March 2014 Archives

A couple of you asked for examples of un-losable battles I've lost. I can't believe one person is interested in this, let along a couple. But okay, here's one that's gnawed on your butt perpetually for decades.


This is called a modal message box. You can't do anything else in the program until you dismiss it. They are very handy for seizing the user's attention. Naturally, this led to annoying abuses. Remember wanting to strangle the people who inflicted this on you?


In the software industry, everyone argues that their bullshit performance-review bullet is of critical importance. By 2003, they were driving you insane with modal messages. Using your computer was like playing a relentless game of whack-a-mole. Users hated them. I hated them. All agreed: something had to be done. That something? Get rid of all modal dialog boxes because users hate them.

Me, 2003: "Uh...all of them? How about just the 90% that don't need to be modal?"

Yes, users hate their overuse. But sometimes, rarely, you still gotta seize the user's attention. My arguments fell on deaf ears, and that generation of sneering child-designers gave us innovations like the Internet Explorer Information bar. You don't like message boxes? Us neither. That's why we make messages invisible now. And thus was the era of "Why the fuck isn't this web page working?" born.


The Information bar was a failure, of course. A single usability test would have revealed the obvious: it wasn't discoverable. But the next generation of sneering child-designers had the magic fix! Cram it on the other edge of the screen, even more out of the user's eyeline! Whoot!


Then every 12 year old with a laptop started developing apps, and all pretense of usability has long since departed the Earth. Much as I stopped expecting people to write with some semblance of grammar, I have given up this war. Three stacked modal message boxes were the death blow.


Fighting this fight is like trying to bail out a vast reservoir of stupidity with a colander.

dear beaten down guy at Apple

I know you exist. You always do.

When they were planning on foisting iOS7 upon the world, you were the guy in the room who said "Uh. It doesn't really make sense to dim the screen when they open the control that sets screen brightness. It's a pretty effect and all, but they'd have to close the control just to see what they'd set!"

I know you said this. Of course you did. It is a self-evident truth. And I know you were shouted down by a stampede of sneering child-designers who know better than the preceding generations of sneering child-designers. They know they know better because they took a vote amongst themselves. The only thing they are more in agreement about is that you just don't get it.

I just wanted to say I'm sorry, brother. I've been that guy. It's tough to be dismissed by those flaunting the seemingly opposing tendencies of smugness and vomitous incompetence. Congratulations on your self-control. Now bend them over your knee and beat them with a switch.


the content of their characteristic

I'm perusing some media from a new client, yet another Fortune 500 tech company. They have a particularly gruesome file-naming scheme for their stock photos.

LatinoWomanUsingTablet.jpg [sic]
I feel all warm and fuzzy.

No, wait. Queasy. I feel warm and queasy.

knowing thyself

I filtered for "unpublished status" when I was declassifying posts a few weeks ago. I found a lot of half-cooked, abandoned posts. I found several that would have had Microsoft lawyers eight feet up my butt. And I found a couple of mere-minutes-after-romantic-rejection outpourings of the heart.

My god, I'm a whiny bitch when I get rejected. Like, teenage girl whiny.

And not 19, either. 13.

gay old time

Karyn is 24 and a sweetheart. A peninsula girl, she never considered college and has settled into her forever-life of cleaning houses. A lazy man, I exploit that. My sloth exceeds my threshold for filth.

Over the weekend she asked if we could have dinner to talk about her life, particularly her relationship with 27 year old Bobby. He's jobless and aimless and mooching off her, a situation excruciatingly familiar to me. Five minutes into her spiel, I was telling her what her life is like, what she's feeling, and how he reacts.

"And how does he rationalize that he contributes as much to the household as you do? He occasionally cooks dinner and works on the cars?"

"Are you...a genius?" she asked with genuine astonishment.

No ma'am, I am not. Guys are just really, really consistent.

After far too long, conversation eventually turned to me. She asked about the flowered champagne flute she's cleaned around a hundred times. I told her about my fake wedding to Elan, and how we have matching flutes.

She looked uncomfortable. Finally, she confessed: all of the housecleaners at her service think I'm gay.

My first, unspoken thought: considering how many of them are attractive young women, this buoys me with confidence that I am a stealthy leerer indeed.

My second thought: why? Their reasoning:

  • My house is nicely decorated. Okay, I guess I understand that, but I would venture that this says more about their SOs' Harley Davidson plaques than it does about my sexuality.
  • The champagne flute. Why this would have to be from a gay wedding, I do not understand, but apparently a solitary champagne flute struck these women as gay.
  • I never hit on them. Charming. The answer here lies not in me but in yourselves, sweethearts.
  • My guestroom has two pairs of slippers and two bathrobes. Karyn could not explain the logic, but this was apparently considered a smoking gun. Because, you know, robes and slippers in a guest room couldn't be for guests. They must be for me and my partner. My secret partner. Who must be gay. The slipper fits!

Who wouldn't hit on women who are fueled by such intellectual horsepower? Gayness: confirmed.

the final insult

For my last night in DC, I stayed in a motel near the airport. As I checked in, the staff was bantering and bickering, and the cute clerk was trying to browbeat the maid into working her day off. It was a lively work scene, and I joined right in. I implored the maid not to cave in to the guilt trips.

The clerk made a point of telling me later that she had prevailed.

"She caved?!" I said. "Why?!"

"I'm...just...that...cute!" she chirped. "I get my way. A lot."

I groaned and wrinkled my face in disgust. "No one's that cute."

"I am."

"No. You're really not."

The clerk eyed me for a moment. "OK, I'll prove it," she said with a sly smile. She amped up the wattage. She was absolutely luminous. "You should ask me out tonight."

Uh. No.

"C'mon," she said, smiling and batting her enormous Disney-character brown eyes.

A man can only take so much. We are not practiced at turning down cute twice. Once was a modern male miracle. So I took the bait.

"OK. "Wanna go out tonight?"

She broke eye contact and went back to work. "Nah. You're way too old for me."

the white house

While in DC, I toured parts of the ground and second floors of the White House. There were no interior photos allowed, sadly. Security was tight, in that half-assed, post-9/11 American way that manages a hassle factor of 10 and a security factor of 2. I was scanned and sniffed, and then I was funneled back outside, where I walked within easy reach of the people who had yet to be scanned and sniffed.

Like most everything else on my trip, the White House interior is a recreation. The original structure was weakened by the British setting fire to it, and those charred joists had endured all manner of abuse since, including notching for innovations like plumbing and electricity. By the time Truman's piano punched a hole in the ceiling, the interior had to go. And so everything was gutted except for the exterior walls.

"Here," I solemnly thought, "Is an actual simulation of the actual floorboards that Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, and TR actually walked."



bacterial culture

Google Images has changed the way I photograph vacations. Why would I take a crappy photo of the Capitol building when I know there are superior, 12MB wallpapers of the exact same shot available? So instead, I snapped the weird stuff.

At Ford's Theatre, I couldn't decide which was more tasteful: the Hard Rock Cafe next door, or Lincoln's Waffle Shop across the street. C'mon, people, at least throw us a Shoppe.


You can tell it's Chinatown because of the ancient Shang dynasty Panera.


In Gettysburg, I discovered that Lincoln was wrong. We can dedicate, consecrate, hallow this ground.


Apparently one DC architect had heard about the fudge.


Historical irony, defined.


And finally, from Primanti's restaurant in Pittsburgh comes the Ben Roethlisberger Memorial.


I'm still entertaining the notion of working in Pittsburgh for a year. Thanks to my landing a White House tour when I was expecting to be in New York, my vacation plans were shattered and I decided to spend a middle two days in the 'Burgh.

Waking up in DC, I dropped my wet toothbrush on the hotel room carpet next to my bed. I entertained myself with the "How much money would it take for me to put that back in my mouth?" game. More than most countries' GNP, I decided. Thus did I stop at a DC drugstore on my way to Pittsburgh. I was buying my toothbrush when I spotted a tube of KY jelly.

"I'm going to need that tonight," I sighed.


Driving in Pittsburgh is my nemesis. I don't think a single street runs north-south or east-west, and they meet at bizarre angles. The map looks like the city's planners threw wet spaghetti at the wall and said "build that." Worse, if you make a mistake, you are well and truly screwed. I've spent hours upon hours trying to recover from wrong turns there. Once for Football Weekend, I suggested to Bubba that we not even rent a car this time. "Let's just cab everything," I said.

"No," he snapped, still butthurt from our last Pittsburghian vehicular analcide. "I want to slay The Beast."

We didn't.

• • •

Freshly arrived, I was walking across Penn Ave when a passing car stopped in front of me and a guy rolled down his window. "Fuck you, man!" he screamed, emphasis on the fuck, as if he wanted to be sure no one thought he said he loved me.

Surprised, I pointed to myself. "Fuck me, man?"

Impatient with my stupidity, he used his forehead to point to a guy behind me. "No, fuck him, man."

"All right then," I said, continuing on my way.

• • •

I checked out my prospective yuppie apartment and the upscale restaurant next door. I knew it had a cigar bar, so in I went. I expected to see a bunch of 30ish Google employees in hockey jersies pretending to smoke cigars. What I got instead was a time warp. Wearing the slacks and jacket I packed to wear at the White House, I was woefully underdressed. I had stepped back in time to the 1920s. Everyone was in a suit. Everyone. Packing the mahogany room and its leather furniture were men and women smoking cigars, sipping brandy, and talking business and politics. I asked a 60ish guy if I could sit at the long table he occupied by himself. He said he was expecting others, but would I please join them. He asked for my story and introduced himself as Bobby. As his friends trickled in, he graciously introduced me to each of them.

"You a Pollack?" he asked, beaming with a cigar clenched in his teeth. I said yes. He pointed to himself and his friends. "Wop, wop, hebe, kyke. Welcome." Everyone nodded their warmest greetings.

"What's the difference between a hebe and a kyke?" I said, genuinely confused. They laughed at my question, but they didn't answer it. When the final friend, a black guy, joined us, I was both grateful and rueful that he'd missed the ethnic slur round-robin.

We talked and drank, and they told me all about their lives, their wives, the strippers they have known. And of course, about living in Pittsburgh. When I said how much I hate Roethlisberger, they regaled me with stories about what an insufferable prick the guy is to locals. ("Not any more," one guy added. "The Stillers clamped down on him. No one ever sees him anymore.") At one point Bobby waved over a city councilor and introduced him to me, saying if I was going to live in this district, I simply had to know Timmy. I puffed my cigars and marveled at how I'd traveled back in time 90 years by simply walking through a door.

"So how long," I asked all assembled, "will it take me to learn how to drive here? This town is my nemesis."

"It's everyone's nemesis," they groaned in chorus. Bobby rolled his eyes with empathy. "At least 60 years. I'll let you know if I ever figure it out." They all told spectacular driving stories. I told them about the KY.

We, the brotherhood of butthurt, bonded.

two DCs

I spent a lot of my time in DC thinking about race. Part of that was natural and most welcome. I'd left the Northwest, where clusters of lily white people prattle importantly about diversity in lieu of practicing it, and immersed myself in actual diversity.

Within hours of landing, I went drinking with a guy I met at my hotel. "I know a place," he said. "C'mon." As I listened to him complain about having to pay for his son's wedding, I marveled at the speed with which I'd made a friend. This would be typical of my whole trip. People were engaging me in more than pleasantries and looking me in the eye, and a lot of their faces, including Dad's, were black. I sipped my drink and pretended to care about his kid's wedding and felt really, really homesick. I would spend the rest of my trip trying to sort out what the racial component is of my homesickness. I'm still not sure. It's all tangled up.

• • •

I'm far more sure that there's a creepy, unsettling segregation going on in DC. Oh, not with the people, although there's probably that too—in the exhibits. The Air and Space Museum cannot feature the Tuskegee Airmen with the rest of the World War II exhibits; they are off in the discrete black wing. Likewise with every other black American historical artifact and figure. They are all in separate black exhibits. The more it went on, the itchier I got. By the time I came across the black section of the Presidential portrait gallery, it was impossible not to think about segregation.

(And no, it's not Obama's portrait. It was a bunch of people I've never heard of and whose inclusion I found utterly mystifying.)

I'm certain these separate exhibits are well-meaning. I'm sure it's acquiescing to demands and/or pandering. Motivation aside, though, I couldn't help but wonder what the practical difference is between this and Jim Crow. "Sure, we'll give yu'uns an exhibit. Raght ovah here in the corner," I heard a ball-scratching redneck sneer before spitting at their feet.

DC: righting a wrong

Last week I took my first planned time off in 3.5 years.

When work slowed to a trickle and I realized this was possible, I asked myself where can I go where being alone will be a plus? I immediately thought of Washington DC. I would right a great wrong. I last went with the Approval Whore. She was visibly bored by anything that interested me. I burned many a calorie trying to balance my own history-geekdom with her show-ponydom, and the results were unsatisfying. This culminated in my skipping the Air and Space museum in favor of antiquing in Alexandria.

Skipping. The. Air. And. Space. Museum.

And thus did I traipse the National Mall at my own pace, visiting exhibits without compromise, leaving when I damned well felt like it. All these years later, I could feel her absence. What a pleasure to indulge my interests for five minutes without someone making a grand show of being bored. All these years later, and I was suddenly awash in gratitude for her absence.

• • •

My early impression was just how many of the "historical artifacts" I was seeing were recreations. Not a single joist in Ford's Theatre is original, and the flags and furniture that adorn Lincoln's booth are all bullshit. Every question's answer was the same.

"Is that the rocking chair Lincoln was using?"
"No, that's in Detroit. But this is very similar!"
"Is that the bed Lincoln died in?"
"No, that's in Chicago. But this is very similar!"

DC is filled with fake documents and artifacts. Even the White House was gutted to its outer walls in 1952. There are no floorboards that Jefferson paced. It was around the time I noticed the abundant electrical outlets in Ford's Theatre that I started to wonder why I was even there. To occupy roughly the same spacial coordinates as historical events?

kill switch

My mom taught me to tune women out entirely. This got me through my teen years relatively sane, but when I started dating women, it became a bit of an issue. And when I started working for 'em, it became life threatening.

"John, did you reorganize the requests?"

"Why would I have done that?"

"Because I asked you to yesterday."

"You most certainly did not."

"God! Yes I did! And you nodded and 'uh-huhed' me the whole time, and then when I asked, you repeated it all back to me."

"That doesn't sound familiar."

When I found this conversation recurring, of course, I saved my career (and doomed my relationships) by learning to listen to women. The only artifact of my onetime disability is if a woman, probably Dorkass, begins a sentence with "You know what your problem is?" Bam. My brain hits the kill switch on my ears. You could hold a $1000 bill in front of my face, and I wouldn't be able to repeat what followed "is."

kill switch

My mom taught me to tune women out entirely. This got me through my teen years relatively sane, but when I started dating women, it became a bit of an issue. And when I started working for 'em, it became life threatening.

"John, did you reorganize the requests?"

"Why would I have done that?"

"Because I asked you to yesterday."

"You most certainly did not."

"God! Yes I did! And you nodded and 'uh-huhed' me the whole time, and then when I asked, you repeated it all back to me."

"That doesn't sound familiar."

When I found this conversation recurring, of course, I saved my career (and doomed my relationships) by learning to listen to women. The only artifact of my onetime disability is if a woman, probably Dorkass, begins a sentence with "You know what your problem is?" Bam. My brain hits the kill switch on my ears. You could hold a $1000 bill in front of my face, and I wouldn't be able to repeat what followed "is."

money or charyibdis

I chased Allie's kid Lily around my house. She was on roller blades, and I was snatching cameras and binoculars out of her path, until finally, everything valuable I own was in my hands.

"How about a cupcake?" I offered.

I should have said that sooner. The skating stopped, and soon I was mesmerized by how the child was trying to grind cupcake crumbs permanently into my countertops.

"Lily's decided she never wants to have kids."

Lily nodded. "They're too much work."

I was ruminating on her use of the third-person when Allie told her "You know, you're one of the reasons John doesn't have kids."

The child looked to me for confirmation. I nodded. "You're one of exactly eight reasons," I said, referring to the baby boom of 2005.

"You can't have nice things," I said. "And kids take up all of your free time."

"And then some," Allie corrected.

"And my god, the money."

"They cost a LOT of money," Allie agreed, and I began to wonder if the third-person problem was a genetic thing.

"It's a choice you make, really. Do I want kids, or do I want time and money?" I continued.

"I want money," Lily declared, the question stupid.

Good girl. Have another cupcake.

declassified: ernest's piano

When the job offer came from Microsoft, I was already a two-year contract writer there. The offer came from Ernest, with whom I had previously worked. I huddled in my office with Katrina. "It's a good offer," I told her. "But I neither like nor trust Ernest." Despite my misgivings, I took the job. Unbeknownst to me, John's First Law was born that day.

Never willingly associate with people of poor character.

I got what I deserved two years later, when he wrecked my team tried to wreck my career. I have carefully hand-picked every boss I've had in the years since. I suppose I could write about his meandering trail of slime, but really, in corporate America he's pretty unremarkable. Grandiose, petulant, lying. Worried about everything—except the customer or making the stock go up. You know him.

What is worth sharing, though, is that Ernest was what every woman and minority fears white male managers secretly are. For a time I "enjoyed" the status of being his good ol' boy; thus I similarly got to "enjoy" his racist, sexist, and (most especially) crude remarks.

He would lasciviously comment on the breasts of the woman he did not know I was dating. Yep. That was a laugh riot. When I would go on vacation, I would return to find that he'd hired some utterly talentless, unqualified young cupcakes and assigned them to my team. He encouraged me to play "hide the puppy" with Rochelle and graphically imagined her mouth...ugh. I can't finish that sentence. Lita, he wanted for himself, bent over his piano. She was dating my buddy at the time, but that wasn't even a speed-bump to Ernest's sleaze.

"Ugh. This is not cool," I snapped, walking out of his office.

He flashed his sleazy, snaggletoothed grin and doubtless planning to break up my team. Because as he would tell his boss, I'm not management material.

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