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I have said before that there are things that confuse me. I’m confused by spice racks. (More generally, I’m confused by the entire Retail Experience.) I’m confused by fashion. I’m confused by perfectly well thought out theories that suddenly (and catastrophically) fail. I’m confused by geography. I’m confused by health care.

Fortunately, un*x provides easy-to-use tools that tell me ‘confusion’ is a common theme in everything I’ve ‘published’ here. (Possibly even more common than ‘public urination.’ That’s pretty common.)

grep -i confus blog.postings | wc -l

Yesterday I went to the supermarket; it’s just up the street — 2.4 kilometres away. (Before you ask — supermarkets confuse me.) Just as I got there and parked, my phone uttered its happy little ‘you have a new text message’ sound. (Technology confuses me.) Turns out it was from my cell phone carrier. They wanted to tell me that I had ‘ventured into an extended coverage area’, was now ‘roaming’ but would not be charged any extra fees.

The supermarket is ‘extended coverage’? It’s not another country or anything — it’s at the mall up the street. But you know what? If you treat malls, shopping and everything retail like a foreign land then that would explain a lot. I’ve long known that parking lots contain madness and trauma so I tend to avoid them. Apparently, though, epiphanies can also (sometimes) be found. I guess I’ll have to modify my behavior. Or think about modifying my behavior. Or something. Maybe.

Pondering this potentially life-changing insight kept me occupied while I shopped for bananas, berries and boxes that contained things that  started with the letter ‘b’. (Last night was a ‘b’ dinner.) While on the way to the ‘box’ aisle, I passed a huge pile of ‘b’ags of rice. On sale. ‘B’ig sale. ‘B’ig ‘b’ags. How big is ‘b’ig? ‘B’ig enough that each ‘b’ag probably contained something on the order of fifty meals. “That’s a lot of rice” I thought. “Even though it’s a good price, technically ‘rice’ doesn’t start with a ‘b’ so I won’t get any.”

That’s when I noticed something else: on top of the pile was a sign. Apparently there was a per-person limit of ten (10) ‘b’ags. So I could only buy five hundred meals worth of rice at a time.

Fortunately I wasn’t confused. Foreign country, remember?


Majoring (in disaster)

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My Bookshelf of Role-playing Games contains roughly three dozen of them, spread out over two and a half metres of shelf space. There are rulebooks, supplements, sourcebooks, modules, notebooks and binders, the latter two full of largely illegible handwriting that no human being on earth will ever be able to read (and that includes me). Various genres are represented in this almost Trumpian wall of deficient socialization — fantasy, science fiction, scantily-clad women with gargantuan firearms, interdimensional invasions by cybernetically enhanced religious fanatics, bio-engineered monsters from the future, stuff like that.

And superheroes. There are five of those. (Even more if you use a slightly, um, ‘relaxed’ definition of what exactly constitutes a superhero.) Those five N games describe different worlds, styles, levels of ‘realism’ and powers — powers that range from ‘Analytic Smell’ to ‘Withstand Bagpipes’ (though it occurs to me that that may be a Skill, not a Power. Whatever.).

It occurred to me that, while I don’t have any of those (though I do kinda like bagpipes) I do have a Power — maybe even a Superpower. I don’t think it’s in any of my books, it’s not particularly useful and it takes a -2 Limitation (‘No conscious control’) so it’s even less useful.

I’m not sure of the limits of this power but I know some of the things it can do:

That last one is probably one of the reasons that I’m not particularly fond of travel.

To be clear, I’m not completely averse to going to new places or seeing new things but I don’t exactly care for the process of getting to them. Because there are significant opportunities for bad things to happen — I’ve talked about some of them. I’ve talked about spending the day in an airport four thousand kilometers from home because of a ramp. I’ve described the ‘fun‘ of sprinting through a crowded airport because airlines think that’s better than treating Little People like, well, people. I don’t think I mentioned the joy of scampering through an airport in sock feet searching for a sink. (Executive summary — there wasn’t one.)

Trust me to have a paranormal ability that sucks this much.

Despite the history of difficulties (that I guess technically I caused) from time to time Ms. Rose and I do go places. And, inevitably, I have a story when we get back. (That would be the silver lining. It’s important to maintain a certain amount of perspective.) Our latest Adventure was about six weeks ago.

And nothing went wrong.

We got up around six hours before our flight because we had to drive three hundred (ish) kilometers to the airport — we were slowed down a little by fog but not enough to make the first stanza of a saga or anything. Meanwhile, there was no lineup for breakfast, the traffic was unremarkable and the airport, while soul-destroying and poorly signed (as airports always are) wasn’t really all that bad. The flight was no later than expected, the screaming baby didn’t have his heart in his work and actually slept part of the flight, the airline didn’t lose or (seriously) delay our luggage, there was literally NO line-up at the car rental counter and they didn’t have what we wanted so we got a free upgrade to an expensive European thingamajig. (Which was a pleasure to drive, thanks for asking.) The closest thing we had to a crisis occurred when checking in for the return trip — the airline desk wasn’t open (is that even possible?) so we had to cool our heels and wait (briefly) in the ample and even semi-comfy chairs provided. Again, not the thing stories are written about. (“And then Our Hero sat on his ample fundament and ate snacks.” Doesn’t really work.)

The rest of the trip home was even more uneventful and we arrived safely, more or less on time but without a story. (Oh noes.)

So nothing to write about — except maybe for the observation that it’s not clear which is worse — having a superpower that breaks things or having an unreliable superpower that breaks things.


Shoeing — PS (Sort of)

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I have a hockey game in a couple of hours.

Before then I have to do a few things: I have to find my socks and put them on (hopefully that will be pretty much routine but you never know — socks can be tricky), I have to not shave (I like to keep the bar low whenever I can), I have to remember where I put my glasses (usually that’s easy but sometimes I forget), pack my equipment bag (ditto), find my passport (don’t ask) and mix up a (pink, although that’s not especially important) bottle of a caffeinated beverage for a modest post-game pick-me-up (easy if the pink bottle is where it’s supposed to be). Oh, and I have to do a little reminiscing (Sorry, the hazards of age. It’ll happen to you one day.) about habits, obsession, compulsion and absent-minded professors.

Nine months ago (not) I clicked ‘Publish’ on some self-indulgent noodling (again, not) about — among other things — chairs, back hair and shoes. In particular, the story (if there was one, something I’m not entirely sure about) sort of flowed from the fact that people are creatures of habit. This has many consequences but in the context of the-story-that-may-not-even-be-a-story it means that in locker rooms a lot of people tend to sit in the same place and there can be Consequences (really not, although it is worth a listen if you’re at all partial to late 1970s prog-rock) if they don’t.

This is where my little inside voice piped up. “Hey!” it said “You tend to obsess about the strangest things. Are you sure this isn’t something that you’re imagining?”

That’s a decent question, Voice. I’ll have to think about that.

I was doing exactly that when I arrived at the arena last week.  I sat in my usual seat (of course) and looked around — everyone else was too.

Everyone? No, not everyone. M— came in and, quite deliberately, sat in D—‘s seat. From around the room came a chorus of comments, complaints and abuse:


Hey! That’s not your seat!

and, most telling

Somebody’s gonna get hurt today.

H’m. Does that answer your question, Voice?


Gapping (not spark plugs though)

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A gentleman who I think lives in Vancouver asked for stories about

the struggle to close the gap between an idea and its realization.

Well, that’s kind of the story of my life, isn’t it? So I tried to think of an example and the first thing that came to mind was that time I tried to modify seven gecos fields simultaneously while dynamically merging five different password files.

It didn’t work, of course — I tripped over an extremely subtle bug (or possibly an undocumented limit; I never did find out) in Perl 4.036 and had to find a workaround that was easy to implement, easy to explain and wasn’t too ugly (not that my code was a thing of beauty, you understand, but still…). It was a moderately entertaining process and…

Hmm. This is where it occurs to me that not everyone might find the process of crafting kludges (even if it is sort of on-topic) endlessly fascinating. Perhaps a change of subject is in order.

It was gaming night.

When I was younger In the olden days, technology wasn’t what it is today and some (not all — not every memory is in soft focus and sepia-toned) aspects of life were somewhat simpler. As a result, gaming night was usually a regularly scheduled thing. These days are, well, different. We (our group) is older, less flexible and scattered over an area several hundred kilometers across. At the same time, technology has made it simpler and faster to coordinate a posse of nerds gamers. So when I say ‘it was gaming night’ it means that it was at best a semi-planned thing. Some Preparation on my part was required.

First of all, gaming involves trappings.


Gear. But no chainsaws, psychotropic fruit or neurotoxins made it into the bag. Cattle prods, well, I’m less sure.




So I assembled what I thought I needed and crammed it into the Traditional Gaming Bag:

A rulebook. After all, rulebooks are important. How can you possibly bicker about meaningless minutiae without one?

My notebook. In particular, my notebook with the ‘confidential’ sticker that a nice lady named Margaret put on it in 1981. It contains virtually every character I’ve created in the last thirty-five years. Because what could be more relevant to today’s game than the character sheet (from 1982) of a delusional, sociopathic, violent aristocrat?

A 0.3 mm pencil. Not 0.5, you understand — .3. What better way is there to leave tiny bits of graphite under the seat cushions in someone else’s basement?

A bag (the red and white one that may or may not have been washed since the 1980s) of dice. Plus some ninja ones.

That covered the actual, you know, Gaming Stuff. But other things are de rigueur as well — one does not simply game without Sean Bean refreshments. That night I decided to adhere to the ‘sweet+caffeine/salt+fat’ theory of gaming snacks: I filled a badly-designed (but Canadian and not pink) bottle with organic stimulants and sugar and added it to the bag. Then I checked the pantry for salty, fatty snacks.

There weren’t any.

Oh. That was a problem.

Gaming without snacks? InconCEIVEable. (For the proper effect, you have to imagine Wallace Shawn saying that.) What was I to do? Well, I realized, the supermarket that’s sort of vaguely on the way to where I was going was still open. Yay! Saved! All was not lost!


On the way to the store I had decided on what sort of I was going to get. I had settled on something from the chip family — something simple, traditional and thematically appropriate. Easy peasy.

Or not.

There was a veritable wall of chips, about eleventy-zillion flavours. There were cheddar cheese flavoured chips. There were yogurt flavoured chips. Maple bacon. Dijon mustard. Pepperoncini. Low sodium (what exactly is the POINT?). Sriracha (inevitably — there’s sriracha-flavoured everything these days). Curry.  Poutine, f’r god’s sake. Even baked bean flavoured chips, although I can’t imagine anyone willingly buying those. But simple, traditional and thematically appropriate? Hard to find. Eventually I tried to visualize the N-space of chip flavours and calculate what flavour would minimize the least square distance from the Platonic ideal chip. Or at least the N-dimensional origin.

But that’s damned hard, so I picked a bag more or less at random — I think I settled on jalapeno.

The moral of this story is, I guess, that the weirdest obstacles (Butter chicken chips? Really?) pop up when trying to do the simplest things. Well, that and you never know when a copy of Bevington might come in handy at the supermarket.


Signing (A different kind.)

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The world is full of them. They’re everywhere. (Kind of like zombies in a George Romero movie. Just less smelly. One hopes.)

Of course, people being what they are, sometimes they’re not there and we just think they are. (Again, kind of like zombies.) For example, we wait and wait (and wait) for a bus and then, finally, three of them show up at once. Turns out that’s a reasonably well-understood thing. On the other hand, good things coming in threes? Bad things coming in threes? That’s just something people say; it’s the result of a deep-seated desire to impose meaning on a sometimes random, always indifferent world. And what’s up with all those threes, anyway?

Turns out there’s a rule. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

What else comes in threes? Musketeers? Perhaps. Stooges? Definitely. Sometimes. Vision-impaired mice?  Sure, but count quickly — their population has been known to fluctuate… suddenly.

How about… omens? (By which I mean portents, not decades-old horror movies without zombies..) Because I was thinking about omens a couple of weeks ago.

It was homecoming weekend — a moderately relevant one. Well, ‘relevant’ might be overstating it just a bit but it was one of those years ending in five so it was an Occasion for alumni to return to their alma mater to see how fat, bald and wrinkly their surviving classmates have become. (In other words, one of those essential opportunities for group Schadenfreude.) In my case, I didn’t see a single member of my graduating class all weekend — I suppose the survivors could have been auditioning for the next Dredd movie or something. Whatever the reason, their absence struck me as, well, unusual. Perhaps it was an… omen?  “But for what?” I wondered. “Surely nothing good.”

On Saturday Ms. Rose and I went to the Homecoming Football Game to watch young gentlemen attempt to hurt each other. We saw (of course) none of my classmates but lots of hers; the first ones we saw were sitting in the wrong section. And why were they sitting in the wrong section? Well, to frighten away undergraduates (“Eww! Old people! Icky!”), that goes without saying. But mostly because their alma mater sold them tickets to seats that didn’t exist. Not ‘obstructed view’ seats or ‘nosebleed’ seats or seats with poor leg room, you understand — nonexistent seats. That’s darned odd — most of the time institutions trying to extract money from people don’t jerk them around quite that much. Perhaps it’s…

another omen.

As before, though, it wasn’t clear what it was foreshadowing. Nothing good — that seemed abundantly clear — but I couldn’t tell more until the next day when I had an errand up the road in The Nation’s Capital.

Now, driving to The Nation’s Capital can occasionally be interesting but usually it’s a completely uneventful hundred and sixty-nine kilometer drive in the country. But that day as we pulled onto the highway the various Omens all fell into place.

It was a Sunday morning in October. October being what it is, the sky was solid gray from horizon to horizon and just as we hit the on ramp it started to rain. At that very second, America’s sweetheart clarified the previous couple of days in barely more than a dozen words:

Sunday morning when the rain begins to fall
It’s the end of the world

So that’s what the omens were predicting. Oh well, if the world ends I won’t have to rake any more leaves.


It hasn’t ended yet, but we did see leaves I almost certainly won’t have to rake.

Thanks to a nice lady dressed in black for reminding me that stooges don’t always come in threes.