Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 in Review - the Quiz


As I close out 2021, I thought I’d give my readers a little quiz. You can consider this open-book (because after all, how could I police this anyway)? Or, for an extra challenge, try it without peeking. 

(Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait until next week for the answers … they’re right down at the bottom of the post.)

2021 in Review – the Quiz

1. The movie Wonder Woman 1984 sucked because:

a) Diana (Gal Godot) got all soft and mushy as soon the love interest, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) arrived; she stopped being badass and was mainly clingy and needy, pining for him (I know, bad pun, I couldn’t resist), which was distracting and annoying
b) Diana stubbornly refused to give up Steve, though this was necessary in order to save the world (according to the absurd logic of the so-called plot) and wasn’t until Steve sternly mansplained the whole thing to her that she fell in line, as if it takes a man to save the world, even when he’s not a superhero
c) It’s totally unrealistic that a woman as gorgeous as Diana would wait for forty years for her sweetheart to reappear rather than moving on, and it’d have been so much cooler if Steve had shown up suddenly in 1984 only for Diana to say, “Uh, sorry Steve … I’m actually in a relationship”
d) The female villain in the movie was meek, nice, and nerdy until she gained her powers, which consisted of being charming, beautiful, and strong, at which point she instantly became evil as well, as if the natural consequence of empowering women is that they become total bitches

2. Why is a low-sodium diet not necessarily for everyone?

a) Modern life has people working too much, exercising too little, eating a lot of crap, and then trying to undo the damage by eating less salt … nice try
b) When I surveyed my bike team, 17 of 23 responded that they don’t worry about limiting their salt intake, and yet we’re all very healthy
c) Added salt is not a major contributor to hypertension; the salt in processed foods is more often the culprit, and these are the foods we should all be avoiding anyway due to their trans fats, nitrates, refined flour, etc.
d) Sometimes a little salt goes a long way, like regular peanut butter that has only 6% of the recommended daily value, whereas low-sodium peanut butter is so disgusting I’d rather eat my scabs … and in fact I’d almost rather eat your scabs

3. Knowing what we now know about football, and looking back at the NFL’s lawsuit against M.I.A. for flipping off the camera during the halftime show, their lawsuit is absurd because…

a) These halftime shows are so lame, the scandals (like this one or Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”) are really the only even slightly dramatic or exciting things fans ever get to see
b) Innocuous gestures like the flipping the bird are nothing compared to the domestic violence committed by football players, which the NFL happily tolerates as detailed here
c) The NFL has a long history of turning a blind eye to the rampant concussions suffered by their players and took great pains to block research into the problem, so they cannot claim any moral high ground
d) Football fans, being remarkably tolerant of all this, should totally be able to handle being flipped off

4. Primoz Roglic’s come-from-behind victory in Stage 7 of the Paris-Nice cycling stage race was actually kind of lame because…

a) Despite having already totally stomped all over his rivals for the GC, Roglic needlessly passed up Gino Mäder, a young pro who had launched a very brave breakaway and would have achieved his first-ever WorldTour victory if Roglic hadn’t cruelly nipped him at the line, thus crushing his dream
b) Roglic did this great big alpha-male victory salute as if this were the most impressive victory of his career when really it didn’t matter much, this being such a minor stage race for a rider like him
c) The way he punched the sky, it was just so tone-deaf, bringing to mind the smarty-pants kid in the classroom who’s constantly putting his hand up and, when the teacher ignores him, raises it higher, higher, higher, so his shoulder is raised, half his butt is lifting off the chair, and he’s going “Ooh, ooh, ooh” and can’t figure out why the teacher won’t call at him yet again
d) We’re all kind of tired of Roglic anyway

5. As of April, 2021 (i.e., pre-Delta) variant) what generally had to be true for COVID-19 to be transmitted from one person to another?

a) The two people had to be in fairly close proximity to each other (within about six feet)
b) There had to be a lack of good air flow (e.g., the two had to be indoors without much ventilation)
c) The exposure had to be fairly prolonged (e.g., more than just a few minutes)
d) The people had to not be wearing masks

6. Which of the following is a totally legit Tom Swifty?

a) “Nice boobs!” Tom tittered
b) “Lousy dog doesn’t even have a pedigree,” Tom muttered
c) “Denmark is full of assholes,” Tom said disdainfully
d) “Oh dear, I can’t get it up,” Tom said softly

7. What was interesting about the post-race interviews at Stage 9 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia?

a) The ever-stoic stage winner Egan Bernal said, “It may look like I’m crying right now but those are just raindrops, or maybe snot”
b) Geoffrey Bouchard, who had gotten passed with only 400 meters to go after a daring solo breakaway, said, “I hear Bernal has been sleeping with my girl as well”
c) Bouchard said, “My dad just texted me, ‘You’ve always been a loser, son,’ so my disappointment is absolute and my pride irrevocably shattered”
d) Both interviews were embellished if not outright fabricated by a playful blogger

8. What was interesting about the post-race interview at Stage 9 of the 2021 Tour de France?

a) The interviewer said to winner Ben O’Connor, “You’re a little glassy-eyed … are you gonna start crying now, like a QuickStep guy?” and O’Connor replied, “I think I can avoid that … I’m able to control myself better [than when I crossed the line] and I’m not yelling ‘yay’ anymore”
b) When the interviewer said, “Walk us through that victory salute, where you clapped your hands like a little girl at a birthday party,” O’Connor replied, “I went into that victory salute completely unprepared—I wasn’t meant to be in the break, I screwed up, I didn’t know what to do, then I heard we had three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, one fish two fish red fish blue fish, it was a mad stage, conditions were atrocious”
c) O’Connor said, “At the end there, I had to not panic, and when you think you’re gonna win a stage you can freeze up, and … look at me, dammit, I am starting to cry”
d) It’s possible the entire transcript of the interview was fabricated out of thin air

9. It can be argued that the metric system is not actually superior to the imperial, aka US customary, system of measurement. How?

a) Celsius is inferior because the units are too large, and because its scale goes beyond the temperatures generally experienced by humans, such that part of the scale (38 to 100) is wasted, and to express very cold temperatures you have to go into negative numbers, which is awkward
b) There’s no arguing that 60 mph—that is, a mile a minute—is a really handy mnemonic, since it’s roughly the speed we drive on the highway, so a destination 300 miles away will take 300 minutes to reach; no such mnemonic exists in the metric system
c) The metric units of weight, kilograms, are too large to be precise, and since a majority of Americans would like to lose weight, the units are demoralizing because who wants to forgo snacks for a whole week and only get to say, “I boy, I lost a whole half-kilo!”?
d) Base-10 is overrated because it lacks sub-multiples, so it’s poorly suited to calculating quickly in your head via fractions, which is why we don’t have a base-10 system for measuring time

10. What is the key to making good guacamole?

a) Don’t put sour cream in it
b) Don’t mix it in a blender—just roughly hack it up so it’s nice and chunky
c) Don’t use inferior ingredients—the whole idea is that Mother Nature makes the guac great so long as you don’t screw it up
d) Don’t add peyote, even if the characters in Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo spiked their guacamole with it (and note that Acosta himself just said no)

11. This year’s Paris-Roubaix bike race was particularly fun to watch because…

a) It was raining so with all the wet cobblestones and the dirt turning to mud, it was slicker than snot and there were tons of crashes
b) Gianni Moscon, who is a total scumbag who’d been in the news a number of times for misbehavior ranging from racial slurs to deliberately crashing a rider to getting a tow from the team car to punching a rival to throwing a bike at another rider, was off the front solo for a good while before falling on his ass, which made the race feel like a morality play
c) Sonny Cobrelli celebrated his victory with the most over-the-top hysterics in the history of the sport, shaking his bike at the sky as if daring the gods to defy him, throwing himself on the ground and howling like an animal, “BAAAAAA-HOO-HOO-HOO! BAAAAAA-HA-HA-HA!” and generally carrying on like he’d completely lost his mind
d) Cobrelli, when chided by the post-race interviewer for having mud on his face, replied, “No, you’re mistaken, this is an oatmeal facial mask; you see, it’s important to rehydrate your skin after a tough race like that, and oatmeal is a humectant, which means it helps the skin retain any moisture added to it, and meanwhile, oatmeal has naturally occurring glycolic acid, which effectively exfoliates dead skin cells and speeds up cell turnover, so you’re left with softer skin, less visible pores, and a more glowing and dewy appearance”

12. Which of the below products, promoted as a gift during the 2021 holiday season, is mind-bogglingly lame?

a) The aromatherapy candle, “poured [by] skilled artisans in the USA using only premium and cleanest soy wax available,” and “ideal as an aromatherapy candle or relaxing candle for yoga, meditation, and stress relief” and, best of all, “decorated with a cute, fun, adorable, and always heart-warming message of assurance,” which says in giant bold letters on the label, “I’D SHANK A BITCH FOR YOU RIGHT IN THE KIDNEY”
b) The smartphone-controlled coffee mug that enables you to set the temperature of your coffee remotely and even to set up alerts in case your coffee is in another room, since it’s simply not practical to just throw your coffee in the microwave for 20 seconds if it cools off too much
c) The clock that shows the hours and minutes as math problems you have to solve, so that you have to stop, shift gears, waste valuable time calculating the hour and minute, and then spend more time trying to calm back down because you’re pissed off now about having had to do all this
d) The $995 Gucci shoe/slipper that is a leather dress shoe in the front and a fur-lined slipper in the back, like what Chewbacca would wear if he went to prom

The answers

Great job, you made it to the end! Let’s see how you did.

Guess what: all answers are correct, thus I congratulate you on a perfect quiz! You are clearly a very astute reader of albertnet, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog for the last twelve months. Come back next year and pay close attention, because some of my upcoming posts are gonna be on the test!

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume I


I’d say albertnet isn’t really a blog, per se, in the sense of a “web log” (i.e., diary or journal). I try to write essays, reports, or humor pieces that have a point other than simply documenting my life. (After all, who cares about my particular experience?). All this being said, I’m emboldened of late by recent published volumes of David Sedaris’ diaries, which people seem to like well enough, and by an account in The New Yorker of the upcoming publication of (part of) the journal of Claude Fredericks, a classics professor in the ‘50s whose output exceeded sixty-five thousand pages. Fredericks extols the virtue of on-the-ground immediate reporting of one’s experience; as the article explains, “A journal is a ‘living thing,’ he says; a novel is a ‘taxidermist’s replica.’”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m publishing here choice snippets from old letters to my brothers, which I think can give the reader a flavor of the era during which I wrote them. These bits and bobs should be better than diary excerpts because at least I wrote them with an audience in mind, so I had incentive to make them good. This post comprises a handful, in chronological order; others will follow in these pages periodically. I’ve provided, for each snippet, the locale I was writing from.

January 26, 1989 – Isla Vista

My roommate S— came home today telling me that Joe, the owner (and sole employee) of MicroPro, where I bought my computer, was busted on a felony computer piracy charge. Joe was S—’s roommate here last year. S—was bummed about the news, of course, but also seemed a bit titillated. I myself was kind of worried, not so much for Joe, but for myself if anything goes wrong with the computer I just bought. S— tried all evening to call Joe, giving me the impression they were best buds or something. “He must be in jail!” S— ultimately concluded. But finally the phone rang and I picked up. Sure enough, it was Joe. I asked, “So, how’s everything going?” He said, “Oh, okay I guess.” I asked, “Are you calling for S—?” He said, “No, I actually called for you. This girl left a message for you on my machine. Her name’s Lisa. Let me give you her number.”

Now, as you can well imagine, I was pretty confused. A presumed felon, who we’d thought might be in jail, had instead called me to relay a message from some random girl. I took down the phone number and was about to ring off when Joe said, “By the way, I think I fixed your WordStar 4.0 program. It should work now. I’ll bring it by tomorrow.” By this time, Scott was practically ripping the phone away from me, bewildered and perhaps hurt that the big shot criminal hadn’t asked for him. I told Joe, “S— wants to talk to you. Should I put him on?” Joe replied, “Uh, well, I guess so.” (I reckon he gets as sick of S— as I do.) They talked for about thirty seconds, S— offering to give the judge a character reference.

You’re probably wondering about the girl by now. Gosh, this sounds like a spy thriller, doesn’t it? The elusive computer hacker, the nosy roommate, the mystery girl, and the microfilm (okay, MicroPro). Turns out when Joe moved out of this apartment last summer, he took the phone number with him—but somehow it’s listed as my number in the student directory. (I didn’t even know I was listed!) The girl, Lisa, is in my French class. I guess I’m flattered she reached out to me, because it’s not like I’m her boyfriend or anything (though I’ve been trying to insinuate myself into the role). She called because her cat got run over on Wednesday, so she was too distraught to come to class, and she needed the homework assignment for tomorrow. She’s had a run of bad luck lately: over the weekend, she fell asleep driving and crashed her car into a ditch, sustaining a minor concussion. I guess these are the perils of college life.

October 6, 1989 – Isla Vista

You know how you always wish you could get one of your bike crashes on videotape? Well, I did. I was cruising around on my mountain bike and reached this big concrete boat ramp that goes down to the beach. (I assume the ramp reaches the water at high tide.) There was a guy standing at the top filming with a little VHS camera, and I asked if it was cool for me to ride down. He said yeah, so I went down at top speed and then locked up the rear wheel and did all these sweet fishtails (showing off for the camera, I confess). What I didn’t realize was that there was like a foot drop-off at the end. But I figured no big deal, I still had plenty of speed, so I jumped off it and made a perfect landing, rear wheel first. Thing was, once the front wheel landed it bogged down in the sand and I was flipped right over the bars. I landed in tons of sand, and tucked and rolled, so it didn’t hurt at all. Like twenty people were out there sunbathing and they all cheered as I leapt to my feet and put my hands up in a victory salute. I wonder how many times the guy with the camera will watch that footage, laughing his ass off.

August 17, 1990 - Oakland

It’s kind of a trip living in Oakland. I mean, this place is huge. I’ve never lived in a big city before, but so far I like it. That said, sometimes the complexity of it all can be intimidating. Here’s an example. A couple of friends and I went to this Thai restaurant, and ordered this big fancy soup. It’s served in a ring shaped bowl, which has this chimney deal that comes up through the middle of the ring. A flame at the bottom of the chimney is supposed to keep the soup hot. Our waitress struggled to light it. Not that the chimney was the problem; she just had no idea now to strike a paper match. She was trying to squeeze the head of the match between the striking surface and the folded over book, and I half expected her to catch the whole book on fire, or inadvertently fling a burning match at me. She finally got the match lit, dropped it in the chimney of the bowl, looked at it with an air of uncertainty, and walked off. Remembering a waiter who failed to successfully light my flaming baked Alaska a few years back, I was pretty sure it hadn’t lit. I looked down the chimney of the bowl to see. Never, never do this. To my horror, it ignited very suddenly and the ensuing fireball completely engulfed my face for a split second before I pulled my head away. The bright blue flame extended a good six inches past the top of the chimney!

I could smell burning hair. Fortunately there were mirrors on the wall and I ran over to survey the damage. Sure enough, my eyebrows had been singed. It really doesn’t look very good. At least I don’t have the shoulder-length hair I was sporting last summer. If I did, I’m sure it would have caught fire and I would have burned to death, right there in the restaurant. I can envision my last dying moments: my life flashes before my eyes as the hapless waitress fumbles stupidly with the fire extinguisher, eventually giving it up and returning, with a shrug, to the kitchen.

I wasn’t very pleased with the whole situation, so I dipped the tablecloth in the flame and very quickly the entire table was on fire. We were out the door and running down the sidewalk when the massive explosion hurled us to the concrete. (Okay, I’ve exaggerated quite a bit about my response, but the part about my eyebrows is 100% true.) I’m going to have to be more careful until I’m accustomed to the sophisticated cuisine of the big city.

November 19, 1991 - Berkeley

So help me God, I’m going to make this the best letter I’ve ever written. This is my goal. It has been stated. Were it possible, I would get you a few sandwiches to munch on while you’re reading. Anything to make this a special time for you. I would do that for you. I would.

Jesus, Geoff. Just think of all the letters I’ve written, always just writing along, knowing that I’m not being graded, you won’t send it back with all the errors circled, little arrows to show where I left out something I should have put in, no general comments like “Little or no relevant material. See me.” No, it’s a simple job, I just write for a change, nothing to get stressed out about. But who says that’s good enough? Things are gonna change. You’re my brother, after all, and you deserve at least as much hard work as a stupid TA who’s paid to write tetchy little comments like “watch your pronouns” in my margins. (Why should I watch my pronouns? Are they misbehaving? Do I need to take them outside?)

Ah, but I also have selfish reasons for wanting to write well. I want to be a great writer someday. No matter what I write, it is nothing more than a stepping stone towards this goal. Writing this letter, or indeed anything, is just a chance to polish my style into the one which will propel me to fame, fortune, and maybe a gig on “Hollywood Squares” or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” So I must confess that through all my correspondence I have only been using you. And that’s not right. This is your letter, not an exhibition of the literary machine I am trying to build: a machine that so far requires eighty tons of coal, a tanker truck of natural gas, twelve gallons of premium unleaded and eight D-cells just to produce passels of pointless pages of trite, trifling text. It’s a machine you would expect the military to build. Tons of money, marginal promise, dubious worth to future generations. All unacceptable. So I’m going to double down and improve my letters. They will henceforth be of the highest quality I can muster.

Maybe a running account of my latest exploits isn’t the right approach. Perhaps I need to look back over my past, determine the most salient events, and recount them as vividly as possible, while framing them in the context of why they were so formative. I’ll try that out. Here goes:

That summer ended childhood. I hoped there would be work in San Luis Obispo, my new home [during my gap year before college]. Every day is the same: I collect the paper and move swiftly through it, starting with the comics. Charlie Brown is about to get laid for the first time. Nancy finally put a good one over on Sluggo and they say he’ll never walk right again. Garfield has slumped over on the fence, killed by a clock thrown at him. Now, on to the Classified Ads: unspecified work for Ernie Ball under the title “day laborer.” A data entry job in Grover City, a fifteen mile commute for $5 an hour. Dishwasher at Sizzler. Well, so much for that. What else is here? A letter to the editor insists that for all Sarah Riordon’s trouble at the free throw line, she is a valuable asset to the Mission College Prep team. Front page: REAGAN SAYS “EVERYTHING’S JUST PEACHY.” Yeah, now if he could just solve unemployment, starting with mine. I head down Foothill to Spirit Cycle Works. Jay, the obese head mechanic, is sitting on a stool popping plastic bubble wrap in the vise. Garrett is cussing about a bottom bracket adjustment he can’t get right. You’re reaming a seat tub, violently, viciously, a tyrannical grin on your face as you subvert the soft metal to your will. I would take a job here for two bucks an hour, just to work with you. But Spirit isn’t hiring.

It was fun hanging out with you for that year, but I couldn’t ever act excited about it, nor can I reminisce fondly about it now. Maybe it’s because I was un- and under-employed and needed to act cynical. I wonder if you saw through my cool front. (I never did.) But was this front my own idea, or was I unconsciously mimicking your own tough guy act? The thing is, you veer between hard-boiled and almost cloyingly nostalgic. Which one is the real you? Let’s admit it, you yourself are, and have long been, a hard dude to try to figure out. And “figure out” implies that there is an answer, which there is not. There is no solution in the back of the textbook for Geoff Albert. He just is. You just is. We just is.

August 18, 1992 - Berkeley

Let me tell you a little story about my roommate A—’s brother, Robert (I think it is). He’s been couch surfing here for weeks, and even stocked the kitchen with all his own food. He had the cheek to label it all so we won’t steal any. His stash consists mainly of hot dogs, cold cuts, Oreos, white bread, and milk. This guy has no idea how to cook. He prepares a hot dog by putting it, raw, on a slice of bread and microwaving it for thirty seconds (just until the bread’s hot).

Well, one night A— had cooked himself a meal (some weird South American thing) and offered his brother his leftovers. Robert hemmed and hawed, as if put off by the notion of secondhand food, or perhaps by the cuisine being outside his norm, and finally asked us what nearby restaurants delivered. He wasn’t interested in pizza so I suggested a few takeout places within cycling distance. “The bike is kind of what I wanted to avoid,” he said, peering down forlornly at his big belly, which sagged down below his belt. Okay, so no leftovers, no pizza, and nothing beyond walking distance. For a guy who doesn’t even have a place to live, he sure does seem picky.

Finally I thought of a barbecue place like four blocks away. A— explained how to get there, but I guess Robert wasn’t satisfied with the directions so he asked us for a map, which my other roommate eventually produced. After studying the route a while, Robert finally embarked on his daring solo mission. Well, like half an hour later he came back empty-handed, looking totally grief-stricken. Apparently a street hoodlum spotted an easy mark and grabbed the bag of food right out of Robert’s hands! Poor dude was too upset at this point to go buy more, and settled for a couple more hot dogs.

Is there any moral to this story? Yeah: don’t be a dork.

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Monday, December 13, 2021

2021 Online Holiday Gift Guide


Well, as the pandemic drags on for another holiday season, it kind of makes sense to do our gift shopping online. But where do we start? This year I consulted a number of gift guides in magazines, which are super helpful except the magazine is getting paid  by the manufacturer, so they tend not to mention any gotchas about these products. My blog is different: I’ll steer you toward some great gift ideas, but I’ll also point out any landmines I happen to see. So here is the 2021 collection … happy gifting!

Heartwarming message candle – $20.99

Here is a nice candle you can give as a gift. And it’s not just nice; according to the manufacturer, it is “hand poured [by] skilled artisans in the USA using only premium and cleanest soy wax available,” and is “ideal as an aromatherapy candle or relaxing candle for yoga, meditation, and stress relief.” And best of all, it is “decorated with a cute, fun, adorable, and always heart-warming message of assurance.”

One word of caution, though: the recipient of this gift needs to be a person who feels that violence against women is funny. And since the burn time of the candle is 45-55 hours, you’ll want to consider whether or not the joke is likely to get old.

Long distance touch bracelet – $108

It took me a moment to understand what these touch bracelets are for. The idea is, if you’re separated from your significant other for long periods, you can use these to stay in touch. Just “download the app that connects the set and tap your bracelet to send a Bond Touch™ to your loved one. Theirs will light up and vibrate, so they'll know you're thinking about them.”

You might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t I just send a text?” Well, what if you can’t think of anything to say? That’s the beauty of these … you just tap it every so often, mindlessly. And if you’re too busy to tap (for example, if you’re on a business trip) you could have a colleague, your personal assistant, or just about anybody tap it periodically. And if you get distracted and totally forget to send Bond Touches™? No problem—just blame the technology!

Shiitake mushroom log kit – $30

This mushroom log kit is perfect to give as a gift because if it proves defective and doesn’t produce any mushrooms, that’s not your problem. It’s based on kind of a far-fetched idea: the manufacturers “salvage recently felled trees and plant organic spores inside” and then you soak your log, keep it in a dark, damp place, and in six weeks you’re a grower! Myself, I never liked the dirt-like taste of shiitakes (my brother calls them “shitcakes”) but imagine how magical it would be if this actually worked.

A disclaimer: just about all the reviews I’ve read complain that nothing ever grows. It’s kind of heartbreaking how long people have stuck it out waiting: “more than a year,” “over 18+ months,” “17 months,” “almost a year.” That’s a mighty long time to have a damp log sitting around your house. But remember: you’re giving this away, so you can just give, forget, and move on!

Smartphone controlled coffee mug – $130

You know, coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. I do a basic pour-over, and I grind my beans with an antique hand-cranked mill my daughter gave me.  Generally I drink the coffee over a period of about five minutes as I read the paper, so it doesn’t cool off, though occasionally I abandon it and then have to chuck it in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds. Well, obviously this system isn’t good enough for a lot of modern types. Enter the Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug. This is utterly sophisticated and in fact is controlled by an app on your phone!

You can dial in whatever temperature suits you (for example, you might go a little cooler if you have a canker sore in your mouth, or a little hotter if you’re adding milk instead of a smaller quantity of cream), and you can do customized presets (though I’m not sure why), and can even receive notifications. That way, if your coffee is in another room and suddenly hits that magic temperature, it’ll summon you and you can go fetch it. (Why would your coffee be in the other room? Well, I don’t know … maybe you run a lab or something?) This electronic mug/coaster is really impressive … I mean, coffee has always been satisfying, but imagine the sense of utter fulfillment you’ll get every time you successfully complete a firmware update.

My only complaint with this product is that the app doesn’t appear to offer very robust analytics. I’d like to see temperature performance, tracked via charts and exportable CSV files, along with real-time and historical client data on the apps interfacing with the mug, and ideally an event log just to make sure everything is humming along smoothly.

Bourbon nosing expansion kit – $79

This handy assortment of aromatic extracts enables the bourbon aficionado to develop a huge new vocabulary of annoying scent terms so he can bloviate even more excessively than he does already, and take even more pride in his inflated sense of epicurean sophistication.

This product pays off in two ways. First, during the sniffing phase your spirits-loving man may be too busy to talk, giving you some much-needed respite. Second, when he has finished his education and starts pontificating at vast length about the hints of rose, plum, and graham cracker in his Parker’s Heritage 27 Year 2nd Edition bourbon, somebody is bound to finally lose patience and tell him to shut up, following which he’ll pout for days. More peace and quiet for you!

Illegal soap – $10

This Duke Cannon soap may seem like good clean fun, but it’s also kind of badass:

To be honest, I’m not sure where legality or even cutting of wood comes into play, because the pine in this soap is just a scent. But if the recipient of this gift gets off on people breaking the law in pursuit of luxury bath products, you won’t find a better gift anywhere.

Brain sensing headband – $200

So-called mental health experts (like these ones) have long advocated for disconnecting from all our tech and spending time offline, to try to relax. Well, that touchy-feely crap might be good enough for some people, but perhaps you know someone who prefers a more data-driven approach to mindfulness and downtime. For that type of digital maven, technology saves the day once again, in the form of the MUSE 2 Brain Sensing Headband. It measures your brain activity, heart rate, body movements, and breathing and gives you feedback through headphones (sold separately) and your Muse smartphone app. What could be more relaxing than downloading the app, upgrading it, syncing the phone with the headband, and then being told, though the app’s sounds, whether or not you’re relaxing properly?

But that’s not all! Maybe you had a good meditation session yesterday, but what if today your performance declined? That’s where the robust analytics come in. Look at all these stats … they’re like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your relaxation! You could totally paste these into PowerPoint slides for your guru, your sensei, your therapist, or your significant other to review.

I suppose I should mention that there’s no real explanation of how exactly this device works, and that a number of users gave less than favorable reviews. For example, one one-star review states, “I can only assume that the positive reviews have come from people who want this thing to work rather than any kind of basis in reality. The EEG was showing I was calm as a cucumber when I was wide eyed or thinking as hard as I can about the most stressful things in life. The heart rate sensor was about 30bpm out from my actual heart rate. The soundscapes are clunky, distracting and annoying.”

Albert Clock – $400

Remember when your brother bought your kids that incredibly loud and irksome electronic toy? Well, here’s your chance to get him back, with the most annoying clock ever made: it’s the exclusive Albert Clock. Feast your eyes on its diabolical face:

When do people check the time? It’s when they’re concerned about having enough of it, and the distance between that minute hand and the top of the hour can be reassuring. But the owner of this clock will have to stop, shift gears, waste valuable time calculating the hour and minute, and then spend more time trying to calm back down because he’s pissed off now about having had to do that. But he can’t complain to you about it, because that would set you up to say, “Surely a little simple arithmetic isn’t too much for you? I’d have thought you’d welcome the challenge.” It’s really the perfect revenge gift.

Art-themed enamel pin – $10

Here is a nice pin you can give to any friend or loved one who enjoys wearing pins.

Ah, but it’s more than just nice: it’s compelling. What’s with the nonstandard spelling of “guarantee”? And who is LB? Well, the lucky recipient of this pin, if she’s done her homework, can talk all about Louise Bourgeois, the eccentric French painter on whose work this pin is based. Of course, wearing this pin will mean answering the inevitable question, “‘Art guarantees sanity’ … is that even true?” It will also beg the follow-up question, “What about van Gough?” The best comeback to that? The pin-wearer can say dryly, “Actually, Bourgeois spent decades in therapy.” So, yeah ... this isn’t just a nice pin … it’s all ironic and provocative, too.

Stained picnic blanket – $150

Is this picnic blanket a manufacturer’s second? Nope, it’s meant to look like a painter spilled on it, or it went through the wash with your wife’s weird new Thai fisherman pants that always bleed on everything. Its stained/ruined look is what makes it artsy and sophisticated!

The only problem with this blanket is that the recipient might think you got it at a garage sale, or Goodwill, or that it’s a remnant from a fabric store. So you’ll have to somehow convey that it cost you 150 bucks, so your friend or loved one doesn’t use it in the garage, or get rid of it, etc.

Gorilla night light – $11

Maybe you’re that cool aunt or uncle that always needs to give the interesting, cool gift … and yet you don’t want to be edgy or anything, if your niece or nephew is very young. What, then, could be niftier—and at the same time cozier—than a gorilla-shaped nightlight?

Look how relaxed that kid is! (Full disclosure: that picture looks obviously photoshopped, but you get the idea.)

Of course, this nightlight is also remote controlled so using it will really make the kid really advanced and technical. And perhaps he or she will stare at it for long periods, wondering if all gorillas have Popeye-like forearms, and why this one has grid-covered body hair.

Bitcoin gewgaw

A certain type of blowhard just loves to blather about cryptocurrency. This is easy to do, since so many people know almost nothing about it while having the nagging sense that they should. Wouldn’t it be great if you could help your mansplaining friend lead people to this topic? Well, in that vein, what could be a more thoughtful gift than this non-fungible trinket, symbolic of a Bitcoin?

Now, I suppose this could backfire: what if the recipient loves its good looks and wants to display it, but isn’t actually comfortable talking about cryptocurrency? Well, then, as a separate gift, print out this blog post on the topic, which explains everything he’ll need to know to talk about Bitcoin long enough to exhaust anyone’s patience.

Gucci slipper-shoes – $995

And now it’s time to talk about the perfect gift: something utterly useful, but also fun, and decadent, and sophisticated, and—most important of all—is a product that your loved one never even knew existed. You’ll knock ‘em dead with the amazing Gucci dress shoe/slipper . Check these bad boys out.

I know what you’re thinking: “Am I fucking hallucinating?! Are those really a dress shoe in the front, and fur-lined flip-flops in the back? Like if Chewbacca went to prom?!” Yes. That’s exactly what they are.

Now, I’ll freely acknowledge that giving these as a gift does involve some risk, and not just because they cost almost a grand. Your recipient will need to ask himself, “Could I pull these off?” If he doubts himself, that’s when you lay this photo on him: because if this dude here can rock these slipper-shoes with aplomb, anybody can.

Take the plunge and buy them. You’ll thank/think me later.

A gift for the blogger?

I’ll bet I know just what you’re thinking: what gift should I get for Dana, as a reward for his tireless blogging all year? Aw, shucks … you don’t have to get me anything! But if you feel you must, just send me a nice card with some cash in it. I’m kind of sentimental that way.

Other albertnet holiday posts

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Family Shibboleths: a Glossary of Albert-isms


This post is available as a vlog, for those who prefer to listen rather than read, and/or who appreciate the “non-verbal” elements of communication:

But f you’re old-school and have no time or patience for videos, read on!

Family Shibboleths: a Glossary of Albert-isms

Last week I hosted my mom, two brothers, assorted nieces, and a nephew for Thanksgiving. My niece Laura brought this custom-made Bingo card:

(A little explanation: CAlbert means a California Albert; WAlberts are the Washington state Alberts; and the Wollenhaupts are other relatives from my mother’s side that came for lunch the next day.)

I dig this family Bingo concept. It’s a nice way to celebrate the little idiosyncrasies and oddities that make a family feel close. We didn’t actually compete at family Bingo; that would have required fourteen unique cards and people would have had to carry them around the whole time. Instead we just had the one card, posted to the fridge. As you can see, we fell just short of getting a complete blackout.

I think there’s room to refine this game and make it a tradition. First, we could have a card for each person, up on the fridge, and anyone could mark things off (that’s right—helping one another try to win). Second, we could improve on what goes in the squares. “Cats are unusually mean,” for example, could never apply in this household, because a) we have just one cat, and b) what counts as “unusually” mean, given that all cats are asocial predatory beasts? 

Meanwhile, “NPR plays in the background” could apply to many a Bay Area home, but not mine—I dislike talk radio of any kind and there’d be no way to hear it over the din of this many Alberts anyway. 

(As for the final missing square, “Someone spews their drink,” apparently the only reason this didn’t happen was that my nephew Peter couldn’t come; I’m told he “seems to make it his mission to make a sibling or relative laugh explosively while drinking, hoping that said drink will spew out of said relative’s nose.” Peter stayed home as he was required by his megalomaniac coach to attend basketball practice on Thanksgiving Day, just to kiss the ring and demonstrate that sport comes before family. But I digress.)

The family Bingo game got me thinking about why family gatherings are so enjoyable. For one thing, we get that comforting sense of belonging, of being among our tribe. The quirky, idiosyncratic lingo we tend to throw around helps cement this. (Of course my family isn’t alone in this; Roz Chast recounts here how she polled her friends to learn what term their families use for picking thru the fridge instead of cooking a meal; in her household they call this “fending.”)

I think of such linguistic peculiarities as a family shibboleth. In case you haven’t heard this term, Wikipedia defines it as “any custom or tradition, usually a choice of phrasing or even a single word, that distinguishes one group of people from another.” Of course, I mean shibboleth in a good way; the origin of this word, from the Old Testament, is actually pretty dark: after a battle between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites, any Ephraimite refugees who were intercepted were challenged to pronounce “shibboleth,” because in their dialect it sounded like “sibboleth.” Anyone who pronounced it this way was identified as the enemy and immediately killed.

Clearly this isn’t the point where family gatherings are involved; naturally we want everybody well-versed in our lingo. Generally our members pick it up easily enough. For example, early in the visit when I asked my youngest niece, age nine, if she liked butter, she looked puzzled and said something like “um … sure,” instead of the right answer which is, “yeah …. mmmmmbutter” … but when I asked her again three days later she responded correctly. Notwithstanding her swift adaptation, the family lingo can certainly be bewildering to a newcomer, and my niece Laura, recently engaged, asked me to create a family glossary for her fiancé’s benefit. Any time somebody asks me to write something, especially on the subject of words and wordplay, I find the prospect irresistible (as you can see here and here).

And so, I’ve compiled a glossary of Albert-isms, replete with etymologies. What does this have to do with you, the lay albertnet reader? Well, for one thing, if you’re reading this, you’re probably my mom, or perhaps one of my brothers. And even if you’re not, you ought to find these amusing. Moreover, I’ve witnessed family gatherings where people were too quiet or seemed lacking in family shibboleths, so I hereby give you permission to totally steal these and introduce them into your own family dialogue. (If any of my family members don’t like this, they  can complain in the comments area below, or on their own social platforms).

I’ve grouped these into general categories, starting with food-related terms, since family gatherings tend to center around the kitchen. Next are the cinematic references my family is so fond of. The last section comprises the truly weirdest utterances, many of which celebrate important bits of family history dating back decades.

Culinary Albert-isms

  • Jukebox – microwave oven (origin: Kitchen Confidential; until my older daughter went off to college, she had no idea that this term, and the next three, weren’t ubiquitous)
  • Microbe – see “microwave oven”
  • Nuke – to heat in a microwave oven (e.g., “I don’t feel like cooking, let’s just nuke some leftovers”)
  • Radar love – the process of heating via microwave oven (e.g., “this isn’t hot enough, give it a little more radar love”; origin: Kitchen Confidential)
  • Bell’s seasoning – the key to Thanksgiving and thus the subject of much discussion
  • Tranja (pronounced “TRAHN-ya”) – any tasty beverage, including energy drink; often used in the statement, “Drink—it’s tranja. I hope you relish it as much as I” (origin: Star Trek)
  • Pretty yum – delicious (origin: five-star Yelp review of a Dim Sum restaurant in San Francisco, ca. 2015)
  • “Do you like butter?” / “Yeah, mmmbutter.” – standard verbal exchange whenever butter is present (origin: my friend Pete’s home-ec teacher back in, like, 1983, responding spontaneously when randomly asked if she liked butter)
  • Lekker – see “pretty yum” (origin: from Netherlands Alberts)
  • Splaula – spatula, especially a rubber spatula (origin: what my daughters and I thought my wife had written on her shopping list years ago, due to her encryption-like handwriting)

Cinematic Albert-isms

  • “You’re not the quarterback here, Mike!” – Say this whenever somebody is overstepping or attempting to have too much influence. Do not substitute your interlocutor’s name for “Mike.” Always say “Mike.” (Origin: Breaking Away)
  • “Cutter started it!” – Trot this out whenever you’re chastised for pointlessly bickering. It’s not important who actually started the argument, of course. (Origin: Breaking Away)
  • “It’s a crazy world.” / “Someone oughtta sell tickets.” / “Sure, I’d buy one.” – Whenever you encounter an instance of the world being, in fact, crazy, you should say so, and then wait for the correct response, which is the bit about selling tickets. If this response is not received, pause a few beats and then say, “Sure, I’d buy one” anyway, to inspire your interlocutor to do better next time. (Origin: Raising Arizona)
  • “Say, that reminds me.” – Use this whenever changing the subject, or even when continuing on the same subject, or whenever harmless verbal garnish is desired (source: Raising Arizona)
  • “I’m defecatin’ you negative!” – This is a more family-friendly way of saying, “I shit you not.” It avoids both the profane word and its common synonym, “poop,” which is of course far worse. (Origin: Raising Arizona, with “defecatin’” substituting for “crappin’” which is still too risqué for the youngest Alberts)
  • “I guess that’s why they call it a Way Homer.” – Say this whenever one of your jokes bombs. If your interlocutor replies, “Why’s that?” then you say, with much hilarity, “Cause you only get it on the way home!” Ideally, the next response will be, “I’m already home, Glen” (even if your interlocutor is not at home). This will have been a perfect volley. (Origin: Raising Arizona)
  • “Does the pope wear a funny hat in the woods?” – This simply means “yes” or perhaps “hell yeah.” (Origin: combination of a quote from Raising Arizona and the expression, “Does a bear shit in the woods?”)
  • “Two dollars! Two dollars!” (while walking like a zombie) – This one is a bit tricky. You have to walk slowly with your spine totally erect, your head back, your eyes fixed on a distant point on the ceiling, and arms outstretched (i.e., like a zombie), while chanting “Two dollars!” over and over. Do this when you don’t know what else to do; for example, if somebody is explaining why he or she went gluten-free. (Origin: Better Off Dead, combined with some random zombie-walking which my young Dutch nephew Max first encountered around the same time. He somehow conflated the two, having probably never even seen Better Off Dead, and his father later complained that Max was staggering around like a zombie chanting “two dollars!” pretty much nonstop. Thus this is a tribute to youthful enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre.
  • “Good luck … we’re all counting on you.” – Say this whenever anyone is embarking on anything. This is one of those lines that somehow improves with age and repeated usage. (Origin: Airplane)
  •  “Vaal is pleased.” – This is shorthand for “I am the eyes and ears of Vaal, and Vaal is pleased.” There’s no perfectly prescribed situation for using this; just exercise your best judgment. (Origin: Star Trek)

Particularly idiosyncratic Albert-isms

  • Duh-huh or tuh-huh – just kidding. (Origin: when I first moved to California, I lived and worked with my brother Geoff; we biked to work and back together; we socialized together; in short, we were practically inseparable, and sometimes got a bit tired of one another, which could result in witty verbal exchanges that sometimes became caustic or acerbic. To soften this, we took to formally indicating the jocular nature of a comment by attaching “duh-huh” (which Geoff reckons is spelled “tuh-huh”) at the end. For example, we’d say something like, “Wait, you traveled three hours for this bike race and didn’t bring your UCSF license? Why would you think they’d let you register ... your good looks? Duh-huh!” Astonishingly, almost everyone we knew adopted this usage, including this one kid, Dave E, who couldn’t even say it right so it came out “duhhhht.” More than thirty years later, this is still standard usage among Alberts, across generations.)
  • Mmmmmyello – this is how to answer the phone (origin: our friend Davey’s mom back in like 1980)
  • Brrrowh – I don’t know (origin: contraction, over time, of “I dunno”)
  • “Huh huh … no” – basically either “just kidding” or “scratch that” (origin: uttered by my friend Chris, as we were looking at VHS cassettes at the video store; he had suggested, “Let’s get Blame it on Rio” and then—realizing that his young lust was obviously the only possible motivation for wanting to see such a drippy movie—he got embarrassed and uttered the now immortal phrase, “huh huh … no” to try to retract it)
  • “I need to drop some friends off in the toolit” – use this when you’re excusing yourself to go do a, uh, download. (Origin: the euphemism “drop some friends off at the pool,” warped unintentionally by a very young Albert, and spoken with a redneck accent for no clear reason)
  • Micturate – urinate (this is certainly not an Albert coinage; it’s unclear how this became the family’s preferred term, given how seldom it’s typically used)
  • “Okay, Christmas is canceled” – This is trotted out annually as a (so far empty) threat. (Origin: our mom said this repeatedly during our childhood, out of sheer exasperation at our awful behavior and/or her [and eventually everyone’s] contempt for the rampant commercialism of the holiday)
  • Motherfrockle – motherf**er. (Origin: my niece Rachel, when very young, was verbally abused by another kid, and told her father but didn’t want to use the actual word, so he asked her to whisper it in his ear, and she put her mouth to his ear and whispered, “He called me a frockle!”)
  • “I don’t wear contacts because I care about my eyes” – Say this whenever somebody mentions contacts, or puts them in, or takes them out, as a way to pass judgment. (Origin: our dad pompously declared this when he first learned I wear contacts; he followed it up with some long diatribe about how some lady friend of his, who had like the first generation hard contact lenses, slept in them and then they were stuck to her eyes; never mind that this was over forty years before and she was an idiot)
  • EUx (Evil Uncle Dana, Evil Uncle Max, Evil Uncle Geoff) – All three uncles get the “Evil” moniker, and the standard abbreviation (e.g., EUD, EUM). (Origin: my brother Bryan was the first to have kids, and the last to become an uncle, so the rest of us got this label, mainly due to our actually being pretty much evil or at least a bad influence)
  •  “What we need here is a Physics major.” – Say this to insult a sibling. You can substitute whatever college major you need; for example, during an argument about grammar you could say to me, “What we need here is an English major.” (Origin: during a long, complicated scientific discussion, which included possibly all his sons and definitely Bryan, our dad said this, as if to deny the very fact of Bryan’s major, which was indeed Physics.)
  • “You are real lucky.” – Say this to any family member who seems even remotely lucky or successful, or who has avoided failure or cataclysm, as a way to deny that his or her good fortune has anything to do with character, pluck, or effort. You can also tell yourself this several times a day, as a way of feeling gratitude. It’s especially useful if, like me, you actually are real lucky. (Origin: our dad said to me, “You are real lucky you didn’t do more damage,” in angry response to [what he evidently perceived as] my utter incompetence, when I did some very minor damage to my car. Details are here.)
  • “You’re not very bright, are you.” – Say this to any family member who says or does anything even slightly incorrect or questionable. (Origin: our dad famously, though perhaps apocryphally, said this to me after I rode 130 miles over the highest pass in North America without proper food or even a jacket and got caught in a thunderstorm; details are here.)
  • “I’m going out there, don’t try to stop me. / You fool, you’ll be killed!  / I must do this … alone.” – Whenever you leave the house, utter the first statement. Your interlocutor should utter the second, and then you close out the dialogue with the third utterance. If your interlocutor neglects, or refuses, to provide the second statement, pause for a few beats and deliver the closing line anyway to inspire your interlocutor to do better next time.)
  • “All over the place spaced-out BLEAAAH!” – This is a nice way to point out that a family member, particularly a teenager, has totally dropped the ball. (Origin: back in the ‘80s, our mom once completely lost her shit and delivered a powerful, thundering harangue including several instances of this very useful expression. The “BLEAAH!” part should be delivered with extreme gusto and high volume, ideally with your eyes practically bugging out. Note: do not deliver this diatribe in a library or museum.)
  • “Bundle up Billy!” – Say this to any family member heading out into the cold, especially if you wish to advise and also demean the person (e.g., if you are talking to a teenager who finds the idea of a jacket, not to mention protective parenting, highly offensive). Do not substitute any other name for “Billy”—always use “Billy.” (Origin: actual quote concerning our friend Bill, whose loving mother said this to him and which we all took to saying to him constantly, all winter long, ad infinitum. Interesting aside: Bill now lives in Perm, Russia which isn’t technically Siberia but is halfway there; the average high temperature there in winter is just 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Bundle up, indeed!)
  • “Come and get it or I’ll throw it out!” – what you say when the family meal is on the table (origin: one of those Time Life Old West books, probably The Cowboys; I read this sentence aloud to my mom and brothers back in like 1975 and it just stuck)
  • Landlo’ – our mom’s second husband (origin: he actually was her landlord, and when he got greedy and said she either needed to buy the apartment or move out, she slipped between the horns of the dilemma by marrying him and thus moving in with him, which was a huge mistake as you can see here)
  •  “Bye” – Obviously this word itself isn’t a family shibboleth, but we say it in a very specific way, waving annoyingly by opening and closing a hand, which is held up right next to our face, which wears an expression of utter disgust and dismissal; useful whenever a family member departs but particularly through a car window as the family member drives away. (Origin: this is how one of us, or perhaps all of us at one time or another, were kicked out of Green Scene, a go-kart track, for reckless driving, in the mid-‘80s)
  • Slaap lekker – sleep well (origin: literally, “sleep tasty,” this is a standard Dutch expression brought to us by the Netherlands branch of the family)
  • Don’t let the hmm-hmmms bite – don’t let the bedbugs bite (origin: this is what our brother Geoff used to say to his son Max because he was very young and the idea of bedbugs terrified him)
  •  “You know, I really like [x]. I mean, I know that’s not profound or nothin’ … heck, we all do. But for me, I think  it goes far beyond that.” – This is really useful, every time you encounter something you like. It’s a way of expressing gratitude very formally and passionately. (Source: a “Far Side” cartoon)
  • “Outta my way, mother daughter!” – This expression gets nearly constant use: pretty much whenever a wife, mother, or daughter is in your way. I have two daughters, a mom, a wife, and at least eight nieces, and thus say it probably 700 times a year. (Origin: during a violent dispute with my brother Max, then a teenager, my dad fled down the hall, with Max in hot pursuit, ready to beat his ass; our brother Bryan was squarely in the way, either to intervene or as a pawn caught in a deadly game, and Max yelled something similar to this, except that what he said was decidedly more profane, along the lines of “outta my way, motherfrockle!” Granted, this is a pretty dark memory to be dredging up all the time, but perhaps by saying this jovially we’re neutralizing that old trauma, or at least owning it.)

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