Thursday, February 29, 2024

Virtual Reality Killer App!


For many years we’ve been hearing about how Virtual Reality (VR) is going to be a game-changer across the human experience, and not just a whiz-bang enhancement to video gaming. This is an amazing technology just waiting to be monetized. We’ve heard various proposed use cases involving education, physical therapy, tools for first responders, etc. but decades on VR is still kind of a fringe thing, without the “killer app” that will launch it into the forefront of blah blah blah. Well, this post proposes a truly germane use of this technology that could benefit millions of people. Instead of boring you with an essay on what I’m proposing, I’m going to walk you through the experience I have in mind. Call this post “VVR” ... as in, Verbal VR.

The experience

You enter the VR facility, receive a brief tutorial, don a haptic suit and a virtual reality headset, and mount an omnidirectional treadmill. Immediately you are immersed in a totally new world … but actually, it’s not exactly new. It’s all too familiar, from the dry heat of a late spring day (courtesy of the haptic suit) to the sound of yelling and cheering, to the sight of a red-orange running track surrounding an unrealistically brilliantly green infield. It’s a lot like where you ran track in high school except that the bleachers are completely full.

You look down at yourself and you’re wearing the same track uniform, with the distinctive Cobra insignia, that you wore in high school. You explore your environment and find you’re surrounded by ultra-fit looking teens in the identical uniforms, many of them calling you by name. “Stacey, are you pumped?!” a girl asks. After a pause she gives you a simpatico look and whispers, “Gawd, I’m actually so nervous!”

You look down again and see that you’re definitely wearing track cleats. You realize you’re not just here to wander around. “Stacey, we gotta warm up, we’re up next!” someone yells. She jogs over to you and says, “Let’s go!” But before you can follow her, a gruff forty-something man with a Cobras cap, a tracksuit, a clipboard, and a whistle hanging on a lanyard approaches. “Stacey, I need a minute with you,” he says, and ushers you off to the side.

“Look, today has got to be the day,” he declares. “We’ve never been this close to winning Conference. All our top runners are totally peaking right now. This is a massive opportunity. And like we talked about after last practice, I’m not having you run any events except the 100 meter hurdle, so you can just focus purely on that. Obviously there’s no way you’ll win, but I really think you can get top three. Your speed, your form, it’s all there—but as I’ve said all season, you need to three-step it. It breaks my heart every time I see you heading for the hurdle, flying along, everything perfect, and then you suddenly chicken out and do that childish stutter step. You should be well beyond this. I know you can three-step because you did it that time in practice when I ran next to you and yelled at you the whole time. You did it perfect. I really thought that was the breakthrough, that you’d do it right from then on.”

It’s all coming back to you now: the dreaded three-step, the bane of your high school existence. When you graduated, most of your excitement was actually relief that you were done with track: you’d managed to get your letter, you’d put the experience on your college essay, but you wouldn’t be running in college, and nobody would ever hassle you about three-stepping for the rest of your life. And yet here’s this coach, practically frothing at the mouth, exhorting you all over again.

“It’s not just the points, Stacey. I mean, it is—you definitely need a top three here, and like I said you cannot get that with all the momentum you lose stutter-stepping—but it’s bigger than that. We need every girl to be totally on today. Do you remember how stoked everyone was when Barb won the 400 at the last meet? That lifted everyone. We were having a good meet but after that win, everyone dug deeper and we had a great meet. If you do your typical step-stuttering thing here you’re gonna bring down morale for everyone. We’ve worked on your speed and technique all season and I know you can do this, you have to do this.”

Here he peers over the top of his sunglasses and looks you right in the eye. “Are we good? Are you gonna do this right?” You manage to croak out some kind of response and he nods and trots away. There’s a lump in your throat. Before you can make another move, a girl has bounded over and says, “Okay, Stacey, today is the day! We all gotta give our 110%! It’s Conference!” When you don’t respond, her smile vanishes and she glares at you. “This is our senior year. Our last chance. Don’t you fuck this up for us!” This girl must be the team captain.

Now the first girl is grabbing you by the wrist. You’d marvel at the tactile accuracy of the haptic suit except that you’ve entirely forgotten this is VR … that’s how good it is. It really feels like you’re being tugged toward an actual infield by a real teammate. “Wait,” you tell her. “I … I kind of need to hit the restroom.” And it’s true. Along with the butterflies in your stomach you’ve got the age-old pre-race instinct, deep down in your body, to lighten the load. You really need to go. Like, number two. It’s a strong urge—your bowels are starting to churn. Your teammate points toward the restrooms and you start jogging over there. You start to worry: am I gonna make it in time? But when you get there you remember this is only VR and there’s only so much it can do. You need an actual restroom. Merely touring the virtual one would be no more satisfying than those nighttime dreams you have of eating, where the food always vanishes as soon as you try to take a bite.

You paid good money to play this game, but that’s not important now. You lift the VR goggles off your head and prop them on your forehead, and step off the treadmill. You head over to the lobby and tell the attendant, “I need to use a restroom.”

“Now?” he says. “It can’t wait? You still have 20 minutes on your game! By the time you take off the haptic suit, do your business, and zipper yourself back in, it’ll be half over!” But his eyes are smiling: he knows how pressing your need is. You nod vigorously. “Right over there,” he points. You stride swiftly to the restroom and push through the door.

It’s not just any restroom: it’s gleaming perfection, all brushed aluminum surfaces, a big drain in the floor and state-of-the-art sprinkler system overhead. There are giant fans in the louvered windows. It’s clear the entire room is totally sanitized and refreshed between uses. The throne-like toilet even has a bidet option. You’ve never been so glad to see a public restroom in your life. And that’s when you know: today’s VR experience isn’t about the game at all. It’s about this.


According to Johns Hopkins, about 4 million Americans suffer from frequent constipation, which “is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, resulting in 2.5 million doctor visits annually.” It causes bloating, sluggishness, and abdominal pain. Treatment is challenging, because laxatives cause side effects and prolonged usage can become a problem of its own. Diet and lifestyle changes are a good long term course of action, but don’t provide much help when you’re having a bad bout … maybe you haven’t had a good bowel movement in days, and you wish there were just some silver bullet providing instant relief. Well, I just contrived one.

Of course there are details to work out, like matching up the details of the specific gameplay and script with the player’s individual history. (For example, maybe you never did a sport, but at least used to run through the neighbor’s yard and had to make it to the far fence before their dog caught you.) The game makers could create versions involving other fraught human enterprises like dating or public speaking. Fine details aside, I think you can agree that the immersive VR technology now available could provide exactly what so many people really need: a non-ingested, 100% safe, 100% effective psychological laxative. Now someone just needs to go code this game!

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Friday, February 23, 2024

Ask a Cheap Bastard

Dear Cheap Bastard,

I’m kind of fascinated by cheap bastards like you, and I have often wondered: do you guys feel a kinship with one another, or do you clash?

Justin C, Austin, TX

Dear Justin,

Who are you calling a bastard?! Haha, just kidding. I know Cheap Bastard is my name, and my game, etc. Anyhow, I’ll grant you there’s a mutual respect when I encounter another cheapskate, and we’ve been known to trade money-saving tips. That being said, I absolutely cannot stand it when a manufacturer of something (i.e., some executive making cost-cutting decisions) skimps on the cost of materials just to save a few cents per unit. This is particularly common with anything related to the home. As detailed here, I had a plumbing emergency once because the valve (or more precisely the “angle supply stop”) of my bathroom sink was made of plastic and spontaneously failed. This could have cost me many thousands of dollars had I not been home to deal with the crisis, but that doesn’t matter a whit to the cheap bastard who chose to make this important object out of plastic. Parsimonious though I am, I will always gladly pay more for durable stuff. How many more time bombs may be lurking in my house due to the ubiquity of cheap bastards in the manufacturing business?

Dear Cheap Bastard,

My husband is a cheap bastard and often cites your column as validation of the way he lives his life. As a result, he’s refusing to help with our son’s college costs. I guess this isn’t really question, but more of a statement: damn you. Damn you to hell.

Monica J, Phoenix, AZ

Dear Monica,

Not all cheap bastards are created equal. Your husband is of the sort that should be described more precisely … the better term would be “dick.” Let me make something clear: for me, being a cheap bastard is a deeply personal matter and doesn’t affect my family. The very reason that I strive to always get the best deal, and to do without overpriced crap, is so that I’ll have enough money to apply it where it matters, such as my children’s education. Having sired these kids intentionally, I consider it my duty to provide well for them and not let my miserly ways extend to them. Thus, they kind of get the best of both worlds: they get to party like rock stars and make fun of their tightfisted father.

Dear Cheap Bastard,

I’ve been a lifelong cheap bastard myself and proud of it—but I feel like I’m losing steam lately. Any words of encouragement?

Duane S, Chicago, IL

Dear Duane,

There are various ways to define what a cheap bastard even is. One type is a person who refuses to part with money for just about anything; another is happy to buy stuff but only if he or she gets a great deal; another refuses to pay for labor, preferring to do everything on his or her own even if it means taking a lot of time to learn how. A cheap bastard may fall into one, two, or all three categories. With the third in particular, one’s approach may naturally change over time and/or based on circumstance. In some cases I think it’s perfectly reasonable to lighten up a bit.

Here’s an example. When I’d just bought my home, I was basically broke (as one tends to be) so my wife and I repainted all the rooms ourselves. Since then, as our burden of debt has lightened, we’ve tended to hire a crew. I don’t fault myself for that because as I’ve aged, my net worth has increased while my remaining time on this planet has declined. In other words, time is starting to be worth more than money. So when my laziness and thriftiness fight, the lazy side wins more often and I don’t beat myself up about it. (Sure, my cheap bastard cred may be thus questioned, but being a guy who’ll willingly drink sour milk and often sifts through the family compost bin for perfectly edible food, I think I’ve got some wiggle room.)

Dear Cheap Bastard,

My proudest feat as a cheap bastard is making a pair of underwear last more than a decade by fixing tears, holes, etc. with my sewing machine. What’s your favorite cheap bastard trophy?

Geoff A, Amersfoort, The Netherlands

Dear Geoff,

I guess I’d have to say it’s the beat-to-hell brake/shift levers on my flagship road bike. Although they’re top-of-the-line Dura-Ace, they’re 25 years old and I bought them used (at least 15 years ago) for like $100. They still work reasonably well, and that’s good enough for me.

I guess this isn’t really like a trophy, since I doubt many people notice my levers and wouldn’t have much of a reaction to them one way or the other. Real cyclists, in my experience, judge me by how well I ride, not what equipment I’m using. I suspect it’s the same with your underwear.

Dear Cheap Bastard,

There are so many ways to be frugal beyond just price shopping. For example, cooking dried beans instead of buying canned, or making your own laundry detergent. What cost-cutting opportunities do you think most cheap bastards miss? In other words, what makes the difference between a good cheap bastard and a great one?

Alex R, New York, NY

Dear Alex,

From what I’ve observed, the greatest blind spot for cheap bastards is simply not understanding the concept of opportunity cost, and specifically the cost, in terms of gains not realized, not investing your money. My father, for example, was a notorious cheap bastard, but he also never saved for retirement. In his old age he ended up pinching pennies out of necessity rather than preference, which really takes the fun out of it.

How one manages debt is another example: it’s somewhat useful to buy in bulk at Costco but far more useful to pay down your mortgage early. Coupons are chump change; paying interest ought to be the bane of our existence.

I know this is all pretty boring compared to eating compost, etc., so I’ll talk a bit more about spoiled milk. My mom, a microbiologist, assures me that sour milk can’t hurt you; it’s just unpleasant. In fact, a family legend maintains that when my brothers and I were young, and our (powdered!) milk went bad, my mom would say, perfectly seriously, “Just plug your nose and drink it!” Which we did. Allegedly.

Dear Cheap Bastard,

I really don’t understand people like you. Isn’t there a social cost of being a cheap bastard? Like, not looking your best, coming off as low-class, etc.? Which could adversely affect your social and professional opportunities?

Becky G, Miami, FL

Dear Becky,

Being a cheap bastard is more than a mentality; it’s an art. Ideally, the cheap bastard doesn’t appear cheap to the casual observer. If I were just a cheap dumbass, I’d wear Toughskins jeans and dumpy Kirkland shirts, or buy defective clothing at Ross Dress for Less. Instead, I buy most of my clothes at thrift or consignment stores, which means getting really good stuff that a filthy rich person changed his mind about. I also closely watch the online sales at J Crew (e.g., I’ll get 60% off on already discounted price, so I can pick up a nice t-shirt or pair of boxers for $3 or $4). I also only buy used cars, so I can afford to pay cash for a pretty nice one, because who cares if someone else drove it for the first couple of years? A final point: anybody who judges me for not having the latest styles, or luxury brands, is probably a jerk whom I wouldn’t want to befriend or work for. (Are you thinking this may just be sour grapes? Perhaps, but hey, sour grapes are cheaper than wine.)

Dear Cheap Bastard,

I will never be a cheap bastard, but times are a bit tight and I’d like to save where I can without going overboard. What’s my best bang for the buck in terms of non-annoying thrift?

Ron T, Council Bluffs, IA

Dear Ron,

My most basic advice is twofold: 1) avoid buying on credit whenever possible (i.e., no credit card balance, no car payment) and 2) avoid subscriptions. Interest is just money down the drain if it’s for consumer items that aren’t advancing you. Subscriptions (other than for magazines or newspapers) are all about getting you to buy more of something than you need. Why do I constantly get stuff in the mail about subscribing to prescription medications, as if planning for ongoing poor health? And why would I pay for satellite radio in my car when my phone can stream the Spotify I already have? And why does exist, when you can check out audiobooks from the library (not just on CD, but via instant download to your phone)? Perhaps the most egregious example is Harry’s, a subscription razor blade replacement service. As detailed here, I switched to old-school double-edged razor blades over eight years ago and am still working through the 100-pack of Feather blades I bought back then for $23. Do the math: there’s no way a razor blade subscription could be cheaper.

Dear Cheap Bastard,

Any advice for a fellow cheap bastard married to a big spender? How can me and her meet halfway?

Ted H, Denver, CO

Dear Ted,

Naturally, a couple needs to be in lockstep on fundamental financial decisions such as renting vs. buying, having kids or not, and where to live. But for the day-to-day cheap bastard stuff, it’s best to just let it go … you’ll never turn a spendthrift into a skinflint. I myself take a day-trader approach to grocery shopping, honing my discount-finding skills to the point that I have a Spidey-sense about when Peet’s coffee will go on sale. My wife, on the other hand, literally doesn’t even look at price tags at the grocery store. The way to reconcile yourself to this is to look at the tremendous cost of failing to maintain marital harmony. Consider that her manicure, or your family’s expensive weekend getaway, are way cheaper than marriage counseling, which in turn is cheaper than divorce. And how you make the big financial decisions (e.g., how much to contribute to your 401(k), whether or not to refinance your home loan) will make a much bigger difference in your overall situation than all that penny pinching.

Dear Cheap Bastard,

I’m not a cheap bastard, but I bristle at the “tip inflation” we’re seeing lately, with the tab listing “suggested” tips of 18, 20, and 25%. If I ever say anything, people accuse me of being cheap. How do you get away with sticking to your guns here?

Mark K, Seattle, WA

Dear Mark,

First off, being a cheap bastard should never extend to tipping. Having your wife cut your hair to save money is your business (well, and hers too since she has to look at you), but stiffing a waiter is just poor form. That said, I agree that tips above 20% are uncalled for, since the rising cost of restaurant food automatically increases the dollar amount of waiters’ tips. In fact, as described in a recent New Yorker article, attempts by restaurants to improve employee wages by increasing prices have mainly benefitted waiters, not so much the cooks and managers. One restaurateur contends that “since he got into the business, front-of-house pay has climbed two hundred per cent, compared with twenty-five per cent for the back of house.”

Another area where tipping has gotten a bit whacked is with the digital replacement for a tip jar when you get counter service. I have always put a buck or two in the jar, but the modern POS terminals they flip over to you now suggest the same tip as you’d leave for table service—typically you’re choosing between at least 15%, 18%, or 20%. I always take the “custom tip” option (which they might as well call the “cheap bastard” option), and key in a more reasonable amount, because I refuse to be bullied by a POS terminal. Recently this bit me in the ass at one of my go-to local taquerias, Gordo’s. I’d bought two burritos and tried to tip $2, but I guess I hit the zero an extra time. It wasn’t until I saw the total—a little over $40—that I realized my mistake. “Oh, shit!” I blurted out. The cashier looked shocked and concerned and said, “Oh no, is everything okay?” I just had to laugh. “I accidently tipped you $20,” I said. I wasn’t about to make him do any work to correct it, so I added, “No worries—enjoy.” I guess you could call this a cheap bastard tax.

A Cheap Bastard is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask a Cheap Bastard,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2024

albertnet 15th Anniversary + My Favorite Posts!


I almost missed a big milestone this week: the fifteenth anniversary of albertnet! 

I well remember the day I decided to start this blog. It was a blustery afternoon in early February of 2009, and I was having a late lunch at a Russian tea room in San Francisco, south of Market, with some long lost UCSB friends. We got to talking about writing, and S—, who had seen some of my freelance articles in the Daily Peloton, suggested I take a crack at blogging. He had a blog about travel gadgets at the time (though I cannot find it now).

So, on that cold February day I decided to take up S—’s suggestion, and fifteen years on I’m still at it. Should I be? Is albertnet a success? Well, as a former boss once told me, “Metrics are important in this space.” He was talking about a different space, but let’s look at some numbers anyway.

albertnet metrics

  • $0 – how much money I’ve made from albertnet
  • 714 – number of posts so far
  • 2.2 million – estimated number of total words
  • 3.7 – times the size of War & Peace
  • 144 – estimated hours it would take to read it
  • 3,500 – estimated hours I’ve spent writing it
  • 1.9 – estimated years writing it, if a full-time job
  • 26.5 – months it would take to read it, at 1 post/day
  • 5.7 – estimated # of reams of paper to print it out
  • 46 – number of followers
  • 921,373 – number of total page views to date
  • 186,000 – estimated cumulative hours readers have spent here*
  • 1 – *Number of very big ifs regarding that last metric

In a previous post I defined a successful blog as “one that shows up for work.” By that measure, I’d say albertnet is doing fine. My goal has been to blog four times a month, and I’ve averaged 3.97. Moreover, irrespective of what others think of it (e.g., followers, readers, skimmers, randos who stumble in here and quickly leave, haters, and bots), this blog has amused me all the way along … and as I’ve recently explained, that’s pretty much the whole point. See how easy success can be when you narrow the definition this way? It reminds me of this motivational poster:

(If that looks familiar, it’s because it’s from this very blog.)

Other measures of success

Okay, great, I consider albertnet a success because it’s been a good hobby for me. But has it contributed to the world in any way? Well, I do think it’s made something of a mark, based on certain posts that have been popular enough to climb to the top of Google’s search results. Here are ten search phrases that produce an albertnet post on the first page of results:

  • spelling of kindergartner (second result listed, right after dictionary definition)
  • cowboy sam review (second result)
  • bicycle “corn cob” poem (first image result, second text result)
  • inner tubes fascinating (first non-video result)
  • tire chains seething (my East Bay Times story is the first result; my blog post is second)
  • velominati “BS” (second result)
  • missy giove acne (second result)
  • lance eminem (third non-video result)
  • cycling world record Berkeley
  • “how to write a sonnet”

Google searches used to be a more helpful measure of my blog’s impact, back when merit alone determined placement in a search. For example, for at least five years my vasectomy post was the very first result when you googled “California vasectomy law.” But those were the olden days. There’s money to be made on search results, and over time companies have learned how to use SEO, content marketing, and various other techniques to get themselves featured higher, confounding the “organic” search results of yesteryear. The fact that some albertnet posts still perform well in Google searches tells me I really am touching a nerve here and there.

Which brings us to reader comments. Candidly, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog, but sometimes the quality of a reader’s feedback is so heartwarming, it fuels my resolve to keep going. I’ll give you a couple of examples. I blogged about a favorite children’s book, Cowboy Sam, and as you can see here, the granddaughter of the author left this comment:

Dana, I have to say that I enjoyed your post about the Cowboy Sam series. Very entertaining, well written and definitely brought a smile to my face! Edna Walker Chandler was my Grandmother and passed away in 1982. Her son (my father) passed in 2014 and I inherited copies of most of her books. Would you mind if I copied your post to my family history book for personal purposes only? Thank you! --Celeste Chandler

And below my post “Farewell, La Fiesta” about a favorite restaurant that closed, you can see this gem of a comment:

This made me cry.

They called me “Cinco Verde, Budweiser” for many years. A #5 is a Chile Relleno, an Enchilada and Rice and Beans.

I’m bawling. 

How am I celebrating?

So … you may be wondering if I’m doing anything to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of this arguably successful blog. Will I be buying a new car for every one of my readers? Or throwing an amazing party with a free taco truck and a live band? Alas, I don’t really have that kind of budget. So, along the lines of the the albertnet index that accompanied my fifth anniversary, I’ll provide something here that should interest my loyal readers: a list of my very favorite posts.

You may wonder how this would be more useful than the list of most popular posts that I already provided. Well, popularity is not necessarily the best indicator of quality. Sometimes a post goes viral (at least, in a modest, albertnet way) because it gets referenced in some other place that gives it inordinate traction. This was the case with “No Mo’ NoDoz,” which was cited in a scientific journal for some reason. Not a bad post, but for about 18 months it was insanely popular and until I chased down that source, I couldn’t figure out why.

So, I’m reasoning that if you like my blog, you must like my style, and would naturally respect my literary taste, and it’s pretty likely you’ve missed a few great posts over the years. So, with no further ado, here is my list. It was really hard choosing my favorites so I didn’t narrow it down too much: I came up with my top 35. That might seem like a lot, but it’s only the top 5% of all posts. I couldn’t possibly decide which are my very favorites among these, so I present the list chronologically, with the most recent at the top:

Dana’s favorite albertnet posts:

I’ll update the above list over time, like I’ve done with the index. Check back often! Tell your friends!

Well, I guess that’s about it. Thanks for fifteen great years, unless you just got here, in which case it’s about time! ;-)

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

Thursday, February 8, 2024

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume XII


This is the twelfth installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, Volume III is here, Volume IV is here, Volume V is here, Volume VI is here, Volume VII is here, Volume XIII is here, Volume IX is here, Volume X is here, and Volume XI is here. (The different volumes have little or nothing to do with one another.)

“Bits and bobs” are little anecdotes from my letters and emails to friends and family, which comprised most of my writing before starting up this blog. The dispatches in this volume were to my brother Bryan, written when I was newly married and living in San Francisco. He was still living in our hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Here is a photo of the two of us from around the time I wrote these.

January 25, 1995

I bought the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing program for DOS. (I call it “Mavis & Butthead.”) It was supposed to run on 560K of RAM, & they recommended a “meg.” Now this is really confusing: how much is a meg? I’ve heard it’s 640,000 bytes, but I’ve also heard it’s 1,000,000 bytes. Very confusing. Anyhow, it wouldn’t even run when installed, although I have a meg. I made a DOS bootable diskette with modified AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files to get past its memory verification, and was therefore able to run it. However, it really was slow. I couldn’t make it keep up with me. I would type, “Mavis Beacon, your program stinks!” and on the screen I’d get, “Mvi Bn, yr pgm sk!” It was absurd, a total disaster. I took it back.

So, instead I bought this cheesy el cheapo Typing Tutor software. It only requires 512K of RAM; an IBM XT, AT, 286, 386 or higher; hard drive optional. Now that’s my kind of program. Its proudest feature is the Typing Lobster Sea Adventure game:

The Lobster Sea Adventure(TM) is an exciting game of chase and it’s an incredibly fast way to increase your typing accuracy and speed. Avoid being “pinched” by the lobster while typing in full sentences and using the shift keys. So many users have increased their typing speed and accuracy with the lobster and had fun at the same time!

Pretty much the most amazing video game ever. Not. 

Feb 1, 1995

Thanks for clearing up the meg issue. I grasp now that there is no standard. Say, that reminds me: at work I sent around these Computer Information Forms to get an inventory of what software people have, and what they want. I put a checkbox for “I need Microsoft Office” and another for “I only need Word.” On one form, an engineer had drawn in a new box and written “I need a new computer” and checked it. That inspired me. Our office manager (or “Director of Marketing and Administration,” a lofty title designed to boost her morale on the cheap) is using a petrified HP fossil called a Vectra. It’s so slow I made a special computer information form just for her; instead of having her fill in the RAM, ROM, MHz, CPU, etc. I just made one checkbox next to the text: “My computer is a tired, crippled old thing that barely runs anything at all. I’m surprised it doesn’t use 8-track tapes instead of diskettes. Somebody should just take it out and shoot it. But please, back it up first.” She put a huge check mark in that box. Alas, as it turns out nobody’s PC seems powerful enough to switch from WordPerfect to Word. Cash flow is too tight. We’ll all have to wait.

March 22, 1995

Things are pretty stressful at work. My boss, the company president, totally dissed me. He’d promised a paper to a magazine called the Inspectioneering Journal, but totally forgot to write it. At the last minute, realizing he had nothing to write, he kicked the project down to me, telling me to write a paper on Mechanical Integrity, on the double. I wrote one, in a huge rush, and I thought it came out pretty well … I even put in some neat visual things, like a table and a pie chart showing the types of issues discovered by OSHA during inspections. I sent the finished article to the journal’s editor for review; if it passed muster, he’d submit it to a panel of other editors for final approval. There wasn’t time to run it by my boss first—we were literally right against the deadline. Well, my boss read it after the fact, and totally bagged on it, freaking out that it would be torn apart by the editorial panel and this would make him look bad (since he was the alleged writer). He said I needed to extensively revise it immediately before the editor could pass it along. He didn’t say one positive thing about it.

One of my boss’s main demands was that I eliminate my entire introduction, which was an overview of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard (upon which the guts of the paper were based). He also wanted the whole article put into the passive voice (e.g., “we determined” becomes “it was determined”) which of course violates one of the most fundamental principles of style. There were a few more nitpicky “corrections,” all of which were equally wrong. So, my morale being in the gutter, I just didn’t bother making any of the revisions and sending along a new version. I did call the editor and left him a voicemail saying, “With the benefit of hindsight we’ve determined that our initial paragraph may have been needless so I’d like to revise the paper before the panel review.” I didn’t hear back right away, but when I did, it was a message on my voice mail saying, “Well, I wanted to let you know that I got the paper and ... congratulations, you did a great job, it’s just perfect for our journal. I’m really impressed with the clarity of your writing and I am very excited about working with you on more projects. As for the introduction, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s all appropriate. Further, I would like you to submit a photo of yourself along with the one of your company’s president, to accompany the article, since I’m listing you as a co-author.” Needless to say I feel totally vindicated. I’ve been leafing through The Joy of Cooking for a good crow recipe to give my boss. I need a low-cal one because he really ought to be eating this all the time.

April 27, 1995

You might remember my cool Benrus analog wristwatch with the fancy rotating bezel on it. I’ve known for well over a year that that ring is in fact kind of like a slide rule. Yesterday an engineer at work ripped it out of my hands when I showed it to him, and fairly drooled all over it. In the course of two or three minutes he demonstrated like twenty different calculations you can do with it. But “slide rule bezel” is confusing because it doesn’t slide and that doesn’t sound cool. So I call it the “hyper-alloy detonator depth-charge bezel.” The only problem is, it only rotates one way. Does that mean you can add but you can’t subtract? Multiply but not divide? Clearly I did not retain the engineer’s lesson; I only use the bezel to time parking meters, but rarely, and I usually forget I’ve used it and just go by sixth sense anyway. Besides, I don’t use parking meters that often, since I don’t have a car.

May 11, 1995

I can’t believe you actually complained about the poor bike racing coverage in the [Boulder] Daily Camera. You’ve got to be kidding me. That paper has the best racing coverage I’ve ever seen. We’re lucky to get a list of top ten results in the back pages of the Sunday sports section, next to the bowling results. I can get a little bit of information from CompuServe, the online information service, but my main source is forwarded messages from my friend who can get complete results from America On-Line, which has a Bicycling Magazine forum or some such thing.

October 29, 1995

On a cold, blustery day we went to the San Francisco Center and poked around. One of the things I looked at was a thick wool button-down shirt from Woolrich, just like the ones we all wore back in high school (and which are featured in our Four Brothers portrait that hangs proudly above my desk as I sit here typing).

Lo and behold, I did finally find some wool button-down shirts, but the price tag was staggering … close to $100. Just for a shirt! (Okay, a nice, thick one, but still.) You’ll certainly recall that we bought ours at the Factory Outlet in Broomfield, back when Factory Outlet meant slightly irregular and overstocked stuff that was really cheap, instead of what it means now (which is nothing more than a company-run store that sells only their brand of product and nobody else’s, for a price that is supposedly cheaper, but usually not by much). I’m sure there was something wrong with our Woolrich shirts, but I never could figure out what. A friend of mine back in high school once hit upon a theory: my shirt was defective because the front pockets didn’t have buttons. Well, they did: I just hadn’t buttoned them. So much for that. I have to wonder: now that factory outlet stores generally sell all first-quality stuff, what do companies do with their seconds? Surely they must have seconds. Do they just pitch it? Or do they pretend it’s fine and put some extra tag on there talking about how such variations give the garment character or something?

Finally I came upon some reasonably priced shirts but they looked really cheesy. I was lamenting the downfall of this once proud brand when I realized I’d drifted right out of Woolrich and into the Dockers store. I guess I’m just not cut out for shopping

November 25, 1995

My job is slowing down somewhat. Now that I’ve given notice, I’ve been branded a treacherous backstabber, not to be trusted. I’m having my projects taken away from me and given to people who don’t know how to do them, which leads to these people tearing their hair out while they come up to speed. At least I’m around to help for a while. (“Like this,” I’ll tell them, grabbing a huge hunk of hair in both hands. “You want to tear as violently as possible.”) I’m also helping to interview the candidates for my replacement. This is good too, because I get to ask those probing questions: “You’re walking in the desert, and you see a tortoise flipped up on its back, its stomach baking in the hot sun. You could flip it back over, but you don’t … why is that?”

December 12, 1995

Well, I hope y’all had a good time at Dad’s birthday dinner. I talked to him today briefly. To have an excuse to keep the call short, I used a long-distance calling coupon that the cash register at Safeway spat out when I bought some gum. I dialed the 800 number and a recorded message said, “Thank you for buying Carefree gum at Safeway!” and gave me directions for entering my PIN, etc. The coupon was good for five minutes, which was really kind of strange because you feel like you can’t think of anything to say since you’re so hurried. I managed to remind Dad to reimburse me for Max’s b-day present; Dad had called me on Max’s birthday to say, “Give Max $50 for me and I’ll reimburse you.” But when I reminded him, he claimed he didn’t know what I was talking about. Could he be that scatterbrained? It was only three weeks ago! I’m trying to convince myself I haven’t just been scammed by my own dad.

December 12, 1996

Yeah, I know what you mean about web pages. I could make one using this CompuServe web page wizard, but what’s the point? The only reason I could think of is that by doing a search engine (i.e., AltaVista) search, a long-lost friend could find me. But I got no friends.

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