Showing. Again.

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(Of course this isn’t about shows at all any more — if indeed it ever was — but the title is a minor tradition, thus demonstrating exactly how dumb traditions can be.)

I’ve talked before — more than once — about how More Technology Is Not Always Better. In particular, I’ve talked at least four times about how this applies to arenas. (What can I say? I’m not afraid to tan the hide of a moribund equine.)

To recap: Once upon a time, when you went to an arena to play hockey (or some other sport) there was usually a sign of some sort, often on a blackboard or equivalent, that told you which dressing room(s) your group had been assigned.

Simple. Logical. Told you exactly what you needed to know. Dare I even say… foolproof.

Which means, of course, that it had to be changed. (I’m reminded of the old joke about a woman shopping for what used to be called ‘foundation garments:’ “Was madam comfortable? Could madam breathe freely? Did madam feel able to wear the garment for an entire day without distress? Well, clearly, madam needed a smaller size.”) So starting a couple of years ago (around here, anyway) ‘they’ started to replace the blackboards with large (because Bigger is Better) television sets that displayed the same information.

Or, rather, that sometimes displayed the same information.

A couple of weeks ago I arrived at the arena (the one 9 kilometres away) and the television set telling me where to go wasn’t particularly helpful. Heck, it wasn’t even working — instead of displaying a list of times, groups and room numbers, it showed only a corporate logo and a slogan. I guess it had crashed (something blackboards don’t do. Just saying.) so instead I went and tried the searching algorithm they tell you not to use in Computing 101. In other words, I tried doors in sequence until I found a familiar, er, face.  (Of course it was also cold, because being autumn in Canada they had CUT A HOLE IN THE ROOF. But that’s another story.)

A week or so after that I went to another arena (the one two kilometres away) and things started the same way: the TV set, the blank screen, the logo, the slogan, the lack of information. But that’s where it stopped, because there, on the pillar just to the left was a clipboard hanging on a hook. On the clipboard was a piece of paper. On the piece of paper someone had scrawled some room assignments in black marker. We were in rooms 4 and 5. Off I went. (If you care, it was a successful game — meaning I didn’t hurt myself and didn’t barf. Keep the bar low, I always say.)

On the way out I stopped to look at the TV one more time and reflect on the superiority of a four dollar clipboard over a four figure electronic sign. Speaking of which, it still said (with an almost tangible sense of pride)

Innovation in digital signage.

So that’s what ‘innovation’ means. Good to know, I guess.



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So last week we went to the farmers’ market.

I’ve mentioned it before. More than once. Heck, way more than once — so many more that I can’t be bothered to count. (I think I’ve only mentioned bedpans once, though.)

Anyway. We were at the market. (One of them — we have two within a couple of kilometres of the front door.)  And we were there for a reason — we needed groceries. And with half an acre of vendors, well, there were plenty of groceries available. While we were wandering from the organic greens to the heirloom tomatoes, though, I started to overthink things just a bit — I realized that I wasn’t sure where the apostrophe in ‘farmers’ went. Was it before the ‘s’ or after it? If ‘farmer’ was singular, then it would clearly go before. If it was plural — ‘farmers’, more than one farmer — then the apostrophe should clearly be after the ‘s’. Or should I be using an apostrophe at all? The AP style guide says I shouldn’t. (I think the CP Stylebook does too, but I’m not sure since I’m not willing to pay for access.) Grammar Girl says that it’s contentious. Strunk and White? The Chicago Manual of Style? I had no idea. Perhaps this is what Mrs. W meant when she talked about ‘genitive constructions.’  Maybe I should have paid more attention in her class. Maybe I should have paid some attention in her class.

And what constitutes a ‘farmer’ anyway? Probably the people reselling someone else’s produce aren’t technically ‘farmers’ but they’re at the ‘farmers market,’ no matter where the apostrophe may or may not go. But what about the apiarist? Is he a farmer? Or the maple syrup guy — what about him? Why does everything have to be so COMPLICATED?

It was about then that a farmer in the third row shouted at me:


Why do some people have to be so picky?

Her pink shoes frighten me.

The farmer

Waiting. Destroying.

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I’m not sure if I cheated or not.

This morning, Michelle challenged me to write for fifteen minutes using the third line of the last song I heard as an inspiration.


The last song I listened to was from the 1967 album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico‘ and I could find precious little inspiration in the third line of that particular song:

Up to Lexington, 125

which is a street corner in Harlem where Lou Reed bought drugs in the 1960s. While there are undoubtedly tons of stories associated with that buyer, that process and that corner, well, none of them are mine. So I dismissed this prompt and we went out to breakfast. After that we walked to the farmers’ market where I talked to a hippie, got shouted at by a farmer (maybe I’ll tell that story tomorrow) and glared at by a florist. Then we went to the store. Then home. Then a visit to the nice young lady that lives down the street. Then I broke into someone’s garage and stole stuff. Then I played a bunch more VU and websurfed dead physicists, dead (and not-so-dead) musicians and the price of heroin in New York City fifty years ago. (Plus some ‘adult‘ content of course.)

Somewhere in there I had an idea. Not an inspiration, but an idea. There was still no inspiration in the intersection of Lexington and 125th, but it occurred to me that the album came out at a significant (dare I say ‘pivotal’) time.


I did a little research (“I’ll take ‘celebrity deaths’ for 200, Alex.”) that told me that the album came out in March of 1967, barely a month after the death of one of the significant (Dare I say ‘pivotal’ again? It’s a little unfair but his name is often associated with two of the greatest shadows cast over the recent-ish past.) figures of the twentieth century.

I’m pretty sure that entire process took rather longer than fifteen minutes but how much of it counts as ‘writing’? Did I cheat? I have no idea. The fact that I posted this (if indeed I did post this) means that I don’t much care I guess.

Bob Oppenheimer (Apparently his nickname was ‘Opje’, not ‘Bob.’ My bad.) and I have two things in common. (If you don’t count ‘bad haircuts.’ If you do, we have three things in common.)

He was a physicist. Me, too. I mean, he was a much, much better one than me but technically we were members of the same ‘club.’ (Sort of like one of the things I share with Sam Carter.)

He was also a figure that destroyed things. Big things.

Hey, me too.

Except that, again, I’m underachieving. He ushered in science and technology of such potential — not a little of it destructive — that he brought significant change to the entire world. Me? Nothing nearly so grandiose or world-shattering.

I destroy blogs.

I don’t mean to, you understand. I don’t even understand how I do it. I just know that I do. Call it a knack, I guess.

How do I know this? Well, a while back I audited (saying that I ‘took’ it might imply a little more commitment than actually existed) a blogging ‘course’ from Werdpress. One of the assignments (that I sort of did, but in my usual half-assed way) made the claim/point/statement that blogging is a communal kind of thing and since it’s a communal kind of thing, there is value in ‘engaging’ with the community. So we were supposed to get out there and follow five new blogs. As it happens, I actually did what I was told.


One of that group of five is still going strong — a new post once a week or so. The evidence suggests that I didn’t disrupt her life or kill her blog. That’s nice.


Of the remaining four, one of these was by a prolific young lady with a nice writing ‘voice’ and a good sense of humor. I clicked ‘Follow.’

She vanished.

(Not completely, you understand. Just mostly. I think she’s posted once in the last year. So I didn’t kill her. Just her blog. And it may not be dead; it may just be resting.)

And then there was another young lady, somewhat less prolific but with a nice, somewhat self-deprecating verbal style. I liked her blog a lot so, as before, I clicked ‘Follow.’

She vanished too. (Again, not completely — while there were no posts in 2014 there has been one this year so she’s still out there.)

The fourth was another young lady with an impressive sense of the absurd who also apparently took the ‘Weirdness Magnetdisad. ( That second link appears to be intermittent. Suffice it to say that it’s fifteen points; you can buy a lot for fifteen points.) Again, I clicked ‘Follow.’

She didn’t exactly ‘vanish’ but her marriage ended and (understandably) she didn’t write much after that. Oh.

The last blog, well, after I started following her, the writer had significant health problems (not life-ending; after all, I kill blogs, not people) which slowed her down a lot and definitely changed her focus.

So. To recap.

Opje, the physicist (unlike me, a good one) who died the same year as the song I listened to, invented a device of mass destruction. I can’t destroy worlds but the available evidence suggests that I can destroy four out of five blogs simply by reading them.

And I don’t even get a cool quote.



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The other day I told a story about how a Person From Porlock wearing a golf shirt (Apropos to nothing, Google tells me there are five golf courses within twenty-five miles of Porlock. Good to know. I guess.) made me remember a story that I had forgotten. I then used that story to (a) babble aimlessly about ideas and where they come from, thereby boring several a few people to tears and (b) not incidentally, make the PFP (not this one) flee QLAB to the high ground. The joke was on him, though — the neighbor’s house is actually slightly downhill. Or so says the pink phone.

That story wasn’t the only one the PFP (or this one either) made me remember; it was all I needed to make him (nope) make like a tree, though. (I had no idea Porlock was so much better than Schenectady.) So after he (definitely not) left I still had an untold story. Who would I inflict it on tell it to?

Why, you of course.

The other story — the one I told him — was a cautionary tale about how his employer’s technical people weren’t always the earth-bound deities he had been told to tell me they were. Our first visit from one of these paragons wage slaves had proven that.

So, as a matter of fact, did the second. (And the third as it happens.)

Those two visits happened just under a decade later. Ms. Rose and I had decided that we wanted more windows and as a result we had a couple of guys (one of whom habitually wore shorts) come through the door every morning at 7 AM to smash holes in things. When they were creating a room to put the windows in, it became obvious that the telephone lines from the pole in the back yard would have to be moved — instead of coming in through a window on the south wall of the house, they’d have to come in via the east. Simple (dare I say trivial) to understand: move those two (2) wires from there to there. It happened while we were at work. When we came home the wires had been moved, a brand spanking new demarc had been installed and everything worked.


Wrong, actually. It didn’t.

I mean, it was close. (Ish.) One line worked flawlessly. The other, though, didn’t work at all. While .500 is unheard of for a batting average it’s uninspiring for moving two small things a small distance. I think we had seen this inability to count to two before and I wasn’t impressed then. I called The Phone Company.

“Hello? There was a guy at our house today to move two (2) lines. He only moved one of them and disconnected the other one. Nice demarc though. Shiny. Can we get this fixed because, you know, you’re not getting paid until it is.”

They said they’d send someone The Very Next Day. This time I was there waiting for him.

Wonder of wonders, the guy showed up roughly when The Phone Company said he would. Bonus marks for that. He didn’t really understand the problem, though, so I had to explain it to him.

“Hi. We have two phone lines. Well, we’re supposed to have two phone lines but today we only have one. Before yesterday both of them came into the house through that window (imagine me pointing) but because the guy in shorts (pointing again) is going to be building a wall (and again) that won’t work anymore so they (points at the wires) have to move to there (points at other window). The guy yesterday moved both wires but didn’t connect one of them. Since we’re paying for two phone lines we’d kind of like to have both of them.”

He didn’t look happy so I tried again.

And again.

And again. Clearly my strengths do not extend to clarity of exposition.

Eventually, though, he seemed to get it and went to work. It took him a good long while but it seemed (so he said) that what the guy the day before had done was move both wires but then cut one of them at the pole. What he was doing up the pole in the first place I couldn’t begin to guess. But the real question was could this guy fix it?

“Piece of cake.”

He went to work. After twenty or so minutes, multiple trips up the pole and several expeditions to his van, he said he was making progress. But then one of our neighbors came out of her house. Apparently her phone had just stopped working.

I bit back a snide remark about the definition of  ‘progress’ while he looked even unhappier and fled back up his pole. After another ten minutes or so the neighbor confirmed that her phone worked again, which meant that we were back to, not square one exactly, but at least an earlier square, one where the neighbors all had phone service even though we didn’t.

He still didn’t look happy (that seems to happen around me a lot) as he carried his ladder down the street and climbed a pole several lots over. (“That’s odd” said the guy in shorts “the first guy didn’t do that.”) He spent a long time up that pole then came back and climbed up ‘our’ pole again. When he came down he actually looked, if not happy, then a little optimistic.

“I think I’ve reconnected the cut wire. Now all I have to do is run it into the demarc and connect the demarc to your house wiring and it’s done.”

Sounded simple enough but after he spent time frowning owlishly at the grey box on the side of the house and at the wiring in the basement, he was back to looking unhappy.

“Is there a problem?”

“The other guy didn’t wire the demarc properly and I don’t have the hardware to fix it.”


“How long would it take to get the right parts?”

“I’m at the end of my shift so I can’t get it and come back because that would involve overtime and they wouldn’t approve it. Sending someone else would take an absolute minimum of a day. Probably longer.”

Oh again.

“Couldn’t you, you know, wire it straight into the house like it was before all this nonsense started?”

“I’m not supposed to do that. All homes that aren’t demarced are supposed to have one installed.”

“But we have one installed. It’s even being used. Does the rule say that you have to wire all lines through it?”

“I’m not sure what the exact wording is…”

“I won’t tell anyone.” (I guess the fact that I’m telling you now means I lied. In my defense, it was fifteen years ago and we no longer have a line from The Phone Company anyway.)

He wavered. You could tell he just wanted to leave. “Pleeze?”

He gave in, presumably so he could label the job ‘finished.’ He wired it straight into the house, bypassing the grey box entirely. He had the hardware for that.

And you know what? It worked.

So. The expert tech support moved two wires twenty feet. It took two guys almost two hours spread out over two days. They climbed two poles, disconnected two lines (and probably would have stressed out at least two bean counters if anyone had been foolish enough to tell them).

If my person from Porlock comes back, I’ll have to tell him that
story. I bet he wouldn’t appreciate it though.



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There are downsides to being a writer.

So I’ve been told. I mean, I wouldn’t know. I’m a babbler, I’m a scribbler, I’m a self-indulgent noodler. (Can you sing that?)

In other words, not a writer. At least, not a real one. Definitely not one with a capital letter. Despite not having personal experience in this area, there are tons of helpful people on the internet (Helpful people? On the internet? Are you INSANE?) who will tell you the downsides to being one. Some of them talk about the solitude. Some of them talk about the invisibility. Some of them just tell you that it’s too damned hard and you’re no good at it anyway.

Those look like some serious downsides, but are they really?  Take solitude, for example. I don’t mind solitude. I can turn up the music as loud as I want,. There’s never a line when I need to use the bathroom. I don’t have to share the remote. Solitude is cool.

Invisibility? Well, that’s something that affects everyone. Heck, even some of the most famous writers this county has ever produced have to struggle with invisibility (and not just because she’s shorter than you think). To the rest of us ordinary folks who live lives of quiet desperation, invisibility, well, it’s just the way things are.

As for being no good, well, you got me there.

How do I know I’m not a writer? Well, real writers wouldn’t take more than three weeks to produce fifteen hundred (1856 actually) words. And writers tend to get paid from time to time — I don’t, unless the definition of ‘from time to time’ includes ‘once in thirty-five years practically by accident.’ And I’m definitely not a writer because nobody asks me where I get my ideas.

Hm. Ideas.

They come from all over the place, that much I know. Neil Gaiman claims that they come from inside his head, but that’s clearly madness. Harlan Ellison claims that they come from Schenectady. A Famous Canadian Writer has said that sometimes story ideas come to him in dreams. And an Even More Famous English writer sometimes had them come to him in drug-induced stupors.

Of course, one downside of Inspiration — no matter where it comes from — is that it can be dispelled by a person from Porlock. Or maybe the phone company.

A week or so ago I was staring at an empty not-really-an-xterm window and looking for ideas when there was a knock at the door. “A politician” I thought. “This time for sure.

Umm, no. It was a twentysomething guy in a blue golf shirt bearing the logo of The Phone Company. Was I interested in purchasing home phone service? A satellite dish, perhaps? An internet connection?

Well, no. “We already have all of those.”

“But ours is better. The picture quality of our satellite service is unmatched in the industry.”

Hmm. I felt this necessitated a small lecture. So I talked about the differences between analog and digital and that, no matter what he had been told to say, his statement probably wasn’t true. I mean, to a first approximation, one digital TV signal is much like the next. I told him about watching The Alternative Factor on analog cable with both the vertical and horizontal hold nor working. I told him about all kinds of things. I think he started to look uncomfortable when I started discussing Shannon’s theorem.

There was a pause. He regrouped.

“Well, our service is cheaper than our competition.”

I didn’t quite read him the blog post I wrote on this topic, but I certainly delivered a nice (if I do say so myself) précis. I talked about phone services that cost five times what the competition charges, about the nice lady with big hair, about being a bovine. In short, I disagreed with him.

He looked cowed (moo!), perhaps even shaken, but still not beaten. He still had one more card that he’d been told to play.

“Our tech support is second to none. If someone has to visit your home, it will be a talented, highly-trained and experienced expert.”

Ah.  That card. I told him a story.

Once upon a time, this house (I patted the doorframe when I said this) had one phone line. One day we decided to add a second one — in those days some nerdy folks used these things called modems that you’ve probably NEVER EVEN SEEN to work from home, check email, jack into cutting edge virtual reality systems, stuff like that. A second line meant that you could do that and still be reached. Good stuff.

I checked the wiring; it was clear that the house had once had two phone lines because there appeared to be two sets of wiring. To my untalented, untrained and unprofessional eye, it looked doable. So I phoned The Phone Company and they scheduled a visit by a technician. (And by ‘scheduled’ I mean they told me ‘Someone will be there sometime on date X. Probably. Hope you’ve got a spare vacation day handy.’) So I sat at home, used the existing phone line to connect to work and hoped that no one needed to talk to me. Eventually there was a knock at the door. It was a guy with a tool belt.

“I have a work order to install a second phone line.”

Cool. I let him in and showed him around. “The house has phone jacks in these four rooms. I’d like a jack for the second line installed right THERE please. Also one right THERE. That one’s right next to an existing jack so with luck you won’t need to string any new cable.”

He frowned. “Let me see your basement.” I showed him the basement. He looked at the wiring blocks, frowned and reached for his tool belt. He looked confident. After ten minutes or so he said “Let’s go upstairs.” We went to the first floor. He looked at where I wanted the jack, frowned and reached for his tool belt again. After ten minutes or so he said “Done.” We plugged a phone into the new jack. It worked. Score. “Now the second floor.” We went to the second floor. He looked at the existing jack, frowned and… (did you guess?) reached for his tool belt. After ten minutes or so (surprise!) he said “Done.” Yay!

We plugged a phone into the new jack. It worked. Looked good.

Then we plugged a phone into the jack that been there already.

It was dead. Nothing. Nada. Not good. I ran to the other room on the second floor with a phone jack. It wasn’t dead, but it turns out it was connected to the wrong line. H’m. It looked as if, in the process of giving me a jack for the new line, he had disconnected one of the existing second-floor jacks and rewired the other one. Unfortunate.

Back to the first floor. Look in all the closets. Back to the basement. Back to the tool belt.


He looked at me.

“I’m pretty sure you just disconnected everything on the second floor.”

You could tell that he didn’t believe me. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m pretty sure. Humor me, please. Let’s go check.”

We went and checked. Every single jack — old and new — on the second floor was dead. He looked unhappy. Back to the basement.


He looked at me.

“I’m pretty sure you just disconnected the first floor.”

You could tell that he didn’t believe me but he agreed to check and sure enough, every jack on the first floor was dead. He looked even unhappier.


Back to the basement.

After twenty minutes or so (and two more exclamations of ‘Stop’ by me), things were close. The old jacks on the first floor worked. The new jack on the first floor worked. The old jacks on the second floor worked. The new jack on the second floor?  Dead. As a doornail. (And what the hell is a doornail, anyway?) Impossibly, the technician looked even unhappier. He climbed into a closet on the second floor, pulled a panel off the wall and stuck his head through the hole. Time passed.

“Well” he said “it’s not going to work. One of the wires is cut somewhere and I can’t tell where.”

A quick aside: In The Olden Days, home telephone wiring was typically done with quad (four strand) cable. A phone line used two wires; typically the first phone was put on the red and green ones. The other two wires (yellow and black) could be used for a second line (although there were circumstances where this might not be a good idea) or as spares if something broke or otherwise damaged the red or green wires. He had concluded that there was a break in either the yellow or black wires so a second line on the second floor was impossible with the existing wiring.

The Phone Company was willing to redo the wiring at additional cost, of course. But he couldn’t do it — I would have to call and make an appointment. Better find another vacation day.

“Umm, no” I said. “I think we can make this work.” He nodded and looked happy for the first time — he was going to get out of there. No more know-it-alls yelling “Stop” — paradise. He and his tool belt walked to the van with the logo on the side and drove off.

I went back upstairs to clean up — he had left the panel off the wall, for example. I climbed into the closet he had been sitting in and stuck my head through the hole. Right there was a junction box — one cable arrived from the basement and two others snaked off from it to the two rooms on the second floor. Seemed simple enough. The cable from the basement had three wires connected to terminals in the junction box.

Wait, what?

The fourth wire — the black one if I recall correctly — wasn’t connected to a terminal. It wasn’t connected to anything — for some reason it was just wrapped around the junction box.

Whaat? This is what the guy had been staring at when he concluded there was A BREAK IN THE WIRE SOMEWHERE?

I unwrapped the black wire and screwed it onto the black terminal on the junction box. And suddenly everything worked.



So the technician had come to my house, had disconnected existing phone lines AT LEAST FOUR TIMES, didn’t know it until I told him and had interpreted an obviously disconnected wire as being broken.

The conclusion, I told the twentysomething guy in the blue golf shirt, was that I wasn’t sure that I would call The Phone Company’s history of tech support as being uniformly excellent. Certainly nothing to brag about.

The twentysomething guy in the blue golf shirt — my person from Porlock — looked stricken, couldn’t think of anything to say (maybe he was just bored — that happens to me a lot) and went to the next house.

And that’s where I get (some of) my ideas.

Still not a writer, though.