Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ten Ways To Tell You're In A Pickle

I found myself in a pickle recently. I don't recall what happened to get me in one: which is probably how I got there.

It wasn't like seeing the image of Jesus in a Cheeto or the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich or anything. In a pickle is an idiomatic phrase meaning to be in a condition of embarrassment, difficulty, or disorder. Unlike a totally disastrous situation, being in a pickle is a bit more lighthearted. It's a situation that seems to hit designers, actors, writers and artists more so than normal people. But everyone must get oneself in one once in a while. You have to. It's a law. It keeps one humble.

Origins? The Middle Dutch phrase in de pekel zitten, ("sit in the pickle") probably gave birth to the figurative meaning of being in a pickle. Shakespeare was one of the first to use in a pickle, in The Tempest, 1610:
ALONSO: And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they find this grand liquor that hath gilded 'em? How camest thou in this pickle?
TRINCULO: I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

There are many ways to tell if you're in a pickle. Here are a few of the more obvious ones. You are officially in a pickle if:
1) You find yourself locked out of your house. In your underwear. In broad daylight. After your significant other came across some harmless emails you wrote to someone named Bambi. The neighborhood is having a block garage sale with lots of people who know you milling around and she won't let you back in
2) Finally, you get a meeting with a great new potential client, so you take them to an expensive place only to find out when you go to pay that your credit card has been rejected and you have $3.29 in your pocket
3) The tax auditor calls for a five year review of your returns the day after your kids shred your tax receipts to make play spaghetti
4) Your best friend advises you to get a lawyer. Up to that point they were your lawyer
5) When you call your boss lately they answer with a fake and very politically incorrect Chinese accent saying "Herro. No is here. No speaky Engrish."
6) While out to dinner you lend your car to a sick friend, thinking you'll grab a cab home. Then you remember you left your wallet and cell phone in the glove box and your house key is on the key ring... and you're not feeling too well
7) You work for months on an exciting new product brand for men's hats only to discover minutes before the client presentation that the name you've hinged the whole project on means poop in Romanian (rahat)
8) Your new teetotaler in-laws drop in unexpectedly for a visit and your bathtub is full of homemade beer
9) Upon waking up after what was originally to be a quiet night out you discover a cease and desist order pinned to your pajama bottoms, and
10) A neighbor (of the undesirable persuasion) invites you to a pole dance and you agree, thinking it to be a quaint ethnic folk dance at the community hall.

Of course, all pickles work themselves out eventually. It just takes time and a sense of humor. Have a great Canada Day and 4th of July everyone to the south!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Purpose Of Purpose

Most of us do stuff all day long. And for most, the money we get for doing some of that stuff is quite motivating. Others find the energy to get going in other things, like teamwork, the prospect of importance, recognition, power, world domination, influence, a chance for travel, love, stardom, fame, to do the right thing for people who are important to them, the thrill of the chase or simply the chance to associate with some interesting people and then retire to a Winnebago.

No form of motivation is entirely wrong as long as: 1) it does no harm to others, 2) it doesn't land one's butt in jail, and 3) it doesn't involve looped recordings of your mother's nagging. 

And then there are those who have a reason to do the stuff they do. To their way of thinking, one can have all the motivation in the world but if the work is without purpose, why, you might as well be just like everyone else in the world. And while fitting in (or not standing out) is totally okay for some, these people would rather not, at least in certain respects and under certain conditions.

These are individuals who intuitively flavor motivation with purpose. Actors, painters, film makers, architects, writers – ultimately everyone who's work involves a measure of creativity has a reason behind what they do. And it doesn't have to be a concrete reason. It might be just to distinguish their work as stuff that has never been done before. Or to be themselves. Or perhaps to add something of value.

People with purpose tend to stay the course when others change direction. Over time their focus may allow their personal work to overlap their professional expertise and the result can be some really special stuff. And if you look closely you may find these people will occasionally, almost without knowing, slip a small sliver of very private stuff in there as well. And that puts their work into a very special realm.

Possibly, one day, you will be working away and you will look down and all of a sudden see something special sitting before you. Something born of all your experiences and learning, joys and sorrows. Something all you. Then you will realize this stuff is the real reason you do all that other stuff. And it probably has nothing to do with fame, glory, prestige or money. Just a quiet feeling deep inside.

And a small smile.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pick The Voices You Hear

Reading is so 20th Century. We here at Computer Wizard Guru Word Of The Digital Future Now Plus Magazine have just tried out a beta version of a new set of computer voices that will soon be coming to an online store near you. And it's a doozy! The Compubabble package allows you to customize your computer listening experience and upgrade it to the twenty-first century.

The unique and natural voices of Compubabble come as a set of four. Pick one to correspond to the site you are viewing: 
1) Canary. This singing voice is ideal for surfing lyric sites or for transcripts of operas or musical extravaganzas. Listen in wonder as Canary sings the words of any musical script you view. (The fact the tune always sounds like Wayne Newton's hit Danke Schoen will seem normal after a while.) Also useful for poetry and those doom and gloom sites you used to hate.
2) Catcall (also called The Heckler). When you're viewing live sporting event feeds, film reviews, movie articles, humor publications, transcripts or speeches, this voice also adds interesting sound effects, trash talk and rude phrases amongst page content. Pick from Boston, Bronx and The Knights Who Say "Ni!" accents. Install on your GPS unit to liven up long drives.
3) Yakkety-yak. If you find reading gossip pages, lengthy business reports or IT articles irritating and tiresome, try having this voice read them to you. This fast-talking son-of-a-gun doesn't bother distinguishing between vowels and consonants, and doesn't stop at periods. A truly breathless experience. Perfect for shortening a 15 minute read to under 3. Sure to be a favorite of speed readers and those who just don't like punctuation. It's about time!
4) Lovey-dovey. Listen to your favorite Harlequin e-Books or sexy sites with this sultry voice and compound your experience. If you need to pause the reading in order to freshen up your mocha java, it will provide a background of heavy breathing, groans and delightful squeals until you choose to continue. Also adds interesting verve to lengthy scientific research studies. Available in male, female and androgynous characterizations.  

Update: For an even more interesting listen, there is a 'revolve' setting where every new sentence is read by a different voice. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

We'll See And Just Because

Ah you're here. Thought we'd just shoot the breeze today. Perhaps it'll turn out to be something from the heart. Maybe not.

We'll see.

It'll be a we'll see for all the folks who shoulder a whole week for a few laughs on a hot Saturday night. And let's make it for all the times we have to be careful instead of carefree. We'll have a romp and blame it all on everything simply awful done in the name of art. It'll be for reruns of reruns and totally unreal reality shows and texting LOLOLOL while driving erratically and freaks who think value lies in harming others. For all the little hurts, and all the big ones too, and all the thoughts heard and the ones lost in the roar. Because despite it all, don't you know, there it goes. 

Come. We'll seek joy down the road while it waits in small puddles at our feet. And we'll look down and we'll leave behind tired arguments and mismatched socks and speak perhaps of private and always personal things called secrets. Did you know? Sh-h-h-h. Don't tell anyone. Cross my heart. We'll talk of life and name it just because. And it'll free us with nothing but a deep breath and a silent challenge to the gods to bring it the hell on.

And when we meet it, things like tomorrow and yesterday, pain and pleasure, outrage and joy can only really control us if we want. We can welcome it all: cool and chintzy, because we know none of it matters and everything does.

Will we see an idea's glow instead of its shadow? Will we see that all things happen (or don't) and then vanish, never to be seen again? For when you come back tomorrow you'll be different in some way and so will I. And then we'll laugh or cry or laugh so hard we cry. Wait. Did you know? Everything is fine.

And for those ruled by love or possessed by fear or consumed by power: things that motivate or imprison or both. Sweet kisses on the cheek and cold pizza for breakfast and your wedding day oh so long ago and the things you do so well and the things you laugh at yourself for trying. It's there, just because, waiting like a dream date: that magical, incredible lightness. It lies inside everything that doesn't matter and everything that does. And that's pretty well everything.

Sh-h-h. Frankie's singing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Six "Your Life Is Not Complete" Marketing Tips

The subject today is how to get people to think they're improving their lives when what they're really doing is paying for your oceanfront condo in an exotic locale (and we're not talking time share here).

There is a little-known symbiotic relationship that all humans have with a creature called a Needybug. Since the beginning of time, in return for sustenance and a place to hang out, these helpful creatures tell people when they need food, sleep, shelter, comfort and love. (I'm sure I'm missing one or two, not being Maslow.) Left sadly neglected, Needybugs are cuddly, fluffy and play a mean game of foosball.

Savvy marketers have discovered stimuli that helps Needybugs grow to their full potential. This causes cash to fly from pockets of their hosts to pay for stuff even they didn't know they needed. The secret lies in these six key techniques:
  1. Base messages on 'not enough' issues (such as 'not skinny enough, not pretty enough' or 'not clean enough'). This effectively preys on insecurities based on superficial social values
  2. Include heart-rending images, such as caged puppies, starving children (with flies), melting glaciers and polar bears, or old people crying behind rain streaked windows
  3. Show someone insanely bungling tasks prior to demonstrating your device. This emphasizes the positive benefits you bring to market
  4. Use before and after pictures of previously fat, bald, unfit, hairy or ugly people with no love life, who are now perfect in every way (and their families love them again)
  5. Prompt people to "call now" or "call in the next ten minutes" accompanied by a large flashing phone number and provide an incentive bonus (just pay shipping and handling). This helps create a sense of urgency
  6. Buy entire blocks of airtime to repeat the same message over and over again ad nauseum.
By applying these simple and effective Needybug development strategies to your marketing, you'll find yourself raking in the moola and sailing the silky seas of success in no time at all!

(Ed. Note: The above is total drivel and aspiring marketers should disregard.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Which Less Is More?

This may be quite stupid. But every time I hear the phrase "less is more" I wonder which "less" in particular, is being referenced...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Born To Be Special

Say you met three U's, each of whom thought it was superior to the others. You'd say, "That's silly, you're just a few U's, you might be different styles and colors but deep down you're really just U's."

It would seem pretty strange if you saw two dogs comparing tails, or the quality of their fur... or the resonance of their bark. Dogs look at each other and go "Oh, a dog," and then pick from an assortment of reactions like play or run away or sniff.  A dog doesn't care if another dog's nose is four feet long or if they're a six-thousand dollar prizewinning Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a pedigree as long as your arm. When one dog meets another it just wants to know what their bum smells like.

But it's not remarkable at all when a person compares their appearance, abilities or actions to our own. We expect it. As superior beings we are entitled to have differences, to be special; not only from other life forms but from one another. It's in our contract. To be unique – right down to our fingerprints.

People are unique in, oh, so many ways. It's entirely logical: we are different from everyone else, therefore we are special and therefore valuable. In fact, the rulebook states we're not allowed to just be a human being just like other human beings. There are several potential reasons:
  1. As human beings we all have a duty; a role to play. We have a responsibility to make the world a better place, or to conquer our enemies or to be a parent or a kid or to become rich and famous... the list is endless. A role gives us purpose.
  2. We need to be distinctive and special. We're white or black or jewish or protestant or catholic or rich or poor or gay or straight or dressed in designer fashions or in rags or plain-looking or a humahuma. Our distinction gives us a history and perspective.
  3. We want things to make sense. From birth we're trained not to stop at level one identification (what are you). We take it to level two (what are you good for). Being able to evaluate gives our lives order and understanding.
And if for some reason we were to wake up one morning and forget what makes us unique, why, we'd all definitely be in trouble. We'd be in full-fledged identity crisis mode. Our individual roles and pompousness and expertise and value would be lost to the world. We wouldn't know we were stinking rich or ugly and our winning score in Call of Duty MW3 wouldn't mean anything. We probably wouldn't have religious conflicts or wars about people being better than other people. Money would be meaningless, the economy would tank, banks would crumble, shops would close and we'd just give stuff to each other. No one would starve, be homeless or feel unloved. We'd just be one messy mass of mankind.

And we'd be no better than dogs. Eating, sleeping, playing together and (shudder) having fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Nina, Pinta and Santa Tomato

Recently discovered eyewitness image of Columbus's original departure.

Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera on 3 August, 1492 with three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Tomato. No one really knew what his ships looked like until recently. I am happy to pass on this newly discovered depiction of the famous day.

And so, they say, began the Age of Discovery. Actually the Age of Discovery started well before that with the fall of the Roman Empire and the invention of the printing press (which meant not only rich people could afford Harlequin Romances, IKEA easy assembly instruction manuals and self-help-for-dummies paperbacks) but hey, let's not nit pick. It's up there.

Why all the hubbub about months at sea with stinky men with bad tats? (Apologies to Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman and Erik Sprague, better known as The Lizardman. No offense.) We all know Chris didn't originally set out to discover the New World, (Leif Ericson did that a few centuries before and surely the word got around). Most of us already know he was actually looking for a trade route to Asia. Which was true. Since the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, hiking across land to Asia became more and more like trying to get from one end of a trailer park to the other unscathed on a hot Friday night after welly check day. Alternative forms of transportation were required and Fed Ex Overnight Express hadn't been invented yet, so sailing ships seemed the logical choice. Competition surged throughout Europe for new trade routes and the riches to be had.

Columbus was certainly a go-getter. He'd lined up investors in Italy for half the money needed and the other half came from a deal worked out over a two-year period with Spanish royalty King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, heady after their defeat of Granada. Pesky Portugal had already laid claim to practically all good real estate along the entire west coast of Africa and their plans to go around Africa to get to Asia's spice store rankled Ferdy and Issy to no end. Columbus's deal, in return for finding the new route and slapping an "Owned by Spain" label on as many new lands as he could find, included being named 'Admiral of the Ocean Sea', governorship of any newly discovered lands and a claim to 10 percent of all related profits. So generous were their promises you have to wonder if they were expecting Columbus to return.

According to historians the flagship was the Santa Tomato; the largest of the three ships. It had a crew of 51.75 men (one guy had a peg leg) while his other two ships had 18 men apiece. The Santa Tomato was so large it was not able to go near coastlines for fear of being turned into ketchup (which it eventually was). But it was able to bob well in bad weather, carried all of the pasta sauce needed for the crossing and was the most tastefully designed of the three. Both the Nina (whose unique mission was to discover the number that comes after 9) and the Pinta (which carried the milk for the crew's Fruit Loops), while top heavy had a shallower draft and were able to explore shallow bays and the mouths of rivers. Maximum speed for the vessels was about 8 knots (9.206235 mph), and minimum speed was zero. So, 90 or 100 miles a day would be a normal day's progress – 200 if the winds were right, they hit all the lights and they wanted to skip Happy Hour (which practically never happened).

Overall, Columbus crossed the Atlantic to the New World a total of four times, finally returning to Spain in chains after some (prolly just jealous) people began tattling to the King and Queen of Spain about his governorship practices. For things like allegedly cutting the hands off of natives for not paying taxes, he was stripped of his titles and profits and his sons had to sue the Crown a number of times in order to have any inheritance at all.

Thus began the habit of people from the New World to turn to litigation – a trend that continues to this very day. The end.

Ed. Disclaimer: While the above is loosely based on historical events, it is a work of lies and fiction. Any resemblance to actual people and events is very, very unlikely.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pop Bottles And Chinese Doodads

"After Mickey’s that morning I had thirty bucks left until payday and I didn’t feel like trying to figure out when exactly that would be, although deep down I knew my last payday was yesterday. This fact, in modern parlance, sucked and I didn’t feel like sucking just then. If I wanted to feel anything I really should be feeling like getting the laundry out of the dryer before everything I owned compressed itself into one massive wrinkle.

Plus, I had more important things on my mind.

My front door knocked and I stopped thinking about what I should or should not be feeling like and opened it up to find myself standing on the other side of the screen door looking in and asking, “Got any pop bottles you don’t want?”

It wasn’t me exactly but a little-kid-me and I knew that because not only did he look vaguely familiar but I remember going door-to-door asking for pop bottles when I was his age. Pop bottles then were two cents – five for a big one. That might seem like not a lot of money now but back then a wagon full of bottles bought a heck of a lot of 4-for-a-penny mojos. Besides, I recognized the shoes. They were what we used to call gomer boots because only gomers wore them, as in Gomer Pyle. Now they are treasured high-top basketball shoes. Black canvas with white around the soles and white laces. You know the ones.

I thought about telling my kid-self that going door-to-door collecting pop bottles just didn’t work any more. There was no return on your labor. Pop bottles were mostly all plastic now and people recycled them. For free. No deposit, no return – just like life. When they were all used up that was it. They were tossed into blue caskets and sent to plastic bottle heaven and were reincarnated as Chinese doodads.

If I had more time and no laundry in the dryer I would have suggested that he should possibly switch to copper wire. I’d heard crooks kept stealing it so there must be a market for it. Then again, “Got any copper wire you don’t want?” just didn’t have the same innocent resonance.

Under normal circumstances I would have muttered a quick “No,” followed with a decisive closing of the door but I thought, wait a minute – this is me I’m talking to. Finally, I shook my head sorry, dug five of the last thirty bucks out of my wallet and passed it to him before closing the door. It’s what I would have wanted me to do. Besides, I had more important things on my mind. 

My life was in danger. There’s poetry in there somewhere."

(Excerpt... the opening salvo of a work in progress.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Boning Up On Public Transit

Big city living brings a number of wonderful experiences. If you are new to the city, before long you're bound to witness these huge machines totally packed with people lumbering down the street. Do not panic. These people are not being kidnapped or forced into a ragtag militia against their will. They are using vehicles called buses, a public transit service, and can get on and off at will.

In order to use one yourself, simply wait at a bus stop and when a bus approaches, take a step towards the curb (do not step off the curb) and concentrate like you want the bus to stop. It's sort of a psychic thing. The doors will open automatically – there's no need to pry them open. Buses come with a driver so there is no need to offer to drive for a while. Simply chip in some cash to help pay for gas and grab a seat.

You may notice that people bring along certain items and demonstrate unique behaviors to help make their journey a safe and entertaining one:

Accessories: A helmet is great for inducing helmet hair and reducing the amount of brain trauma associated with engine vibration, sudden stops and potholes. A spotlight attached to the helmet is useful in case of an unexpected tunnel. Sound suppressing headphones reduce the air pollution caused by headbanger music coming from the guy next to you. You'll see people bringing water bottles to keep from becoming dehydrated but you may want to consider the personal IV drip. They're flexible in tight spaces and can also be used to refill your water pistol (good for small brats). Displaying a ceremonial symbol of power will remind others that you don't really need to take public transit but are doing so to help the environment (bonus points if it comes with GPS and an emergency beacon). An accessory Batman-style pouch, even if empty, is impressive. Be sure to bring along your own personal mobility devices (i.e. feet, wheels). You'll need them to get to and from the bus stop.

Attributes: Try to train one eye to monitor the road ahead for your stop and have the other eye watch for shady characters looking to rip off your wallet. And if you can grab a couple of flying bugs while you're waiting for the bus, let them loose after you sit down. This will help keep people from getting too close. Demonstrating an oral fixation with something like a bubble pipe can be useful as well, and a pair of loud honkers, judiciously used, may gain you a seat in a crowded bus.

Properly prepared, riding the bus is a pleasant and convenient benefit of living in the big city.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Notes I Should Have Left My Mother

Remember when you were little and it seemed everyone else in the whole world was bigger and smarter and better at stuff than you (except for babies)? It seemed you were battling just to keep up. And it was only natural to try to dodge nasty consequences of your actions and minimize damage. Sometimes you got away with something and sometimes they saw right through you. Whatever your batting average, it is likely at least some claims of innocence were successful and years later you get to an age where you wish you could set the record straight. Wipe the slate clean. There are millions of apologies I could probably write to my mother but I've picked three that are fairly representative.

These are the three that keep me up at night the most, suffering from with incalculable pangs of guilt. If I'd only stood up for the truth and said something at the time things might be better now. Like maybe those nasty wars in Iran and Afghanistan wouldn't have happened. Or maybe John Lennon would still be alive.

So Mom, if you're up there listening, which I'm sure you are because when you were alive you were able to see around corners and hear things through solid walls... sorry.

Can I have my allowance back now?