February 2011 Archives

future ninety-one percenter

As part of my antistupidification efforts, I've been listening to educational podcasts. Among them is the very popular Astronomy Cast, essentially a weekly lecture on astronomical phenomena by an Illinois Astronomy prof.

Astronomy class at Ohio State was where I finally learned a love of—hell, a use for—physics, and catching up on the many developments since then (exoplanets! dark energy! inflationary universe?!) has been exciting indeed.

Last week I learned that the podcast's audience is 91% male. Presuming that most listeners are just intellectually curious sorts like me, that is an alarming ratio indeed.

I was still mulling over what does that stat mean? when I visited a friend, a successful female executive and an active champion of get-girls-into-math causes. Surely she could help explain the gap. Or at least help me name it. The astronomy gender divide? The intellectual curiosity gap?

And so we talked about it, animatedly, while I watched her 6 year old daughter play in the background, moving antique furniture around her room-sized, incredibly elaborate, ridiculously expensive dollhouse.

"In the end, no one really knows what causes the gap," my friend shrugged. We came to no conclusions. No, we didn't.


In a dramatic departure from her usual topic—raising her child—Allie was discussing parenting. Conversation drifted to the adult children of lousy parents and the hazards they face.

Finally, something I can contribute to this conversation!

I described how only recently have I felt even a fleeting confidence that I would not seriously screw up my hypothetical kid. If all children of fucked up parents aren't racked with such insecurities, well, they should be. I consider it a very healthy fear. Only now, after decades of shedding my family tics and baggage, am I confident I wouldn't be a positively horrific parent. This is what I was attempting to articulate to Allie.

"Only now do I have any confidence that if, God forbid, I were ever to have kids, that—"

"—that they would be wanted?" she cooed.


It's not every street sign that makes you feel sorry for every woman who's ever loved you, all at once.


great reads: the day the movies died

Most critics blame Star Wars for inventing the brainless, soulless summer blockbuster. I do not. They draw a straight line from The Empire Strikes Back to Transformers 3. I cannot. Star Wars wasn't Easy Rider or the Godfather by any means, but to suggest it is the artless forbear of Pirates of the Caribbean V is equally indefensible.

In this article, writer Mark Harris puts the blame squarely where it belongs.


Dirt, Kiki and I went to a movie yesterday. About an hour in, I was blinded by the apocalyptic glow of a smartphone being used. But not merely used.

"Hi, how ya doing?" the man answered. His wife told him to say hi for her.

While we listened to his banal conversation from six rows back, Dirt and I glared at one another murderously. Had Kiki not been seated between us, the man would already have been pummeled into a grease spot. In this fission reaction, she was the control rod.

I fumed for the rest of the film, which I'm told was awesome. And then as we exited, Kiki headed to the restroom, leaving Dirt and me unsupervised, positioned between the theatre exit and the man's pickup truck.

The man exited the tiny theatre. We glared at him. His wife held her purse a little tighter. Yeah, lady, we're the lowlifes here.

"Your call," Dirt growled at me.

I considered my gamut of options, from vivisection to a cheery "I sure hope your lab results were okay, 'cause I can't imagine another reason for taking that call." Whatever we did would very likely end in some sort of confrontation. Anyone this rude typically responds badly to having a mirror held up to his face.

I decided that the pleasure I most wanted was to not converse with such a person.

"Fuck it. Let's just go," I said. Yeah, I know. I was even disappointed in myself.

Then the man opened his truck and removed the largest chainsaw I have ever seen. It had to be five feet long. It was positively terrifying to look at. Having just considered a confrontation with this asshole, I experienced a fight-or-flight rush of adrenaline.

As he placed it in the back of his truck, I pondered what could have been.

I'm trying really hard not to think about what this means about me.


"You just saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars," said the wide-eyed executive after Fuckless Amy and I completed our presentation. That part, I knew was going to happen. But I was rather hoping that history would repeat itself, too.

• • •

When I started at Microsoft, I was coming off the Fucking Amy debacle, and working hard seemed like an excellent alternative to sitting in a rocking chair and sobbing all day.

cedar_rocker.gifIt was a ratty outdoor rocking chair I'd plucked from the side of the road, the only chair in my apartment, so making some cash had some appeal, too.

And work I did. I worked monstrously hard. In that time, I:

  • Worked 12 weeks in which I averaged 84 hours a week
  • Worked six weeks without time off. Not so much as a lunch.
  • Worked a 104 hour week (do that math)
  • Housebroke young Ed in my office
  • Ate most of my meals while standing over the grocery bags my concerned manager left on her guest chair, tearing through them—in her words, "like a pregnant, stoned raccoon."
  • Watched with my also-overworked co-workers while paramedics carried out the corpse of one of our colleagues, who had dropped dead at his desk. "Lucky motherfucker," someone said as we went back to work.
  • Kicked ass on my project.
  • Was thanked by my manager not for producing but "for not dying."

I had pulled off a professional miracle that became legendary, at least in our uninteresting professional circle, so thank you, Fucking Amy, for so thoroughly shattering my life that you made my career. The halo lasted a decade, and I never worked remotely that hard again. Sometimes, I worked precious little. Felony little.

• • •

Although I have no desire to work those hours again, I do desire the early miracle that earns a halo. Basically, I want to get to the coasting as quickly as possible. Thus was our miracle solution born, thus was it presented, thus was it eagerly received. While I prepared to put my feet up for the next ten years, the exec took me out to dinner. He kept ordering me drinks. Here, I'll put it in trophy bullets again:

  • 2 glasses of red wine
  • 3 double bourbons and then, when he saw the fortitude afforded by my Slavicness/fatness,
  • 2 quadruple bourbons, for a total of 14 bourbons
  • 3 rum and cokes (this is when I was sobering up)

That part, I didn't mind so much. But it turns out he has a miracle-wishlist, each problem gnarlier than the last. I don't have the vaguest idea of how to solve any of the problems on this wishlist. Or as it's come to be known, "John's to-do list."


sales pitch

Tomorrow I have to sell some executives on an idea. It's a ridiculously good idea, relative to the status quo. It will result in 3x speed for 1/3 cost and achieve higher quality to boot. The idea sells itself.

I am nonetheless filled with dread. I detest selling things. Probably out of empathy, because I detest being sold things.

Someday soon, you may hear a news report of a Home Depot greeter being strangled to death with her own apron. You're welcome in advance.

the great metamuville mouse migration

I've long wondered what Portuguese Water Dogs are bred for. It's not boating. Like Ed before her, Dex merely tolerates the boat. Eh, he seems to enjoy it. I'll do it for him.

3450870013_8d120457e0_o.jpgIt's certainly not swimming. The only time Dex has swum in her life was when I waded out too far for her to be right next to me without swimming. Dad! Yo dad! How am I supposed to glom on to you like molten flypaper if I have to do this—um, what's the word—foot... paddling... thing?

It's not retrieving. Dex prefers to let other dogs do the work of running and picking up the ball. She contents herself with barking and snarling in their ear while they do it. She's rather like her Aunt Dorkass that way.

Which brings us to this morning.

• • •

I used to find Madam and Eve's mouse obsession funny. And then I found mouse crap all over my liquor cabinet. This morning marked a new milestone: me, walking through my kitchen barefoot; mouse, sitting next to Dex and looking at me.

Next to Dex.

NEXT to Dex.

This dog officially has no function in nature.

cool pic of the (last) decade

I'm not sure how I missed this a couple years ago, but when you consider the complexity of this shot, it's just staggering.

When the Polar Lander arrived at Mars, we already had an orbiter there from a separate mission. It snapped this photo of the Polar Lander still in flight, as its chute was deployed. Click to enlarge.

the biggest douche on the web

I'm taking nominations.

Anyone who has ever posted a question on a web forum knows my guy: the Thread Stillbirther. You'll ask something simple like "Is anyone else having a problem with their DVR recording more episodes than the maximum you set?"

Before someone can answer, he takes the time to pronounce your question unworthy of his time.

"Why do you set a maximum? I don't."

So you explain that you have no need for SportsCenter from yesterday or last week or last month. You just want today's news, thanks.

"Just let your DVR fill up. That's what I do."

I don't want to. I don't want it deleting Simpsons in order to keep a SportsCenter from mid-December. Is there anyone else out there?

"Don't be snippy. I just don't understand why you're such a retard instead of being exactly like me," he replies, more or less.

I want the feature to do what it says it will do.


That's the point at which I flee. Watching SportsCenter from Christmas Eve suddenly isn't sounding like such a stupid use of my time after all.

That is all.

rape's silver lining

Fifteen years ago, there was no upside to losing the Super Bowl. Not so this year! I'd like to thank Ben's wang for giving me a cheerful alternate view. No, the Steelers didn't win. But on the other hand, Ben lost.

So I've got that going for me.

Congratulations to the Packers, the most likable franchise and fans in all of sports. You made the plays, and you didn't beat yourselves.

And now for my long offseason of punishment. Oh, how I already hate those "Green Bay! Your team just won the Super Bowl!" Sports Illustrated ads

super tradition

As I did in 2006 and 2009, I spent this week listening to Pittsburgh radio. All Steelers, all the time, on every station, live from Dallas. And man, am I sick about hearing about the ice. The game is indoors.

Every season has its songs, and for me, this year's is "Drink Up Yinz Bitches." Here's the Jets version, superior because let's face it, there's nothing really to dislike about the Packers. ("Yinz" is Pittsburghese for plural "you all.")

And my favorite bit of fan art this week, by far:



Dirt and I were discussing our plans for our own senior care. "If I have a brain tumor," he declared, "I'm treating it with a .38 slug."

I concurred, adding that if I'm able, I would also use that remedy for Alzheimer's, certain kinds of cancer, strokes, tweaked MCLs and stubbed toes. We glared at one another seriously. Jokes aside, I knew that for now, at least, we meant these words. We have no intention of reprising our parents' protracted suffering. Besides, there's nothing quite like living in Metamuville to make avoiding old age a priority.

I later shared this conversation with Dorkass, and I made a prediction: men our age will have the highest geriatric suicide rate in history.

"Yeah. Y'all ain't exactly the Greatest Generation, are you?"

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