Sunday, July 29, 2012

A WTF Saturday.

Stepping outside, I began yesterday morning with: Why couldn't my car passengers take just a few minutes last night and close the car's door? Wait a minute! Why did they leave my car's truck slightly open?

Bewildering observations. Then a sudden realization. All followed by a sicken feeling in my stomach. I rushed around to the other side of my car and found, proudly saluting me, a raised gas tank cover. Someone had tampered with every car door, including the engine hood.

Inside the car, strewn across the passenger seat, sat the contents of the glove box. Yet, from that pile of lamps, fuses, gum, and state-required paperwork, nothing was missing. That's when my anguish turned into incredulous curiosity.

I frantically searched through my car, taking inventory. Yet, only a small, $15 FM transmitter, used to play my music on the car's radio, had been taken. Everything else was intact: audio cords, USB adapter, a traffic camera that I was testing for work. The gas tank guage still showed full. My tools and a power inverter remained safe in the truck. The battery from the engine compartment appeared untouched. The thief even left my spare change, mostly quarters, in the ashtray. Aside from my FM transmitter, my car wasn't attacked by a thief; it was ransacked by a practical joker.

I won't mind if someone broke into my house and stole all my dirt and trash. If only all thieves could be so pleasant. I would leave my doors unlock. I would wait as a child waits in hushed excitement for Santa Claus, full of hope that a thief would visit and steal my home clean. That would be a Christmas miracle! And we should all be so lucky.

So, why did some stranger break into my car? Instead of detailing the interior and washing the outside, they only left a mess.

So as my sphincter-tightening adventure ended for the day, I closed all the car doors and went for a spin. Then I stopped twirling around and drove my car. It ran fine. I felt better. Still a little violated, but better.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Coming to terms

You have probably realized that much of Life is a gamble. Eating without choking. Driving without crashing. Listening to music without being Beiber-ized.

And then you have insurance companies trying to bet you that you are not going to die. Of course, we all know that you will win that bet. The downside - among many - is that you can't enjoy your winnings.

Yesterday, my insurance company up the ante as they raise the rates of my term insurance. I was expecting this. They fully disclosed the timing of rate hikes in the original term insurance quote. Like a poker game, the policy said, "When we see that you survived another decade, and, given that you'll be over 50, we'll rise the pot by another $50 a month".

So the game continues. I just can't believe that ten years has already slipped by. While I'm still ahead of a gamble, I really don't want to cash my chips in just yet. I have a few "rolls of bones" left in me.

The downside of speed reading.

The Internet article read "Queen tours Olympic Park after debut as Bond Girl". But I read the headline too quickly. When I saw "Queen", I thought of her age, and read "... debut as Bond-o Girl". Oh! No wonder she looks to be in great shape! The healing power of bond-o! It fixes dents on cars and royalty.

But I wrong. Her majesty got to play the part of a Bond girl while appearing with the latest incarnation of James Bond: Daniel Craig. I'm not sure if I want to see the seductive murmuring of a bikini-clad, 86-year old woman. But she is the queen of England, and sometimes "it's good to be the queen".

Frantic Friday Fun

On Friday, my work day drew to a close as it usually does: my boss bursting into my office at 3 PM with a frantic "I have something important that will only take a few moments for you to handle".

One of my wishes is to get assignments that actually take "only a few moments to handle". But Fridays consistently prove that my fairy godboss still isn't granting any wishes.

Actually, my gracious overload - sorry, my boss - had two "little somethings". The first concerned a device known as "accent lighting". Basically, a piece of fancy electronics that you attach to the bottom of your car door. When you open your door, these lights illuminate the ground so you don't trip getting into your car. These handy gadgets work even better at night. This cool accessory is extremely popular with the cool guys and their cool cars so they don't become clumsy oafs when with their cool dates.

The second crisis involved a trailer hitch module that I had worked on over five years ago. It would detect any obstacles behind your truck and warn you. My little baby would also shut itself off if you had your trailer attached - after all, who wants an annoying electronic device that constantly reminding you of your attached trailer. (Although, if you're going down the road and your trailer falls off, the sudden silence would be an excellent indication that you should pull over and watch the little adventure you just caused.)

With all modesty, I must humbly say that my trailer hitch design was great. It was going to revolutionize the trailer hitch accessories industry. Five years ago, it cost less than $40 to make. Yet, as great as my cheap work-of-art was, management killed the project. In their brilliant minds, the manufacturing cost for everything should be no more than $1. So, even though they planned to sell my baby for $90, the powers-that-be deemed that they wouldn't make enough profit.

My boss's crisis were, in fact, about the profit of his two "little somethings". His boss wanted a detailed report about how we would (not "if it was possible to") make the accent lighting device and the trailer module for a dream-world dollar. And he wanted the report by 5 PM.

I gently reminded my boss that even a small electronic project takes at least 2 weeks of proper research, design, and development work. He came back with, "How hard can it be to look up a few parts, and throw something on a piece of paper? We don't even have to worry about testing." Oh, that's right. I keep forgetting that we shouldn't worry about safety issues. After all, that's why we have customers.

He left after I told him I could give him a very, very rough estimation of the projects' details by Monday (free time during the weekend is highly over-rated anyway). An hour later he called my phone. "Don't worry about those projects," he said. "My boss decided we can get something from China in a couple of weeks." Great! For the past three years, we've had to re-engineer several boatloads of botched products from China. Those added costs never seem to make it into management's manufacturing reports.

Oh well. Just another Friday to make me feel secure in my employment. I feel so much safer too.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Writing For Peanuts?

How much can freelance writers make? According to a couple of writers' blogs, competent freelancers should have no problem earning at least $1 a word. To me, this sounds promising for a career change.

For planning purposes, a work-year consists of 2080 hours. (Of course, as a salary-paid peon, I work closer to 3000 hours a year without any overtime.) So ... if I can create 100 sell-able words an hour during a "normal" year, that's a hefty pay raise to $208,000!

Ah, I can dream.

I say this because I visited a couple of popular work-for-hire sites. Their jobs offers expect you to be happy with a tenth of a penny per word. Yes, some jobs are much more generous with a penny per word, but even with those high payers, I still couldn't support my family of four on $2080 a year. Who can?

Well, someone must be. Those low-wage gigs have tons of people submitting proposals.

How is that possible? For one reason - the bulk of responses to these slave-wage jobs are from people in countries where you can live comfortably on pennies a day.

So how is $1 per word earning possible? Do you have to spend $0.99 a word looking for work? Or, do you just have to have lots of blackmail material on your prospective clients?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Careful What You Type.

While Facebook monitors our chats for criminal activity, I won't let that stop my minions and me from our plans of world domination. No police force can stop us now. No military will prevent our crushing rule. No force will ... hang on a minute. There's someone knocking at my doo........

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A well-hinged post

Today, my assigned challenge is to use the phrase "piano hinges". Originally, this long bearing attached pianos to their lids. However, piano manufacturers soon realized they had the blueprints upside down. After correcting that little oversight, builders began placing lids on finished pianos. Soon, the instrument went on to become quite popular - especially since everyone could now easily access the keyboard.

Today, piano hinges are used in many industries. For example, by high-strung carpenters to keep themselves in tune to their surroundings. Also, by stagehands during those intense dueling piano competitions where the competitors tended to become unhinged.

Surprisingly, this sturdy piece of hardware is also used by government contractors working hard to pad their overpriced projects. In fact, several of the military advanced jet fighter have piano hinges for that concert-hall, surround-sound experience that our pilots crave (when background music isn't available).

And, here's a little known fact that I just made up: did you know that Air Force One uses piano hinges, and not only in the plane's piano lounge? I didn't know that either until I read it … just now. Right here. Thanks for stopping by.

I need a fake ID and tattoos.

Standing in line at the store today, I'm at that awkward age where I need a fake ID. Either I need to show that I'm younger than I am, or that I'm old enough for a senior citizen discount.

My girlfriend thinks I'm just being silly about our age. In fact, she is thinking about joining the crowd and getting a little ink added to her body - just a little something to make her hip and trendy and sophisticated. I suggested having the word "Gucci" tattooed under each of her eyes so she can walk around with a pair of designer bags.

You'll be happy to know that I regained consciousness shortly after that loving suggestion. If I keep make suggestions like that, I may need a fake ID from the "Witness Protection Program". Make that the "Witless Protection Program".

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Honest, this really happened

The following actually happened a couple of days ago. It's taken me a little time for my bruised ego to heal so I could write about it ...

So there I sat, patiently waiting my turn. My attention focused on a woman's home-and-garden magazine as I read about the "6 ways to please your plant." (You never know when you might be married to a frustrated vegetable. And I've already gone through one marriage to a fruit cake. So I was preparing myself. As I climb that relationship ladder, I just might be able to move from the dessert section up to the plant kingdom in my quest to that top rung where a real woman awaits.)

So there I sat in the hair salon, waiting, reading, comfortable, when a flash of lightening stuck outside. Then, the usual boom of thunder and the flicker of electrical power. "Oh no!" shouted one of the hair stylists, "The air conditioner has stopped." A few minutes later, she announced further disastrous news, "The temperature has gone from 77 to 79! Call someone! Quick!" Knowing what could happen next, I buried my face deeper into the magazine.

All I wanted my hair cut. And by the same woman who has dealt with my mane for these past 15 years. Because she does such a good job, I've tried to keep my business with her at all costs. Even when the bad economy of a few years ago forced her to close her barber shop and move. Even when she set up a new business in this den of old, blue-haired ladies, highlighted gossip, and permanent drama that would curl your hair. And your lips.

So there I sat, reading, not as comfortable now, ignoring the commotion, and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Then my area became noticeably dimmer. One of the stylists - an immense gal with a butch haircut - stood in front of me, eclipsing the light. One of her chubby hands on her ample hip, her other hand - surrounded by charm bracelet charms of the Venus symbol, NOW letters, and an intimidating feminist logo squeezing the life out of a limp Mars symbol - pointed at me. The charms jangled in rhythm with the jiggle of her forearm's loose flesh. In a loud, accusatory voice, she said, "You're a man! What are YOU going to do about this?!"

I never felt so violated in all of my life (aside from that IRS audit). I just want to be loved for my brains, not for my brawn. (Ok, for my brawn, too.)

I stood up. Slowly. Around large, angry mammals, I know the importance of the "no sudden movement" rule. "I'll reset the circuit breaker," I said, avoiding eye contact. "This might reset the air conditioner. The lights will go off for a few seconds, but they should come back on." The other women silently nodded their approval as I strolled to the back room.

I flicked the breaker. Even with my warning, a woman screamed. "Maybe someone took advantage of the momentary darkness and use a pair of scissors in a merciful manner," I thought. But no. Upon returning, the only murderous act I found was some old lady's hair dyeing.

With mounting hysteria in her voice, another woman reported on our impending doom. "It's at 81 degrees now!" she said with the drama of a soap opera.

I opened the front of the shop just as the store owner from next door opened his entrance. "Is your A/C out?" I asked. With the brevity that only comes from the Y chromosome, he motioned with his chin, grunted "Yep", and surveyed the darkening sky.

A brilliant bolt of lightening interrupted our manly chat and killed all the power to the building. From the darkness behind me, I heard the wailing and cursing as the ensuing apocalypse stampeded towards the door, towards the fresh air, towards the beckoning daylight. I did what any gentleman would have done (and any one with a sense of self preservation), I quickly stepped aside.

So, finally, there I stood, uncomfortable, and rescheduled my appointment by the glow of a flickering cell phone. Of course, maybe a smarter man would consider a different time and place for a haircut that involves less drama - say, a trim using a high-powered fan and an electric weed-whacker. Maybe I could suggest this to my stylist and ask her to come to my house. I wonder if she likes vegetables.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

stupid birthday card selections ...

Dear Friend,

Happy 55th birthday! I'm sorry I didn't give you a celebratory card. When I went shopping, the birthday card aisle had "happy 48", then "happy 49", followed by "get well", and "sympathy". Since I've crossed that half century mark myself, I left store rather discouraged.

Given the card selection, I hope to see you next year ...

Cars, Guns, and Money

My Nissan Stanza Wagon served me well for 13 years. Then one day, after 405,000 miles of faithful service, it refused to go any further. So I shot it.

Sorry, just kidding. Besides, the town has ordinances against its citizens shooting defenseless vehicles. That's why we have a police force who love target practice on unarmed cars. (That story is for a later post.)

No, I turned my Nissan over to a car donation service and bought a new Hyundai Tiburon, a venerable win-win: I had new car AND a tax write-off for the year.

Now after 11 years of equally faithful service, my Tiburon is becoming a little cranky about being used. You would think that after 307,000 miles, the car would be broke-IN and not break-ING. But that's the difference a "G" makes, and I need several G's to pay for some upcoming, costly repairs.

Of course, for many more G's, I could get a new car. I also understand that souls in hell want a drink of cool water, but that's not going to happen either.

Stay tuned ...

Friday, July 06, 2012

Haunted By My Failures.

Once upon a time, I planned to become very wealthy with my artworks. Not the "Vince Van Gogh" wealth where I have to die first. That would make paying my bills while alive very difficult. No, I wanted to focus on the "Thomas Kinkade" road-to-riches. All he did was create a few whimsical scenes of dusk surrounding well-lit homes inhabited by people without concern over their electric bills. Mr. Kinkade has such an appealing niche - even electric companies would buy his creations for their greetings cards to send to their customers. "Merry Christmas! Look how comfy and inviting this home is with the heat on high and the lights all lit up. This could be you! Think about it this happy season. Love, your Power Company"

So, all I had to do was to fill a niche and easy money would be within my reach. Just a few specialized paintings for a few special people - those with more money than sense. I picked a marketing nook: the popular trend of sparkly vampires and the supernatural spirits.

My first composition showed nothing more than a dimly lit room with a few pieces of dusty furniture. I called it "A Family Gathering of Happy Ghosts".

Apparently, only ghosts enjoyed the canvas because not a living souls said a word. I then realized my rookie mistake - the public gets excited by titillating works posing as art.

So I made my second painting more risque: a dimly lit room with a large, drab covered bed and a few old, dingy chairs around it. I called this master piece "Still Life of Nude Ghosts".

Again, not a word from the community. Not even a mention in any hoity-toity art magazines.

But of course not. Obviously, I wasn't being hip or modern enough. No one cares about ghosts these days.

So my third, most ambitious mural showed a dull doorway opened to, you guessed it, a dimly lit room that held a large mirror on the wall. I labeled this wonderful work "Nude Woman Vampire Admiring Herself In A Mirror". To make it even more daring, I added a voyeuristic aspect by framing the canvas in the shape of a keyhole.

Again, not so much as a boo from anyone. Had I stupefied my potential patrons into excessive awe? No. I finally realized why my brilliant works would never reach the popularity they deserve: my paintings were too realistic.

And maybe the rooms were too dimly lit ... by Kinkade standards, anyway.

in training, sort of

Does anyone know how long you need to wait between sets of a workout routine? Is 10 years too long?

It's not that bad. I haven't completely rested during this time. I did a little lifting during these past 10 years. You probably know that those fine, hand-rolled cigars weigh several ounces. So while one of my arms curled that fine stogie between my mouth and the ashtray, my other arm hoisted a heavy mug of ale repeatedly from the table to my ever-so-thirsty palette. Both of those heavenly items as full-bodied as I am … now.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Andy Griffith was the last straw.

What is going on?! Listen, you guys - you know who you are, such as Richard Dawson, Ray Bradbury, Bob Welch, Doc Watson, Robin Gibb, Donna Summer, Vidal Sassoon, Maurice Sendak, George Lindsey, Adam Yauch, Dick Clark, Andy Rooney, Mike Wallace, Thomas Kinkade, Michael Hossack, Patrice O'Neal, Ronnie Montrose, David Jones, Etta James, and now Andy Griffith - this is too much! What kind of example are you trying to set for the us? Get rich, famous, and then kick the bucket? What kind of role models are you trying to be?

I must say with the deepest respect and sincerity: Stop it! I know that life tends to take its toll. Heaven knows there are many a day that I can barely drag myself out of bed. But, good grief! You seem to forget that many of us are working hard to achieve your kind of success. What good is it if you guys people keep trading your fame and fortune for an eternal dirt nap?

What if the rest of us decide to do the same? "I think I'll give up my hamburger flipping job today and die." Ok, bad example. No, wait. It's a good example. We go to our flippin' jobs because we hope our hard work will pay off into a better life - like what you famous folks have ... and had.

So could the rest of you admirable heroes be so kind as to please refrain from dying? That might give the rest of us mortals some hope. Thank you!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mr. Know-It-All explains the Supreme Court ruling.

I know some of you are confused about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the health care law. But let's see if Mr. Know-It-All can help. Since he only has few minutes, we could only get brief answers to a few important questions:

Q: What does individual mandate mean?

A: The Supreme Court has confirmed what we already knew: a single man has the constitutional right to ask any woman on a date. He can ask her on a man date repeatedly, if necessary. The health coverage part comes into play if she slugs him or resorts to mace. Hopefully, he has insurance.

Of course, Mr. Know-It-All is just kidding. This complicated high-court decision is based on the legal definition of the key word, "individual", which is Latin for "what is the loneliest number in whole wide world."

Thus, one man can date himself without any fears or repercussions as he sits by himself at that table of shame in the restaurant. And so, constitutionally, as long as our single guy is healthy enough to sob quietly into his beer as he pretends to read a book, no one has to care and no one has to pay for his meal. (At least, not until universal restaurant care goes into effect.)

The issue of group man dates - such as going to baseball games with the fellas, hunting with your best-est buds, or wearing blacks robe together at work - will be taken up by the Supreme Court after their wives let them out of the house. Assuming that the women justices are ready to allow the men and their shenanigans back into court.

Q: I can't afford the "affordable" medical premiums, and I can't afford the fine for not buying insurance. Do I have any other options?

A: Yes, you can get elected to Congress. Not only will you then be exempt from this and many other laws, you can then retire with full pension for life after 4 short years. What better deal than to make rules for others that you don't have to live by, AND get paid forever!

Q: How many new doctors will the healthcare provision add?

A: Zero. However, we will see about 16,000 new IRS agents, who are rumored to also act as a proctologists. Or as hemorrhoids. Painful either way, unless you become a member of Congress.


Stay tuned for more questions and answers ...