Friday, September 30, 2011

GPSing Me Off.

I get lost a lot. I don't completely lack a sense of direction, if someone gives me good guidance I can generally figure out where to go. However, in the case of faulty directions where instinct is concerned I will without fail always make a left when I am supposed to go right. Needless to say the invention the GPS has helped me greatly. No longer do I have to ask "How many streets past the McDonalds is the freeway again?" Generally speaking if the location I am going to is a hour away I can leave an hour and a half in advance and make it there on time.

 Of course GPS's still have some quirks. I'm sure that many of you out there in Internet land have had a run in with a prankster GPS one that waits until the last second to tell you to turn or one that prompts you every 12 seconds to "stay left" while driving for 300 miles on the freeway. I recall one time driving out in the middle of cattle country in search of Dairy Queen. After 30 miles of hills and trees I came upon a faded sign trapped in the beams of my headlights that read "The Dairy Queen Dairy Farms."

The most annoying problem that I have with my GPS is that it is a source of isolation during a road trip. Every time that my wife and I are going anywhere new we must sit perfectly quiet and wait for the monotone computer lady to incorrectly pronounce what street we are supposed to turn on to. We've tried to have conversations only to have "Samantha" (we've named her) barge in with the proclamation: "KEEP LEFT!". Often we  have tried to predict when she is going to speak and have adjusted and paused over conversations mid sentence only to be met by Samantha's dead silence. When we finally decide that she is going to be quiet we try to start talking only to hear her bark: "RECALCULATING!" 

Perhaps it is just me but I find the cold quiet confidence with which Samantha delivers instructions to be unnerving. I need a human connection app for my GPS something to make the driving experience a little more comfortable. How about a GPS with a passive aggressive personality? Every once in a while I decide to turn left or right preemptively without my GPS's endorsement. I have a crazy mental misfire that screams at me "Turn now! the GPS is broken!!! You're going to miss your exit!!" So I turn. Predictably my GPS calmly states "Make the next available U-turn." A real life navigator would say "Why the hell did you turn? Did I tell you to turn? I don't even know why you gave me the map because obviously you seem to think you know where you are going."

How about a change in pitch and urgency of the GPS voice as you get closer toward missing your exit such as: "Turn now...TURN NOW!!! NOW NOW NOW!!! TURN TURN TURN!!! DON'T MISS THE FREAKING EXIT AGAIN YOU DOLT!" However all I ever get back from Samantha is a direct and pleasant reminder: "In 0.4 miles turn right." Samantha doesn't care about my gross driving errors in fact she plays off my mistakes like a brown nosing corporate yes man whose only purpose is to serve me and bolster my ego. Well Samantha, I'll have you know that I am far too paranoid to be fooled by your tricks. Anything that appears too honest is dirty underneath and YOU Samantha and your squeaky clean exterior aren't going to push any secret agenda on me. From now on every time you tell me to turn right I'm going to turn left OR MAYBE I'll turn right you'll never pin me down Samantha!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Complaint About Compliments

Blame it on genetics. Blame it on my cold, critical unloving parents. Blame it on my early childhood trauma. For whatever reason, I cannot take a compliment. 

Compliments are a form of praise and praise is approval or admiration. I am not so jaded that I don't think compliments can theoretically exist, I just do not believe that 98% of them are sincere. The first thing that destroys a compliment is if I can find any slight error in the completed work. By completed work, I mean MY completed work. It's not like I go around picking apart other people's work without permission...very much....anymore. Okay! I admit it, I'm a critical bastard.  I find it very difficult to not criticize something if I know of something that is superior. Thankfully, I am most critical of myself so please know that any criticism that escapes outward is returned ten fold inward.

My second problem with compliments is the vague inference that you must return a compliment. "Nice outfit!" "Hey thanks, those shoes are hot!" First off, your shoes are not hot. Secondly, why am I talking about the hotness of someone else's shoes? Third, if you didn't want me to talk about the hotness of your shoes would have mentioned the niceness of my outfit? Probably not. 

Another problem I have with compliments (perhaps this is self created) is that compliments can be used tactically. Imagine that you do not like someone (I know it is hard but pretend) what better way to get them on your side then to pay them faux compliments. By complimenting another person you appeal to their ego/vanity and it makes them feel good, which makes them feel good about you. You on the other hand might still HATE them but they will never know. What this affords you is an upper hand in the relationship and an opportunity to use those good vibes against them at a later date.

It is because of this notion that I am dubious toward all other complimenters in the world. The most frightening of all is the self deprecating complimenter. The self deprecating complimenter is someone who feels comfortable enough to make light of their own short comings while paying you a compliment. If the SDC is sincere then they have low self esteem. However, if their compliment is aggressive and almost boastful of your talent/success then they are threatened/jealous of you. I know this, because I am a self proclaimed SDC.

My final problem with compliments is the inconsistency of the people who give them. Imagine this conversation between you and a friend:

You: Hey did you watch Fight Club yet?
Them: Yeah, it's my second favorite movie of all time!
You: Really? What is your favorite?
Them: Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail


You: Hey, how did you like those ribs that I spent 8 hours cooking in my backyard smoker?
Them: They were great! They were probably the best thing I had since that sandwich I ate last week.
You: Sandwich?
Them: Yeah, I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I dropped it on the floor but it didn't get that dirty because I had just mopped it. Actually now that I think of it, perhaps it was the lemony scent from the Mop and Glo that enhanced the sandwich's flavor.

If someone pays you a compliment and then directly compliments something bad or of poor quality it is difficult to legitimately accept their compliment. How can you feel a boost of approval or recognition when you no longer respect their opinion/ability to judge good from bad? Certainly I could just ignore the potential pitfalls of a compliment but I believe that compliments are directly rooted in judgement. A compliment must be  earned because a compliment earning act/creation is a departure from the norm.

 No one has complimented me on ingesting food or making a bowel movement in a loooong time.  If we are not constantly complimenting each other on adequately completing the mundane realities of life then a complimenter at the very least must be able to discern superior from average. If we are able to legitimately discern good from bad then perhaps it would behoove us to print up some complimentary vouchers in limited numbers to reduce the use of haphazard compliments.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Subtraction Is Not A Plus

Omission is not the mother of invention.

Okay, I concede Diet Coke is a winner. It is a drink that removed an essential ingredient (taste) and was able to sustain a paying audience. Luckily for Diet Coke it still contains caffeine an addictive drug that is able to overcome its poor taste and create drug dependency. On the downside it has various chemicals that have been known to cause cancer and other terminal diseases. While it may contribute to kidney failure at least it won't give you diabetes.

I'm not certain exactly when it started or who started it but there has been a growing trend among the North American people of elimination/subtraction. Back in the old days when people used to sell stuff they had a limited set of variables. They could change the packaging, the color of the product or add vanilla/cherry. Once they pushed their product through it's natural evolution it would flow out to the deep sea of consumerism and be embraced as a part of popular culture or drown a horrible, horrible death. But, the money people wanted more money so they sent their sciency people back to their sciency places and instructed them to come up with another permutation of their product so that they could sell more units.

 After many, many years of research and development the sciency people came to the conclusion that it is cheaper to not add ingredients or to remove ingredients completely and to sell the "new and removed" product as an enhanced version.

 Do you remember the Atkins burger? it had meat, lettuce, tomato and no bun. The price was the exact same, they just provided you with the service or removing the bun. The same goes for every "vegetarian" dish in every Mexican restaurant I've been into. A chicken burrito has beans, rice, chicken, salsa, cheese, hot sauce. A vegetarian burrito has beans, rice, salsa, cheese (unless they are vegan) hot sauce. How about that no sugar added ice cream? it tastes just like real ice cream but without the appropriate amount of sugar. Finally, what about low fat muffins and cookies I remember when we just called those "bread".

I would be fine if the stupidity ended there. I'm used to big business duping the little people into buying their product by whatever means necessary. Sadly though the trend has spread to society and infected various aspects of our lives. Do you want to know how to save gas? Drive less or get a car with a smaller displacement engine and less horsepower. Want to know how to stop all the pollution from plastic water bottles? Drink tap water!  Here's a few more gems, turn off the lights, use public transportation and if it's yellow let it mellow. 

These are not solutions they are merely common sense answers to reducing waste. My ideals are more liberal leaning but I draw the line at taking the bus or riding a bike. Call me close minded but the only grown men I know that ride their bike to work are guys who have had their drivers licenses taken away for too many DWI's. Cars are like bikes except a combustion engine does all the work for me. Whenever you come up with the complete solution I will purchase and implement it into my life. Until then please spare me the half solution fake outs. Okay, I admit it, I kinda like that fake butter spread too.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Decidedly Lackluster Post

They can't all be winners right? I have a lot of anger about a lot of things but I don't feel like refining  it down and pushing it through a sarcastic filter today. Nope, I think I'll just meander here for a paragraph or two just to see how it feels. Actually, it feels kind of weird. I'm already getting an inkling that I should be saying something more important...Aw hell.

Okay, how about this: I live in a one bedroom apartment (as all wildly successful people do) if I haven't mentioned this already I'm pretty sure it's a converted motel. I'll attach a picture don't worry. Actually by the time you read that sentence the picture will already be there. 

Anyway... There are several buildings in the complex and mine just so happens to back onto another apartment that is just like mine within the complex. What this means is that I can hear the abusive stepmother that lives behind me threaten to force feed the kids Nyquil between long drags from her cigarettes. The only reprieve I get from her yelling is if she is chasing the kids around trying to beat them. What this usually results in is a prolonged hacking, coughing spree that lasts up to and including 15 minutes in length. I would be lying if I said that I didn't wish she had succumbed to her failing lungs on more than one occasion. 

I've also had the pleasure of  hearing a gentleman I've never met, routinely hork up a mouth full of phlegm and blast out a few snot rockets while having his after work shower. If I'm really lucky on a special occasion while I am out walking the dog I might encounter a man who has clearly walked downstairs from his second level apartment to stand shakily between two cars in the parking lot and void his bowels of all the cerveza his liver could handle. Why he didn't use the toilet inside, I'll never know. But these are the charms of apartment living! What I've decided to talk about today is something a little more soul crushing. 

I was sitting in the living room and I heard a sound that was reminiscent of a selection being made on a DVD home screen. Just a small little "beep". I convinced myself that it was my wife watching something in the other room and she was scanning between chapters of some television show she'd seen numerous times. I thought nothing of it until the next day. 

The next day my wife said to me:

Wife: Did you hear the beeping?
Me: What beeping?
Wife: The beeping.
Me: Uh, you mean that noise wasn't you watching a movie?
Wife: No, it's a smoke detector beeping.
Me: Is it ours?
Wife: No, it is someone else's.
Me: Who's is it?
Wife: I'm not sure.

Herein lies the problem: We live on the top floor and our apartment backs onto another 2 floor structure just like ours. The beeping could be coming from the apartment below us, the apartment beside us, the apartment beside us and to the right, the apartment directly across from us, the apartment across and below, below and beside, across and beside, and on and on and on. Worse, between the two apartments there is this strange channeling effect where all sounds echo between the opposing buildings. So, it is conceivable that the sound might be strong enough to beep from 200 feet away and be ricocheting off the walls and into my apartment window. In other words, the origin of the sound can not accurately be traced. 

What is worse is that the person who occupies the apartment wherever the noise is emanating from has yet to discover it. It is inconceivable that someone could not hear a high pitched beep that sounds at the very least every 45 seconds. It has seemingly become more frequent as the days (yes I said days) have passed. Why oh why if it was your apartment and you heard it would you just not pull out the freaking battery and end the noise until you get a replacement? It's not as if a smoke detector is really going to do its proper job when the only sound it can muster is a lonely and meek cry for a battery replacement.

So this is where I'm at. I'm going to have to spend perhaps hours tomorrow standing between two buildings trying to track down the origin of the beeping and either beat the ever loving hell out of an unrelenting smoke detector or implore one of my lovely fellow tenants to get a new battery.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rememberies Volume 4: All Rabbits Look The Same

I was less than ten older than 5. We were at our semi regular family trip destination in Northern Ontario. You know, Northern Ontario where the mosquitoes outnumber humans 400,000 to 1 and watching black bears crawl through trash at the local dump is considered entertainment. What possible reason could we as a family have for driving all the way up into no man's land you ask? To see my grandfather of course!. My mother had the good sense to move toward somewhere resembling civilization at an early age but my grandfather remained up north and so on an annual/biannual basis we would make the pilgrimage up to see him.

Don't get me wrong, my brother and I loved the place when we were kids. It is just as an adult looking back it lacked a few (read: all) of the creature comforts I have come to know and love. My grandfather was of Polish descent and when I say Polish I mean off the boat Polish. He spoke English certainly but from what I recall it was more a cheap imitation than an actual fluent understanding of the language. Just imagine the cliche Russian spy in any action movie, he sounded just like those guys. Why am I giving you all of this background on my grandfather? Well, his old world ways filtered down to how he lived his life in civilized Canukville (Canada)

In his backyard he had an old rusty bathtub whose exclusive purpose it was to collect rainwater so that he could later dump it into his garden and grow vegetables. I'm not certain if his house had running water but what I do recall is that the toilets inside did not work and never would work. Instead, he fixed that problem by erecting an outhouse in the backyard and lined it with a GLAD garbage bag. What he did with the bag when it got full I'll never know AND I don't want to know.

TO THE POINT ALREADY!!! My grandfather raised rabbits in his backyard and sold them for money (I know it sounds like 1920 but it was 1989). He had two families of different rabbits who lived in two different pens. He let my brother and I play with the rabbits under the explicit instructions that we do not allow the two opposing families of rabbits to mingle whom I've dubbed the Montagues and Capulets. I don't think it was a star crossed lover situation so much as it was territorial but the two families hated each other.  Outside of their pen the rabbits were relegated to a larger caged area measuring about 25x5 feet where they would happily much upon grass while my brother and I annoyed the crap out of them. 

On one such occasion (I know that you can see it coming) I either forgot to put all the Montagues away before I released the Capulets or in child like wonder (as I referenced in an earlier remembery) perhaps I just wanted to see what would happen if I put an end to the segregated society. To this day  it might have been my brother who made the mistake of letting the two families co-mingle. However, since I am the younger brother, it was destined to be my fault regardless if I actually did it or not. All that I remember is that we left the rabbits outside of their pen to run around and went to play with something else. 

An hour or so later an angered grandfather and annoyed mother called our names in the way that denotes trouble, not candy and ice cream. What we came upon was a grisly site. One of the larger rabbits a female I believe had one of her ears split down the middle. Little Juliet stared at us with her scary red eyeballs while she sat perched in my grandfather's hand. What followed next was 20 hostile questions that tried to determine which of us was the one who let both families out of the pen at the same time. Somehow we were able to dodge full blame because neither of us legitimately knew who did it.  Well, that and the fact that I got my 8 year old cry on which as you know is a very manly thing to do when an adult talks to you sternly. In a huff my grandfather left us filled with rage at the fact that he would have to sell the rabbit off for half price. 

To divert attention away from the hostile situation my parents took my brother and I out to pick some wild blueberries. We spent a good part of the day filling a bucket full so that my mother could attempt to make blueberry perogies. Later that day my mother toiled in the kitchen trying to pound out a passable perogie dough (it's harder than you'd think) and the rest of the adults cooked up some of the fresh red potatoes from the backyard. The feast we had that night was marginal at best. The potatoes were under cooked, the pierogies didn't turn out that well, kinda doughy and mushy and the chicken wings were tough and sinewy. Overall it was a pretty bad day but I suppose my brother and I should have felt grateful for not getting into a lot of trouble for hurting poor Juliet.

Fast forward fifteen years, I'm sitting in some nondescript place with my mother having a nondescript conversation. We talked of my grandfather's house and all the good times we had there. I asked her if she remembered the time that we accidentally injured one of grandpa's rabbits. "Sure" she said. "I remember it quite vividly" she said. "Really? I said?" "Yes" she said. "I remember how you kids let the rabbits out of the pens and got one injured. I also, remember, that we told you that the rabbit we ate that night was chicken."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sorry Books, We're Pulling Your Nerd Card

Before I start today's extensive complaint let us first do away with one or more myths about books. The act of : a) purchasing a book or (b) holding the aforementioned purchased book does not make the information within the book magically go into your brain. Secondly, by telling your friends that you are going to: a) read a book or (b) that you have read a book it does not imply that you are any more intellectually capable, soulful or artistic than you were before reading the book. Unless of course the book that you just read was "How to appear more intellectually capable, soulful and artistic."

Originally books were collections of information compiled so that they be passed down from generation to generation. That information was used and revised as new information came to light. Eventually humans developed the ability and desire to express themselves in other ways and they found out that they could do that in word form. Writing at that time evolved from a way to relay information and transformed into what would come to be known as art. Individuals who were able to craft imagery and emotion in a superior way to other people became known as writers. These "writers" would create strings of words to captivate and inspire other people to live their dreams, mentally evolve or emotionally change something within themselves. These writers created the potential for other people to think.

It would naturally follow then that people whose desire it was to be educated would seek out books. They would seek out books that spoke to their area of interest written by scholars who had a level of expertise higher than their own. Also, books written in the past were expensive to write and reproduce for others to read. As such, there was a general unspoken rule that only books of quality would be produced for mass consumption. People who owned and read books then generally had an interest in knowledge and a thirst for understanding.

Within my life I have witnessed the progression of books from tool of experience and inspiration to tool of recreation and affectation. When I was a child reading a book was a bad thing. Reading suggested that you had knowledge, sought knowledge or at the very least chose to associate yourself with knowledgeable things. As a way for stupid people to compensate for their stupidity they would routinely label someone in possession of a book as a nerd or a dork. As you should know by now, the act of thinking is uncool and as such should be ridiculed. Then one day something happened that would change the face of bookdom forever.

That something was when a Hollywood business type realized that there was an untapped market and that untapped market was books. In a time of television and instant gratification books remained to be challenging things. They were challenging because they required the reader to give of themselves and put time into reading and understanding the message within a book. Even worse, rarely if ever did a book explain something with blunt and direct language. What this meant is that the reader would have to infer meaning. If there is one thing that cool and stupid people don't like to do it is infer. Because of this, books were able to remain somewhat untainted while the rest of the world continued moving forward.

Unfortunately, someone eventually cracked the code. The hole in the dyke was small at first, only a few celebrity autobiographies written by ghostwriters slipped through. But then the walls came crashing down. A deluge of self help books alerted an unaware audience that many of their common everyday problems were unique and important. Even better, for the low-low price of $19.99 these problems could be solved through an easy to follow five step process. The direct language and ease of use of books like "How To Use A Computer Keyboard For Dummies" got people enthusiastic about reading. The simplistic nature of what they were reading made them feel intelligent, it didn't matter that they were reading list upon list of basic instructions and common sense toward living.

Eventually people starting writing fantasy books intended for children and adults started reading them. These adults convinced themselves that the kids books somehow transcended the children's genre and were in fact very adult. In their minds, humans were not devolving by consuming books that were straightforward and easy to digest. In fact, they decided that writing was evolving because the level of children's literature had been elevated to new heights. Further, as more and more people came out of the closet and admitted to liking a series of children's books the more people became interested in reading them. Much like their children who had not done a lot of reading in their lives, adults got a positive charge out of finishing a book.

What followed next was that celebrities did away with their ghostwriters. No longer did they have to feel ashamed by their lack of diction and grammar. If other people could write stream of conscious first person narrative why couldn't they? Writing didn't have to be meaningful OR technically proficient. All that a person needed to do in order to be considered a writer was...write. This was great news for Hilary Duff who I am certain is at this moment penning her second fiction novel.

So what does this all mean? As I said in an earlier essay, computers were for a time the refuge of the freaks and nutters. Yet, with the invention of Facebook/text messaging the world made it easy for cool and dumb people to make use of the internet and technology. In this same way books have "evolved" to welcome the creative inspiration of cool and dumb people. Books have done away with the stigma associated with them, that being that they are filled with useful information and are difficult to understand. Better still books have maintained their pretentious affectation so you can still talk loudly in a crowded coffee shop about the existential implications of Chelsea Handler's latest musing on life.