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.