be some physical attraction for a couple to stay together. It seems a little insensitive that she would change a major aspect of her appearance in order to get him a Christmas present. This hair fell below her knee. Seriously, that's a lot of hair. You gotta figure that some of Jim's physical attraction to Della came from that hair. At least we should consider the possibility that this sudden hair change might be a big turn-off for Jim. After the act, Della looks like a "truant schoolboy," or a "Coney Island chorus girl." Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think that if Jim wanted to marry a schoolboy or a chorus girl, he wouldn't have hooked up with Della. In fact, after she gets her hair lopped off, she whispers, "Please God, make him think I am still pretty." So, she does consider that he might be pissed, but she did it anyway.

Also, Della got $20 for the hair. That's a week's take-home pay. She must have grown that hair for a decade and she sold it all for $20. Today, you can sell 35+ inches for $2,000, which is considerably more than a week's pay. So, not only did she potentially take away Jim's desire for intimacy, she also got ripped off. I'm assuming that hair a century ago is no less valuable than it is today. They didn't have nearly as many synthetic fibers competing with hair, so it might have been even more sought after. I guess they had more access to horse hair though. Who knows. I can't find a good graph of hair value by decade anywhere on the intersweb. If you find one, please let me know.

My final problem (or should I say O. Henry's problem?) with Della's choice is what she decided to buy. She gets him a watch chain. When Jim comes home, O. Henry says, "Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves." I can't decide, but it sounds like O. Henry is either saying, "Jim really needed gloves and a coat (dumb Della)." Or he's saying, "Jim really needed a divorce (from dumb Della)."

Luckily, when Jim gets home he says, "I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less."

What a nice thought. Kinda strange, but nice. Why would a shampoo make someone less attractive? And what part of her needs (or doesn't need) shaving? Odd.

"My hair grows so fast, Jim!" she says. O. Henry is pointing out to us that Della didn't really give up anything afterall. She's probably only 22, or younger, so her hair will grow back in time for her to still be pretty in time for the Great War. Will Jim get his Grandfather's watch back? Nope. So, the woman is emotionally out of control, inconsiderate, financially incompetent in two ways (she keeps money from Jim and gets ripped off when she sells her hair), and impractical (watch chain instead of outerwear). Maybe O. Henry is just saying "Della is dumb," and not "wives are dumb," but this is a parable, so I think we're supposed to see Jim as every husband, and Della as every wife. The more I think about this story, the more I dislike Della and Jim. Was that the point?

On May 25th, Katie Chandler (her real name is M Night Shamalam) challenged me to make a gluten-free version of my Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I decided to approach this in the most "science-y" way I could think of. I kept everything exactly the same and just told her that the cookies were gluten-free. Ha! Actually, if I had thought of it at the time, I probably would have done just that.

"Here you go, gluten-free!" I could have said.

"Wow, these are awesome, but somehow I'm getting all the gluten symptoms. How strange, I wonder if I've been attributing my allergy to the wrong thing this whole time?" she would have mused.

GlutenFreeCookies1That would have been fun. Oh well.

Instead, I took my recipe (well, it's everyone's recipe) and checked through all the ingredients. Turns out that All Purpose Flour includes gluten. Maybe that's why so many Facebookers are so opposed to using it? The chocolate chips don't have gluten. In fact, I found a lot of angry posts about gluten-free chocolate. Many find the concept of gluten in chocolate to be ludicrous; others point out that those first people can "suck it vigorously" (they didn't say which "it"). Some recipes online mention that you have to get "gluten-free vanilla," but my vanilla says right on it "A Gluten-Free Food." Where is this flour-y vanilla?

The big culprit is the flour. Apparently, tagging food as gluten-free is the latest thing. It's like tagging something as organic. I've had some exposure to organic marketing, and when something reads "Organic," the only safe conclusion to draw is that it has the word "Organic" printed on it. With "Gluten-Free" I think they just want to get on the bandwagon. So even if the food would never be expected to have gluten, they know they can grab some eyeballs with a "Gluten-Free" somewhere on the package.

I cruised the baking supplies aisle, looking for a suitable replacement, and happened upon gluten-free Bisquick. Actually, they call it "Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix, Gluten Free." Makes me wonder: have I been hyphenating gluten-free all this time for no reason? I don't think so; I think they're wrong to not hyphenate. If you swap it around, you'll see what I mean: "Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix." The "Gluten Free," "Bisquick," and "Pancake and Baking," all describe the "Mix." What kind of mix is it? It's a "Pancake and Baking" mix. It's a "Bisquick" mix. It's also a gluten-free mix, but it's not a "Gluten" mix or a "Free" mix, so those two need to be combined with the hyphen so you know that they should be taken as a pair.

With that mystery solved, I took the box of mix to the checkout. We don't have self-serve checkout in my store, so I had the opportunity to show the clerk where the missing hyphenGlutenFreeCookies2 should have been.

Here's what I intended to do: make batch-after-batch of gluten-free cookies, altering thing at a time, until I discovered a good gluten-free recipe. My plans were dashed after my first attempt. They turned out perfectly acceptable by just replacing flour with "Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix, Gluten Free." I didn't have to change anything else. In fact, one sixteen-ounce box turned out to be the exact amount needed for one batch. Crazy convenient. The texture isn't precisely the same, but I'm not sure you'll get any closer without dreaded gluten. Here's a link to gluten-free Bisquick on the intersweb.

There are a ton of varieties of chocolate chip cookies, and everyone has their favorite. I like mine with a little crust to them, but a soft center, but too many chips ruin the experience. There's one thing most people agree on: they hate it when their cookies turn out flat. You know those cookies that spread out like pancakes, where the sad, half-melted chip is the highest peak on the cookie? You know those cookies that shatter like glass if you leave them on the cookie sheet too long before trying to scrape them off?

If problem cookies plague you, suffer no longer.flatcookies

There's a super easy answer to this problem, but a lot of people are unwilling to accept it. If you take the standard Toll House recipe, remove the butter, and substitute a Crisco baking stick, you'll get good cookies. In fact, if you use the "butter flavor" kind, it's really hard to tell the difference between that and real butter. Google the intersweb for "flat chcoloate chip cookies" (I'll wait) and you'll get that advice over and over. You'll also get tons of advice about sifting flour, using fresh baking soda, bringing your ingredients to room temperature, etc. All perfectly valid, I'm sure, but totally unnecessary. Just follow the regular recipe on the back of the bag of chips, use shortening instead of butter, and you'll get good cookies.

For a lot of people, this answer isn't good enough.crisco

A lot of people demand real butter in their cookies. A lot of these same people wouldn't dream of using real butter on their toast, but demand it in their cookies. I won't name names (Thor Hyerdahl). If you'd like tall, fluffy, triple-decker cookies, but demand a traditional butter approach, then keep reading. I've got a procedure that will hook you up.

Things you'll need:

  • 1 Oven, Pre-Heated to 350-ish
  • 1 Stand Mixer
  • 3 Insulated Cookie Sheets
  • 2.5 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda (fresh) — and when I say 1 Teaspoon, I mean 1 slightly mounded Teaspoon (don't skimp)
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt (maybe a pinch less)
  • 2 Sticks of Butter (Land O' Lakes with salt, soft but not too soft — stand each stick vertically on the counter in a seventy-degree room for three hours before starting)
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2+ Teaspoons of Vanilla Extract (just pour until you like it)
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 Cups of Chocolate Chips

Here's what you do (follow these steps precisely):

  1. Put the beater blade on your mixer and dump the butter in. Crank it up. I don't use the top setting because that hurls butter everywhere, but I use the second-to-top setting.cookie1
  2. Combine your 2.5 cups of flour with your 1 (mounded) teaspoon of baking soda and your 1 teaspoon salt. Do this in a reasonably-sized bowl so you don't get flour everywhere. you have to really combine these. I just use a spoon, but I take it seriously. I used to think that this step was a bit of a gag, but here's what I learned — this is the last time you're going to mix these things, so you have to do it right. Some people say you have to sift these together, but I challenge you to make the cookies both ways and show me the difference.
  3. Does your butter look creamy? Does it look shiny and whipped? If you didn't answer "yes" immediately, without hesitation, then keep waiting.
  4. Turn down the mixer and dump in your sugar and brown sugar. I use two types of brown sugar because I always have dark brown on hand and I don't know what else to do with it (who keeps buying it?). Also, keep your brown sugar vacuum sealed between uses. There's no excuse for lumpy sugar. What's a Foodsaver cost, like eighty bucks? Just get one.
  5. Crank that mixer back up and let it ramble on that sugar/butter mix. Let it go for a long time.
  6. While beating your butter & sugar, pour in vanilla. I just keep pouring until it looks good.
  7. Let that mixer run for a minute or two on high. You want this butter/sugar/vanilla to be supremely combined.
  8. Slow the mixer and crack an egg into it. Fire it back up.
  9. Repeat last step with a second egg.
  10. Okay — now you should have a combination of butter, sugar, vanilla, and egg. It should look like a really smooth batter, almost like frosting. This is important because you're barely going to mix it at all once you dump in the flour. Have you ever folded flour into stiff egg-whites? Think of it like that. Up until this point you can pound that batter into submission, but once that flour gets near it, it becomes fairly delicate.
  11. With three additions, add in the flour/soda/salt mixture. 
  12. Here's what I do: turn off the mixer, dump about a third of the flour mix in there, and then turn the mixer on with its lowest speed for as few turns as possible. You want to just barely mix the wet and dry components. I repeat that twice more until I've mixed in all the flour, and I scrape down the sides of the mixer-bowl between each addition.
  13. Once all your flour is in there, scrape off the beater blade and throw it in the sink. Put the "bread hook" blade on your mixer and dump in the chocolate chips.
  14. Again, put the mixer on it's lowest speed and turn in the chips until they're spread throughout the dough.
  15. Now you just have to spoon out the dough onto the sheets. I do a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern on each sheet, giving me 13 cookies for sheets one and two. For the third sheet, I only get 7 cookies before I run out of dough. The original recipe is supposed to yield 60 cookies. Ha! Nobody wants a two-inch cookie with five chips. Shoot for 30-35 per batch.
  16. Finally, toss those babies in the oven. Notice I say 350 instead of a more typical 375. I think they cook better at the lower temp, and it's easier to see if they're spreading. If at any point you suspect that the butter is melting before the cookie is baking, lower the temp. You might save the batch.

cookie2That's my easy sixteen-step recipe. I've made a few hundred batches of these, so I'm pretty confident, but if you have problems let me know. It doesn't take any time at all to make the dough — maybe about ten minutes. Maybe it's the lower temp, but these do seem to take a while to bake. I haven't timed them, I just look for the edges to brown before I take them out. If you like them crispy, then wait for the whole thing to brown.

If you've had problems with flat cookies and you give my steps a try, please let me know.

 

I woke up on Saturday and decided to watch something from HBO. Not HBO, just something from HBO on the DVR (yes, I know, DVR's are so 90's). Football is probably the only thing I watch live anymore. Actually, if it's not the Pats, then even football is more often than not on the DVR. There's nothing like skipping by all those stupid commercials and half-time shows so you can squeeze in five football games in one day. Sorry, I've wandered off-topic. 

Let me just say this one more thing about DVR's: mine is the best. It has 1.5 TB of space. That's about forty days of high-def programming. Forty days (i.e. 1000 hours). BMH will carefully explain why my DVR is the biggest pain-in-the-ass DVR ever created, but I enjoy being able to record nine programs at the same time.

Having all this space and capability has turned television into a chore. I could sit and watch for about five days and not catch up. Actually, it would take closer to seven days to catch up because more things would record while I watched. It's rare for me to actually settle down and clear out some of the backlog, but that's what I decided to do on Saturday morning.

When I turned on the TV and started up "Real Time" with Bill Mahr, I saw an amazing thing: a commercial for HBOGo. Have you heard of this? It's the best invention ever — you can get all the great HBO programming delivered right to your computer, iPad, or phone. This is just what I need! Sure, I don't have enough time to watch all the programs I deemed important enough to record; now I can get instant access to HBO in the car, or while sitting on the toilet. I had to ask myself, which of the following is most important:

Clean drinking water for all the children in the world? NOPE.

Taking an active role in the community to help shape public opinion which turns into legislation over the way I live my life? NOPE.

Spending more quality time with the people I love? NOPE.

Global access to mediocre subscription-based programming which I could enjoy more conveniently through Netflix if I just waited a few more months? YES!

Having set my priorities, I decided "I must have it NOW." I loaded the app on my phone and fired it up. It wanted a user name and password, of course, so they could verify that I'm an actual subscriber. Seems reasonable, I'll just dig out my Comcast user name and ... wait a second — do I have a Comcast user name? Why would I have a Comcast user name? I don't use their email or anything on their (challenged, extra chromosome) site. I guess I'll just use this "forgot my user name" link.

Oh wait, it's not Comcast anymore it's "XFinity." Cable companies go through these rebranding efforts every few hours so that creditors and customers can't track them down. It's all part of a successful business model — 1) charge insane amounts of money, and 2) make sure nobody can get you on the phone. I stalled out at that point, puzzling over the new company name. Are they trying to conjure images of "infinity," or perhaps "affinity?" Are they trying to be boundless, or are they describing an attraction to something? Perhaps they're suggesting they have an attraction to things which are "out of bounds," like a lust for conifers. Maybe, I thought, the "X" stands for "Christ" like in Xmas. "ChristFinity" doesn't make much sense either. 

It turns out that "forgot my user name" is code for "connect me via chat with a non-native English speaker." This evolved into a marvelous twenty-minute session of me trying to guess what information they might have logged against my account. I began this relationship with Comcast about a decade ago, back when they were Susquehanna Communications (their slogan was "If you can spell our name, we'll change it!"). Home address is not unique in their system apparently – giving them that information led nowhere. I rattled off every phone number I've had in the past twenty years, but they didn't have any of those logged. You should know, I've had a confrontational relationship with the cable company for a long time. I once threatened to close my account if any of their service people even set foot on my property. When I set up the account I probably gave them 867-5309 as my number (ask for Jenny).

After about twenty minutes, the kind random-character-generator on the other end of the chat announced that it had located my account. All they needed was my full social security number to verify my identity.

"Huh?" I typed.

"1 ju$t n33d your full 9 d1gits s0ci4l s3cu1ty numm3r to cont1nu3 sir," it replied.

"No," I typed.

It told me that it couldn't reset my password without that verification.

"No," I typed.

With the second refusal, it told me my user name and asked me to use the web site to reset my password. I happily closed the window, one step closer to HBO on my Phone (WOW!).photo

Turns out, the bot was wrong. The website told me that I wasn't allowed to reset my password and I would have to engage in a second chat session to have them reset it for me. The second robot didn't ask me for anything more than my user name. Weird.

Once I had armed myself with the correct user name and password, I confidently logged into HBOGo. I'm not sure why I ever believed it would work. I found myself both surprised and disappointed. I verified that I could log into Comcast with my new credentials, so they should have been correc.t

The next morning, I placed a call to 1-800-XFINITY. They have an awesome touch-tone menu system. After each menu prompt, they ask you to type in your full 10-digit phone number. It's a lot like one of those old cop shows, where they're desperately trying to keep the perp on the line for more than thirty seconds so they can trace the call. All the Comcast people (sorry, Xfinity people) huddle around the console, egging on the phone-answerer-guy – "Make him type in his phone number again, we just need him to stay on another fifteen seconds!"

Just when I was about to give up, a woman came on the line.

"Thank you for holding, my name is Memory, can I have your 10-digit phone number please?" she asked. I'm not sure she spells it "Memory," maybe it's "Maim'oree" or something, but it sounded like "Memory" to me.

I explained my HBOGo problem. When you're forced to say it out loud, it seems like a really dumb request – "I just want to be able to see the HBOs on my phone instead of my television."

"Uh-huh," she said.

She put me on hold for a long, long time. Turns out, they'd never heard of HBOGo until that very moment. From what information they could cobble together on short notice, HBOGo was rolled out to a small number of subscribers back in March. In May, the system went "live." As far as they knew, it wasn't working with Xfinity yet. She did give me another phone number to try, but I found out later that the number was dead. She did offer one suggestion: "Did you try typing your user name in all lower case?"

"No," I said.

She never actually asked me to try my user name in all lower case. She probably realized the absurdity of that suggestion even as she spoke. Just for the record, I did try it. Of course it didn't work. At some point, if the system had said "wrong user name," or "your password doesn't match your user name," then my credentials could have been the issue. But, if you look at the screen cap you'll see that HBO didn't question me, just my subscription. I guess she thought the intersweb hates caps.

We had a brief conversation about why I called them. I felt it necessary to point out that her number (not the broken one) was given to me by the website.

We parted as friends. Memory told me that, "If you ever have a problem, night or day, we're here for you, ready to help." That's an interesting line to close your script with. They might want to consider adding a little decision bubble before they deliver that line. If you didn't manage to help someone, it's a little rude to suggest they call back night or day for help.

decision_tree

That's as far as I've gotten. As I said, the Xfinity people don't know a thing, and the alternate number they gave me didn't even connect. HBO doesn't publish a phone number of any sort. Given the amount of money I've sent them (indirectly) over the years, it's a little strange that I have no relationship with HBO. 

The whole experience was pretty damn strange. I can't imagine how HBO decided to announce their fancy new system.

"Does it work?" asked the executive.

"Not for Comcast," replied the project manager.

"Are they big?"

"Biggest in the country. Hell, they own NBC," replied the project manager.

"Ship it!" 

Raise your hand if you have one of the following in your bedroom or adjacent bathroom:

  • an illuminated clock,
  • a television,
  • an iPod dock,
  • an electric toothbrush,
  • a power strip,
  • a cable box,
  • a charger (or power adapter) with a light to tell you it's charging (or adapting),
  • a laptop,
  • a monitor, or,
  • anything electronic?

This is not some anti-technology diatribe. I like my gadgets as much (or more than) the next guy. But I have all of the above AND I have a wireless acces-point / router. Instead of a cable box I have a DVR, but same diff. Anyway, my point is this: ENOUGH WITH THE F-ING LEDs ON EVERYTHING.

sony_clock_radioMy television has a light (green) to let you know that it's on. That's really handy. I wouldn't be able to tell from the picture on the screen with all the garbage moving around, or the sound coming from the speakers, or even from the light-gray that passes for a black background when there is no picture. As if that's not bad enough, my television also has a RED light to tell you that THE TV IS NOT ON. Seriously? Was there a fire sale on red LEDs that day? Do they think that I won't know where to point the remote if they don't put a red light there? What exactly is the point of a red light that's only on when the TV is off? Perhaps they're trying to streamline one in a million customer service calls: "Do you see a red light?"

Customer: "No."

Service rep: "Ahhh, is it plugged in?"

Customer: "No."

Service rep: "I think I see the problem. Let me have you try something..."

At least my alarm clock has a convenient dimmer switch on the side. When set on "high," you could comfortably read my alarm clock from space. When dimmed to "low," neighbors can read books by the light it emits.

I have a power strip under the desk in my room so I can plug in the light, my laptop charger, and the clock. The power strip (of course) has a giant,jvc-dual-ipod-dock-nx-pn7glowing red light to let me know that it's turned on. This has come in handy almost once in the ten years since I first plugged it in.

The dock for my iPod defaults to a "demo" setting, which means that two giant light-bars on either side flash all the colors they know about if you haven't hit a button in the past forty-five miliseconds. 

My laptop has a white light on the side which slowly fades up and down to let you know that it's asleep. So cute! It's nice that something in my bedroom can sleep.

I finally had a brainstorm about a year ago. I searched around the intersweb and turned up a site called polarization.com. If you poke around there you can find sheets of adhesive polarization lenses. The neat thing about this stuff is that if you put two sheets together (rotated at 90°) it will block out most light. You just cut little rectangles (rotated at 90, of course) and stick them together for a good light filter. It won't completely eliminate all the light, so you can still tell that your TV is not on (which is REALLY important).

The tragic thing? The bedroom isn't even the worst in the house. Have you ever walked through your kitchen or living room with all the lights out? LIAR! You can't. You always have a million little lights looking at you. Even if a storm knocked out all the power lines, something finds a way to light up. Why can't all the electronics manufacturers stop assaulting us with all these unnecessary lights? If we could just solve this problem then maybe would could move on to why they feel the need to put a f-ing clock on everything. I have about two places where I look for the accurate time, and guess what, my electric toothbrush is not one. A few months ago my sister asked me how to spring forward her electric toothbrush for daylight's savings. I told her I had no idea.

 

I've got a lot of old bits built-up here, so just skip over anything you've heard before...thors-clothes-1

A bunch of friends get together at the house on Tuesday nights to eat dinner and watch TV. One of those guys, let's call him Chris Christofferson (without all the K's, because, you know...) ((by the way, his real name is Èmílîö, but those accents are a bear to type, so I'll call him Chris)), likes the same podcast that I do. We like this podcast so much that we could spend hours talking about how much we hate everyone responsible for creating it. The podcast is sometimes very funny, but mostly it's just irritating. The main appeal for me & Chris seems to be that we know everything about it. We've spent so much time listening to this drivel that we get all the in-jokes and meta references. I would tell you the name of this podcast, but I'm currently so mad at them that I could spit.

111207181_2d4597c3a9_oAs I said, Chris and I could spend hours gabbing about this stupid podcast. Unfortunately, everyone else in the Tuesday group couldn't care less about it. Actually, it's gone farther than that now. They're beyond apathy; as soon as Chris and I start talking about the podcast, everyone else in the room groans and rolls their eyes. They look at us like we showed up to a Christmas party and then started making out on the couch next to the fondue pot. The only thing worse is when I start to talk about P90X (day 44, WhuWHAA?). Let that remote control stray near my hand and I'll punch up my latest favorite workout so I can talkthors-clothes-2 about how awesome Tony Horton is. Even Chris rolls his eyes at that. By the way -- BMH's synonyms for "making out": snogging. swapping spit. tonsil hockey. angering the PDA-police. Frustrating the prefects. giving each other a furious tongue-lashing.

Speaking of P90X, week six was awesome, but I'm not sorry to see it go. On the plus side, I didn't $h*t myself during the Legs & Back workout (not even once!), so it was already better than week 5. On the down side, I watched a maraton of Big Love right before working out and I kept confusing Tony Horton for Bill Paxton. "Why don't you go marry some more underage women, and THEN you can tell me how many plange pushups to do!"

thors-clothes-3Here's my P90X "Tip of the Day": Record your reps, weights, and how you felt after each exercise. A handy place to keep track of your stats is on the back of a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. It would be tragic if you happened to collapse from cardiac arrest during P90X. Worse than that: to be shocked back to life by paramedics only to find out you still have twenty-five minutes of exercise to do. Play it safe; sign a DNR.Mindi_Abair_with_saxophone

The people working out behind Tony have got to be the best part of the videos. They're fit, but you can tell that some of them used to be downright fugly. Some careers demand a less attractive individual. The more good-looking a comedian, the less likely they are to be funny. Sax players have to be careful as well. If you're a decent saxophonist, don't get too buff or wear anything too slinky. I have two examples which easily prove my point: the guy from Lost thors-clothes-4Boys (Tim Cappello), and the lady from American Idol (Mindi Abair). They just look ridiculous. A good sax player should be at least thiry pounds overweight.

Speaking of overweight, I need to mention my friend Thor Heyerdahl (his real name is Tom). He's not at all overweight, but he believes he is. Anorexia is characterized by a distorted self-image (check), fear of weight-gain (check), and eating extremely little (okay, he eats almost normally, but still). Sorry Thor, but two out of three ain't bad. The other day Thor left his clothes at my house. I know what you're thinking, but we were working out, that's all. Seriously, that's all. Anyway, the next weekened, a bunch of us thought it would be funny to dress up in Thor's clothes. Wearing other people's clothes is fun. Dressing up a baby in Thor's nice shirt and perching her on top of a horse -- classic!

Speaking of fun things, ticks suck.

Also:

  • Baked Potatoes = good
  • Potato Chips = awesome
  • Baked Potato Chips = abomination

thors-clothes-5I texted that to BMH (Brian Mutha-effing Holdt y'all,  -pop-  !POP!), and he almost lost his mind. He's a big fan of Baked Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar chips. Ugh. BLECH! He replied "BLEXCELLENT!" He's a zealot for these chips. People get crazy-angry about the strangest things.

Have you ever gone to leave the house, forgot something, and walked back in? You slink in like a criminal. God forbid someone catches you. A well timed "Back so soon?" comment is enough to send me into a murderous rage. My friend Copernicus (his real name is Anthony) reminded me of another good one: you get halfway to the parking garage before you realize you left your keys back in the office. On your way back in, someone says (read this in a goofy, sing-song way) "You're going the wrong way!" I believe all criminal charges should be waived for retaliation to a statement like that. In fact, if a person says "You're going the wrong way!" then you should be legally obligated to punch them in the face.

thors-clothes-6 Here's a picture of a baby girl dressed up in Thor's clothes and sitting on a horse. Classic, right? Finally, I've secretly posted a picture of my abs for Katie Chandler (her real name is Shannon). I think they're underneath Thor's shirt though.

This was Day 34 of P90X for me. Week 5—Day 6, which meant Kenpo X again!

I've done Kenpo X five times now (day 6, 13, 20, 24, and today), so you gotta figure I know the routine pretty well by now. I certainly feel like I know how to do the lifting videos at this point, and I'm a damn genius at Ab Ripper X. But Kenpo X is different. There are a lot of moving parts in Kenpo X. I realized during the jab, cross, hook, uppercut section that doing everything exactly wrong might feel the same as doing everything exactly right; especially to the self-taught.

I'm sure it's the same thing with Yoga X too, but I've taken yoga from an instructor for several years, so I think I know what the forms are supposed to look like. When Tony Horton (on the P90X DVD) tells me to go into Prayer Twist, I hear Brett (my yoga instructor) in my head telling me to do the following:

  1. Tone my abs,
  2. Keep my front knee above my ankle,
  3. Straighten and lift my back leg,
  4. Push the ball of my back foot towards the back of the room,
  5. Press my elbow into my thigh,
  6. Pivot my belly over my leg,
  7. Puff out my kidneys,
  8. Breathe into my back,
  9. Straighten and lift my back leg (again),
  10. Relax my face,
  11. Lift my front toes, and,
  12. Lower my hips.

BrettRussman

Seriously, Brett (pictured to the left, on his day off) will say ALL OF THAT during one prayer twist. He's a real chatterbox. Tony barely says anything about what I should puff and where I should breathe. So what if I had a Kenpo X instructor watching me flail around today? He probably would have laughed until he threw up, and then made me throw a single punch again and again for an hour until I got it right.

Does it matter though? Would I burn more calories with the right form? That hardly seems logical. Usually doing it wrong = inefficient, and inefficient = more energy expended. I can't imagine a bunch of martial artists haning around trying to figure out how to throw a punch like a botard so they'll collapse in a sweaty heap. They probably prefer to throw a million punches without huffing and puffing.

One interesting thing about week 5—even the routines you've done before are harder. Week 4 was supposed to be a recovery week. It was mostly cardio, core, and stretching. Week 5 added two new routines on days 1 (chest, shoulders, and triceps), and 3 (biceps and back). Turns out that those new videos are really hard. It's part of the P90X "really hard" workout scheme. They give you a bunch of "hard" stuff to do for a month, and then (as soon as you feel like you've got a handle on that), they crank it up to "really hard." It's a very cunning plan, and well executed too. I've been just as sore for the past 4 days as I was for the first 7. But, like I said, the interesting thing is that even the routines you thought you knew become harder. The legs and back on day 5 was difficult on weeks 1, 2, and 3, but it's even worse when you've done a million pullups on day 3. Even the yoga kicked my ass this week.poison_03

There's a guy in the back of the Kenpo X who does the whole routine with a smirk. He's got the confidence of a 80's hair-band guitarist in the middle of a solo. Look in his eyes—he just wishes that a home intruder would break in during this video. He would tear that thief's head off and then "hook, uppercut" the bloody stump. The rest of us are also praying for a home intruder, an armed one, who will just shoot us before we have to do one more panting back kick.

 

 

It didn't happen again. We didn't manage to have any armageddons. If you were a fan of the TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (and who was, really?), then you may remember that last Wednesday, Skynet went online. Today is the day that Skynet became self-aware. That means that there was supposed to be an earth-shattering Ka-Boom!

There are two reasons it didn't happen:

1) We're lazy, and,

2) Teledildonics.

I'll address the first one first, if you don't mind. I'm sure that when you read "We're lazy," most of you just skimmed past it or nodded just a tiny bit. No doubt you couldn't quite muster the energy to argue the point. But let me clarify anyway. In the early 60's, Ted Nelson coined the term "hypertext," which you've probably heard about. Those little links on webpages are common forms of hypertext. You click on a hypertext link and it's most likely going to take you to related information. That can really help you get context for what you're reading, or give you a trail to follow if you'd like to branch off and dive into a different subject.

This is a natural extension of the sentence. You've got a pile of words which are grouped together to give context to each other: 

"She drove that red car."

These words modify and clarify each other until an idea is conveyed. Then, the hypertext link elaborates further for anyone willing to click. But Ted Nelson didn't intend for us to stop there. In fact, Ted Nelson believes that the Worlds-Wides-Web is a really lame implementation of the hypertext model. Ted wants everyone to be using Project Xanadu. Imagine taking linking to the next level by having a giant, cross-linked tangle of non-sequential information where you could navigate through any way you desired. I'll give you second to let that sink in. Make sense? I think Ted could explain it better, if you have the time.

When I think about the Intersweb, it seems like a giant mound of data. IBM recently proved that you can take all that data (plus a whole bunch more) and if you've got a good enough query engine, you can win at Jeopardy. The problem is, that data doesn't contain context. Pop the word "drove" out of the sentence above. What does it mean?

Drove:

  • a group of animals (a herd or flock) moving together
  • a moving crowd
  • a stonemason's chisel with a broad edge for dressing stone
  • drive - travel or be transported in a vehicle; "We drove to the university every morning"; "They motored to London for the theater"
  • drive - force: force into or from an action or state, either physically or metaphorically; "She rammed her mind into focus"; "He drives me mad"
  • drive - to compel or force or urge relentlessly or exert coercive pressure on, or motivate strongly; "She is driven by her passion"
  • drive - repel: cause to move back by force or influence; "repel the enemy"; "push back the urge to smoke"; "beat back the invaders"
  • drive - compel somebody to do something, often against his own will or judgment; "She finally drove him to change jobs"
  • drive - push, propel, or press with force; "Drive a nail into the wall"
  • drive - cause to move rapidly by striking or throwing with force; "drive the ball far out into the field"

There's no way to know. But, if you linked that word over to the specific meaning, you wouldn't need the context of the other words. This is the level we haven't reached with our webs. This is the level that Ted thinks we should reach.

How will we know when we get to this level? Let's call it the Guttenberg test.

In Short Circuit, Steve Guttenberg hands Number 5 a coffee stain on a piece of paper and asks him what it is. After describing the chemical composition of coffee (in other words, he just provides a pile of raw data), the robot tells him it looks like a butterfly or something. This proves that he's "alive." As soon as our information is so well correlated that we can find the butterflies, then we can have self-aware artificial intelligence and we can usher in Judgement day where the machines will go to war with us. But, unfortunately, we're too lazy.

Reason 2:

The other reason we don't get to have awesome metal killing machines is even more disappointing: Teledildonics. These are computer-controlled sex toys that can be operated at a distance. Can you guess who invented this term? Yes, you're correct, this term was also coined by Ted Nelson. He came up with teledildonics about 1975. So, after pushing his revolutionary scheme for turning data into intelligence for about ten years, he decided to do something useful.

I can only assume that we go so wrapped up in our teledildonics that we're just going to have to keep waiting for the self-aware killing machines.

Subcategories

Reclusion - the state of being separated from society, but this word carries the connotation that the separation is a chosen way of life. 

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