Mean Machines, Part I

Maxim, a magazine whose print edition I occasionally read for its informative articles (particularly its investigative photo-essays of women of achievement in the film and print industry), this month featured a number of extremely high-performance cars in its column The Ride (link is to pictures and multimedia, some by subscription, which augments the print piece).

Expert advice provided by Lamborghini technical advisor on how to properly use the Lamborghini Murcielago, which sports a 6.2 L, 575 horsepower V-12 engine that can propel the vehicle from zero to sixty in 3.8 seconds (2.7 seconds Canadian):

“Try to keep the yellow side up.”

Words by which to live.

Report from the Burbs

As the beautiful wife and I have begun landscaping our beautiful suburban home in Casinoport, Missouri (an inner ring suburb of St. Charles, Missouri), I needed to replace the repeatedly-run-over hose with something that continued to fit onto spigot. We replaced the old Sentry Hardware $1.99 Long Straw model hose with the $2.99 (inflation) Ace Hardware Long Straw model hose. But when it came to the nozzle, I insisted we purchase an heirloom-quality water flow control device. I warm pleasurably with the thought of my great-grandchildren spraying each other as they wash the aerocar using the nozzle I bought.

The Nozzle

The Nozzle

So of course we chose the Nelson Model 2280 Industrial Metal nozzle. This nozzle includes a long list of features, including:

  • Water pressure rated to 100 psi. Granted, my Long Straw hose cannot handle that, and my spigot would rather sprinkle the basement than spit out anything beyond 1 TPS (Trickle Per Second), but just in case we get a nuclear-powered water pump in the future, we will be ready.
  • Hot water rated to 160°F, which is what the Azalea prefers. Unfortunately, this model cannot handle water that’s actually boiling, but when we need to scald the petunias, we can continue to use the tea kettle.
  • Heavy-duty zinc construction. It’s not titanium or Kevlar, but when it oxidizes, it will double as a sun block.
  • THERMOGUARD insulated for hot or cold water comfort. You don’t want Anything less than THERMOGUARD, like THERMOBARKINGDOG.
  • Reinforced brass stem and nut. Although it sounds slightly dirty, it’s not, but merely sounding phallic is feature enough.
  • Crush-resistant glass-filled nylon handle. Because crushable glass-filled Rayon handles are for wussies.
  • Threaded tip for hose accessories. Definitely a plus, since the type of person who buys an industrial water nozzle will be easily influenced to buying additional accessories.
  • Lock-on water clip. I haven’t tried it yet, but I assume this means something like a tone like the fighter pilots hear for those exact moments when I have the rose bushes lined up for a primary “soak shot.”

All of this for just $11.99, which is much more than I paid for the hose, but worth it. For aside from the features denoted above, the nozzle has the word Industrial right on the handle. Each time I grip it, I will remember I am above the hoi polloi who use lesser water nozzles.

Of course, when we bought it on Saturday, the nozzle became an instant part of our family. Lawrence, as he prefers we call him, instantly bonded not only with me, but also Heather and the cats.

He’s moved right in and has adjusted to life outside of the hardware store and outside the blister card with eager anticipation for what each new day brings. Freed from the NASA-style sleeping arrangement hanging from a hook in Ace Hardware, Lawrence prefers a medium-firmness pillow and likes to sleep late on Sundays.

Although he sleeps late, Lawrence is not lazy. He’s ready to get to work dispensing water to the parched flora (and occasional fauna if one of those “cute baby rabbits” gets too close to any of our hundreds of dollars on nursery-bought flora). He understands the impact of the rain, which has left him on the bench this week, but he’s encouraged when we tell him that July and August are coming, and with them, the annual unprecedented drought.

In our conversations, Lawrence and I have developed a deep respect for one another. Although we don’t always agree on the finer details of some issues, such as how long to deploy a spray upon an individual perennial, we agree that water is an absolute necessity for flowers, and that when April showers are a distant memory, it’s only our teamwork that will preserve the order we have established with weedblock fabric and mulch. And that’s enough to make our relationship start, and undoubtedly it will grow over time.

Lawrence Sleeps In
Lawrence Sleeps In
Lawrence looks out the window wistfully, ready to begin
Lawrence waits for the sun to come out so he can get to work

Some people wondered how a cosmopolitan, artistic, urban soul like me would fit into the rustic, drive-to-the-strip-mall life in Casinoport.

I fit right in, thanks.

Suh-Weet Disclaimer

Heather’s gone off on her new bike many times on her blog, but as a certified Reel Gud Dock Righter, it’s up to me to critique the Owner’s Manual (Version 5.0).

Okay, not the whole thing. I focused on the sweet disclaimer at the front:

GENERAL WARNING: Bicycling can be a hazardous activity even under the best of circumstances. Proper maintenance of your bicycle is your responsibility and is essential to reducing the risk of injury. This Manual contains many “Warnings” and “Cautions” concerning the consequences of failure to maintain or inspect your bicycle. Many of the Warnings and Cautions say “you may lose control and fall”. [sic, Ms. Igert, I swear] Because any fall can result in serious injury or even death, we do not repeat the warning of possible injury or death whenever the risk of falling is mentioned.

As a Doc-U-Matic 3000, I generate my share of droll technical specs and manuals, but since I do software, I never get the cool caveats. Instead, I get things like “Performing this action might result in unexpected results.” or “Running this utility while your server is running can corrupt your database.” Where’s the threat of death? Where’s the danger, the intrigue?

While researching this blog entry, I saw the new Version 6.0 Owner’s Manual on the Giant Bicycle’s Web site (marketing message: “Cycling Solution Provider for everyone” which would seem to indicate everyone has a cycling problem, dilemma, or conundrum). Still, the upgraded doc says:

The combination of the safety alert symbol and the word WARNING indicates a potentially hazardous situation which, if not avoided, could result in serious injury or death.

How sexy is that? When do I get to threaten the people who ignore my reason of career existence with death for ignoring me?

Who Needs An Intercom?

In my previous days as an experienced Estate Sale Con-E-Sur, I spent a lot of times scavanging the homes of the well-to-do who acquired their, well, to-dos in the 1950s and 1960s. One thing that struck me besides, and often beside, the ovens built into the walls at an ergonomic height, was the hard-wired intercoms within some of the ranch homes, many of which could have fit the 13 x 65 mobile home in which I spent a couple of years into their basements. What a remarkable concept, I thought. But the idea died out in the 1950s, perhaps fifty years before these homes’ owners ended their retirements. My beautiful wife and I bought a home that lacks one, and the house was built when Lyndon Johnson was president.

Never fear, IM is here! Although my wife’s office and my office hide on opposite ends of different floors of our split-level home (no coincidence), we can get the benefits of the anachronistic knob-and-speaker assemblies in the Ladue and Town and Country homes. “Honey,” she types, “I am going to bed,” and I hear her voice within my imagination more clearly than I would through fifty-year-old vacuum tubes. “I’ll be right down,” I type carefully, examining each key carefully as I peck out the response to make sure each letter is where I left it. And I go, to kiss her good night and ensure the bed is adequately feline-occupied for her slumber.

The TCP/IP packets leave not detritus, though, and somehow it’s somewhat less satisfying to think our communication leaves no residue, unlike those lines hard-wired and ostentatiously-wrought in 1954.

The Marvel Universe, Online, Almost Officially

Oh, bay bee! I don’t know if you all remember the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89, but they were encyclopedias of the almost all characters that had appeared in Marvel comic books since the beginning of time.

Looks like the Marvel Directory, a fan site with some claimed support from Marvel, has brought the whole thing online. I am weeping happy geek tears.

Which reminds me: I forgot to look for Stan Lee in X-Men 2. Sorry, honey, but guess where we have to go this weekend?

From our Department of Irony

I received two unsolicited e-mail messages this afternoon, on my home account no less, from some punk outfit calling itself DarkSoft Group wants me to give them twenty bucks for an anti-spam remedy! Here’s the message, courtesy of some other guy who thinks as highly of them as I do.

The ad claims you can download the product from the #1 download site on the Internet. Let’s be frank: I don’t know how to discover any psuedo-scientific rankings, but I’ve always been a doubting Thompson, and I doubt that whoever is, they get a lot of casual traffic from people who type sil00001 into the Address bar to find software.

Let me see, give my credit card number to one or more punks collectively known by a name more suited to some 733t h4x0rz than a software company, and probably then provide them with the names and passwords to all my e-mail accounts? What’s not to like about that deal?

I just don’t have the twenty bucks.

Se Habla Un Poquito Del Espanol

I took four years of El Espanol en la….I mean, in high school, and then a year and a half in college. I got to use the language in a real world situation this weekend when I scrawled a “Felices Cumpleanos” on a birthday card for a friend whose party was at a Mexican restaurant. It’s a good thing that the party wasn’t held in Mexico proper; “Felices Cumpleanos” is about the extent of the extant vocabulary within my Spanish repertoire. But although the Spanish vocabulary and much of the advance conjugation and syntax have passed into the memory cells waiting to be recycled for Pink lyrics, I still retain some of what I picked up in Spanish classes. No, I met the lovely and talented Heather elsewhere. I meant I learned something in Spanish class.

Of course, early in my educational career I knew I was an English Nerd (Geek would have paid better). After all, I graduated from high school with ten credits of English, the equivalent of ten years of English classes, and I accumulated almost enough English credits in college to render me ineligible for an English degree. Although the typical high school grammar-indoctrination courses were geared to beat the rules of English grammar and syntax into my head, I didn’t really grok the point until I started fumbling phonics in another language.

Trying to speak another language helped to abstract the principles of written, and to a lesser extent oral, communication. For example, take the simple question “Could you run to the store?” Although common enough in the common vernacular, the content of this simple sentence relies upon a number of peculiarites of the idiom. To whit:

  • “Could” represents the conditional tense, which means that a condition must be satisfied for the statement, much like in computer programming. I could, if that damn pit bull hadn’t gnawed my leg of at the shin–bad Otis!
  • “run” is the English equivalent of “go” and can stand in for run, walk, drive, or whatever means of locomotion is appropriate.

The roles of the different parts of speech, and the different verb tenses (past or subjunctive? conditional or future?), stopped being the goofy impositions of the great grammarian overlords, the honorable William Safire presiding. Instead, they became the Legos brand toy building blocks used to build sentences, paragraphs, and communication between two or more people. Not immutable laws, but they’ve got their uses.

Of course, I came away with this insight only because my natural predilections normally predilecked toward the uses of languages. I’m not so sure the others who similar classes came away with a similar appreciation for the subtle art of speaking and writing clearly. Most of them still like to mix the red blocks with the blue blocks when making a tree, but they’ve had every opportunity to know which pieces are green.

Consume What You Harvest

In line at the hardware store with the artist formerly known as hli, I saw the most saddening thing I have seen in some time: a tennis racket that’s electrically configured to zap bugs. Although the thing says it’s not a toy, it’s designed and packaged to be used as a tennis racket with insects as the ball, and their deaths as the result.

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s specifically a toy to kill insects. This is ohsovery wrong.

Swatting bugs inside the house or upon you when you’re outside is necessity in preventing parasites from using you for lunch or preventing insects from consuming your grain. However, to simply go out of your way to kill them is kind of sick. They used to perjoratively say that a bad seed was the kind of kid to “pull the wings off of flies.” Now some bunch of yippie skippy Ron Zapeils come along to make it fun for the whole family.

Some PETA gum flapper might come along and say it’s just like huntung, but it’s not. Responsible hunters consume what they harvest. I assume these wannabe bug batters are not. If they do, and they’re putting moths, beetles, and bumblebees on the table for dinner, I don’t have a problem with it. But you’re not going to see Ted Nugent kill it and grill it (in one convenient step!) any time soon.

Fortunately, there’s not been a craze or anything, which proves either we’re in a recession and people cannot afford the finer things in life like a battery-operated taser-set-on-kill toy, or that America’s not slid so far into irreverant decadence that mainstream people want to kill something anything, other than virtually through video games, for fun. When I get a warm fuzzy glow after a pitcher of margaritas, I can convince myself it’s the latter.

A Guaranteed Business Plan

At the local Casinoport grocery store we attend, a giant green monstrosity sits just beyond the cash register. A Coinstar machine. A machine designed to count coins and dispense almost as much in dollars as you put in in cents.

There’s a business plan for you. To build a machine that counts coins for Americans who are too lazy or who cannot count their own coins and takes a 7% vig right off the top.

When I tried the old, “Do you have a quarter for two dimes” trick in elementary school, I couldn’t find any takers. I should have, instead of using the “human touch” factor, just built a cold machine to do the same thing. People pay for that sort of convenience.

Survivors Will Be Prosecuted

Authorities in Tennessee have arrested a conflagrant lawbreaker for going into his burning building apartment building to save his dog. 26-year-old Jarrod Martin was led away in shackles after retrieving his year-old pit bull named Bishop from certain doom.

Authorities have charge him with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct for his heroism. They say he put his life at risk, and potentially put at risk the lives of firemen who would have had to drag him out if he were injured in the blaze.

About as funny, and tragically so, as the laws against suicide. The various governments will now tell you what you can or cannot value to the risk of your own life. After all, if you sacrifice or take your life, they only get your death tax, if any, not the recurrent revenue of your income, sales, and excise taxes. You’re worth more alive than dead, so you really should only risk your life to save one or more other taxpayers or future taxpayers. Ogre, it should be illegal to charge into a burning building to save a pet or dive into a raging river to try to retrieve a lucky fishing hat that was a gift from your father.

And make no mistake about it, survivors will be prosecuted.

Quick! Name Three Countries Beginning with P!

My wife asked me this question, minus the additional pressure of the “Quick!”, earlier this week. I know she works with shipping software, so I didn’t know if she knew and was testing my comprehensive knowledge of trivia, or if she had a point.

“Uh,” I said, buying time for the beginning of the tour of the mental globe I could conjure. “Papua New Guinea, the Phillipines, Paraguay….” I didn’t know if the world only contained three P countries. I knew I couldn’t depict Africa in my mind with any accuracy, or the South Pacific, but I thought the three I named were countries, for sure.

She wasn’t testing me; she needed the information for her blog. But she piqued my curiosity, and I knew where to go to quickly uncover an alphabetical list of countries. As an IT professional, albeit a technical writer hanger-on, I might be expected to go to Google or some other Internet source to isolate the information I need. Oh, but no.

I have a World Almanac. A micro-Internet on my bookshelf, and its response does not depend upon the traffic between me and my ISP. My World Almanac indicated I had forgotten such obvious selections as Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Portugal, as well as Palua. In addition to the names, my World Almanac provides me detailed information about population, currency, land mass, and other trivia too trivial to mention.

Since they continue to print almanacs, I assume I am not the only one who still gets them (albeit this one was a gift from my lovely wife, who must have thought my trivial overload in any conversation was somewhat lacking in diversity and scope). Before people could wander the Internet to use portals and search engines to pique their interests in new subjects to explore, they had encyclopedias and almanacs. Whereas the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica have pretty much fallen by the wayside, and their online counterparts struggle to keep an online public informed, some hardy publishers keep printing and binding almanacs.

I’d like to take a moment to thank them for the effort, and for the eventual Trivia Night supremacy they’re provoking. Although the Internet remains directively informative–you have to really have to make some effort to find factual material–almanacs let you recline in a chair and browse them while a fire hisses from the gas fireplace and swing music whispers from the digital cable stream.

All right, I guess I am in the middle of a shift from the traditional to the digital, but I have the best of both worlds. When almanacs are gone, we’ll have one less world of which we can enjoy the best.

Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes?

I am not a misogynist, but…. Of course, if I say that, immediately you think either the next words out of my keyboard will be, or that I am learning the proper obsequiescence of a Sensitive Nineties Man (SNM) too late for it to do any good for the nineties, but I am not a misogynist; I think women are one of the top two genders in the world. So with that waiver aside….

The Girl Scouts’ annual April Showers drive is this month. They left their little yellow bags hanging from our door knob last weekend, and they will return this Saturday to collect whatever HABA effluvia we care to cast off.

So while the Boy Scouts go scouting for food every year, blocking subdivision streets with their herds of minivanned mothers trailing so Junior doesn’t collapse from exhaustion walking down one too many driveways, the Girl Scouts collect shampoo, soap, lotion, and brushes? The male hunter gatherer refills the larder while the female of the species lies around the house, eating Thin Mints, and occasionally collecting hair care products for the impoverished.

I would not be against giving out a second helping of food in April, as the Christmas charity supply dwindles, so why don’t the Girl Scouts collect food, too? I mean, with the vast masses starving while the Republicans allegedly burn Baghdad for light to better read their violin scores, is there nothing more we can do than to make sure our hungry people smell better? Soap, shampoo, and lotions are the first corners whacked off to appease the budgetary gods of the hungry belly. Have we, the charitable Americans, so sated this hunger that we’re now onto putting free ribbons in their hair?

Oh, but no. Instead, we have the opportunity to give soap and feminine products. I’m not saying there won’t be a bag on the big red SG doors this weekend; we [the artist formerly known as hli and now Mrs. Brian J.] get enough bath baskets for Christmas that we can certainly provide some Jasmine Jetsam of some sort or another. I guess I’d rather see the opportunity for effortless giving of necessities, not self-esteem boosters. And certainly not posed as the main concern of the futre women of America.

Reading All The Print

My life was simpler before I started reading the details nestled among the ubiquitous service contracts I am suddenly expected to sign, apparently without reading or forethought. Previous generations’ advice tells us people once entered contracts after negotiation and attorney consultation, or at least deliberation. Now, however, corporations and other groups have decided consumers don’t need to pay attention since we’re getting such a deal! Initial here and sign by the checkmark.

For example, when I explored Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) options available for high-speed Internet access, a provider wanted me to sign and fax back a contract, ASAP. He could immediately connect me, THE SAP, and give me the full benefit of that day’s special pricing. His pressing need smacked of an unmet quota and a touch of unbridled hucksterism. I read the contract from paragraph 1 to paragraph 14, and I encountered paragraph 13. After some empathetic text about the company’s certain costs associated with business, I would “agree that [I] will reimburse [them] for any and all direct costs, fees and charges that [they] may incur from other providers as a result of [my] installation….”

Although I recognize the business difficulty the DSL provider might have pacing customer demand with its existing equipment, this paragraph makes me responsible for any equipment or services the company needs to honor its end of the contract. A new router for several thousand dollars? That’s my responsibility, since I was one customer who put the provider over its current equipment capacity.

I pointed this out to the DSL salesman. Of course, he assured me, that’s not what they meant. However, contracts are not supposed to be open to interpretation. Between what the DSL provider meant and what the contract said, the court would rule against the fleeting meaning every time. When I pursued the matter, the DSL company decided it no longer sold residential DSL.

When my wife and I wanted to adopt a rescue dog, we had a hound visit our house, mainly to see if it wanted to eat our cats. The rescue volunteer provided a packet of information about dogs and a contract we would have to sign to take possession of the pooch. The contract included house inspections at will of the rescue group. It could also take the dog back at any time if it found our conditions “unsuitable, which includes but not limited to…” a non-exclusive litany. If we lost the dog; we’d pay the rescue group a thousand dollars, even if we “lost” the dog ten years hence when it died and we did not notify the rescue group in 1 (one) week.

Of course, that’s not what the contract meant. Contracts don’t mean, they say explicitly. I’d rather not subject myself to the next generation of dog rescuers and their intents, which might differ from the people who wrote the contract in the first place and what they meant in the contract. So our cats are safe today.

As contracts become more ubiquitous, we consumers are becoming conditioned to sign and accept them at face value. As a result, organizations use them more and stack them more against the unquestioning signer. I question the contracts, and argue with adamant, unthinking organizational organisms. These people never negotiate, and if I don’t like the contract, they challenge me to find a better deal. As a result, I’m happily on a month-to-month dial-up connection and without a dog or cell phone. However, I’m also not dependent on fickle intentions and interpretations of my service providers and their boilerplate, cut and paste contracts.