Sunday, November 29, 2009

the himmelskibet




Far up within the frozen north
beyond where many sally forth
there lies a monster to be won
far from the reaches of the sun

In shining ice it wields its arms
reflecting screams and pains and scars
the HIMMELSKIBET, it was named
by Norsemen, from whose toils it came

The beast was wrought of steel, they say
and stands five hundred feet this day
a score of men it flings away
e'er flirting with an icy grave

It catches them inside its grasp
and circumambulates the mast
a dozen times they glimpse while swing
the capital of Danish kings

But only men of honor dare
to challenge gravity in air
for death awaits them, ever near
with pointy teeth, and frightful fear

I was not one to shy away
for death could come on any day
and so, when unsuspectingly,
I faced it, I went willingly

In truth, we meant to find the ride
that roamed a man-made mountainside
but signs are hard to understand
when trav'ling in a foreign land

So at that place called Tivoli
my boss and I queued timidly
we did not care its heights to face
but would not leave and find disgrace

And thus it was, and so it passed
we beat the beast and held on fast
a thousand metal demons roared
we laughed them off; away we soared

Our children will hear of our deeds
of how we rose above the pleas
of those too sissy to ascend
and shouts of HIMMELSKIBET! lend

Monday, November 23, 2009

it doesn't work

That is easily the most annoying phrase in the English language.

Let's suppose that, instead of punking out and getting a lousy Master's degree in Engineering, you actually made something of yourself and went to medical school and became a doctor. Let's imagine what one of your consultations might look like, if you were then relegated to hell:

You: Ahhh, Mr. (looks at chart) Spadowski, what seems to be the problem?

Patient: Doctor, it doesn't work.

You: Right. What exactly doesn't work?

Patient: (becoming agitated) My arm doesn't work!

You: Ummm, what about your arm doesn't work?

Patient: (convinced the doctor is incompetent) It doesn't work!

I want you to take that conversation, repeat it ninety-three times, and put it in email, chat, phone, in-person, tickets, etc. That is what I do for a living. People look at me like I'm stupid and tell me it doesn't work.

There's nothing really wrong with reporting problems, of course, because most of them are valid issues, and need to be resolved1. But if you're about to report a problem, and all you can say is "it doesn't work", I'm going to stick my mouse up your nose.

Telling me it doesn't work is like pointing duck-billed Platypus and asking why. I don't even know where to start. There are a billion different things that could have happened to make you come running to me, teary-eyed, telling me it doesn't work. The server could have crashed. Canada could have invaded2. The earth could have exploded. You could have clicked on the wrong button. You could be trying to use IE to access the software (that better not be it, because the mouse is going somewhere else, given the number of times we've said to use Firefox). You could have logged in to the wrong service. You could have inadvertently inserted the (cartoonish and highly modified, thankfully) image of a peeing man into a script3. You could be looking at the wrong page entirely. Or we could have designed it that way intentionally.

So next time you're about to stand up, come over here, and tell me it doesn't work, please, I beg of you, I plead of you, take a minute to decide what exactly isn't working, and then convey that sentiment to me. I will then be free to ticket the developers and go back to writing.

1. And, make no mistake about it, looking at me like I'm stupid is almost always justifiable.
2. On multiple occasions, I have taken the liberty of blaming Canada. Canada has almost no connection whatsoever to my work.
3. This is not fictional.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

budgets

Budgets are an artificial device whereby people attempt to restrain themselves from spending money. This is, of course, futile, because budgets are made up of numbers, and numbers on paper are completely unenforceable.

A real budget might include the presence of your sister who lives off student loans while attempting to get food for herself, husband, and child. There's no way you would continue on your goal towards a donut-a-day if she were there when you were trying to decide between chocolate and maple1.

Of course, I love budgets! I have lots of budgets! That is, I have three budgets.

Budget A is the normal budget, or the 'buy whatever you feel like' budget. This is the best budget. This is the budget that brought us the non-fitting suit, the unused DVD writer, and the video camera that has recorded all of twenty minutes.

Budget B is 'partial spending restrictions'. That means I can buy what I need, and a few things that I want. Things like shoes. Or a cowboy hat. Or a dozen donuts. That is, pretty much the same as Budget A. Except with warm fuzzies for having 'restrained' my spending.

Budget C is 'extreme spending restrictions'2. That means I can't buy anything. Ever. Except maybe food. Budget C is typically marked by a diet consisting of generic mac and cheese for special occasions3, and yellowish spread and rice for all other meals. I do not recommend this diet.

People say that you should write down budgets on big spreadsheets and keep track of where your money goes. Nah. That's just not worth it. I mean, what is money for, if not to be spent? Isn't that why they print it? Who are you to deny its proper use? Would you obtain a mattress and then stare at it from the floor? You bet you wouldn't. Especially if that mattress were full of money. You'd tear it open and get that money to spend away. That's why you should ignore budgets.

You can add an element of efficiency in your life by putting money to its proper use in a quick fashion. I've evolved to a point where I can spent money as fast as I earn it, and when I'm really on the top of my game, even faster! There's nothing quite like the feeling of looking at your credit card statement to see a number higher than the amount you owe in student loans. It's then when I feel like I need to slow down and enact some balance in life. Sadly, it's difficult to incur more student debts, or I'd be able to get those numbers equal and balanced.

Of course, if you're really serious about not spending money, you could try a tip I learned last night in Gatwick Airport. Upon deplaning and finding myself in need of a ticket to board a train, I also discovered I had lost all recollection of my pin number. This would constitute Budget D, or the broke budget.

For a man who prides himself on his memory and on his number skills4, this was disheartening. I scanned through my memory, and was able to remember the pin of every card I've had in my life except this one. After that fruitless attempt, I went through number sequences, trying to identify the correct one by process of elimination. I knew it wasn't a perfect sequence so that eliminates a dozen possibilities. I knew it didn't contain my favorite numbers 21, 23, 221, or 223, so we were down to about 9,978 possible combinations. I think it starts with a 6? Maybe? I did learn that night that my bank will allow five incorrect attempts before locking your card.

Luckily, I had enough change on me to get a ticket on the slow train5. Let's hope the new pin comes quickly, because this rice is going to get old pretty quick6.

1. Or possibly other family members. A cousin of mine, much more self-controlled, intelligent, and mature than me once instructed me on how I could eat breakfast for eight cents a day. I don't know about you, but I spend eight cents just thinking about breakfast. He will end up wealthy some day, and I'll have nothing but the memories of frostees, pastries, and ill-fitting clothing to console me.
2. The first time I entered extreme spending restrictions was during my freshman year in college. As luck would have it, that was also the same time I walked by a Wendy's. Every. Day. If it weren't for the budget, I would have had to enact extreme eating restrictions, as I surely would have gone inside and ordered frostees, instead of waddling up and licking the windows, full of people eating deliciousness.
3. As an Economics instructor once said: "it's a sad day when you can't afford real mac and cheese".
4. The best pickup scenario in my life involved me asking for her number, then when she asked if I had a pen, I shrugged and said nothing but, "meh, photographic memory". She was obviously so impressed by this that she was intimidated during our eventual date, which is why she was next to silent, and pretty much ran away when I dropped her off.
5. Insert that joke about trains being brains and you got a slow one. Yeah, yeah, I know that one, no need to remind me.
6. Don't worry, I'm just joking around. I still have my US cards, which sometimes work (apparently not in airports, though).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

phobias

Many people in the world are hampered in their daily lives by fears, either rational or irrational. Though often tempting to insult people about their phobias, we should be respectful and loving and supporting of people with strange fears1. With love and compassion for all in mind, I present here some of the recently-diagnosed psychological phobias.

Aerolandipeeophobia

The fear of needing to use the use the restroom in the twenty or so minutes the plane is in its final approach and you are prohibited from using the facilities. This is the most physically uncomfortable of the fears.

Aeropudgeophobia

The fear of getting stuck next to a large, smelly, restless male on a long flight.

Aeropudgeopeeophobia

The fear of being blocked from the aisle by a large sleeping male, whose sheer mass prevents you from exiting the row in order to avoid the inevitable aerolandipeeophobia.

Callohottieophobia

The fear of being ruthlessly rejected when calling to ask a woman out on a date. Also related to awkwardnoophobia, the fear of calling a woman to ask her out and her one, sole, only response being 'no'2.

Converseophobia

The fear of getting stuck in a super lame conversation with an individual impervious to social signals, who then proceeds to dominate the discussion about the relentlessly inane topics of his or her choice. These topics might include a discussion on the numbers of digits of pi one has memorized.

This is the converse of callohottieophobia; that is, the rejecting woman is often subjected to converseophobia before being allowed to reject with the solitary 'no'.

Daneobikeophobia

The fear of being hit by a bicyclist while trying to cross the street in Copenhagen3.

Execurogueophobia

The fear of Sarah Palin becoming president4.

Mablogophobia

The fear that your mother will discover and read your blog, and thus be informed of your decade of non-practice of the piano.

Maidochangeophobia

The fear of the maid entering your room while you are in between the 'showering' and 'clothed' phases5.

Pazuckerbergophobia

The fear that your parents will join Facebook, then summarily friend you.

Peebroadcastophobia

The fear of needing to use the toilet in a crowded, yet quiet, house with a thin bathroom door and excellent acoustics.

Peladophobia

The fear of going bald before one is able to secure a spouse.

Shakeopeedophobia

The fear of shaking the hand of one who is not habituated to washing his or her hands after using the restroom.

Upstagedophobia

The fear of one's little brother, seven years one's junior, getting married to a wonderful woman and settling down prior to any semblance of a possibility of the same happening to the elder.

1. i.e., you should stop making fun of me for this stuff.
2. She said nothing after that on the phone call, and we didn't speak again for years.
3. It wasn't my fault I walked straight into oncoming traffic. I blame London for twisting my innate sense of traffic flow direction. Still, I would have apologized, but I'm afraid I didn't know how to say it. If you ever read this, angry female bicyclist, jeg er ked af.
4. My father and I we were talking about McCain's campaign, and he told me McCain would have won if he had changed one thing about his campaign. Before I could blurt out, "not pick Sarah 'I'm super crazy and unintelligible' Palin", he said McCain should have taken off her leash. I realized then we have diametrically opposed outlooks on life.
5. She did, but milliseconds after I had passed into the 'having pants on' phase.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

charities

While many people believe charities are organizations dedicated to the betterment of mankind (or dogkind, or hedgehogkind), this is only part of the truth. In what many have suspected but few have dared say, charities exist to spread guilt around the globe.

As children around the world grew up, and mothers lost offspring to meddle with via guilt trips1, they found a new vehicle for their guilt spreading in charitable organizations. While the goals of said organizations are certainly laudable, it's common knowledge by now that solving poverty is as impossible as creating a black hole underneath Switzerland2. Therefore, they decided to widen their scope into guilting. The world will feel the pangs of remorse!

When I walk by people asking for money for charities, I know those dudes aren't chumps. They're not out there pandering for their cause. They got up, put on their Wednesday best, stumbled through crowded chilly streets, just to be able to look at me as I walk out of the store, and stare me down for not donating my change for sick children3. There's no self righteousness like the self righteousness of the dude yelling at passersby "BUT IT'S FOR SICK CHILDREN"4.

This I can deal with. After years of inflating5 the amount I practiced piano, I've developed a thick candy shell around my heart, impervious to the guilt trips of strangers. What's much worse is when you get a personal invite from an acquaintance to donate to a good cause.

A dude at work sent around an email this morning, saying he was growing out his beard for the month of November, and was looking for sponsors6 for his chosen cause, liver cancer research, as his grandfather was just, ahem, diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.

Even knowing his granddad's days were numbered, my cynical sel laughed at his innocence, as he thought he would get me, ME, the PARAGON of guilt-avoidance rationalization, to part with a single pound just by a mass email solicitation. Imagine my shock when he started coming around the office, asking for donations.

I don't think I'm comfortable relating the entire interaction, but here's a taste:

Him: (smiling, chuckling awkwardly) Hey, do you have any English money?
Me: (please oh please oh please oh please let that piece of paper not be a signup sheet to donate) Ha ha!
(pause)
Him: (mumbles something)
(pause)
Me: (mumbling) I'll, ummm, stop by later. (looks at the ground)

I think it's safe to say that was the most awkward moment I have experienced since bowling in excessively tight and, I might add, very poorly stitched jeans7.

However, note how I promised a nebulous future donation. This is the mark of a master guilt avoider. If you're ever trapped up against that wall o' shame, slip in a promise like, "I'll stop by later", which doesn't really offer any specifics, any timeframe, or any chance of a donation8.

And mom, I'm sorry about the practicing bit.

1. I'm preemptively feeling guilt over writing that, based on her future phone call this week. It's a joke mom!
2. Though I, like all males, believe smashing atoms is worthwhile, it's not clear to me what finding the Higgs Boson will do for me, personally. And that's really what life is all about. Me.
3. It's sort of hard to claim not having money when walking away with a pair of Skechers. But, um, these Skechers are necessary so I can eat...or get food...or something?
4. I'm not joking. I don't know what it is about the UK, but I honestly pass people who harass me for donations.
5. So, inflating is possibly an inflation in itself. It's a sad day when you need to lie in your confession about your lying.
6. I am so not kidding about the sponsorship request for beard growing. And they apparently call this Movember? As he states in the email: Movember is an event whereby the person taking part agrees to not shave/grow a beard/moustache throughout November.
7. If you insist on making such a gaffe, might I suggest not wearing white underwear in a bowling alley lit by black lights? There's nothing quite like a glowing gash south of your navel.
8. I am, of course, joking. Please donate to charitable causes, especially the charitable causes that don't encourage their money seekers to pester me. And co-worker, should you ever read this, I promise, I'll think about stopping by.

Monday, November 2, 2009

bible maps

Though not technically part of the standard canon, the maps found in the back of some bibles are absolutely essential for a productive1 study of the gospel2.

While the maps indicate important locations and boundaries of ancient kingdoms, and thus help the astute religion hobbyist understand the geographic element of bible stories, their greatest benefit can be achieved only when the maps are used as a last desperate defense against the endemic boredom of Sunday school classes.

The correct use of these geographical aides depends on two prerequisites.

First, you must bring your scriptures to class. Many a newbie will incorrectly assume that bringing your scriptures to class will facilitate learning. That is not true. Scriptures are brought for their maps, which are useful for study during class. This study is often unrelated to the lesson topic, unless, of course, said lesson topic is "where shall Chris go on his next vacation?"

Secondly, you must find an opportunity to open your scriptures without appearing to open them solely for the purpose of containing your drool (and turning your dazed look into the devout study of probable flight paths from London to Munich3). You could wait until the teacher references a scripture4, or make a helpful comment based on a scripture you need to look up.

Once these prerequisites have been filled, you are home free and on your way to geographic bliss. Ponder the Israelite/Canaanite campaigns, and determine how you would have outflanked Joshua. Laugh at Reuben when you realize his tribe got like the worst land allocation ever. And lastly, trace Paul's travels and plan your own.

Sunday school is a wonderful place where wonderful people discuss wonderful things. If you fall short of wonderful, however, the bible maps were put in there for us.

And I'll see you in Seville.

1. Ummm, my definition of productive might differ slightly from yours, by the way5.
2. I'm sorry, but non-Christians, I sure hope they have maps in the Koran or Bhagavad Gita, or you're really missing out on something important during Sunday school. Errr, if you have Sunday school. Ramadan school? Shiva school? Sikh School?
3. That is, if you can pick out roughly where Munich would lie based on 2,000 year old Roman state boundaries and cities like Augusta Treverorum.
4. This can often lead to very long waits.
5. Productive (prəˈdəktiv): non-coma and/or tears of anguished boredom-inducing.