Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dancing Robots and Toilet Water

In my last post I said writing is what I pay attention to, therefore I’m a writer. If you were to assess my four year old boy by this standard, you’d conclude that he’s a robot.

Caleb’s had a keen interest in all things robotic for most of his life. He knows more about robots than any kid his age has a right to. He recently told me about a TV show he's been watching called Eon Kid. Apparently it’s about a “real human boy” who finds a magic glove that transforms him into a robot when he puts it on. This would be a dream come true for Caleb. But his dream is ironic because robots have the following qualities:

  • Complete lack of emotion
  • Lack of all self-awareness
  • Sharp focus on specific, repetitive tasks
  • No need for parental or other human interaction
  • Ability to work long periods without assistance or rewards

Caleb doesn’t quite meet up to these criteria. In the current vernacular, I’d say, “Robot-like? Not so much.” I’d describe him more as the needy, demanding, selfish type, with no focus, lousy work ethic, and frequent dramatic mood swings. It’s okay, because we give kids a pass until they're five or six. Hopefully by then he'll have a handle on stuff, in other words, he'll figure out the universe does not revolve around him.

But Caleb's a fun little guy, and we have lots of good conversations. We had one the other day that started when he saw me take a drink from the bathroom faucet, and went like this:

Caleb: You drank some of that water?

Me: Yeah, it's okay. You can drink water from that faucet.

Caleb: Oh. Okay.

Me: [Knowing that he loves potty humor] But you can't drink the toilet water.

Caleb: I know!

Me: Only Cooper can drink that.

Caleb: I know. Because he's a dog.

Me: Right. He likes drinking from the toilet, and cats like to flush it.
      (This is a reference to one of our favorite videos on YouTube.)

At this point, I started singing the "Cat Flushing a Toilet" song, which made him spontaneously break into a frantic robot dance. When I say "frantic" I mean he was throwing down his usual robot dance moves, but at super high speed. I think an effortless ability to dance like a robot is one of the things Caleb envies most in robots.

If you can picture this interaction, you have a pretty good idea of what my life with Caleb is like.


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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why I Blog

I've not been very bloggy lately; I only posted one short entry here all weekend and nothing in the past couple days. I'd like to catch up now, and to explain something.

Upon starting Unintimidated by Convention last month, I said I was doing it for a class assignment and also for my own reasons, which I will now share with you. I see lots of blogs, many of which focus on a specific theme. This is where mine differs. I am not doing any of the following as I blog:

- riding my bike cross country to raise money/awareness for some rare disease
- trying out new material for later use in my burgeoning stand-up comedy act
- training for a marathon, triathlon, beauty pageant, or chess tournament
- fighting breast cancer, either first-hand or for a friend
- learning the ins and outs of parenthood
- getting advertising income

They say the pen is mightier than the
sword. That would mean a typewriter is
more powerful than a machine gun, and
a personal computer is greater than an
atomic bomb. I am a world superpower!
Photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski
The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset said, "Tell me to what you pay attention, and I’ll tell you who you are." If he could observe me, he'd say I'm a writer. I write all the time. I write at work, at school, at home and on the road, for homework and for fun. I write to pass time when I'm in a boring meeting. I write stuff inside my head almost constantly, and later type up or jot down the parts of it I can recall. I also read, because reading and writing are closely related activities that support each other. I read novels, stories, poems, magazines, blogs, websites, newsletters, jokes, scientific research, movie and book reviews, literary criticism, textbooks, and greeting cards.

Someday, I might get paid to write, maybe enough to make it my primary occupation. For now, I just do it because it's what I am.

So, if writing is such a natural and essential activity for me, why do I need the blog as a medium on which to do it? My answer: Blogging is the best way to encourage others to read my words. Writing in a journal that I keep to myself has its own special attraction. So does writing on a piece of scratch paper that goes immediately into the trash. Or writing a school paper that I know my professor will read, but probably nobody else ever will. All of these and many others are fine in their own right. But when I blog, I know there's at least a potential of reaching many people, both friends and strangers, all over the world. My writing takes on new meaning when I know others might read it. It sounds arrogant, and I think most writing is unavoidably arrogant. The key is to find a personal style or "voice" that is not egotistical, even if the activity tends toward arrogance. For example, I've just typed several paragraphs about myself, including frequent use of words like I, me, and my. With this realization, the writer now chooses to end, but will return soon.


Did you like what you just read? Why not join Unintimidated by Convention? There's no membership fee, you don't have to attend any meetings, and I promise not to send you annual renewal notices. Just click on the right where it says "Join this site" and then type in your stuff that it asks for. Do it now!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Some Wacky Diversions

If you are reading this, you're one of the lucky few who survived the space junk bombardment and you must now help rebuild the human race in a post-apocalyptic wasteland... But first, let me share a few things that have entertained me lately. (When I say entertained I mean "distracted me from doing something productive.")


Ever heard of chap-hop? It's rap music performed by pompous English gentlemen. Seriously. I was introduced to it a few months ago by a Wired magazine article, which you can read here if you wish:

There's been an active rivalry between the genre's two prominent (perhaps only?) artists, Professor Elemental, and Mr.  B, The Gentleman Rhymer. But unlike the west coast vs. east coast rappers here in the colonies, these fellows don't go after each other with drive-by shootings. They're more inclined to cast scathing insults back and forth, calling each other scoundrels or frightful bores, or my favorite: declaring, "I don't like your tweed, sir!" Following are a few representative samples of their work.

Professor Elemental's "Fighting Trousers," with a message for his chap-hop rival:

Mr. B's "Chap-hop History," in which he gives his little banjolele quite a workout:

I have to be in the right mood to enjoy this hybrid of urban American musical styles and urbane British sensibilities, but it’s growing on me. I've even begun to swap catch phrases like "Fetch me my trousers at once!" with a friend at work. I have a vague theory I could share on this music's appeal, but that will have to wait for another time.


I read quite a few blogs, though not many serious ones. A favorite that is far from serious but very intelligent is called "Hyperbole and a Half." Check it out when you're ready to smile at least, maybe laugh out loud, and be amazed at what a very creative Idahoan named Allie Brosh can do with Microsoft Paint.

If you read Hyperbole and a Half and love it, I think you and I could be best friends. If you just don't get it, that's okay, but we will probably not get along. If you don't find it funny, there might be something wrong with you, and you should seek professional help.

Also, check out a video interview with Allie, giving some insight into her genius.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Update: New Info on the Space Junk Bombardment

Yesterday, I warned all (or is it both?) of my readers about the impending fall to Earth of an enormous satellite, an event CNN didn't seem too concerned about. I've now learned more details and can tell you there is no point in running for your lives... because the only safe place to be is ANYWHERE BUT OUR PLANET.

Utah's quaint little provincial news channel, KSL, featured a helpful story on their website today, which you should read in its entirety here:

Space Junk Expected to Hit Earth in Coming Days

It seems nobody knows where this school bus-sized hunk of destruction will touch down, at least not with any more precision than "almost anywhere on the globe." Worse yet, it will likely break into several smaller but still deadly pieces on its way down, just as I feared.

My favorite part of this story is that they contacted a guy at NASA named Mark Matney, whose job title is Orbital Debris Scientist, and even he has no idea where the satellite will hit, because it is "not behaving" (his words, not mine). Darn those pesky satellites, always refusing to eat their vegetables, leaving their room a mess, and wiping out entire cities when they plummet to Earth! What I wouldn't give for a job as a NASA scientist, with its accompanying salary, that allows me to blow off questions with "It's tumbling in ways that we can't control." This guy's expertise is needed about once every 30 years, and his answer is basically How should I know?

And everyone's been worried about a silly zombie apocalypse. You may now commence to freaking out. I think I'll go hide in my camp trailer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Now Might Be a Good Time to Panic

I entered the break room at work today and glanced at the big TV that’s always playing. As usual, it was tuned to some news channel—CNN, I think. The talking head was prattling about a political campaign in someplace like Nebraska… nothing to see here, so I was about to walk away.

THEN, I look down at the little ticker at the bottom of the screen, where they put Other-Stuff-You-Might-Be-Interested-In. It has the following message, and this is an exact quote: “Bus-sized satellite to hit Earth Friday.” Mmm-kay… is this not a big deal to anyone?

Apparently they deemed this worthy of no more bandwidth than is usually set aside for things like results of an international championship Dachshund race, or what Lindsay Lohan had for breakfast (Vodka and Prozac). They didn’t even say what time this catastrophe is supposed to happen, or what areas might be doomed to certain destruction. Maybe it’s headed for France, so nobody cares? If my dining room is anywhere near the projected point of impact, I wish they’d say so. I mean, they gave the name of the winning wiener dog, but on the impending horrible death from above, nothing. Just one line, seven words, 38 characters (counting the spaces and hyphen).

I guess a Friday impact gives us three whole days to prepare, so why rush it, eh?

This bears so much resemblance to an old clip from The Simpsons, it’s uncanny. In a scene that spoofs the sometimes skewed balance between hard news and fluff reporting, Homer turned on his TV just in time to hear anchorman Kent Brockman declare, “…which, if true, will mean the end of all life on Earth. And now, a story about a mischievous raccoon who caused big problems at city hall today.” (It was something like this, as I recall. Could have been the old standby, a waterskiing squirrel.)

It’s a BUS-sized satellite, folks! Tour bus, school bus, short bus—doesn’t really matter. That thing will be doing about Mach 90 by the time it hits the ground… or comes through the roof of Wal-Mart.

I need to Google this and get some detailed info. Chances are, NASA is all over it like a fat kid on a jelly donut. Maybe there’s a Patriot missile already locked on, or they’re prepping Bruce Willis to fly up there and blow the thing apart. Of course, that would just make dozens of Smart car sized satellite chunks rain down on us. Have you thought of that, NASA? Will somebody in Houston please make sure they’re tracking this bus and figuring out where it will make its last stop? If you need me, I’ll be prowling through my neighbors’ yards, in the hope that somebody has an old bomb shelter I can break into. Maybe it’s good they’re not publicizing this very well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Behind the Curve on What is Sexy

Waiting in line at a grocery store recently, I found myself glancing over some women's magazines, and I spotted something puzzlingeven as women's magazines go.

One cover featured Rachel Bilson, with the tagline, “How she got her amazing curves.” What-are-you-talking-about, Willis Women’s Health???

First of all, I wouldn’t call a waist the size of a fencepost and two tiny bumps where boobs should be “amazing curves.” Secondly, how does a magazine with this name get so far out of touch with what a healthy woman really looks like? Don’t get me wrong, Rachel is cute—all 98 pounds of her—and there’s nothing wrong with a smooth complexion, pretty hairdo, and big white teeth. But I think somebody should give that girl a sandwich, maybe some eggs Benedict. The poor thing probably has to stay inside on windy days, for fear of blowing into the next county.

Women’s Health, there are millions of beautiful and truly healthy women you could have shown… women with real curves, or at least measurements more voluptuous than 28-24-28. The only thing remarkable about Rachel is that she (or probably her agent) somehow persuaded you to photograph her and call her Olsen twin figure “amazing.”

But there's a lot of this going around. For years, gun manufacturer Kahr has been running magazine ads that show their products in the hands of nearly anorexic looking women, with the caption, "Thin is sexy." (Click here for some examples.) I guess the theory is that consumers will see the model, read the caption, and associate the thinness of their compact pistols with sex appeal. The trouble is, I don't find these women attractive. I know a lot of guys who are into guns and most of them don't either. (And the ads are clearly not targeted at women.) So, Kahr, I'm not sure who you're trying to reach, but most people I know would disagree with your advertising claim. Thin is okay, but it's possible to go too thin.

In contrast to the Kahr, Ruger's curvaceous and
somewhat heavier Vaquero is a sexy handgun.

Tom Wolfe is recognized as a premier chronicler of our culture; for the past 50 years he's observed in newspapers, nonfiction books, and novels how modern Americans think and act. Martha Croker, a character in his 1998 novel A Man in Full, resents her ex-husband Charlie's new trophy wife and others like her, both for their lack of moral fiber and lack of physical substance. To her eye, their bodies are like "12-year-old boys with breasts." (See Rachel Bilson's picture above.) Mr. Wolfe, you nailed it. And Charlie Croker, what's so sexy about that?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Not Decadent, Just Yummy

I’m puzzled by the use of decadent to describe things like rich desserts and spa treatments. Granted, it’s technically correct according to the word’s second definition in my e-dictionary: “luxuriously self-indulgent,” but the first definition is “characterized by or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline,” and my Webster’s gives only one meaning, similar to this. To me, decadence suggests reckless, hedonistic gratification, like a house party attended by Metallica, or a typical night for a New York Governor.

So I always chuckle when I see something like this…

Someone gave us a whole box of these, and they are delicious. But decadent? Come on, Mrs. Field! Decadent stuff happened at the Moulin Rouge cabaret. The Playboy mansion is a decadent place. Things get decadent backstage at a Mötley Crüe concert. It is not decadent for suburban Utah housewives, straight-laced bloggers, and our young children to eat your chocolate grahams in .7-ounce doses. I mean, it says right on the wrapper that they have only 100 calories and no trans fat. How can that same wrapper call its contents decadent?

I’m picturing a TV commercial with a sultry brunette in a flowing red gown who rolls her eyes back as she nibbles these beside a Mediterranean villa. Then, just before it ends, the narrator says “Also an excellent source of fiber.”

I guess I’d accept the “decadent” adjective on the wrapper if there were a serving suggestion on the back that reads, “Best when dipped in butter, caramel, and cocaine." Or maybe, "Try Mrs. Field's chocolate grahams in a hot bubble bath, in Xanadu."

Friday, September 16, 2011

True Intimacy

I’m feeling bloggy again, so decided to piggyback on my last post (Grab Bag #2). I could just edit it to add these few paragraphs, but if I make a new entry I’ll appear more prolific.

A 2002 Universal Pictures production.
Screenplay by Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, and Paul Weitz.
Image copied from IMDB. Please, don't anybody sue me.

I've mentioned The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which appears to be—and starts out as—a mystery novel but is actually an urban adventure tale with an autistic teen for its protagonist. About a Boy is another contemporary British story featuring a quirky youth. In the movie based on Nick Hornby's novel, 12-year-old Marcus and his adult mentor, Will, have a conversation about sexual desire that goes like this:

   Marcus: What's the difference between a girl who's your friend and a girlfriend?

   Will: Well, I don't know... Do you want to touch her?

   Marcus: Is that so important?

   Will: Well, yeah Marcus. You’ve heard about sex, right? It’s kind of a big deal.

   Marcus: I know. I’m not stupid. I just can’t believe there’s nothing more to it. I mean, 
   I want to be with her. I want to be with her all the time. And I want to tell her things  
   that I don’t even tell you or Mom. I don’t want her to have another boyfriend. I 
   suppose if I could have all those things, I wouldn’t care if I touched her or not. [As  
   unnatural as this might seem in writing, actor Nicholas Hoult manages to make it 
   sound believable.]

   Will: Well, you’ll learn, Marcus. You won’t feel like that forever.

Marcus, his hippie mother, and Will
Some might think Marcus is the only kid in the world to feel the way he does. I disagree. (In fact, I shared his attitude when I was 12.) But Will is probably right, and by the time Marcus is 14 or 16, he'll see girls differently. (This change must happen eventually for our species to propagate.) I just wish young people wouldn't rush their sexuality, and I applaud Marcus's 12-year-old view. Although socially awkward, he understands something about intimacy that escapes his selfish and superficial elder, Will, an independently wealthy bachelor who spends most of his time trying to convince attractive ladies to let him touch them. 

This movie is about a boy trapped in a man’s body, who grows up when he gets entangled in the life of a precocious young friend. I give it an A for its humor, excellent cast (including Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, and Rachel Weisz), fine production quality, catchy soundtrack, and especially its uplifting message.

That's all for now... next time I'll probably return to my typical silly, sarcastic tone, but I wanted to share this because it's something I feel strongly about.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grab Bag No.2: Getting Along with the Fam

It’s time for another grab bag, which is what I call a post consisting of several short entries that I haven’t taken the time to develop. At least I group them under a common theme. This week’s theme is family relationships.


1970 Boss 302 Mustang
My four year old boy, Caleb, wants to be The Boss and thinks if he’s insistent enough, he will be. In this way, he’s a lot like Khadafi. NATO forces (my wife and I) will not allow it, and his sisters are fighting for the resistance. The next time he tells us he’s the boss, I might say, “Caleb, you’re not Springsteen. You can’t even play guitar.” I doubt he’ll get it, but it will still be funny to me.


In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy writes, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He may be right. One implication of this is that we should watch other families who are happy and try to discover and adopt the qualities and behaviors shared by them. If we are not happy, we should be asking ourselves what we’re doing differently. I’ve abstracted this short quote from its context and, having never read the novel, I don’t know if Tolstoy gives further insight or explanation. Maybe my friend Kat, who studies lots of Russian literature, will weigh in on the topic?


Christopher Boone, the main character in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, says, “Loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth…” Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. (Minor spoiler alert... It's when Christopher's father fails to meet the last of these criteria that their relationship suddenly unravels.)


Actually not a good likeness-- I don't have
a cowlick, and I never wear suspenders.
Sometimes when a friend asks me to spend the day goofing off with him, I’ll say it depends on my wife, because she’s a strong woman. “So she’s stubborn,” he’ll say, “You’re still your own man!” Then I explain that she is literally very strong, physically. If she decides to not let me leave, there's nothing I can do about it. Have you seen my arms? They’re like noodles. Celeste once picked up a couch by herself. She runs something like three miles a day on our treadmill. When there’s snow in our driveway, she’s usually the one to shovel it. And she mows a mean lawn, including trimming around the edges. I carry in a bag of groceries and I’m exhausted. (I know as a man I’m supposed to be embarrassed to admit stuff like this. It’s okay—check the title of my blog.) Seriously, I can go out with friends, ride my motorcycle, and do pretty much whatever I want. But she really is strong.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two Great Americans

On this tenth anniversary of the most terrible day in our nation’s recent history, lots of people are reflecting on patriotic themes, mourning our losses, and expressing gratitude for our blessings. Many turn their thoughts to heroic figures, both famous and nameless. I haven’t shared anything on this topic because I prefer to handle it with solitary contemplation, but I’d now like to write about two remarkable men Celeste and I had the honor of seeing yesterday.

My employer, the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing, held its annual family picnic yesterday. It’s a way of giving thanks to our spouses, kids, parents, and friends for their great sacrifices and support. This year, we enjoyed a special treat: country-western star Neal McCoy and his band came to Hill Air Force Base and put on a concert for us.

The quintessential entertainer
I’ve seen a lot of live shows from all kinds of performers, but Neal was hands-down the most entertaining of them all. If you want to see how showmanship is done, go see him, preferably in a small, intimate setting like what we had. He didn’t just sing, he entertained the crowd from the minute he stepped on stage until the minute he left. He performed several of his old hits, including “Wink,” “No Doubt About It,” and “The City Put the Country Back in Me,” plus a brand new song that’s soon to be released on his upcoming album, and even a hip-hop remix of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. (You’ll just have to trust me that this one was a lot of fun.) I’m not a big country music fan, but as of yesterday, I’m a new Neal McCoy fan.

Halvorsen in 1948
Later that evening, we went to the base chapel to hear retired Colonel Gail Halvorsen speak. Gail is the pilot who got the idea to drop chocolate bars and gum with tiny parachutes to children on the ground during the Berlin airlift, earning him the nickname “Berlin candy bomber.”

He gave us a beautiful speech that was equal parts historical narrative and religious sermon, both entertaining and inspiring. His physical vigor belies his age of 90 years, and his mind likewise remains very sharp. Decades after he deserved to enter a relaxing retirement, he still travels extensively, sharing his story with people around the world, especially youth and military audiences.

Not the best picture of me or Celeste, but Gail looks great

After Gail's remarks, we got to chat face to face with him, and we even got a picture. This is a wonderful man, a true American hero, and the best speaker I’ve heard lately.

Far from feeling somber on this anniversary, we feel privileged to have heard from these two great Americans.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Either You Are, or You're Not

Yesterday, Momma looked closely at the face of our almost-14-year-old daughter and asked, “Are you wearing eye liner?” (Per our rules, she shouldn’t yet.) The response: “A little.” This isn’t really a valid answer for a yes/no question. Actually, it’s an answer, but it’s the same as “yes.”

It’s sort of like pregnancy—you can’t be barely pregnant, or somewhat pregnant, or extremely pregnant. It’s binary; you’re in one of two discrete states. Black or white, no shades of gray.*

I'd guess not, and definitely not.
While reading a Rachel Ray magazine recently, Momma kept asking me to look up various cooking terms and ingredients. We like good food but don't have a strong culinary vocabulary. She asked me, “What’s EVOO?” I checked the e-dictionary on my MacBook and replied, “Oh, of course! Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” You have regular olive oil, and the virgin kind. But wait… there’s also EXTRA virgin.

How can something be more or less virgin than something else? I’m honestly not sure whether I came up with this in my own head or heard it from some stand-up comedian, but I’m picturing a brand of olive oil that advertises itself as SUPER ULTRA virgin—it has never so much as spoken to a man. (If it’s not my original thought and you know who said it, please let me know so I can credit him.) “Mother Teresa Brand. You won’t find anything more virgin.”

Maybe it’s different with oil, but when we’re talking about people, you either are or you’re not. There’s no sort-of. And we want Sarah to stay on the right side of that line. To that end, we impose rules, like the one about eye makeup. Because we don’t want her to get even a little bit pregnant.

* A binary (yes/no) question is one that can be answered with a single transistor, a light switch, or Roger Ebert's thumb.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

These Bloodthirsty Girls are Getting Way Too Friendly

This morning I got a call from a nice young lady named Ashley or Brittney or something, I don’t remember. She works for the American Red Cross, in their vampire division.

I occasionally give some of my blood to these folks. I think the last time I did so was about a year ago. I know… I have more than I need, I can make the stuff without even trying, and it’s just plain selfish for me to hoard it… Leave me alone already! I don’t like being poked with needles. Soon I’ll probably capitulate to my social conscience and donate again, but this must happen on my own terms. In my defense, I’d note that I’ve never made a withdrawal from their bank, so I should have a positive balance, although I don’t get statements from them to verify that.

You just feel a little sting...
Like what you'd get from a giant robot bee with a 2" long steel stinger.

The trouble is, they have my contact info. I give it to them every time I donate, thinking it’s required. You know, in case they get back to the lab and find my blood is infected with some horrible, deadly virus. I’d kinda like them to pass that info along. It occurs to me that the Red Cross is the only entity, besides my wife, to ever succeed in getting both my phone number and some body fluids from me. No, I take that back. The Air Force got both, and a lot more. But I’m not in the habit of giving either of these things out to strangers. I’d like that to go on record.

So now, every time the supply runs low, Hailey or Jessica or Amber calls or sends an email to ask if I’ll stop in and give a pint. My wife has it easy. They don’t want her blood, because it’s potentially (she insists I include that modifier) infected with mad cow disease. You live in England for two years in the early ‘90s, and you get a lifelong exemption from donating. It’s like wearing a wreath of garlic cloves around your neck.

Here’s the part that made me go, “Um… WHAT?!” Crystal or somebody calls this morning around 9:00, and I’m still in bed because I work swing shift and sleep in late. In my semi-coherent state I explain that no, I cannot come in tomorrow to let them drain me. My schedule is full. (This is true… not that I wouldn’t invent an excuse if necessary.) So she says, and this is an exact quote, “Okay, hun. Thanks anyway. We’ll catch you next time.” Hun? Did she just call me “Hun?” I’m sure I heard right and she said “Hun.” She sounds 19 years old, give or take three years. I’m thirty-eleven. I’ve been married 16 years. I have four kids, a mortgage, and a minivan, forpetesake. She’s barely old enough to vote, and I’m overdue for my midlife crisis.

If you are a waitress named Flo who recently celebrated the birth of her first grandchild, and you’re serving coffee to a slightly younger truck driver in an all-night diner, and he’s a regular there… then it is okay for you to address him as “Hun.” I don’t think Tiffany has earned that right with me. I only wish I’d had the presence of mind to reply, “Alright, babe. Call back anytime.” My mental agility must have been impeded by morning weariness and the thought of getting stabbed in the arm.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Man Who (Perhaps) Flew Before the Wrights

When I have enough time and ambition, I’d like to do some in-depth research and try to find out who really made the first flight in a powered, heavier-than-air craft.

Conventional belief holds that Orville and Wilbur Wright were first when they flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. Most never question this “fact,” because we’ve been taught it all our lives…

Michael Wutz is a brilliant professor of English at Weber State University and one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever met. I think he speaks at least three languages, and he knows more about literature and film than I can hope to learn if I live 100 years. This is not empty flattery, just truth. Besides teaching me a great deal about modern American literature, he turned me onto the story of Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant to the U.S.

Gustav Weisskopf, a.k.a. Gustave Whitehead

Whitehead, born Gustav Weisskopf in Wutz’s hometown of Leutershausen, Germany, claimed to achieve powered flight more than two years before the brothers Wright. Anyone interested in early aviation history ought to read up on him. If his claim is true, why did the Wrights get credit? I believe Whitehead’s story may have been suppressed when German-American relations went (understandably) sour in the first World War. It’s also possible that our conventional belief is true, and Whitehead embellished or totally fabricated the accounts of his early flights.

A replica of Whitehead's aircraft

In any case, Whitehead’s craft was a more elegant, aesthetically-pleasing one than the Wrights’, and after a cursory study of his life, I find him to be a fascinating character. Alas, some doubt is cast on his claim and on the few books that have been written about him. The reasons for that doubt are explained here, along with brief accounts of several others who claimed to have flown first:

Part of me hopes Whitehead’s claim is true. I’m not totally convinced that it is, or that it’s not. We’ll probably never know with absolute certainty, but it’s a mystery that deserves to be solved.


For further reading and some nice photos, I recommend:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Weekly Grab Bag No.1: Please Don’t Call Me Random

A collection of short comments—things I find funny or interesting enough to mention but not worthy of a whole blog entry individually. I'll probably do this about once a week. The theme of this set is linguistics.
In arbitrary order...
  • I like to use arbitrary to mean “following no particular pattern.” I think it’s better than random, in my opinion one of our most overused words.
  •  I had a friend from South Africa who always said, “Howzit?” for an informal greeting. (Short for “How’s it going?”) It works the same as “Wassup?” but I think it has a better ring to it. Packs more punch. I’d like to see it come into popular use. I’m also considering starting a new one of my own invention: “Cape?” It’s short for ¿Que Pasa? It could become a big hit in the Southwest or anyplace with a strong Hispanic presence, and you can say you heard it here first.
  •  George Carlin wrote, “You rarely run into a damsel anymore.” He’s right. I can’t recall the last time I saw one.
  • Another term we don’t use much anymore: fortnight. I don’t know why it’s slipped into disfavor. I mean, most of us are paid fortnightly, and it’s a nice interval between a week and a month. It’s just gone the way of the score, as in “four score and seven years ago.” That gives me an idea… What if we use “four score fortnights” when we want to talk about a period of just over three years? We probably won’t say it very often, but when we do we’ll sure sound fancy! I actually did the math and found that fourscore fortnights works out to three years, three months, three weeks, and three days (when it spans a leap year). I’ve been looking for a chance to deploy it in normal conversation. My friends will ask, “Four what?” and I’ll explain. Then there will be no doubt of my creativity and intelligence, or my abundance of free time.
  • Lately, my favorite kind of bird is the Grackle, partly because I like how its name sounds, but mostly because I read a beautiful poem by Robert Penn Warren called “Grackles, Goodbye.” I love how every line of this poem sounds (and feels). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a real Grackle, or that I’d know it if I did, but that doesn’t matter. Such is the power of poetry.
  • Here’s a fun word: Humdinger. Its synonyms, according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, include bee’s knees, crackajack, jim-dandy, and ripsnorter. You don’t have to be over 70 to use these terms, but it helps.

And now, because I believe every blog post should have a little splash of color... here is a gratuitous photo of my friend's copper watering can in the shape of a chicken. (I think she uses it to water her eggplants.) If you're asking yourself, "Self, why would he put that photo here?" then my answer to both of you is, "Where else would I put a chicken-shaped watering can? If not for the grab bag post, it would just rot in my hard drive, never getting a chance to grace your retinas." I told you this blog would sometimes be pointless.


Love my blog but want more cowbell? Wish I would fall into an abyss, or at least throw my laptop in? Feel I should have chosen 12 pt. Arial instead of 14 pt. Verdana? Comment below! I’m not a mind reader.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Please Help Find This Gypsy, etc.

Today I want to do a few different things: help a neighbor in need, give my readers a tip on where NOT to eat, and waste several kilobytes on vintage office equipment. (This blog is nothing if not broad in its coverage.)

It seems a gypsy has gone missing from a home in my area. Apparently he was seen with a black dog, and one of them is wearing a red collar.

Please watch out for these two and speak up if you see anything, because I think it’s sad for a family to be without their gypsy, and wherever he is, he’s probably scared and lonely.

Friday night, Momma and I went out for Italian. We’d never eaten at Ligori’s on Hill Field Road in Layton, Utah, so we decided to try them. She didn’t think the place looked too promising, but I said they deserved a chance. They probably won’t get another one.

On entering the place, we were quickly seated by a cute hostess, a tiny woman about 20 years old with a huge smile and way too much energy. She oozed perkiness, and we thought that a good sign.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly place, this one certainly fits the bill, which is my nice way of saying they should rename it “Ligori’s Kooky Italian Romper Room.” We’ve found Chuck E. Cheese’s to have better ambiance at times. Seated near us were at least three large parties, each with multiple toddlers who definitely did not use their inside voices.

That would have been okay if the food quality and service were up to par. When the waitress—a cheerful teenage redhead—took our drink orders, we said we weren’t quite ready to order our food. So she went away for about 10 minutes to let us decide. We settled on fried mozzarella sticks for an appetizer (Why do they call it that? We were already plenty hungry; that’s why we went to a restaurant.) and a three-pasta combo to share for our entrée. They brought out our “salads” first, and then the cheese sticks right before the entrée.

Here is what passes for salad there:

There was nothing wrong with this bowl of chopped iceberg lettuce. Trouble is, that’s all it was. Restaurant owners, listen up. Salad, by definition, is a mixture of at least two or three different items, maybe with a little variety of colors and textures. Ligori’s first course doesn’t qualify. At least the ranch dressing was pretty good, and I like that they brought it in a separate little bowl.

Edit: After reading this post, Celeste pointed out something I'd forgotten. She said, "To be fair, there was a slice of tomato on top of the lettuce when they brought it out." So I stand corrected. But I still say a bowl of lettuce and bite of tomato do not a salad make. ~

The pasta was likewise unimpressive. Rigatoni with meatballs, lasagna, and fettuccini Alfredo with chicken. There was nothing particularly wrong with any of it, but nothing to make us say, “I’m really glad we ate that!” The sauces could have come straight from a Ragu jar. I filled up on bread.

Somewhere along the way, the waitress forgot about us again, and we had to flag her down to refill our drinks. To her credit, she was friendly and she tried hard, but she seemed inexperienced, in need of some training.

With tax and a (modest) tip added to the bill and five dollars removed by a coupon, we got out of there for just over 30 bucks, not bad these days for a sit-down dinner for two, but not great, considering we eat better at Olive Garden, Noodles & Co., or even Fazoli’s.

Finally, in case the above critique is not trivial enough, let me show you the most aptly named stapler I've ever seen:

Here is Old Smashy II. I don't know where he came from, but he appeared in my office a few weeks ago with his name painted across his back. I never met his predecessor. He appears to be about 30 years old and is still going strong, putting to shame those flimsy plastic staplers they sell today. I like Smashy because he reminds me that in our disposable world, there’s still room for something with substance, experience, and a bit more weight than necessary, plus a somewhat grouchy disposition. (We might as well call him Wilford Brimley.)

Love my blog but want more cowbell? Wish I would fall into an abyss, or at least throw my laptop in? Feel I should have chosen 12 pt. Arial instead of 14 pt. Verdana? Comment below! I’m not a mind reader.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

St. John's Revelations Do Not Mention KOAs or S'mores

Earlier this year, we bought a folding camp trailer. It looks like this:

Not our trailer, but a stock image of one like it

As soon as we got it home, we set it up to show our kids. They loved it and got very excited about camping. Then Caleb, who was three years old at the time, said (and this is an exact quote), “We can hide in there when Jesus pops out of the cloud!” I won’t even try to list everything that’s wrong with this plan. I just want the record to show that we’ve always tried to teach our kids correct gospel doctrine. We’ll keep working with Caleb. This is the same kid who once described Jesus as “the most powerful superhero ever.” I guess he’s right in a way.

Here’s the whole gang camping last year with a tent, which provided much less protection from End of Days calamities and divine judgment.

This is Caleb dressed in a superhero disguise of his own design. He loves to be super and has defeated countless imaginary evil geniuses. 

We've been talking about what will happen when he starts kindergarten next year. Celeste already has a monologue prepared for his teacher, and it starts with, "You're going to hear a lot of things..."