Saturday, December 05, 2009

Write Your Own Blog!

Once upon a time, I mentioned that I was thinking about not posting to this blog anymore. It's now almost a year later to the day and I'm still writing, which probably means I'm some sort of procrastinator, since I still haven't acted on my urge to stop writing.

That doesn't mean I'm going to keep posting -- my urge to quit is sometimes very strong -- so I'm not promising anything. I'm just saying that there may come a time when I abandon this blog forever.

If I ever decide to quit writing and you're one of the few people who actually reads and enjoys this blog, you're probably very concerned that you'll miss it when it's gone. But if that's what's troubling you, then don't worry, because I have a solution.

Ever since I began this blog, people have suggested that I write something about one topic or another. My response to them was usually, "Write your own blog!" Or if I skipped a week or two and someone pointed it out to me, I would usually reply with "Write your own blog!" And when I first started this blog and had comments disabled, whenever people complained about that, I often told them "Write your own blog!"

As far as I know, no one ever took my advice, but that never stopped me from giving it. So if you're agonizing that you'll miss my blog when it's gone, in today's post I will show you how you to write a blog of your own.

First of all, choose a subject. This is a lot easier than you might expect. Just reflect on the events of the past week and choose something that happened to you, or something that you did. If nothing happened or if you didn't do anything, just recall something you thought about when you should have been thinking about something else. It doesn't really matter what your subject is, because your stream of consciousness will undoubtedly lead you to several other subjects before you're done writing.

Next, write a long, meandering introduction. It's not always such a good idea to just jump head-first into your topic. You want to let the reader get acclimated. You can do this by writing about whatever is on your mind, and gradually leading the discussion to your chosen topic. Or you can shift to the topic more abruptly. In either case, the introduction will allow the user to relax and enter your frame of mind, thus becoming more receptive to whatever it is you have to say.

Third, find your focal point. When I was in college, I took a drawing class. During one of the first classes, the teacher had an arrangement of objects placed out on a table and told us to draw what we saw. Most people drew all the objects on the table. Some even drew the table. But I focused all my attention on one particular object. I drew it in great detail and I ignored everything else. This is sometimes a useful way to write as well. For example, if you went to a movie and you want to write about it, it isn't necessary to write about the entire experience -- maybe you just want to write about how difficult it was to find a parking space, or about the idiot sitting behind you who wouldn't stop talking.

Those are the basics, but here are some other helpful hints.

It's always a good idea to pepper your writing with references to things most people have never heard of, or to salt it with obscure quotations, theories, or philosophies. This way, your post will not only be entertaining -- it will also be informative. But don't make the mistake of thinking you know more than your readers. Even if you do, it's still a mistake to assume it. So don't try to teach your readers anything -- it will only make you seem pompous and arrogant. If your readers understand a reference you make, that's fine, but if they don't, they can always look it up.

Don't be afraid to play with words a little. Think of language as a toy that also happens to allow you to communicate with others.

When you're done with your post, it's time to think of a title. I've listed this last, but you can actually think of a title any time you want. You have a lot of latitude here. You can use a descriptive title, or you can quote a few words from your post out of context, or you can use some famous quote. You can also use the title of some book or movie. It helps if the title you choose is somehow related to the topic you write about, but it's not absolutely necessary.

If you've followed all my instructions and your post still falls short of your expectations, don't be discouraged. It takes practice. Your first few attempts at blogging may not be all that successful, but don't worry. If your blog is anything like mine, chances are not many people will actually read it anyway.

And now, in strict adherence to my policy of expressing myself in verse, here is today's bad poem.

Don't wash your car, don't mow your lawn, and don't play with your dog.
Just turn on your computer and then write your own blog.
Don't ride that bike, don't lift those weights, don't even try to jog.
Just tap on all your keyboard keys and write your own blog.
Don't drink until you can't stand up, don't fill your head with fog.
Just stare into your monitor and write your own blog.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Agríla Baglóda Tahíb

I just flew back from the Washington DC area, and even though a lot of times in the past, I've complained about the flight on this blog, I'm not going to do that this time. It's not necessarily that there isn't anything to complain about -- it's because I don't think you want to read about it. I know you'd much rather read this week's bad poem, for example.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a very small percentage of the English-speaking population reads this blog. So it dawned on me that the poems I post to this blog need not all be written in English.

However, since I don't really know any other languages, my only choices are to write in English or write in some language that I just made up.

For this week's poem, I decided to use a made-up language. But since I didn't invent a writing system, I decided to use the Roman alphabet. And since I didn't invent any pronunciation rules, you can pretty much pronounce this poem anyway way you want, as long as you're consistent. (If you aren't, some of the rhymes may be lost.) If you recognize that this poem is in the form of a limerick, you should have no problem determining which syllables should be stressed, but for your convenience, I've added accent marks anyway.

And now, without any further introduction or delay, I present you with today's bad poem.

Agríla baglóda tahíb
Kora fénaba králimo tíb.
Nepáti océya,
Orámi nadréya.
Ko págli haráta paríb.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Raising and Lowering the Bar

I think I may have outdone myself with last week's poem. It wasn't exactly a work of literary genius, but compared to most of the other poems I've recently featured on this blog, it was pretty close. The problem, of course, is that once you write something of such high quality, you feel the need and desire to achieve that level in subsequent poems.

Unfortunately, this week's poem will probably not reach that level, irrespective of my needs and desires. Or, to put it in verse:

My poem of last week will be hard to beat.
I really enjoyed it a lot.
I don't think that this one can even compete.
It might but I tend to think not.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Uplifting and Inspirational

I'm breaking with a tradition I established and have adhered to when I first started writing bad poetry for this blog. Today's poem bucks this tradition in several ways. First of all, I wrote it many years ago, so unlike my other poems that you have read and enjoyed, today's poem wasn't written expressly for this blog. Secondly, this isn't what I consider a particularly bad poem. As limericks go, I think it's actually a pretty good one. And finally, in a very rare departure for me, this is a romantic poem. (And as a side note, it's also more uplifting and inspirational than the past few poems I posted.)

So in a way, it's a shame that such a tiny percentage of the world's English-speaking population reads this blog, because it means that hardly anyone will be able to enjoy this poem. On the other hand, I didn't really write it for others to enjoy; I wrote it for myself to enjoy, and I enjoy it a lot.

Of course, if you're one of the select few people who read this post, you'll have to decide for yourself whether or not you like today's poem. And since you won't be able to make a meaningful decision until you've actually read it, I am including it below.

There was a young robot from France
with a stainless steel dick in his pants.
His girlfriend from China
had a metal vagina,
and together they found true romance.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Slow Week

In keeping with my recent decision to express myself in doggerel, this post will include a poem. And this should be of no concern to you, but it wasn't particularly easy for me to crank out a poem for today's post. Writing poetry is hard enough -- even when it's bad poetry -- but it's a lot harder when you don't have anything to say.

It's been a slow week, and I don't have much anything to write about, so for today's poem, I decided to compress an entire slow week into a single slow day. In this poem, rhyme and rhythm are greater concerns than anything else, so I've exaggerated the truth a little and I've also thrown in an irrelevant detail for good measure.

And now, here is today's bad poem. I hope you enjoy it.

Nothing's going on today.
And nothing makes me smile.

I'm writing something anyway,
Since quitting's not my style.

My tortured heart is on display.
It's hideous and vile.

There's nothing else I want to say.
I'll see you in a while.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone. Today's bad poem doesn't have a Halloween theme, and there are two reasons for this. The first is that writing a Halloween poem on Halloween is just a little too unoriginal, as I believe it's been done many times in the past. The second reason is that I didn't actually write this poem today. I wrote it a little earlier in the month when I had some free time.

So, to ask (and answer) an obvious question in the form of a rhyming couplet,
If this is not a Halloween poem, what is it about?
I don't really know, myself. Read it and find out.


And now, without any further delay, here is today's non-Halloween bad poem:

Morons pounding on my door
keep me up at night.
My friends don't like me anymore.
They only want to fight.

The kids across the street from me
are playing on the grass.
I gaze into the troubled sea
and watch the hours pass.

My neighbors flee their cages
and scurry toward the hills.
It's been like this for ages
but still gives me the chills.

I leave my house without a sound
and float up to a cloud.
The children see me from the ground
and cry my name out loud.

I'll never know what underlies
this life I can't defend.
I close my heart and shut my eyes
and wait for it to end.


See you next week, everybody!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Go Ask Alex

The recently discovered Ardipithecus ramidus skeleton is 4.4 million years old. And if you believe in science and evolution and all that crazy stuff, it's the oldest known human ancestor. So, considering what an important archaeological artifact this is, why do we insist on naming it something silly and cute like "Ardi"? We did the same thing with that 3.2 million-year-old partial skeleton when we named her "Lucy." Ardi and Lucy don't sound like our earliest ancestors -- they sound like people you might see at a supermarket, stocking up on groceries and other household necessities.

It's not that I'm against giving things cute easy-to-remember names, but 35 years after Lucy was unearthed, how many people know she was a member of the Australopithecus afarensis species? And in five or ten years from now, how many people will remember that Ardi is short for Ardipithecus ramidus? Probably not a lot of them.

And to be fair, there's no reason why they should. Listen, I don't care if people don't remember this kind of stuff or not -- I've already forgotten it myself, but that isn't the point. However, I happened to be watching something on either the Discovery Science channel or the National Geographic channel earlier this month, and they kept plugging their show on "Ardi." That's what they showed on the screen, that's what the narrator called it, and that's probably what the show is called. In the commercial, they showed the word "Ardipithecus" for less than a second, so it's clear that they want us to think of this thing as "Ardi," and not as Ardipithecus, let alone Ardipithecus ramidus. Something about that just rubs me the wrong way.

Like I said, it's not important. The only reason I'm bringing it up is that a while ago, a couple of people I know were teasing me for complaining about some terminology in the latest IKEA catalog, which we were looking at online. Specifically, IKEA has a product they refer to as a "drawer unit on casters" and since everything you can buy at IKEA has a cute little name, this product is called "Alex." The "drawer unit on casters" description is very accurate, by the way, since that's exactly what it is, but we've already got a word for drawer units on casters and that word is tabouret. The word has been around for a long time, but you may not know about it, so I'll quote from Wikipedia: "...a small portable stand or cabinet, with drawers and shelves for storage. It is used as a method to bring organization to a work area. This name for a portable cabinet is common to artists."

I don't know why IKEA doesn't simply call it a tabouret, but my guess is that they don't use that word because most people don't know that word. It makes perfect sense, until you realize that the reason most people don't know that word is that nobody ever uses that word. It's a vicious circle that keeps us ignorant and stupid. If IKEA started using the word "tabouret," most people would see the word and look at the picture and realize that a tabouret is a drawer unit on casters. In other words, they would have learned something. Knowledge would have been gained, and nothing would have been lost.

I don't know about you, but I like to be presented with information (such as the names Ardipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus afarensis, and tabouret) so I can decide for myself whether or not the information is useful to me. If I decide to call something a "drawer unit on casters" or maybe simply "Alex," I want that to be my decision, not IKEA's. And I'm picking on IKEA because this tabouret incident happened recently and is still fresh in my mind, but you really see this sort of thing happening all over.

With that in mind, here's today's bad poem:

I couldn't fall asleep
when I went to bed at night.
I was wide awake until the early morning.

But instead of counting sheep,
I just turned on every light,
then got dressed and fell asleep without a warning.


I realize this poem has absolutely nothing to do with anything I was talking about earlier in today's post, but it was too hard to think of something that rhymes with "Ardipithecus."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

There Was A Young Man From Nantucket

Today's bad poetry challenge is to write an inoffensive limerick that uses the word "Nantucket." Although "Nantucket" limericks are usually lewd, dirty, suggestive, licentious, salacious, pornographic, or otherwise unsuitable for the easily-offended, I'm sure I'm not the first person to write an inoffensive one. So this may not be a totally original idea, and to make up for that, I've decided to include a bonus limerick that picks up where the first one leaves off. That's probably not such an original idea either.

There was a young man from Nantucket
who slept with his head in a bucket.
When someone asked why,
he had no reply
so he finally decided to chuck it.

The bucket then rolled down a hill
to a town in the north of Brazil.
A day or two later
it was at the equator.
Some say that it's lying there still.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Postmodernism

The funny thing about postmodernism is that everyone uses the term and nobody really knows what it means. That's not the funny part, though. The funny part is that the fact that nobody knows what it means is sort of built into the whole idea of postmodernism, since there are people who claim that the term itself, as well as the underlying theory, are more or less undefinable.

Literally, it means "after modernism" and we can understand this to mean a reaction against modernism, but that only tells us what postmodernism isn't -- it doesn't tell us what it is.

Part of the problem is that postmodernism means different things within different disciplines. For example, it has a completely different meaning in literature than it does in architecture and design.

In architecture and design, it's sort of easy to figure out, because you can actually see it expressed in buildings and furniture and graphic design. It's a reaction to the strict formalism of modernism, so it's more of an "anything goes" kind of philosophy. (Have you ever noticed that a lot of contemporary building design is a perverse attempt to combine the old and new, even though the old an new mix about as well as oil and vinegar? Have you ever walked into a furniture store and wondered why all the supposedly "modern" furniture looks like it was designed in the 19th century? Have you noticed that a lot of new cars looked like they were designed in the '40s? Do you remember all the aggressively ugly "read me if you can" graphics on T-shirts, trendy magazine covers, and just about everywhere else in the '90s?)

In literature, it's harder to define, so I won't even try. I think it might have something to do with decontextualization and subjectivity, but I'm not sure. In any event it turns out that a lot of the books I read in my younger days were written by postmodern writers, such as Pynchon, Barthelme, Borges, DeLillo, Burroughs, and even Auster, who I still consider one of my favorite writers.

It doesn't surprise me that I'm such a fan of postmodern literature despite the fact that I absolutely detest postmodern architecture and design, because the term seems to be applied without much discretion. I think the term gets applied a lot when people can't figure out how else to label something. For example, I've heard the magical duo of Penn & Teller described as postmodern magicians, which is a term that probably makes no sense at all. If anything, I'd say they were deconstructivist magicians.

Anyway, if you remember, last week I told you that each post to this blog would be written in verse, and I'm not going to break with that young tradition today. The brief introduction above turned out to be a little longer than I expected, but today's poem is forthcoming. But first, I wanted to include some brief quotes from two documentaries I've seen in the last few months.

"Postmodernism is to architecture the way a female impersonator is to femininity."
- Architectural historian Reyner Banham (as quoted by Julius Shulman in the documentary film Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman)

"...and also in the '80s, with their minds completely confused by that disease that was called postmodernism, people were just going around like chickens without their heads, by using all kinds of typefaces that could come around that could say 'not modern'..."
- Massimo Vignelli (from the documentary film Helvetica)

Okay, now for today's bad poem.

Postmodernism is a term broadly applied to literature:
I can't think of any two writers more different than
William S. Burroughs and and Don DeLillo, for example.
(Or maybe I can, but that isn't the point.)
Still, there are great postmodern writers, such as Paul Auster.
Postmodern architecture, on the other hand,
is one of the worst inventions to ever plague mankind.
And postmodern design isn't any better.


I realize that probably didn't sound a lot like a poem. It may qualify as some sort of free verse, but I'm not sure. Maybe it doesn't fit neatly into a genre. For that matter, it may not even be a poem. Maybe it's just a few lines of italicized text. But assuming that it actually is some kind of poem, it sort of looks like a reaction to more structured forms of poetry, so let's just call it a postmodernist poem and leave it at that.

I also realize that this wasn't a very interesting post. The poem is unimaginative and the prose is humorless and pedantic. Not only that, but you probably don't care about postmodernism in the first place. To be honest, neither do I. As a matter of fact, the only reason I wrote this little essay is so I could sneak in the quotes by Banham and Vignelli.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Something New!

As I mentioned last week, I'm not really a creature of habit. That's not completely true, of course, but sometimes when I find myself in a rut, I try to crawl out of it, especially if it's not too deep.

I've been maintaining this blog for quite a while now, and even though each post is filled with insight and wry humor and astute observations, the format seems to be getting a little stale. That's why starting this week, instead of writing long meandering essays, I've decided to express my thoughts in short poems.

Although today's poem has the formal structure of a Limerick, they won't all. For example, future poems might might follow some of the rules of Haiku. And some poems may have no formal constraints at all. As a matter of fact, the only thing they'll have in common is that they will be short. And they will all fall under the general rubric of doggerel, so they won't be very good. (Bad poetry, in my opinion, is an under-appreciated art form. What I like the most about it is that it doesn't have to be very good.)

So without any further delay, here is today's poem.

I thought I would try something new.
(After such a long time, so would you.)
So I'm writing in verse
And this post will be terse.
After only five lines, I am through.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Labels, Old and New

I'm not really a creature of habit, but there are certain things I do out of habit just because I don't want to think about them. That's how I ended up using the same brand of shampoo for years and years and years.

I started using it because the list of ingredients didn't contain a zillion and one chemicals. I don't know if anyone's ever gotten sick from all the chemicals in shampoo, but that's not even the main reason I buy it. I buy it because it's also fragrance-free and I don't want my hair to smell like a fucking herb garden.

A little while ago, I realized I was running out of shampoo, so I bought some more the next time I went shopping. I still have both containers in the shower because the first one's not empty yet.

I must have felt like reading in the shower yesterday, because for some reason I took the two containers and compared the labels. I noticed that they differed in small but significant ways.

On the front of the old label, it read "Safe for the Chemically Sensitive" but on the new label it read "Safe for the Fragrance Sensitive." That concerned me a little, since being chemically-sensitive seems more serious than being fragrance-sensitive and I was worried that the shampoo was no longer safe for the chemically-sensitive, possibly due to the addition of new ingredients.

So I looked at the back of the labels and saw that the only difference was that germaben had been replaced with propylparaben.

Just as an aside, I should mention that they've changed the ingredients before (which, by the way, is one of the reasons I wrote "the same brand of shampoo" instead of "the same shampoo" in the first paragraph of this post). The last time this happened, I saw that they had added either sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate -- I don't remember which, but neither of them is particularly good for human flesh. So I wrote the company about it and they assured me that it was no longer an ingredient in their shampoo. To allay any fears I may have had, they also sent me a new label, which I could peel the back off and stick over the existing label.

Anyway, if you've never heard of germaben, don't feel bad, because neither have I, despite the fact that I've apparently been pouring it onto my head every day for I don't know how many years. There are some safety concerns with it, since it contains parabens, which are known carcinogens, but whether germaben itself causes tumors is, at this point, anybody's guess. The new ingredient, propylparaben, also contains parabens, so it's probably no better than germaben. And I'm not a chemist, so I don't know, but somehow I doubt that one ingredient is safe for the chemically-sensitive and the other is safe for the fragrance-sensitive.

That wasn't the only difference between the two labels, by the way. The new label advertises that that shampoo is gluten-free, although for consistency with their other punctuation errors, they wrote "gluten free." Why do these people hate hyphens so much? The new label also informs us that the shampoo contains "no tree nut or peanut oils." I don't want to get too picky about this, but as far as I know, all nuts other than peanuts are tree nuts, because all nuts other than peanuts grow on trees. And as we all know, peanuts aren't even nuts; they're legumes. But the real question here is, are there some shampoos that contain nuts or peanuts? And if so, why?

As another digression, not too long ago, you used to hear a lot about children being allergic to peanuts. The media treated it like it was practically an epidemic, but I never believed it, even before I found out that the statistics were based almost entirely on anecdotal information, such as a mother telling a doctor her child was allergic to peanuts and the doctor simply believing it without ordering any allergy tests. That was about the time we started seeing labels on everything warning us that some product or another was either made with peanuts or made on equipment that was also used to process peanuts. The thing is, nobody ever asked why so many children were suddenly allergic to peanuts, so I came up with my own theory: I don't think they're allergic to peanuts in general; I think they're allergic specifically to GMO peanuts. I forget what the statistics are, but I think something like 90% of peanuts are GMOs. So, in short, kids haven't changed much, but peanuts have. And if that sounds like the rambling of a paranoid lunatic nutcase who reads the labels of his shampoo bottles, then try to come up with a better theory.

But returning again to today's topic, I decided to visit the shampoo company's web site, to see if they had any explanation as to why they switched ingredients, but I didn't learn much other than that I can buy the shampoo directly from the company in gallon jugs for a little over half the price of the equivalent amount in 16-ounce containers. As far as I know, I've never bought shampoo in a gallon jug before, so maybe I'll start doing that. After they tack on the shipping costs, it might not be such a bargain, but that's not the point. Remember when I said I'm not really a creature of habit? I guess I just feel like trying something new.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Once Every Minute

There's a TV commercial I've seen that asserts that every 60 seconds, somebody somewhere buys a Tempurpedic "sleep system." In case you're wondering, a "sleep system" appears to consist of nothing more than a mattress and some sort of frame to rest it on. If you're like most people, you're probably more comfortable referring to this mattress and frame combination as a "bed."

Actually, that's not quite true. While most speakers of the English language would be more comfortable with the term "bed," most French speakers would be more likely to use the term "lit" and most Spanish-speaking people would undoubtedly prefer the term "cama." But even if we accept that many people on this planet do not speak English, we can still maintain that a "sleep system" sounds like it should be more expensive than a "bed" -- a point I'm sure has not escaped the attention of the Tempurpedic marketing department.

Anyway, believe it or not, that's not really what I wanted to write about. You can argue all day about why it should be called a bed or a sleeping system, but at some point you're just splitting hairs. And there's no real point to splitting hairs all day, since all you end up with is a day's worth of split hair.

What I really wanted to address is the claim that someone buys a Tempurpedic bed every minute. I don't care if it's true or not -- that isn't even the point -- but whenever I hear something like this, the first question that comes to my mind is, "So what?" What's the point of this statistical tidbit? Is the idea that I should buy a certain type of bed just because so many other people have bought one? That's probably one of the worst reasons to do anything. If you're considering doing something just so you can go along with the crowd, maybe you should first consider that crowds generally include a lot of stupid people, and doing something just because a lot of stupid people do it is probably not in your best interests. Not only is it not a good thing for smart people to do -- it isn't even a good thing for stupid people to do.

So blindly following the masses is rarely a good idea, but in this case, it turns out that the masses aren't actually buying that many Tempurpedic beds in the first place. Let's do some arithmetic. If someone buys a Tempurpedic bed every 60 seconds, that means that 1,440 people buy one every day, that 10,080 people buy one every week, and that 524,160 Tempurpedic beds are sold every year. That may sound like a lot, but I'm willing to bet that millions and millions of mattresses are sold every year, which means that most of them are not Tempurpedics.

Since Tempurpedic beds constitute a minority of the beds sold every year, if we wanted to just follow the crowd and buy whatever everyone else is buying, we should probably buy something else. Maybe we should buy a bed we feel comfortable lying on, for example. Or maybe we should buy an environmentally-friendly natural latex mattress. In other words, we should buy a bed based on our own personal criteria. And by the way, despite what I said a little while ago, I'm not actually willing to bet on anything having to do with the sales of different types of mattresses. So let's move on.

I read another interesting little statistic lately, namely that every 40 seconds, somebody on the planet commits suicide. That comes to 2,160 suicides per day (as opposed to only 1,440 people who buy a Tempurpedic bed). So the first conclusion we might jump to is that every year, more people will commit suicide than will buy Tempurpedic beds. That's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

First of all, the people who commit suicide and the people who buy Tempurpedic beds may not be mutually exclusive. So it's theoretically possible that everyone who bought a Tempurpedic bed committed suicide in the same year. It's also possible that someone bought a Tempurpedic bed and for whatever reason, it drove him to commit suicide. Having never slept on one, I can't speculate about how this might happen, but we still can't rule out the possibility. Or maybe the guy bought a Tempurpedic bed and later killed himself for some completely different reason. Maybe he was distraught at the prospect of losing his job, maybe his wife just left him, or maybe he had suicidal tendencies that were exacerbated by the daily use of certain anti-depressants. Or maybe got in a car accident and the resulting chronic pain he suffered from couldn't be ameliorated by spending his days lying in bed.

On the other hand, if there's no overlap between the people who commit suicide and the people who buy Tempurpedic beds, we might be tempted to believe that a lot of people would rather commit suicide than buy a Tempurpedic bed. We'd probably be wrong of course, since we're implying that there's some sort of causal relationship between the two activities. But we can't even conclude that committing suicide is simply more popular than buying a Tempurpedic bed. For one thing, a lot of people who commit suicide have probably never even heard of a Tempurpedic bed. We should also bear in mind that many suicides are committed by people who don't have a lot of money -- people for whom buying a Tempurpedic bed was never a viable option to begin with. So we're sort of creating a false choice (but interestingly, perhaps, not a false dichotomy).

And that's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know -- the only thing you probably don't already know is why I'm telling you this. Well, I don't know either, but even if I did, I wouldn't waste your time trying to explain it. So let's just wrap things up by saying that for reasons I won't go into, I have no plans to commit suicide or buy a Tempurpedic bed.

Still, there are probably a lot of people who commit suicide (through asphyxiation, drug overdose, a bullet to the head, or whatever) while lying in a Tempurpedic bed. I wonder what the statistics on that are. Or actually, no I don't.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Two Parts H and One Part O

First of all, I never ever buy bottled water. And whether you drink it or not, you probably already know all the reasons you shouldn't, but I'm going to tell you anyway.

First of all, the standards for bottled water are lower than they are for municipal water supplies, so if you drink it, you're probably drinking something that isn't as good as what comes out of your tap. And as if that weren't bad enough, chemicals from the bottles can leach into the water, making the quality even worse. It's also a lot more expensive than tap water. The bottles don't biodegrade, and although they can be recycled, recycling is energy-intensive and expensive, and it probably releases chemicals into the atmosphere. By the way, the same thing is true when they make the bottles -- production of plastic bottles is oil-intensive, and the manufacturing process causes a lot of unnecessary pollution. Then of course, transporting the bottled water all around the world increases oil consumption and creates even more pollution. And finally, at least in the case of Fiji water, every bottle you buy goes toward propping up the military dictatorship of Fiji, while the water supply for the native Fijians is barely fit to drink.

Those are just the reasons I could think of off the top of my head. I could probably come up with a few more if I thought about it. For me, any one of those reasons is probably good enough, but all those reasons put together make drinking bottled water the wrong thing to do on just about every level. That's why I never buy it and that's why I never drink it.

Okay, having said all that, I should mention that I bought some bottled water last week. It was sort of an emergency and I hated myself for doing it, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was at a movie theater and I didn't feel well for some reason. It was around noon, and it was a hot day, and I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since I went to bed the night before, so I thought that if I had something to drink, it might make me feel better. My only choices were bottled water or soft drinks or sugary bottled "juice drinks." So the bottled water was the least of three evils.

It didn't make me feel any better, but that's not really the point. And if you're wondering what the point is, don't ask me, because I'm not really sure if there is one.

But here's my point: You don't need to buy bottled water unless you feel the need to waste your money, ruin the environment, or support a repressive military regime. Your best bet is probably to filter your own water. If you have a relatively new refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser on the freezer door, you've probably got a filter inside the refrigerator that all the water passes through before it reaches the dispenser. So all you have to do is fill up a container from the water dispenser and put it in your refrigerator. Then you'll have as much nice cold refreshing filtered water as you can drink.

But if you don't have a water dispenser built in to your refrigerator, there's no need for despair. Just buy one of those pitchers with a built in filter. I'm not sure how they work, because I don't have one, but I think you just fill the pitcher by pouring the water through the filter and in a few minutes all the impurities are removed.

On the other hand, if you want to spend a lot of extra money, you can buy a whole house filter. They're about five or six feet tall (depending on your water filtering needs), and you install them where the water line enters your house. But if you don't want to spend a lot of money, you can just get one of those screw-on filter attachments for your kitchen sink.

Or you can do what I do and just make your own water. Just put two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen in a sealed container, then shake vigorously until you hear the sound of water splashing around inside. It's just as easy as it sounds. It might take a little more effort than buying already-made water, but most things worth doing require a little effort. And the results will be worth it, because you'll end up with some of the freshest water available.

I should probably disclose something here, which is that even though I never buy bottled water, I do buy bottled juices. Fortunately, half the stuff I buy comes in glass containers, but regardless of what the container's made of, you should always read the label. Make sure it's organic and without any added sweeteners, if that's important to you, but more importantly, make sure it's 100% juice, or else you could be buying mostly water without even knowing it.

And this should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Don't actually try to make your own water from hydrogen and oxygen using the process I've described above, because it won't work. I don't know what will happen, but I'd be very surprised if you ended up with much water.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

2009

For a while, it looked like 2009 was going to be remembered as the year of celebrity deaths. I won't rattle off the whole list, but just to refresh your memory, I'll provide a brief recap of the highlights.

Patrick McGoohan started the year off when he died in January. John Updike and Lux Interior were both dead less than a month later. Not too long after that, Natasha Richardson, Marilyn Chambers, J.G. Ballard, and Bea Arthur were dead.

David Carradine started off the summer season with his death in June, but the apex wasn't until later in the month when Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Sky Saxon, and Billy Mays all died within a five-day span.

Things have tapered down since then. Karl Malden died, as did Robert McNamara, Walter Cronkite, Corazon Aquino, and John Hughes, but that was over a five-week span.

That's not the entire list -- there are a lot of celebrities I didn't mention, and it's early August, so there are almost five months left in the year. But barring some sort of catastrophe -- such as a bomb going off at some awards ceremony -- I think the celebrity death syndrome is pretty much behind us.

But I don't think 2009 will necessarily be remembered as the year of celebrity deaths. I think it may be remembered as the year of 40-year anniversaries.

You're undoubtedly aware that 2009 is the 40-year anniversary of the Apollo moon landing (or moon landing hoax, as some people still insist on calling it). That's been all over the news ever since about July 20, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, walked around a little, planted a flag, collected some rocks, and then flew back home.

The other big 40-year anniversary this year is for the Woodstock festival (which most people just refer to as "Woodstock"), which will turn 40 a little later this month. What started off as a concert turned into an event that was just as historically significant as the moon landing, if not more so.

And then, of course, there are the Tate-LaBianca murders (which are also know as the Manson murders). Today marks the 40-year anniversary of the Tate murders, and tomorrow marks the anniversary of the LaBianca murders.

Those are the big three 40-year anniversaries, and they all took place with a month of each other, but those aren't the only 40-year anniversaries we're commemorating this year. Here's a short and incomplete list of other notable events that took place in 1969: the Stonewall Riots, the birth of TV's Sesame St., the publication of the first edition of Penthouse magazine, the Ted Kennedy incident at Chappaquiddick, and the Cuyahoga River catching fire due to all the toxins and pollutants it contained. That last one might not be so famous to people outside of Ohio, and the only reason I know about it is because Randy Newman immortalized it in his 1972 song "Burn On."

So here's another one for you: The Unix operating system is 40 years old this year. According to what I found on the web, the first version of Unix was completed in August 1969 (although it was unnamed at the time and wasn't named "Unix" until the following year). Even if you've never heard of Unix, you've probably used it, or at least you've used some software that runs on top of Unix. If you've used a Mac in the past few years, you've used Unix software. If you've ever connected to a web server, mail server, or file server, the chances are extremely good that you've used Unix software.

But the list doesn't end there. As it turns out, on August 8, 1969 -- exactly 40 years and one day ago -- the famous photograph that became the cover of the Beatles' Abbey Road album was taken. To be honest, I don't know why this is such a big deal, probably because I don't understand why that picture is so famous. Abbey Road was the last album the Beatles recorded together, and the photograph is visually compelling, but that's not enough to make it famous. There was also the whole "Paul is Dead" theory, but that was only marginally associated with that album cover.

If there's any Beatles album photograph that deserves to be famous, I think it should be the original cover for the Yesterday and Today album. That photograph was so controversial that it had to be replaced by a completely different one. If you're a die-hard Beatles fan, you already know about that, but if you're a die-hard Beatles fan, you probably also understand why the Abbey Road photograph is so popular. And while I'm on the subject, the Beatles were great, and they were a cultural phenomenon unlike any other, and their influence on popular music is immense and undeniable, but why are there still die-hard Beatles fans in 2009? And by die-hard Beatles fans, I mean people like the ones who swarmed Abbey Road yesterday in commemoration of the anniversary of the Abbey Road photograph.

In closing, whether 2009 is remembered more for its celebrity deaths or its 40-year anniversaries is probably anyone's guess. Maybe it'll be both. But here's a thought that just crossed my mind. It's sort of stupid, so I shouldn't even mention it, but here it is anyway. If two astronauts hadn't landed on the moon 40 years ago, would the dance move that Michael Jackson popularized in 1983 still be called the moon walk?

I wouldn't bother pondering that question for too long if I were you -- as I said, it's a pretty stupid thought. And I don't really like ending my blog posts with stupid thoughts, but I couldn't think of a better way to end this one. I couldn't think of a very good title either.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Laser Cheese

If you're old enough, you may remember when the Laserium was first invented. But in case you aren't old enough or your memory isn't that good, a Laserium show was basically a few lasers creating complex patterns on the ceiling in time to some music.

I don't know when I first heard about it, but I remember seeing a Laserium show in the auditorium of the Griffith Park Planetarium when I was a freshman in college, at home for the Christmas break. It wasn't a horrible experience or anything like that, but I'm pretty sure I thought the show didn't live up to all the hype.

I never gave it much thought after that, and I guess I just assumed that the Laserium died with the 1970s, but I have come to find out recently that it's still around.

Last weekend, I went with a friend of mine to see a brand new Laserium show at the Laserium CyberTheater on the fabled corner of Hollywood and Vine. But before I get into that, I'll just interrupt myself for a while to tell you that as far as I'm concerned, calling something a "CyberTheater" makes it sound really outdated. I mentioned this to my friend and she agreed, saying it sounded like something from The Terminator. To make things worse, it turns out that the Laserium CyberTheater just opened last month. But all that notwithstanding, the name is inappropriate for another reason. Just look up the word "cybernetic" to find out why.

But hokey and inappropriate though the name may be, the new Laserium technology is much more advanced. They use a lot more lasers, and more colors than I remembered from back in 1972, and they're better at creating representational images, such as words and faces, with the lasers. But despite all that advanced technology, the show seemed just as cheesy as the first one I saw.

While we were waiting in line, I asked my friend how she heard about the new Laserium shows. She told me she gets a weekly email that lists all the local events you can buy tickets for through a particular ticket retailer. I asked her what other events she'd been to and she mentioned that she'd seen a live performance by the Moscow Cat Circus.

I didn't think you could train cats to do tricks, but apparently you can. And if you don't believe me, go to YouTube and search for "Moscow Cat Circus." You'll find videos of cats walking tightropes (actually, loose ropes), climbing up poles, and jumping from one person's shoulders to another's.

She told me that since cats tend to be recalcitrant by nature, sometimes one of the circus cats wouldn't perform a trick. But whenever that happened, they just shooed it away and brought on a cat that was willing to perform. So the cat tricks never stopped, and the show was fun to watch.

I sort of wish I'd seen the cat circus instead of the Laserium show. The Laserium show wasn't bad, but the best part was the music. The lasers weren't all that interesting, because after a while the visual effects just get old. There were basically three shows, each one featuring a different band from the '60s and '70s. We saw the Beatles show. If we'd gone on another night, we could have seen the Led Zeppelin show or the Pink Floyd show. I wanted to see the Beatles show because I was never much of a Pink Floyd or Led Zep fan, but in retrospect, maybe we should have seen the Pink Floyd show instead.

And here's why: Regardless of what anyone says, Laserium started out as a form of pseudo-psychedelic entertainment for stoners -- you could get high, sink into a comfortable upholstered chair, then stare at the ceiling and watch lasers spinning around to what was then called "acid rock" or sometimes "psychedelic rock" -- the music of Pink Floyd, for example -- or "electronic music," which had been gestating in avant-garde circles and was just beginning its emergence into the mainstream at the time.

Despite its roots in the drug culture, the Laserium of today is more of a family thing. Sitting to the right of me was a family of three, and the girl was probably four years old at the most. The music didn't bring back memories of the '60s and '70s for her, as it did for me, but she seemed to be enjoying the show nonetheless.

When the show was over, it was still sort of early -- maybe about 10:00 or 10:30 at night -- so we walked down Vine to a coffee shop. It was a tiny little coffee shop, and it was crowded inside due to some sort of Klingon gathering. So we sat at a little table on the sidewalk next to some Klingons.

I'm not a trekkie or a trekker or whatever they like to be called, but based on my limited experience, it seems like of all the different humanoids that populate the Star Trek universe, Klingons are the most popular by far. You never hear of Star Trek fans dressing up as Romulans, Cardassians, Ferengi, or even Earthlings, for that matter. Everybody always wants to be a Klingon. Maybe it's because they look so menacing.

Just as an aside, did you know that the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are being translated into the Klingon language? Did you even know there is a Klingon language? For some reason, I know this, but it's because I've been interested in linguistics for a long time and not because I'm a fan of Star Trek. I read an article a few years ago about the Klingon Language Institute, which was founded by a linguist who basically invented the Klingon language himself. I don't know how much his language has to do with the language spoken by the Klingons on TV -- not much as far as I can tell, since the TV Klingons mostly spoke English -- but it doesn't really matter, since neither language is actually a real language, despite the likely protestations of the Klingon Language Institute.

Anyway, as the night wore on, the Klingons at the coffee table decided it was time to go. But before they left, they decided to get out of their Klingon costumes. After they packed up their fake swords, removed the wigs and latex masks from their faces, took off their robes, and replaced their boots with their street shoes, they didn't look so menacing anymore. They were two guys in their late 50s or early 60s, both balding and mild-mannered, one wearing glasses and the other a bit on the short side. I wondered if they had any kids, or grandchildren, and if they did, what their offspring thought of them. Were they proud? Were they embarrassed? We may never know, but I didn't see any young-looking Klingons there, if that's any sort of clue.

We decided to leave a little while later, and since I live sort of far from Hollywood, I probably got home around midnight. I wasn't tired, though. I'm rarely tired at midnight -- that's just the way my biological clock is set -- but the coffee I had probably played a part in keeping me awake as well. I didn't feel like reading or watching TV, so I turned on my computer and watched a few clips of the Moscow Cat Circus.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It Started with a Cat

There's a woman who works at my local Whole Foods Market. I don't see her every time I go there, but sometimes when I'm there she's working behind one of the cash registers. She tends to wear short-sleeve or sleeveless tops, so I can usually see her arms, and one day when she was totaling up my grocery bill, I happened to notice that she had a Hello Kitty tattoo on one of her arms.

That seemed like some sort of trademark violation to me, but I know it's not the first time someone's gotten a tattoo of a corporate logo. Consider the many motorcycle gang members with Harley-Davidson tattoos on their arms. As far as I know, not one of them has ever been sued for trademark infringement.

Anyway, back to the woman at Whole Foods. When I first saw that little stylized cat head on her arm, I wasn't even sure it was actually a tattoo. It looked like someone had drawn the Hello Kitty logo on her arm with a ballpoint pen. I couldn't tell for sure, but by the time I'd gotten back to my house, I'd completely forgotten about it.

Then I saw her again a few weeks later. She still had the Hello Kitty logo, so I assumed it was a permanent tattoo. She also had a smaller tattoo somewhere else on her arm, but I don't remember what it looked like, nor do I remember which arm it was on. In any case, once again, by the time I got home, I'd forgotten all about it.

But then I saw her again several months later and she had multi-colored tattoos all over both arms. The original Hello Kitty tattoo was all but invisible.

I've been seeing a lot of this sort of thing lately, by the way. A lot of people are getting tattoos that go up and down each arm. Men do it and women do it, although men usually stick with the classic dark blue, while women tend do go with multiple colors. Also, men tend to get what have become known as tribal tattoos -- possibly because they vaguely resemble the tattoos worn by the Maoris in New Zealand -- while women tend to favor more representational designs, such as flowers and birds and trees and Hello Kitty logos.

I don't know how I feel about this whole thing. Sometimes all those tattoos look okay, although I've always thought that tattoos look better on the upper arms than they do on the forearms. That's just a reflection of my own personal aesthetic, however, and beyond that, I don't feel like I'm qualified to make any judgments since I don't have any tattoos myself, and probably never will for as long as I live. But it's not because I don't like them -- it's more that I don't see the point.

People with tattoos get criticized a lot, it seems, and a few years ago some guy was telling me that anyone who gets a lot of tattoos as a teenager might find it difficult getting a job in the professional world as an adult. I disagreed, telling him that by the time that teenager becomes an adult, a lot of other people will have tattoos as well -- including his potential boss -- because by then tattoos will be so common that they won't have the stigma that they have today.

He didn't have any response to that, leading me to believe that I was right and he was wrong, but if I'm right, it probably means that in the not-too-distant future, when more than half the people are covered with tattoos, people like me -- the ones without tattoos -- will be stigmatized. So watch out whom you look down upon, because one day, when they are in the majority, they will probably look down upon you.

If you don't believe me, then just wait. And it's not going to be limited to people with tattoos either. Consider this, for example:

Right now, fat people outnumber fit people. And as the ranks of the fat people grow and the low fat people become more of a minority group, anyone who isn't more than a few pounds overweight will be treated like an outcast. I'm not saying we won't deserve it, because fat people have been teased and taunted and discriminated against for longer than I've been alive. But it won't stop there, because the fat majority will eventually be outnumbered by the ever-growing community of obese people, who might eventually outnumber all the fat and fit people put together. And when that happens, they'd be justified in turning their scorn and their wrath toward us, because of the cruel way we've made fun of them over the years. Things could get ugly if they become violent, but at least we'd be able to outrun them. On the other hand, if they decide to taunt and tease and ostracize the rest of us, I don't know how many of us would be able to deal with the humiliation.

But please don't think I'm singling out the fat or the obese. I'm just using them as an example.

I believe stupid people already outnumber the rest of us, but instead of admiring us or even simply tolerating us, they ridicule us by calling us eggheads and elitists. (As an aside, where did stupid people learn the word "elitist"?) It doesn't happen a lot, because very often they're too stupid to realize that we're smarter than they are. I can tell when I'm in the company of someone a lot smarter than I am, but a lot of stupid people foolishly think that they're just as smart as anyone else. But getting back to my original point, stupid people -- when they recognize an intelligence greater than their own -- will often ridicule it. I've been a victim of this, myself. You probably have been too.

This is the tyranny of the masses. When the lowest common denominator gains power, it uses that power to discriminate against everyone else. And as each generation follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, and the lowest common denominator gets lower and lower, we as a people will become useless and irrelevant. And this is how humanity will end.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the pendulum will one day reach the end of its arc and swing back in the opposite direction. Maybe people will once again recognize the importance of intellectual curiosity and the value of thinking for themselves. Maybe one day, more people will decide to take a walk around the block and enjoy the sensation of muscles contracting and relaxing in harmony instead of vegetating in front of the television.

Or maybe not. Either way, it doesn't matter to me. I'm still not getting a tattoo.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Goes Down Should Go Up

The engine light on my car went on about a month ago, and after one week of ignoring it and three weeks of wishing it would turn off by itself, today I finally took my car to the service department at my local Toyota dealership. The guy there told me it would cost about a $100 to diagnose the problem, which would be applied to whatever parts and labor it took to fix it.

He called me a couple of hours later and told me that the seal on my after-market gas cap wasn't tight enough, so air was leaking into the gas tank or something. He said he could replace the gas cap with a genuine Toyota gas cap.

So the gas cap is essentially costing me $100, but I don't care. As a matter of fact, I'm delighted. It's a lot better than finding out that my engine needed major repairs which would cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

But here's the part that doesn't make me so happy. A couple of months ago, I took the car to a local mechanic to get it a smog check, which you need to do every two years in order to register your car in California. The car failed the smog check, but not because there was anything wrong with the car itself. It failed because the seal on my gas cap wasn't tight enough. In order to get the car to pass, he sold me a new gas cap for $25 -- the very same after-market gas cap that caused my engine light to go on about a month later.

So that kind of bugs me, since I've never spent $125 for a gas cap before, but it doesn't make me angry -- there's just something too funny about the whole thing for me to get angry about it.

But I've really only told you about half the story, because I didn't mention that besides the engine light going on, the car had another problem. The front passenger window didn't always go up or down when I pressed the button. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn't, but usually it would get stuck in the halfway position.

I don't know how long I've had that problem, because I never open or close that window. But three or four months ago, I had a few people in the car, and after the guy in the front seat opened the window, he discovered that he couldn't close it again. After playing with it enough, we finally got it to close again, but I didn't get it fixed because I never opened that window that much in the first place.

However, when the engine light went on, I decided to have them look at the window as well. As with the engine light, the guy told me it would cost about $100 to diagnose the problem, which would be applied to the cost of parts and labor. I figured all together it would cost me a few hundred dollars to get the window fixed, because that's what other people I knew told me it would cost. And even though I rarely open that window, I decided to get it fixed, because as far as automobile windows are concerned, if they go down, they should also go up.

Anyway, when the guy called to tell me about the new gas cap, he also told me that the window needed a new regulator. Don't ask me what it regulates, because I don't know. All I know is that if the regulator doesn't work, the window won't work. The bad news is that for my particular car, the regulator and the motor are one unit, so even if your regulator's good and your motor's bad, or your motor's good and your regulator's bad, you have to buy the entire regulator and motor unit, which means you'll end up paying maybe twice what you'd pay if they were separate parts. I'm not going to even tell you what it's costing me, since I'm too embarrassed to admit it, but let's just say it makes $125 for a gas cap seem like a bargain.

That's not the only bad news, though. He also told me that he didn't have the part in stock and couldn't get one until Tuesday. And I couldn't just pick up the car and take it in again on Tuesday because the door panel is all disassembled and if they were to put it back together again and disassemble it again on Tuesday, they'd have to charge me for the additional labor.

Fortunately, I have another car. Well, actually it's a truck. I hardly ever drive the truck, since it's almost 20 years old and it's not in the best condition. It's safe to drive and it's fairly reliable, but it makes a lot of noises, it looks awful, and a lot of things no longer work -- like the heater, the stereo, the air conditioning, the trip odometer, the windshield washer, and the gas gauge -- but I keep it because sometimes it comes in handy. I seem to drive it less and less each year, but every now and then I might need a sheet of drywall or something else that won't fit in the Camry, and sometimes I drive to places I wouldn't want to leave the Camry, such as airport parking lots during extended trips. One time a friend of mine and I went to Watts Towers, and I took the truck because I didn't feel safe leaving the other car unattended in that part of town. It turns out I needn't have worried, but that's not the point. The point is that I hardly ever drive the truck. But now it looks like I'll be driving it until Tuesday, which makes me happy I still have it.

For years, I've been telling myself I should get rid of it, because it's hard to justify paying the registration fees and insurance premiums on it every year. So I don't even try to justify it. I just pay the money and forget about it. Besides, even though it's a funky old truck, it's never failed a smog check, and since you have to manually roll the windows up and down, there's never any danger of having to buy a new window motor or regulator.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Protection Money

As I was driving down the street the other day, I noticed a van parked in front of a house. On the side of the van was a sign advertising baby protection services.

I've heard of baby protection before. We all have. It first became popular in the mid or late '80s, and at that time it consisted largely of taping towels to the edges of sharp coffee tables so a crawling baby who bumped his head on the edge of a table wouldn't sustain any traumatic head injuries. It always seemed like a pretty good idea to me. Sure, it made the coffee tables look kind of strange, but that's a small price to pay for the safety of a small child.

Actually, now that I think about it, there was another kind of baby protection before that, which I think became sort of popular sometime in the early '70s. It was just a little thing, so it's easy to forget about, but do you remember those plastic covers you could plug into unused electrical outlets? The idea was that they would prevent a curious toddler from sticking a metal fork or knife into the outlet and inadvertently electrocuting himself. It's a great idea, of course, and so simple too, but if your toddler is toddling around with a knife or fork in his hand, a plastic outlet cover may not be what you need to protect him from danger.

And just as an aside, what exactly is a toddler? Or more to the point, what does it mean to toddle? I always thought a toddler crawled around on the floor, but apparently that's not toddling, that's just crawling. According to a couple of online dictionaries I just checked, to toddle is to walk with short unsteady steps -- the idea being that a child just learning to walk would move in such a manner. Well, I never had any kids, so I guess I can be forgiven for not quite knowing the meaning of the word, but just to build upon my original point, if your child is crawling or toddling around with a sharp metal object in his hand, that electrical outlet on the wall might not be his most immediate threat.

But let's return to the more general topic of baby protection. Just how much protection does the baby need? What I mean is, is making a "baby-safe" home such a daunting task that the parents can't do it themselves? Do they really need to hire a professional baby protection company? The answer is probably no. I realize there's more to it than just covering the edges of sharp furniture -- you also want to make it difficult for your child to accidentally tumble downstairs and hurt himself. You probably don't want to polish your hardwood floors so that they're too slippery for your toddler to toddle upon either. And as I hinted at before, you'll want to keep those forks and knives at a safe distance from your children. I just thought of those things off the top of my head, but there are probably a lot of other things you should do as well, and if you don't have thoughts like that on the top of your head, you could probably read a magazine article or two and get all the information you need to know.

So I think professional baby safety companies probably benefit the owners of those companies more than they benefit anyone else, such as the customers or their children. I think it's just another way for people to make some money by scaring new parents with horror stories about how unsafe the typical home is. And the more you can scare them, the more money you're likely to make. It's a simple economic principle.

But the big question in my mind is, does all this baby protection stuff actually help protect babies? Have any statistical studies been made? Or failing that, is there any anecdotal evidence that a smaller percentage of the baby population today is being accidentally electrocuted or injured by sharp-edged furniture?

The reason I ask is because I grew up before all this baby protection stuff was available. So did my sisters, so did all my college friends, and so did everyone else I ever knew who was born around the same time as I was. And yet, I don't know of a single person my age who ever stuck a knife in an electrical outlet or bumped his head on the edge of a coffee table. It's possible, of course, that the children who did suffer such misfortune never lived to tell about it, but I've never heard about any such cases, not even from a friend of a friend of a friend.

Still, I don't feel comfortable recommending that people leave the sharp edges of their furniture exposed. But if children need that kind of protection today, and they didn't need it when I was a kid, it probably either means that coffee tables today are sharper than they used to be or babies' skulls today are softer than they used to be. I doubt if the tables are getting any sharper, and if you have any doubts about that, go check a furniture store. I also have doubts about babies' skulls being softer, although there's no good way to test this for yourself. But if furniture is no more dangerous than it was when I was a baby, and if babies themselves are just as rugged and hardy as they used to be, it probably means that maybe the only thing different is that we've become a lot more over-protective.

You can argue whether or not all this over-protectiveness is actually good for the children, but I think the question may be moot because I don't think it will last too much longer. Now that we're tottering on the brink of an economic depression, it might not be too long before children are considered nothing more than an easily-exploitable source of cheap labor, just like they were in the past, and just like they still are in many impoverished countries throughout the world. So if some politician proposes that we reduce our budget or decrease our trade deficit by overturning the child-labor laws, don't be too surprised.

I hope it never comes to that, and I don't think it will, but you never know. It depends on how bad things get. In the meantime, while we're still over-protecting our children, if you need some extra money, you could probably open a baby protection service. You can do all the research you need by reading a few magazine articles, and after that all you really need is a van with a sign on it.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Couldn't Make It

At the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills last week, there was a screening of John Smith -- an hour-long segment for the Showtime version of Ira Glass's This American Life. The screening was hosted by Ira Glass, and all the tickets were sold within an hour or so, so they added a second screening on the following day. The bad news was that Ira Glass wasn't there on the second day, but the good news was that the tickets were half the price and they weren't all sold within an hour.

I was planning on going with my friend A, but because of quotidian vicissitudes, A couldn't make it, and I ended up going with my friend J instead.

I was only at AMPAS once before in my life. I don't remember exactly when, but it was to see a pre-release screening of Platoon, so that'll give you an idea of how long ago it was. I was going out with some woman at the time and she got the tickets from a friend of hers. I met him, and he seemed like a jerk.

We didn't sit near him or talk to him after the movie, so I'm basing my assessment of him on the three or four seconds it took to shake his hand. A few seconds may not seem like a lot, but you can sometimes learn a lot about someone by shaking his hand. For example, if you're shaking someone's hand but you're looking over his shoulder, scanning for other people in the audience you might know, then you're just going through the motions. That's what this guy did, and that's what made him a jerk. I don't remember much else from that night, but I remember that insincere handshake quite vividly. Keep that in mind the next time you're shaking someone's hand.

Things never went too well with that woman I was seeing, and that friend of hers was a total jerk, but at least Platoon was good. I think it may have even won an Academy Award.

Anyway, you don't care about any of that, so I'm going to write about today's actual topic, which is seeing the Ira Glass thing at AMPAS.

The first thing I noticed when we got inside the building was that we couldn't even get to our seats without going through security gates. They didn't have anyone waving a portable wand all over you like they do at the airports, and you didn't have to remove your shoes or belt, but I did have to empty my pockets into a little plastic tray.

The guard noticed that I had one of those miniature Swiss Army knives on my key ring, and he told me I'd either have to take it back to the car, or I could check it with him and pick it up from the main desk on after the show. I didn't think there was time to walk all the way to the car and back, and it wasn't even my car in the first place -- it was J's -- so I decided to check the knife with him. It seemed like they were making a lot of fuss over a little knife, so it made me glad I decided not to bring a duffel bag full of semi-automatic machine guns with me.

We got past the gates and took our seats, but before the show began, the woman who introduced it told us that no gum chewing was allowed in the theater. That didn't bother me so much because I never chew gum, but J had some, which she discreetly removed from her mouth and wrapped in a piece of foil paper. It's not like they were going down the rows looking inside everyone's mouth, but J has a healthy respect for the law and was willing to comply.

As for the program itself, I'm not going to review it. But I liked it a lot, and J liked it a lot, and it seemed like everyone else in the audience liked it a lot as well.

So it was an evening well spent, but before we left, I had to retrieve my weapon.

It came as no surprise to me that I wasn't the only person who had to check his weapon. When I went to pick it up at the main desk, I saw an array of tiny knives and other sharp objects. The guard was explaining to some other guy that they weren't worried that audience members would use their knives to harm others -- it was more a matter of preventing people from slashing the seats with them. He went on to explain that chewing gum wasn't allowed because people had a habit of sticking their gum to their seats.

To be honest, I didn't expect that they'd have that kind of problem at AMPAS. I could see slashing the torn and faded vinyl seats of a dirty graffiti-covered bus that runs through the inner-city ghettos, but not the seats at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I know this is going to make me sound like some kind of elitist, but I didn't think AMPAS attracted that sort of crowd.

Slashing seats and sticking gum under the arm rests is never appropriate, but I think it's a lot more appropriate on an old bus than in a well-maintained theater in Beverly Hills. But the people at AMPAS wouldn't have paid all that money to buy security gates and hire security guards unless they had a good reason.

Of course, I'm hardly an expert on the matter, since I've never slashed a seat with a knife. It just doesn't seem like it would be that much fun, especially with one of those tiny Swiss Army knives. It might be kind of fun with a really sharp chef's knife, but I wouldn't go out of my way to try it. Shooting holes though a seat with a semi-automatic machine gun might be worth trying, but it's probably very noisy, and it would make a big mess, and when you were all done, there'd be one less theater seat in the auditorium. So I think we should leave the seats alone. We should sit on them -- they exist for our comfort, after all -- but we shouldn't harm them. But that's just my opinion, and as I said before, I'm hardly an expert on the matter.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Necessary Ice

I just flew back from a week-end jaunt to the East coast and are my arms tired! (From all the flapping of my arms. It's an old joke.)

I flew out to celebrate my dad's 90th birthday, but I didn't fly by flapping my arms -- I decided to make the trip in an airplane instead. Or actually four airplanes, since I had to catch a connecting flight going there and coming back. And since it's fresh in my mind, I thought I'd share my experiences with you.

You may recall that I wrote a similar post about a year and a half ago, when I was flying back East for Thanksgiving. You may also recall that I referred to the same joke at the beginning of that post as well. I don't know why. It was never a funny joke. It's more like a classic joke. I probably first heard it more than 45 years ago.

And in answer to the question I often get asked when I mention that I'm going back East to visit a member of my family, no, I'm not from back East. The confusion might arise from the phrase "back East" which could be interpreted to mean that I'm going back to the East, implying that that's where I came from. But that's just a phrase. We don't say "back West" or "back South" or "back "North" -- we say "out West" and "down South" and "up North." I think the only reason we say "back East" is that this country of ours was established in the East.

Anyway, I'm from California. But my older sister and my dad live in different parts of the East coast. And even that's not quite accurate, since even though my dad lives in one of the states on the East coast, he probably lives about 400 miles inland.

But to get on with today's topic, now that that the airlines have lost so much money, they try to pass on as many costs as they can to the only people they can: the passengers. They've always been doing this, of course, except that now it's so much more overt. For example, it's almost impossible to pay for an airline ticket with frequent flier miles. It used to be simple: You accrued something like 20,000 or 25,000 miles and you could redeem them for a ticket. But now -- on United Airlines, at least -- they have the standard mileage award and some other kind of award. For the standard award, you only need 30,000 miles for a domestic round-trip flight, but there are so many restrictions and black-out dates that you can never actually use them. For the other type of award, it seems like the more miles you've accrued, the more miles you need to book a flight.

They don't serve complimentary meals on cross-country flights anymore, but they stopped doing that long before they started losing so much money. And to be honest, I don't think anyone minds. You can still buy a meal, but I've never seen anyone do it. So this was a wise move on the airlines' part.

I always buy my ticket online. I check in and print my boarding pass online as well. When you check in online, they give you all sorts of upgrade options, such as paying more for additional legroom, or faster check-in. I don't know what the faster check-in upgrade is all about, but it seems like a rip-off. And I used to think that the extra legroom upgrade was a big rip-off, but that was only because I chose that option on a small plane for a short flight, and I think I paid about $30 for an inch or so of extra legroom. I remember trying to get my money back from United, but they were unrelenting. And you don't want to complain too much to an airline, or else they'll put you on the national "no fly list" and screw up your life forever.

But this time, I decided to try it again on the two longer flights. It was $49 extra for each flight, and for that $49 you get about three or four extra inches of legroom. It doesn't sound like much, and at about $15 per inch it sounds like a rip-off, but it was well worth it, because those few extra inches make all the difference between feeling like you're trapped inside a tiny cage and feeling like you're trapped in a larger, more comfortable cage. All you're really getting for your extra $49 is the about the same amount of legroom they used to give you with a regular economy class seat about 15 or 20 years ago, but in this day and age of reduced expectations and increased corporate rip-offs, it feels like a luxury.

You don't get as much legroom as you would on a more expensive seat, but even if I had the money, I don't think I could justify paying out the wazoo or out the yin-yang for a business class or first class seat, respectively. And I'm not sure of this, so is the expression "out the wazoo (or yin-yang)" or "up the wazoo (or yin-yang)"? I had a brief discussion with my older sister about this, but I'm not convinced there's a right answer. I think they might each be correct in different contexts, which is to say that they might not be completely synonymous.

But here's another thing that made me think the airlines are in financial trouble. It used to be that no matter how short the flight, they'd still offer what they call "complimentary beverage service," but on the two short flights I took, they mentioned that since the flights only lasted about about 35 minutes, they wouldn't be providing that service. They did decide to offer us water on one of those flights, however. That's no big deal, and it's hardly worth mentioning, but what's more interesting to me is what happened on one of the longer flights.

But first, to put this whole thing in some sort of historical context, I have to mention that in the past, whenever they wheeled the drink cart down the aisle, I used to ask for orange juice. The flight attendant would then take a cup, fill it with ice, then pour the orange juice over the ice and hand me the cup. I realized I was getting approximately equal parts of orange juice and ice, so I started asking for orange juice with no ice. But then I noticed that if you order something from a can, they gave you the entire can so, for example, instead of getting about six ounces of orange juice, you got maybe 16 ounces of apple juice. So I started asking for apple juice.

But on my recent flight from Los Angeles to Washington DC, when I asked for apple juice, the attendant asked me, "Do you need any ice with that?" My first thought was that United Airlines must really be struggling if it's trying to save money on ice costs. Keep in mind that you used to explicitly ask for no ice. But this time I was asked not just if I wanted any ice, but if I needed any ice. Of course the answer is no -- nobody needs ice for a can of apple juice that's already somewhat cold, but I answered yes anyway, just because I don't want to see the day when they start charging passengers extra for ice.

And since you can't talk about airline service today without thinking about what it used to be like, I couldn't help remembering something that used to always happen in the late '80s and maybe early '90s. This had nothing to do with the airlines but with the passengers themselves. It seemed like about 20 years ago, whenever a plane landed, all the passengers would applaud. Well, not all the passengers -- I never applauded, for example, because I thought it was a stupid thing to do. I could see applauding if we were flying through a dangerous storm and the pilot had somehow managed to snatch the passengers from the jaws of certain death, but for a normal, everyday flight, there's really no reason for it. And I don't think the flight crew feels slighted if they don't get any applause -- I actually think they'd feel insulted if they were applauded. If some guy told you you did a really good job on something you didn't consider all that difficult, wouldn't you feel like he was underestimating your abilities?

Anyway, I'm glad that that embarrassing custom has died. I would have forgotten about it completely, but there was a woman on one of my flights who tried to resurrect that childish behavior. Fortunately, no one followed her lead, so her attempts at resurrection were unsuccessful. That made me feel good. It made me feel more confident about the future of the human race.

But here's some behavior that makes me feel a little bit worse about it. I never saw myself as the Law and Order type, but there are certain laws that I follow without question, because they make a lot of sense. For example, if the airline luggage policies state that carry-on luggage must be no greater than a certain size, I wouldn't try to stuff a bag that was two or three times that size into an overhead bin. But I saw that happen a lot. I don't know why the people who check the boarding passes as you enter the plane always look the other way when someone drags a huge bag behind him. There's rarely enough room in the overhead bins anyway, and when someone brings a huge bag aboard, the flight attendants just have to take the bag and check it in, which slows things down for everyone.

It's not that I don't sympathize with the passengers, by the way. The maximum size for carry-on luggage is pretty small, and you're only able to take one piece on the plane with you. So if you're going on an extended trip, you're probably going to have to check some of your baggage. Of course, that means you've got a pretty good chance of never seeing your baggage again, but that's just how things go: You pay your money and you take your chances.

Anyway, on the flight from Dulles back to LAX, when it came time for the complimentary beverage service, I asked for some apple juice and the flight attendant gave me some ice without even asking me if I needed any, but then she asked me if I wanted the whole can. So I inferred that United Airlines has no specific beverage policy, and I can only assume that the flight attendants were acting on their own rather than acting on orders from above.

Incidentally, on that flight, they came around twice with the beverage cart, and on the second time I asked for apple juice with no ice, which is actually the way I prefer it. When drinks are too cold or too hot, most of the flavor is masked by the temperature. So I never use ice when I'm at home.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Writing on the Wall

As you may recall, about a month ago, I mentioned that someone had spray-painted some graffiti in front of my house.

There was graffiti on the retaining wall, on the sidewalk near the wall, on the approach to the driveway, and on the streetlight adjacent to my house. I didn't mention this in my original post, but there was also some graffiti on the curb across the street from me.

I bought some graffiti removal products and went to work. The writing on the wall came off pretty easily, and the graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the wall came off pretty easily as well. I didn't have as much luck with the streetlight or the driveway approach, though. I removed most of the paint, but you can still see it. As for the curb across the street from me, I decided that that was my neighbor's problem.

So I took the advice of the person who commented on the original post: I called the Los Angeles County Graffiti Removal Hotline. They answer their phones 24 hours a day, so I thought it would be a simple matter to contact them, but the first time I called (sometime around 8:00 at night), they put my on hold and I never heard from them again.

So I went to their web site and filed a graffiti report online. Their online form also allowed me to submit pictures, so I included some of the pictures I'd taken. I waited for four or five days, but I never heard from them, so I resubmitted the report again. When they still hadn't contacted me a week later, I reasoned that their online form submission page might not be working.

They're supposed to get the work done within 72 hours of receiving the report, but they hadn't even contacted me yet, so I called them again. This time the woman was very helpful and friendly, but she told me that they didn't handle all of LA county, and she thought that the area I lived in might not be covered. But she wrote a work order anyway and told me that if the job hasn't been completed within three days, I should call back and give them the work order reference number, and they'd give me a local number I could call.

Three days came and three days went, but the graffiti didn't go anywhere. So I called back, but I got transferred to someone's voice mail. I told her the story and asked her to call me back with the number of someone I could contact locally.

Unfortunately, I wasn't near a phone when she returned my call, so she left me a message, and in that message the number she gave me to call was my own number -- the one I had told her to call me back at. I think she was a little confused.

So I called my city's Department of Public Works and asked them if they had a graffiti removal program. The woman who answered told me that if the graffiti was on city property, they'd take care of it, but if it was on my property, it was my responsibility to remove it. So I told her the three places on city property where the graffiti was.

When I mentioned the approach to my driveway, she told me that that was my responsibility. "Even though it's on city property?" I asked her. "Yes," she told me.

So I asked her about the curb across the street, and she told me that that was the homeowner's responsibility as well. "Even though it's on city property?" I repeated. "Yes," she repeated back to me.

Then I asked her about the streetlight. I didn't see how that could possibly be considered the homeowner's responsibility, and as it turns out, it isn't. "That's the responsibility of Southern California Edison," she informed me.

I suppose if the graffiti was painted on the walls of city hall, they might consider it their responsibility, but then again, they might not.

As for me, I'm going to hire a guy to remove whatever graffiti I couldn't remove from the driveway approach. I contacted him the day I first noticed the graffiti, and his bid for the whole job was a few hundred dollars. That seemed reasonable, but I figure it should be less now since I removed most of the graffiti myself. Of course, he might figure otherwise, but we'll see.

And if his bid is low enough, I may even have him clean the streetlight. I know I could call Southern California Edison and have them do it, but I've dealt with them before and trying to get them to do anything is more trouble than it's worth.

As for the curb across the street, that's still my neighbor's problem.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Swine Flu Pandemic

When I write something on this blog, I usually don't get a lot of feedback. And I know that if I stop writing on it forever, the world will little note nor long remember it.

It actually seems like I get more feedback when I don't write on this blog. It's usually from the same guy, but whenever I let a week or two go by without posting something new, he'll often remind me that I haven't written anything lately.

Another guy has told me more than once (which is to say, twice) that my posts are too long and rambling. I told him that was deliberate, but it didn't seem to make him any more interested in reading my blog.

So today, after not having written anything for the past two weeks, I will write a very short post on swine flu.

If you read the news, it seems the term "swine flu" will strike terror into the hearts of people around the world. As a matter of fact, before swine flu made the news, I'd never heard the word "pandemic" used so often in my life. But if you read the news, you also can't help noticing that a lot of doctors and epidemiologists are telling us that compared to many other flu strains, swine flu isn't actually all that terrible. Sure, maybe a few hundred people died from it, but thousands of people die every year from other types of flu.

Just for fun, I decided to see what information I could glean from the words themselves, and here is what I found: If you take the letters from the phrase "swine flu pandemic," replace the "w" with a "y," the two "i"s with two "o"s, the two "n"s with two "t"s, the "e" with an "o," the "u" with a "y," the "d" with an "h," and the "c" with an "l," and then rearrange all the letters, you'll get the phrase "mostly a lot of hype."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

I could have just as easily called this "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" but the Proust title popped into my mind first, so that's the one I'm going with.

I have a medical condition that requires me to get a CT Scan and an MRI every few months. Well, that isn't quite true, so let me rephrase it in a way that is. One particular treatment for my medical condition requires me to get a CT Scan and an MRI every few months.

As you probably already know, CT Scans used to be called CAT Scans. I don't know why they changed the name, but they did. "CAT" stands for Computer-Aided Tomography, so it makes sense to call a scanning method using this technology a CAT Scan. And when they were first introduced, that's what they were called, possibly to help differentiate them from DOG Scans. But somewhere along the way, that extra letter in the middle must have seemed too cumbersome, so they dropped it and the CAT Scan became the CT Scan.

As far as I know, MRIs have always been called MRIs. But that doesn't mean all MRIs are alike. In the early '90s, when I started having back problems, I had a few MRIs, usually whenever I popped a disc in my lower back. So I can speak with some authority when I say that MRIs are no fun.

As a matter of fact, one time as I was entering the tube, I had a mild panic attack. I'm not sure why, because I'd already had a couple of MRIs before and they didn't make me panic. The feeling went away pretty quickly, and the whole procedure took about 20 minutes, so brief panic attack notwithstanding, it was not an unpleasant experience.

People who have had MRIs usually complain about the loud throbbing noise or the claustrophobic feeling. Or maybe they complain about both.

I happen to like the noise, it gives me something to focus my attention on. You can think of an MRI as a huge percussion instrument that you're inside of, and you can think of the noise as beats, which you can divide any way you want. I suppose it's natural to divide them into fours or sixes or eights, but I sometimes like to count them out in fives or sevens or elevens, just to make things more interesting. And if that doesn't seem all that interesting to you, you should understand that there isn't much else you can do when you're all but completely immobilized inside a narrow tube.

So I like the noise, but I'm not wild about the claustrophobic feeling. As a matter of fact, that's what caused my panic attack in the early '90s. Some MRI facilities provide you with prismatic mirrored glasses that let you see at a 90 degree angle, so even though your eyes are facing forward, what you see is the opening at the end of the tube where your feet are.

When I learned I was going to have an MRI every few months, I bought a pair, but the truth is, I don't really need them, because it seems like MRI tubes aren't as cramped as they used to be. Either that, or I'm just getting used to them. Still, the glasses are pretty useful when you're first being drawn into the tube.

Anyway, I had a CT Scan and an MRI on Friday, which is why I'm telling you all this.

The MRI was pretty much like the previous one, except this time, after I was all strapped down and covered with supplementary magnets, the technician put some headphones on me so I could listen to music. I've never listened to music during an MRI before, and I didn't really want to this time, but I'm always open to new experiences, so I didn't voice any objections.

The music wasn't all that bad, by which I mean it could have been a whole lot worse, but it was as bland as music can be and still be considered music. It was insipid and uninspired "lite jazz." It didn't even deserve to be called "light jazz" because when music is this bland, proper spelling is no longer an issue. The music was streamed over an advertiser-supported internet radio station, so the ads were the reason for the station's existence and the music was just a means of getting people to listen to them. Remember the old adage "Corporate rock sucks"? Well guess what? Corporate jazz sucks too. What a surprise.

It was basically "easy listening" music with a saxophone, which might be just what some people want to hear when they're having an MRI, because it helps soothe and relax them. But it had the opposite effect on me -- I like music with a little more personality so it just made me annoyed. "Easy listening" music is safe and tasteless -- it's an easily-digestible lifeless mush that's designed to placate and calm you and make you a willing subject of our corrupt and cynical corporatocracy.

But even worse than the music were the advertisements I was forced to listen to. The first time they came on, I asked the technician if she could turn down the music, but I guess she didn't hear me. The technicians are in a separate room, and there's an intercom they use to communicate with you, but I guess they can only hear you when they flip the switch, and they only flip the switch when they want you to respond to a something they ask you. So basically, they can't hear you unless they want to. I was holding a push button that I was supposed to use in case of an emergency, but as bad as it was being forced to listen to advertisements, I knew it wasn't worth stopping the MRI for.

I can't stand listening to advertisements. They are one of the the most venal forms of noise pollution, and when I'm not stuffed inside an MRI tube, I do my best to avoid them. They're toxic waste for the ears. Whatever damage the radiation from all these scans is doing to my body, the advertisements are doing to my mind.

During my time in the tube, there were three sets of advertisements, but fortunately, the throbbing noises masked out most of them. But one time it was relatively quiet inside the tube, so I was forced to hear them. But at least I wasn't forced to obey them, because the technology for that doesn't exist yet. It's only a matter of time, though, so be prepared.

By the way, the MRI is supposed to take 45 minutes. That's what they tell you when you make the appointment, and that's what they tell you when the procedure begins. And for some reason I always believe them, even though they always last a lot longer. The one I just had must have taken about twice that long, and the previous one probably lasted about an hour and a quarter.

And that isn't just based on my subjective sense of time. It wasn't a matter of time appearing to pass very slowly the way it does when you're really bored or you're forced to endure excruciating torment and agony. It was more a matter of looking at my watch when I got there and looking at it again when I left.

I've tried to account for the time, but if it was only a 45 minute procedure, then things just don't add up.

I got there before 11:00, waited a short while before I went through the admissions process, and then I had the CT scan. The CT scan took about 10 minutes, but I sat in the waiting room for a while, so it was about noon when I was done.

Then I went to the MRI waiting room. I wasn't there for very long, but let's say I was there for a half hour before the MRI began. So if the procedure began at 12:30 and it only took 45 minutes, I would have been finished by 1:15, but the MRI wasn't over until 2:00.

So that's an hour and a half. And in case you're wondering what it's like being stuck inside a tube for an hour and a half, almost completely unable to move, well, let's just say that it isn't a lot of fun.

And another thing is, I've never liked wearing headphones, so being forced to wear them for 90 minutes didn't make things any easier for me. These were the big bulky kind that pilots wear. They fit over your ears, and if you had ears that stuck out before you put on the headphones, they'd be flush with your head by the time you took them off.

And here's something else you may find interesting (and by "interesting" I mean something you can occupy your mind with while you're crammed inside a tube): A lot of images had to be taken while I was holding my breath, presumably because each inhalation and exhalation would have moved my internal organs around a little and made the images turn out blurry. I didn't mind that -- it was never more than 20 seconds or so, but what I found amusing are the breathing instructions that the MRI technicians gave me.

For my previous two MRIs, the guy just said, "Breathe in and hold." And then 20 seconds or so later, he'd say, "Okay, breathe." It was simple and straightforward, with very little room for ambiguity.

But for the one on Friday, the woman said "Take a little breath and hold." So I took a little breath, but the oxygen I inhaled from that little breath was barely enough to sustain me for the entire 20 seconds. So all the other times she said it -- and she must have said it at least 20 times -- I took a bigger than normal breath. I just wanted to make sure I had enough air to last the full 20 seconds.

I don't know why she kept asking me to take a little breath -- maybe she thought that if she told me to take a deep breath, I'd puff myself up like a blow fish, or maybe blow myself up like a puffer fish. Whichever.

In any event, halfway through the procedure, they changed technicians for some reason.

The new technician didn't tell me to take little breaths. Instead, whenever he wanted me to hold my breath -- and I can quote him exactly because he must have said this at least 30 times -- he told me, "Breathe in. Hold it in. Don't breathe."

My first thought was, "Is he an idiot?" but then it occurred to me that maybe he didn't think I could follow simple instructions. I quickly dispensed with that idea, of course, and decided that he must talk that way to everyone, because perhaps some people don't realize that holding one's breath is exactly the same thing as not breathing. Or maybe he finds reassurance in all the redundancy somehow.

By the way, the previous time I had an MRI, they switched technicians halfway through as well, which further supports my assertion that the procedure takes a lot longer than 45 minutes. You don't change technicians in the middle of a short 45 minute procedure -- that's something you do for a long hour and a half procedure.

So the MRI took a lot longer than 45 minutes. That is an inarguable fact and I don't know why everyone who works there thinks it doesn't. Or maybe they just say it doesn't. Maybe they know full well that the procedure takes a long time, but if they tell the patients it only lasts for 45 minutes, then it won't seem so long. It is out of kindness that they lie to us.

On the other hand, maybe the constant exposure to high-powered magnets messes with their sense of time somehow. That, plus they spend all day in a suite of basement rooms with no natural lighting, so they never have a good sense of what time it is. It could be day, it could be night, or it could be any time in between, but they'd never know the difference because they can't look out a window. Their biological clocks could be broken beyond repair. Maybe time as we know it is nothing more than some intangible and incomprehensible abstract concept to them, like fractional-dimensional spaces or M-theory.

It makes a lot of sense, but do I really believe it? No, not necessarily, but those are the kinds of thoughts that pop into your head when you're stuck inside a tube for 90 minutes.