Multiverse theory proved!

There’s tremendous controversy in scientific circles about “multiverse theory”, the contention that our universe is just one of many, possibly an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes. At first I was skeptical about this theory. While it makes for countless compelling science fiction plots, it seemed too far-fetched to be acceptable as scientific truth.

As a result of extensive and meticulous observation, my views have changed. It’s now obvious to me that there are indeed many, perhaps billions of parallel universes. Let me encourage you to use standard empirical methods to discover for yourself the undeniable truth that surrounds you every day.

Next time you are in heavy highway traffic, look around. The guy weaving in and out of lanes, endangering everyone around him? He’s clearly in his own universe. What other explanation could there be? His actions make no sense in this universe: He’s getting virtually nowhere and he’s merely aggravating an already miserable traffic situation. There is no other reason to drive so idiotically. There’s no connection with anyone else’s reality. He lives in a parallel, or maybe slightly skewed, universe.

More evidence? Take note of the following people:

  • The person with 15 items in the supermarket 6-or-less express lane.
  • The woman trying to stow a piece of luggage the size of North Dakota into a plane’s already cramped overhead luggage rack while the aisle fills with people waiting to get to their seats.
  • The fully able moron parked in a handicapped space right up against a van’s wheelchair entrance.
  • Donald Trump.
  • The kid yapping on his cell phone in the movie theater.
  • The motorcyclist revving his illegal exhaust system on a quiet street in the middle of the night.
  • The person at the front of a long line of customers, taking 15 minutes to decide what kind of cruller to have with a double latte.
  • The driver who considers the use of blinkers to be leaking information to the enemy.

All these people live in their own universes where they are the only inhabitants. They have no connection to or awareness of the reality other people occupy. It’s their universe, their laws, their morality, their “truth”, and no one is going to come from any other universe to interfere with their actions or disturb their complacency with meaningless concepts such as facts, civility, or selflessness.

Now that’s science.

Ernestine’s new gig

Many moons ago, in the 70’s, the brilliant Lily Tomlin created one of the most memorable characters in comic history. Ernestine was an operator (remember them?) working for the long-lost but never lamented AT&T (remember them?) back when they held a monopoly on electronic communications in this country. Back in the day, they were known simply and unaffectionately as “the phone company”.

 

Ernestine had an annoying (but very funny) habit of telling her customers, “We’re AT&T. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” Indeed that was the case until the monolith was broken up into little “baby Bells” by a decree made on Jan 8, 1982. Yes, that was 36 years ago. Since then, they’ve shriveled into less than a shadow of their former selves, as an also-ran cell service.

But in their heyday, they held all the marbles while we, the phone using public, lost ours. Things have certainly changed…

Or have they?

The good news is that Ernestine is still at work. Having been laid off by the phone company, she now works for a new firm whose power and grip on our society makes it a perfect fit for her particular brand of customer service. If you had a chance to eavesdrop on her workday, you’d likely hear something like this:

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies. Gracious me, hello. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking? This is Ernestine at Google. Are you the one with a problem with Gmail? Gmail is so much trouble, isn’t it? That’s why I always use the phone. <<snort, snort>> Goodness me, no, not an Android. They’re worse than email. <<snort, snort>> You want to know what’s wrong with Gmail? If you figure it out, let us know. <<snort, snort>> That’s what we call customer service. We let our customers do all the research and fix each others’ problems. <<snort, snort>> Better yet, once it’s working again, send the solution to a friend in an email. We’ll get it because we’re always monitoring your messages anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? Privacy? What’s that? <<snort, snort>> Oh, you’re a hoot, sir. In fact, we here at the office want to thank you. We all got such a charge out of the very colorful language you were using while you tried to get used to the buggy new calendar app we forced on you without your permission. What’s that? QA? Gracious me, who needs QA? What do you think we have customers for? <<snort, snort>> Oh, and we hope your UTI has cleared up. Don’t you hate it when streaming doesn’t work? <<snort, snort>> How did we know about that? What do you think that Google Home device you have on your counter is doing all day, meditating? <<snort, snort>> You don’t want us listening in to your personal conversations? We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re Google. Or Alphabet. Or whatever we want to call ourselves today. The stock will go up anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? You want to know how you can talk to my manager? Search me! <<snort, snort>> Get it? Search… Hello? Hello? Oh, my. Another satisfied customer.

Nice to know Ernestine’s core competency is still being effectively leveraged.

Meet Calandra

Hey, why write twice when I can recycle, reuse, regurgitate, oops, I mean repurpose a passage I’ve already written and in the process shamelessly promote one of my books? In the spirit of the aforementioned shameless self-(or, rather, self’s-book-)promotion, I hereby introduce you to someone who, despite her status as a fictional character inspired by a genuine human, is more real to me than many people I’ve met.

Meet Calandra, protagonist of my second book, A Song in the Storm:

ALTHOUGH CALANDRA KNEW the ancient walls surrounding her home city of Lucca had stood as they were for centuries, they seemed to be growing higher and closer, more constricting, more suffocating, with each passing day. She knew it was impossible—colossal earthen walls have a tendency to stay put—but she felt it all the same.

Barely 18, Calandra Agostini’s dark eyes burned with the intensity of her unfulfilled dreams. Lucca’s walls couldn’t contain those dreams. They were built to keep the city-state’s enemies out, but to her it felt as if the enemy had breached the ramparts and conspired to keep her in her place, a place in which she never felt completely at home.

Most people considered Calandra a beautiful girl. Indeed she was, but a photograph, had her family been able to afford one, could never have captured her beauty. In her presence, young men with smooth tongues stammered and suitors with shrewd tactics were forced to rethink their plans. Her allure was a revelation to those who knew her only from a distance. She was, in the most literal sense of the word, attractive, not because of her physical appearance alone, which was lovely in itself, but because of her strength and confidence tempered by an unaffected humility.

Then there was her voice.

The walls of Lucca today.

Belichick Bingo

With the advent of new NFL season upon us, it’s time to prepare. The players and coaches prepare, why should we fans not do so? It’s a grueling season. If we slack off now, we might be unable to make it to the end.

Of course, as a native of Massachusetts, my job is easier. I’m rooting for the greatest team in the history of the sport, the New England Patriots. If you favor a different team and hate the Pats, I fully understand. I’d hate them, too, if I were from, say, Philadelphia or Oakland. Or Denver. Or Indy. Or… well, you get it. Sour grapes is an unappetizing but necessary part of the diet of the football fans of those cities, just as it has been for baseball fans from Boston. Until recently. 🙂

Below you will find an important new tool in your appreciation of the sport. Post-game news conferences are about the least enlightening 10 minutes of our lives, filled with platitudes, generalities, and more evasiveness than a Dion Lewis run. Especially if the speaker is the inimitable Bill Belichick. He’s the best coach in the history of the game, but he’s the least forthcoming. Listening to him in a post-game news conference gives one the distinct impression he’d rather have his gums scraped than stand in front of a room full of reporters trying to trip him up. Probably because he would.

To help you pass that painful time, I’ve created the following game: Belichick Bingo. Print the card out and, as you and your family and friends listen to the coach respond to the inane questions reporters throw at him, mark off the phrases you hear. The first to get a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row of five filled in wins!

You can even make your own cards with different common phrases from the Belichick post-game lexicon. Here’s a list of more possibilities to get you started:

  • turn the page
  • [player] has done a good job for us
  • good ball skills
  • ball security
  • they do/did a good job
  • doesn’t matter what we did last week
  • players win games
  • good effort
  • ready to play
  • gets better every day/week
  • have to do a better job
  • no question
  • there’s a lot of things we can still improve on
  • keep grinding
  • on a regular basis
  • have a lot of work to do
  • we’re just thinking about [next team]
  • everybody contributed
  • I don’t know
  • every week is different
  • situational football

There you go! The most fun you can have in the NFL without developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy!

A new take on the Nigerian scam

We get these letters via email all the time. 99% of them are screened out by our spam filters, but they keep right on coming.

Can you imagine anyone being so dense as to fall for such an obvious scam?

Attention recipient of email,

Welcome from world of Bank in Nigeria, I am Mr. Jamie Dimon, 
I wish to inform you that your lost funds has been approved by 
world of Bank and your File has been signed by Ministry of 
Finance to compensate you for complete destruction of your 
banking, mortgage and insurance companies of the America. So 
after our today's meeting with the board members we finalized 
to credit you with the ATM Visa card. My associate here in 
Nigeria will send you a a Card for your many uses. And issue 
you the ATM visa Card, So all you need to do is to contact The 
Mister Steven Mnuchin who will insist DHL Express Delivery 
Company regarding your VISA card, And do not forget to forward 
your delivery Details and payment to us as you make contact to 
enable to deliver The ATM valued to your doorstep.

To reclaim your financial system which we have left in shambles 
before running away to Nigeria for tax shelter (or the White 
House for new jobs), Submit your full information, also ask them 
how long you receive your ATM VISA CARD Package registered to 
them by world of Bank Director Mr. Jamie Dimon,

1. Your Full name_____
2. Your Address______
3. Your Phone Number____
4. Your age/sex______
5. Your country_____
6. Your occupation____

Director: Mister Steven Mnuchin 
Tel: +22xxxxxxx
E-mail: xxxxxxxxx@outlook.com

Also make to sure to include check certified for $700 billion USD. 
We will keep hold on your money system and the ATM visa Card for 
safekeeping until check arrives in Nigeria You must please truyst 
us. We are here to help that is why your the ATM visa Card will be 
coming to you for many good purchases.

Your expecting Package is Read in DHL Express Delivery Company 
Benin Republic, and you are to reconfirm your information to them 
and as soon as you reconfirm it and pay the ransom fee, them will 
give you your Package tracking Number for you to track and know 
when you expecting Package will arrive to your home address.

Yours Sincerely,
Mr. Jamie Dimon

Note: The basic content of the above letter was taken from an actual spam message I received. It didn’t have to be significantly modified to describe a real scam that we’ve fallen victim to once before and will again if we don’t wise up.

The All American Motel

Over two years ago, I wrote a post that was the first installment of a five-part short story. The story, “The Night I Woke Up”, described a vague remembrance from a childhood vacation. A few paragraphs into the tale, I briefly mentioned another memory from the same trip. That recollection might have contributed to an undercurrent of dread during that time of my life.

Here’s a snippet from that post:

We usually split the trip into two supposedly more manageable segments by spending a night in the cheapest, i.e. sleaziest, motel in North Carolina. (If you think sleazy, motel, and North Carolina is a redundancy, you’re not far off the mark. One of those joints could justify a story in itself. More than likely, it will.)

Well, it’s been a couple of years, but that joint, as implied, is about to have its very own post.

The motel in question was called “The All American Motel”. How much more promising could it be? We were an all-American family traveling in an all-American car (a Rambler, believe it or not) down the all-American east coast. The sun had set and we were well beyond exhausted and agitated from driving with three boys and their parents crammed into a vehicle for several hours. It was either stop and crash or continue on and, more than likely, crash.

In the darkness, the All American looked like the place to be. A full parking lot, a swimming pool, and all American. (My impression of what constitutes “all American” has changed since then, not in a positive direction.) What more could we ask for? We registered. We went to the room.

Not good.

There’s a reason motels have pretty much fallen out of favor in this country. They were never big on cleanliness or security. The All American set a new substandard for both. This place was disgusting. Putrescence was the decor of choice. The carpet had the consistency of Play-Doh, but stickier. The bathroom—I don’t even want to remember the bathroom. It might have had cockroaches, but if not, it was only because even the cockroaches have limits. Random lagoons of standing water probably bred entire civilizations of toxins. They should have dispensed antibiotics with every stay.

That night we went to a nearby restaurant, a dark and dingy steak house with a repulsive name like “Meaty D-Luxe” or such. The only thing I remember clearly from that dump was that the waitress was so creepy—kind of a female Norman Bates—we bolted from the place without even ordering. I’m not sure we ate anything that night. We were all too freaked out.

Back at the All American, we peeled apart the vile sheets and blankets, oozed into the beds, and somehow slept. The prospect of swimming in the pool the next day was the one hopeful thought that kept us kids going.

The All American wasn’t at its best in daylight because, well, you could see the place. The highly anticipated pool was a bust. It contained only about a foot of some kind of gelatinous fluid—it certainly wasn’t water. You wouldn’t have to be Jesus to walk across the surface of the thing.

The parking lot was still full, but…

There was something amiss with the cars. First of all, they were all ancient. No model was from the previous 30 years. Yet they all looked in good shape. That was only because every visible surface, all the metal, chrome, and tires of each vehicle had been freshly painted. The tires, while painted the colors of the cars: blue, red, white, whatever, were all flat. The license plates, also painted, were from decades before our stay. Not a single car in the lot was a real, running car.

Except ours.

We remedied that situation by tearing away as quickly as our little Rambler could ramble. I’m not sure we packed our stuff. We might have left it behind, afraid it was crawling with deadly microscopic life forms unknown to science. Probably whatever they served at the Meaty D-Luxe.

The only redeeming feature of the All American Motel is that it would make a great setting for a horror story. It was for us.

And it is for you now. Sleep well.

Thoughts between the storms of life

Life takes up all my time. Even weekends. That’s why I’m often reduced to dumping collected thoughts into posts just to meet my arbitrary weekly deadlines. Thus, here are some dead lines for this deadline:

Why isn’t postcocious a word, the opposite of precocious? It would apply to those who demonstrate an immaturity beyond (before?) their years. No one I know fits that description… outside of that guy in the mirror.

Whenever I watch a movie on DVD, I have to endure the declaration that “Piracy isn’t a victimless crime”. Tell me about it. I just wasted 10 seconds staring at the message.

I love my library. And I love my librarians. Still, I have to ask, how scientific is “library science”?

How lame is it when the news anchors blame the weather forecaster for bad weather? They don’t blame sportscasters when their teams lose. I hope one day to see the weather guy turn it around. (“Hey, Jim, when are you going to stop this rain and send us some sunshine?” “As soon as you stop all those mass shootings, Mary.”)

There are 2 kinds of people in the world: those who separate people into two groups and those who don’t.

Some say there are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

I wish I had a nickel for every empty bottle or can I see thrown on the side of the road. Wait…

Most house fans I’ve owned turn on at the highest speed. Dumb. That’s like a radio with an on/off dial that starts at the highest volume.

Remember when we worried about privacy? We’ve sacrificed it on the altar of social media. As Keith Lowell Jensen wisely observed, “What Orwell failed to predict [in his book “1984”] was that we’d buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watching.”

I was at a food truck event not long ago and took this picture:

When I blow that picture up (below) you can barely make out a disturbing sight in the background: Yes, that’s a bloodmobile. Evidently, they were expecting vampires at this event.

What’s with all the moving graphics?? Watch news or sports on TV and count the number of moving graphical objects on the screen. My ADD nature causes me to watch them obsessively and miss whatever is going on in the program. One more reason I don’t miss “news” broadcasts.

If You Give a Man a Cell Phone

[With apologies to Laura Numeroff and her whimsical “If you give a <something> to a <something else>” series of children’s books.]

If you give a man a cell phone…

He’ll want a case, a screen protector, a charger, extra cables, SD cards, a bluetooth headset and external speaker, and a pile of other accessories.

With all those accessories, he’ll ask you to give him a man-purse to carry them all.

The man-purse will leaving him questioning his sexuality. In his insecurity, you’ll have to buy him a huge, 4-wheel drive pickup truck with a hemi and a deliberately crippled muffler.

He might find that a large, loud truck isn’t sufficient to compensate for his lack of masculinity, in which case he’ll put a gun rack in the back window of the truck.

If he’s going to have that gun rack, he’ll need a rifle to feel truly macho.

He’ll ask himself, “Why do I have rifle if I’m not going to use it?” and he’ll ask you to take him hunting.

You’re too smart to accompany him, so he’ll go alone to spite you.

When he goes hunting, chances are his rifle will misfire causing him to accidentally shoot himself in the foot.

Alone and bleeding profusely, he’ll crawl back to the truck and try to drive for help.

Loss of blood will cause him to go into shock so he’ll pass out and drive into a tree.

Hitting the tree will trigger the airbag, which will concuss him.

He’ll spend a comatose month in a hospital in a town where no one knows him.

By the time he recovers and returns to his old life, everyone will believe he was dead so he’ll discover…
he lost his job,
his apartment was sub-let,
and his girlfriend has moved in with his former best friend.

The stress of all that loss will drive him to drugs and alcohol. It won’t be pretty.

When you finally get him to admit his addictions, you’ll have to check him into a rehab in northern California.

He’ll fall in love with his nurse who thinks his man-purse is cool.

To support his new laid-back lifestyle, they’ll move to a ranch in rural Montana…

which won’t have cell coverage…

so he’ll need a new cell service…

You’ll have to give him a new cell phone.

[Now all I need is adorable illustrations and I’ll be ready for a copyright infringement suit.]

The New Colossus of Fear

Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, which adorns the now-obsolete Statue of Liberty has to be replaced. It currently features the following lovely but oh-so-naive sentiment:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As a replacement, I humbly offer the more appropriate “New Colossus of Fear”:

Not like the wimpy statue that’s so lame,
That oversized chick draped in a green sheet;
Here to protect the cash on Wall Street
A macho man with a gun, whose aim
Will waste the bad hombres, and his name
Tyrant of Fear. From his weapon-hand
Shoots world-wide warning; we’re taking a stand
We’ll blow you back to hell whence you came.
“Keep to yourselves, you strangers all!” barks he
With bared teeth. “I’m tired of your lazy poor,
Your stinking masses with skin not like me,
If you’re here, will throw you out the door.
And to keep you foreigners out, you’ll see,
We’ll build a wall that you’ll pay for!”

It won’t make anyone forget Longfellow (or even Ogden Nash) but you must admit, it accurately captures the new, heinous “normal”.

God have mercy…

HTML for real life

When the technical and business worlds collide with real life, the results can be entertaining and instructive, giving insights into both. A couple of very clever guys, Tripp and Tyler, have leveraged this intersection to create (at least) two hysterical videos: A Conference Call in Real Life and Email in Real Life.

Why not push this into other areas? Back in the day when I was a software engineer, I dabbled in HTML. (Just enough to get myself in trouble.) In its simplest form, HTML involves a directive, i.e. an HTML command, that applies to all following text until an end marker, in the form of a slash and the same command, is encountered. For example, I can put text in italics by using the following syntax:

<i>This is in italics.</i>

…would appear on the screen as:

This is in italics.

It’s time to incorporate basic HTML notation in real life. That way, we can tell how to treat certain language and behaviors. Not only would this make intentions obvious to everyone, thus allowing us all to be prepared for what’s coming, it would be a boon for those of us who have trouble picking up both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Here’s a sampling of ideas that would improve our quality of life immediately, were they to be implemented across the board:

  • <whine>They don’t make good movies anymore.</whine>
  • <sarcasm>Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea.</sarcasm>
  • <throwaway>I’m fine. How are you?</throwaway>
  • <lie>No one respects women more than me.</lie> (In reality, no need for an end marker for this guy.)
  • <defensive>As a matter of fact, yes, I am a vegan.</defensive>
  • <flirt>Here, let me fix that strap for you.</flirt>
  • <insult>Your words are like water to a drowning man.</insult>
  • <braindamaged>I have a gun in my house to keep my family safe.</braindamaged>
  • <gossip>It was probably someone else with that woman, but it sure looked like Jim.</gossip>
  • <delusional>Steven Spielberg said he’d read my screenplay.</delusional>
  • <selfpromotion>I wouldn’t say so myself, but some people call me a genius.</selfpromotion>
  • <insincere>Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.</insincere>

You get the idea. Wouldn’t discourse be easier to follow if this notation were used? Which syntax would you like to see implemented?