Pet Peeve #10 …

The latest “fantastic deal” from Comcast/XFinity …

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Seriously, I would like to believe there is a special place in hell for people who package their corporate junk advertising to look like priority mail coming from an individual.

I’m thinking they go somewhere on the 8th circle, in one of the bolgias (malicious fraudulents) … right between people who auto-roll video loudly at page load, and people who claim to be “fans” of a band but secretly only like a couple of their most-popular albums.

Seriously, your first interaction with me is to deliberately misrepresent yourself and deceive me into opening your unsolicited sales pitch? Oh, sign me up for whatever “limited time offer” you’re selling.

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Gotta Love Facebook

Facebook:  Your last post is performing better than 95% of your other posts.  You should boost it.
Me: …
Facebook: Your post continues to perform well.  For $10 we can show it to 1500-3000 more people.
Me:  …
Facebook:  No really! Boosting your post will drive more hits and likes to your business.  Boosting your recent popular post will enable you reach thousands more people for just $5.
Me:  Okay, fine.  Here’s $10 bucks.
Facebook:  Your boost is rejected!

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A Rare Parenting Post …

17191499_10155129297615802_693229583783904952_nEpiphanies do seem to come suddenly and from the strangest places … I suppose that’s why they call them epiphanies instead of “thoughts you just have because they make sense.”  Case in point, I have this kid — or small proto-adult — living in my home.  We call her “Lil’ Q.”  She’s six … soon to be seven.  Her hobbies are, for the most part, drawing and writing.  I mean, seriously writing.  Most little girls this age, based on my observation, like to play with dolls or Barbie’s or whatever and play-act scenarios.  Not mine.  We were at the store the other day, and like any completely pwned father, I took her through the toy aisle, thinking I might let her pick out something, seeing as how she was being very well behaved for a six-year-old who had been dragged to at least four stores by her father who was attempting to run weekly errands and such.  So, half-expecting we’d be picking up our forty-fifth or forty-sixth Barbie doll to complete the small army she’s attempting to assemble, I was completely taken aback when she declared, “Actually, I need a new secret journal for my stories and a new song lyric notebook.  I filled up all the pages in my old ones.”

Ummm … those were 100-page composition books your grandmother gave you for Christmas.  That was only, like, two months ago.  Come on, kid, we’ve got a whole toy department.  Are you sure those are full?  Did you write on the backs of the pages and everything, because that comes to something like fifteen pages a day on the days you’re with me?  (She insisted she had, and I later confirmed she was mostly correct.) Sure, whatever. I can buy ten new notebooks for the price of a Barbie doll.  Heck, kid, take four.

Now, it’s not like this was a TOTAL surprise.  She’s got stacks of papers with little poems, song lyrics, and stories she’s written.  I will admit, at one point she shocked me by presenting three pages of a story, complete with punctuation, spelling, and a vocabulary well in advance of a first-grader – that was until I realized she’d spent an entire afternoon diligently copying pages out of a Robert Ludlum novel I was reading.  Not to mention, I’d already been called to a conference with the teacher about Lil’ Q’s … prolificacy.  Apparently, when you give her a writing assignment like “write two lines about what you did last weekend,” MY kid takes two lines PLUS the entire back of the page to craft some weird, semi-surrealistic Madeline L’Engle short story that mashes up Nickelodeon sitcoms, DC comics, and Disney Princesses.  Her teacher admits she has never seen anything like it, and unfortunately, there is no real curriculum in the first grade for encouraging and developing future Kerouacs (who I’m sure she has never read, though she can imitate his prose style with surprising fidelity).

As with most of the things our kids do, this got me thinking back to my childhood.  Sure, at her age, I suppose I too was a budding storyteller.  I had just discovered the joys of the Hardy Boys and Star Trek, and my earliest creative tendencies probably did involve the same odd mash-up storylines acted out by various completely unrelated action figures.  I just don’t remember the driving urge to write them down.  Of course, I had other distractions – piano lessons, little league, friends constantly knocking on the door wanting to go ride bikes.  Hell, it was Mississippi.  We didn’t have that three or four-month stretch where it was too cold to go outside, and kids back then didn’t tend to sit around in isolation playing video games or watching 200 channels of television the way HER friends seem to.  So perhaps this is, in a way, a strange evolution for a 21st-century kid whose dad doesn’t watch or encourage the watching of television.  I’m starting to think we might need to have mandatory TV time.

So, this much sussed out, the next question is, what the hell do you do about it?  Instinctively, I know encouragement is key, and assuming her personality is like mine in most of the other ways, formal instruction or correction is guaranteed to put her off faster than anything.  It took me a while to figure out that this was a key underlying motivation that drove me to computer science (which my parents know NOTHING about) and turned me off of any kind of organized instruction in music or sports (which they were experts in and ALWAYS had a critique of).  Sure, at her teacher’s recommendation, I will offer constructive challenges like making sure stories have beginnings, middles, and ends.  As for spelling and general trivia, I simply direct her to the non-judgmental tutelage of Amazon’s Alexa, although the latter is notoriously bad with homonyms, resulting in a disturbing story last weekend about “meating friends,” which I can only hope was an honest mistake.

As for the rest, I have no idea.  I can very clearly remember my creative bursts as a third or fourth-grader, recording various and sundry “radio plays” on a shoebox cassette recorder, constructing epic D&D modules as a fifth and sixth grader, or attempting to write a sprawling sci-fi novel as a teenager.  Back then, inspiration came from everywhere.  I remember when the briefest glimpse down an alleyway or throwaway line of conversation in a crowd could explode into a million ideas for stories – half the time already played out in my head before I got home to commit them to a more permanent medium.  I also remember the cruel wall of self-awareness that came in high school, when the post-puberty version of me began to ask that most-defeating of questions, “Wait … is this any good?!”  By the end of high school, creativity was quite literally shut down.  Practically overnight, I went from editing fanzines in my bedroom with my buddies to pretty much hating every book, record album, or movie I consumed thinking, “I could have done THAT, and BETTER even.”

Yeah … but, you didn’t.  You were — and by the way, decades later, STILL ARE — too busy worrying about whether it’s any good instead of just producing something you can call “Draft 1.”

So, what’s a proud father to do? Go all “Leopold Mozart/Billy Ray Cyrus” on her? I’ve read/seen/experienced enough to know that you can’t push, discourage, or otherwise interfere with someone else’s creative process. Heck, she’s already given up on ballet lessons and decided she’s going to get her black belt next.  Who am I to stop her?  (Yeah, never finished karate lessons either.)  I could warn her about the Hemingway-esque self-doubt and creative bankruptcy that looms with impending adulthood, though who in the heck ever listens to signs and portents of doom? Hell, if that worked, pretty much every novel ever written would be a LOT shorter … and more boring.  I could just clear her path and let her go, hoping she gets enough momentum to break through or steer around the wall she’s on a collision course with, but would that be enough? Or is there more to be gained letting her clear those paths herself? Or heck, she’s six, maybe by next week she’ll want to be an astronaut or something and will have forgotten all about her writing.  Obviously, I’m Dad.  I’m never going to stand in her way, and I will give her whatever she needs (or asks for), it’s just a weird feeling of helplessness wondering if that’s the most I can do, and should I even be doing THAT.

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He Gets Me. He Really Gets Me.

Okay, Alexa gives me unparalleled access to music and can play a couple of cool trivia type games around bands.  Spotify makes excellent recommendations every Monday and has turned me on to a LOT of cool bands I otherwise never would have found.  However, I really feel like IBM’s Watson and I could be best buds, sitting around drinking beer and analyzing tunes for hours on end.  I normally loathe infographics as tools for those with limited understanding to misinform those with limited attention spans (sorry, my profession is writing very large, very thorough analysis documents, and I enjoy it) but this one seems benign enough.  I’m not sure what measurements and metrics a computer algorithm

I’m not sure what measurements and metrics a computer algorithm uses to infer the meanings of songs and assign emotional scores to those meanings, but I’ll keep searching.  Case in point, Roy Orbison’s “Crying” can really only be objectively considered significantly Sadder than NIN’s “Hurt” if you measure it based on the tone of Roy’s voice (far sadder sounding than Trent’s), or the the fact that it repeats the “sad-related” word “crying” about a bajillion times, where Trent uses lesser-relatable words like pain, hurt, feel, kill only once each.  Otherwise, bumping into your ex (as in Roy’s song) hardly seems on the same plane of sadness as stripping yourself down to your emotional core and not knowing if what’s left is even truly alive (as in Trent’s song).

And don’t get me started on Lovely Rita, a song about getting a parking ticket and realizing you have a homoerotic fetish for guys (or masculine women) in uniforms, being the happiest thing the Beatles ever put out?!

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A New Tactic!

Yeah, I didn’t order any software. You don’t have a name, explanation, or any identifier on your mailer, and the return address is a company that packages and ships whatever you give them. I’m TOTALLY going to put this in my computer and see what it is.

If I was conspiracy-minded, I’d think this was a continuation of the plot by those people who keep trying to lure me to job interviews using fake Linked-In profiles with supermodel headshots.

Why are you people going to all this effort?! Look, if you’re trying to get information out of me, just send a tall, red-headed woman with a six pack of Belhaven, a pizza, and a Russian accent. I’ll spill my guts.

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Just Another Day at the Office

[Enters elevator …]droning-elevator-job-warning-sign-workplace-ecards-someecards.png

Oh, great.  Need to go to the 12th floor, but this car only goes to the 11th.  Ah, well, I guess I can walk one flight.

[Punches 11 …]

Well, that’s a weird sound.  That doesn’t sound right at all, actually.

[Elevator reaches 11 … instantly begins plumetting towards the earth …]

Holy crap!  I’m weightless!  That’s going to hurt when the emergency brakes kick in after two floors.

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

Oh, shit.  The brakes didn’t kick in.  Now what!?  I can’t exactly jump out being weightless in frefall and all.

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

So, if I die in an elevator crash, do any of my co-workers even know I’m in here?  How long is it going to take to identify my body if they don’t even know I’m in here.

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

Am I really going to die because some asshole inspector failed to noticed this crappy elevator should have been repaired?

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

So that’s it.  I’ll be dead any second now.  I wonder if it will hurt. 

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

Yep … any minute now.  Shit.

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

Weird, after all those nightmares about being trapped in defective elevators … now I really am going to die in one.

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

Well, at least it’s not the elevator that swings back and forth in the shaft with the doors hanging off the hingers … or the one where the walls fall off and it starts going sideways in mid air … just falling 11 floors down an elevator shaft seems kinda tame by comparison … I won’t even see the end coming this way … 

[Elevator continues to plumett …]

Come to think of it, this is taking an awful long time … 

[Opens eyes.  Clock says 5:45 AM.]

Oh, well played … @#$%king subconscious!

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What’s a Tortoise?

Okay, they’re at it again. You’ll remember a few weeks ago I was getting approached by “June” at IBM, who was in reality actress Anna Florentini.  Well, apparently whatever secret government project that failed to snare me with that trap has now upped their game with a new model.  In the middle of the night last night, I got an almost identical request from “Michelle” at Acosta.  Now, Michelle is a slightly improved model.  She actually has a full background and a work history, which arguably if I wasn’t so paranoid now, and if Michelle hadn’t ALSO used all caps for her first name, I would have allayed my suspicions that she’s a Voight Kampff flunkie. Unfortunately for them, I  quickly identified MICHELLE as an iStock photo model I once had a boring Match.com lunch date with.


Seriously, what is the nefarious purpose behind all of these fake profiles?  Even with the extra effort in the profile, they’re still less convincing than a Mall Santa.  Who are you people? Ex-girlfriends?  Nigerian 419 scammers?  Corporate spies?  Government recruiters looking for people who can spot fake profiles?  I will get to the bottom of this eventually, you hear me?!

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Review: How to Mutate and Take Over the World

How to Mutate and Take Over the World
How to Mutate and Take Over the World by R.U. Sirius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up when it was first published back in 1996 simply because the inside flaps sang to the 27-year-old-me with all kinds of words and phrases I didn’t really get:  “post-novel” … “meta-structure” … “deconstructionist-narrative” … wait … “cyberpunk!?”  Oh, I had to have it.  So I purchased it, read a few entries from it’s scrapbook like collection of articles, clippings, email texts, etc., and put it on my “to read” pile down in my office.  After Y2K, when I had to get a “real job” at a “real company,” the book pretty much stayed down in the unused home office, until I came across it while remodeling … now 20 years later.  I have since become a big fan of R.U. Sirius, having followed his writings and podcasts for years online, so now seemed a good time to finally sit down and actually read the book that I was so taken with in my youth.

I’m not sure “challenging” is the word to use … possibly “amusingly frustrating.” As mentioned, this is what the author’s term a “post-novel.”  Essentially, it is a scrapbook of emails, articles, clippings, and essays starting in the then present, and carrying forward to the early 2000’s (which were the future at the time). Thrown together, they tell sort of a detached story about a government that goes insane with censorship of the ever expanding “electronic frontier” of information that is being made available.  At the same time, their lack of understanding of technology gives rise to various movements, groups, cults, etc. who live sort of a half-real-world/half-virutal existence on message bords, chat rooms, tobacco bars (cigarettes are a controlled substance in this nightmare future), mental institutions (spolier?), and religious compunds.  Countering this narrative is a separate story made up of email exchanges between the authors and the publisher discussing the trials and tributions of writing and publishing the book you’re reading.  This seems absurd at first, they are actually discussing how contrived everything is, how you can slap “cyberpunk” on anything and people will buy it, and how they really don’t have a story or a climax worked out, but since they’ve already spent their advances, they have to come up with something.  About halfway through the book, this “author commentary” starts to take on a dramatic plot of it’s own, with elements of this realitiy becoming influences for the fictional reality of the “scrapbook” storyline, and that’s when things get a little confusing.

As both storylines became increasingly ludicrous and build towards the “meta-climax,” you tend to lose track of what happened to which manifestation of the author/characters 200 pages earlier, and everything sort of just blends together into surrealism out of lazy exhaustion– or possibly this was the intent. By the time you get to the two page climax of the “scrapbook” which I wouldn’t exactly call a deus ex machina so much as a  deus ex parachute to get out of the crashing plane, you realize that this is the only possible ending the book could have had.  Either way, it doesn’t matter, because you read this as a historical/cultural reference of the early (scary) Internet era; not because you’re looking for a gripping story. In all, if you don’t stop to study it too much, you can enjoy some really neat ideas, a few good chuckles, and get a nice little light-to-moderate workout for your thought organ.

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Je Suce

My first year as patriarch of the Lacout bloodline, and I totally spaced that it was Beaujolais day until 8PM.  I promise to get it right next year, ancestors.

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Confession Time

Okay, I bitch a lot about how we only got 13 episodes of Firefly.  That’s what geeks are supposed to do.  The real crime, though?  Only 26 episodes of Shimmy.

I was a faithful watcher back when it was on Discovery Health or whatever.  Back before there was “Wobble Baby,” this ensemble cast of international talent unseen since the original Star Trek, showed us that, yes, even you can belly dance.  It may look a little different, and you’re not standing on top of an oil rig in the desert …or among some sort of biodome in the arctic …or in a dayglow dungeon full of steam pipes, but nonetheless you can belly dance.

In an age when I can view and download just about any sex act imaginable on various web sites, I still find myself entranced and glued to this show for 30 minutes straight.  Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s Adalat’s approachable smile or Karen’s mastery of the “Snake Arm,” but I just can’t stop enjoying the hypnotic music and low-intensity, calorie-burning workout.  There needs to be a next generation for this.

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