Friday, October 31, 2014

Limerick of the Day #126

I’ve gone out as a big gorgonzola,
And an anti-US ayatollah.
But my costume this year
Really fills hearts with fear
For I’m dressed as the virus Ebola.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

NaBloWriMo

As many of you know, November is NaNoWriMo, an abbreviation for Nasal Nose Wringing Month, though some people observe this occasion by trying to write a complete novel in a month.

We’d like to hijack this idea and use it for NaBloWriMo, which will be National Blog Writing Month, though the idea of abbreviating “blog” borders on the ridiculous. Still, we think the idea of dedicating a month to blog writing has merit. To make the most of this, we vow to write quality blog posts as frequently and as mercilessly as we possibly feel like it.

And speaking of blog posts, we were completely serious about the new WTF feature we’re starting. Please send any and all questions to wtf@techcurmudgeon.info. We promise to review each submission carefully and give it the attention it deserves. Please limit your questions to subjects of which the human mind can conceive. Aside from that, go wild.

Chain Slips

I climb hills, but not without fear
Of downshifting into first gear,
For if the chain missed it
And got itself twisted
I’d probably land on my ear.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Introducing WTF

For a while now, the XKCD Web comic has had a regular feature called “What If …” Each week, the cartoonist selects one or more questions submitted by readers, and answers them with scientific accuracy (or at least, wild speculation), humor and elan.

Here at The Tech Curmudgeon, we’re not smart enough to do a feature like that, but we like the idea enough to steal it, with one important variation. If we can’t answer the submitted question, we’ll try to distract you so you won’t notice. In any case, we’ll focus on the humor, at the expense of scientific accuracy or elan. So, to get our new feature rolling, please submit your questions to

(Please note that the address ends in “.info” instead of “.com”, ‘cause we’re too lazy to figure that out.)

Since no one’s asked anything yet, let’s consider this hypothetical question.

Question: Will Republicans retake the Senate in the 2014 election?

Answer: We have no idea. But we do know that a ton of Republicans weighs the same as a ton of Democrats.

And what they weigh is what the policy on Ebola should be. On one hand, the best immunological evidence we have indicates that Ebola can only be transmitted by direct physical contact with bodily fluids of an infected, symptomatic patient. There is some possibility that these fluids, and hence infection, can be projected through the air via coughs and sneezes. (Ewwww!) Therefore, if you see someone with serious diarrhea or vomiting, try to avoid letting them cough or sneeze on you.

But on the other hand, it’s an election year, so politicians can’t afford to appear thoughtful and intelligent on the subject of something that’s scaring the crap out of people.

So get out and vote. But wear protective clothing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Time Bums #37

As Steve and Jackie first stepped from the dark corridor into the light of what Lumbra called “the lab,” they had the sense of entering a cathedral. Tall columns rose from the floor and blurred together in the distance above. Rows and rows of workbenches were arrayed before them, each occupied by some collection of parts and assemblies. The din of many voices echoed and blended into the sound of a choir.

AMNOZ was already there, but scarcely looked up when they entered. He was with two humans, both very similar in appearance to Lumbra, bent over a particularly large pile of debris on one of the benches. It occurred to Steve that they were studying AMNOZ for ideas for building their own automated amigo. As Steve approached the bench, one of the Lumbra replicas looked up. “Steve, your robot is so quaint. We’re enjoying its retro design.”

“Uh, thanks,” muttered Steve. “Do I know you?”

“Of course, replied the replica. “I’m called Lumbra, as I’ve told you.”

Jackie interrupted. “I thought he was Lumbra.”

“Yes,” spoke the other Lumbra-like one. “We are Lumbra.”

“Oh, that’s … a family name?”

“You could think of it that way,” Lumbra 2 explained.

“So somebody can fix our time machine?” Jackie asked.

“We can,” the Lumbras answered.

Steve handed the control to the nearest Lumbra, who examined it while they all said “Hmmmm.”

“Was this device originally built for another purpose?” asked the nearest Lumbra.

“Yes,” said Steve. “It was a portable music player.”

“This is exactly like the Frenchman’s device. It appears to have a configuration called shuffle mode, and it is stuck in that mode.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Things Suck

I’ve been a bit lax in posting wryly humorous comments on current events, largely because … well, frankly, things suck.

Here we are a few weeks before election day, and nobody seems excited about any of the prospects. Republicans running against the Obama mentality are facing challenges from Democrats running against the Obama mentality. In fact, the elections are so boring that some of the candidates aren’t even showing up for their own campaign events.

Meanwhile, the looming specters of ISIS and Ebola continue to haunt the media, despite the fact that the number of Americans who have contracted Ebola in this country is about equal to the number of sentences in this paragraph. Including this one.

ISIS displayed its resiliance by withstanding half-baked attempts to rename them ISIL in order to protect the trademarks of a bunch of businesses which are, in turn, named after an ancient Egyptian goddess. Officials declined to comment on rumors of further attempts to degrade ISIS’s capabilities by giving them candy-ass names.

In technology news, Apple has once again rocked the world by announcing ground breaking imitations of Samsung phones. And some major bank or financial institution was hacked, probably by Chinese or Russians or both, resulting in the theft of millions of customers’ personal information, including names, account numbers and preferences for English or Español at the ATM.

And some celebrity did something stupid. Or died. Or both.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Time Bums #36 T.B.S.

At some point, Time Bums #36 will have appeared in this space, on this date.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Bucket List

At the risk of bringing up an uncomfortable topic, it’s a good time to talk about mortality. Given my own personal health issues, the spread of Ebola, and terror threats from misogynist video gamers, it’s hard to avoid contemplating the endgame, the meaning of life. I don’t mean the big meaning … What is the purpose? Is there a creator? Is there an afterlife and does it have Wi-Fi? … I’m talking about the more practical questions, like how to spend whatever time remains, and what to try to accomplish.

Obviously the top of my priority list is my family. I would always choose spending time with them over anything else (apart from a few bathroom breaks.) But beyond that, though I never explicitly wrote it down, I’ve had certain ideas about what I hoped to do in life. The vogue term for this is bucket list.

So maybe it’s time to rethink that bucket list. Let go of the pipe dreams that will never actually happen, and focus on the most important things. So, it’s looking like this:

  1. Give up on learning emacs inside and out. I seriously wanted to customize gnus and org-mode, but what the hell.
  2. Forget writing that open source social network to obliterate Facebook. It needs to be done, but hey, I reserved opensocial.net. Someone else do the rest.
  3. Digitizing all my old photos, irreplaceable albums, etc.? Not going to happen.
  4. Bag learning to cook English cuisine. I mean steak and kidney pie? Really?
  5. Forget about reading Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. I’ll probably settle for Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe.
  6. Drop biking across England (What can I say? I’m an Anglophile.)
  7. Let go of cleaning up my home office/studio. Likewise the garage, I guess. My survivors will know about 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
  8. Skip watching all the episodes of Doctor Who in chronological order. Just watch the good ones.
  9. Setting the clock on the @#$%&*! VCR? Forget it! (Yes, I still have a VCR.)
  10. And shedding those last few unsightly pounds? What’s the point?
Luckily, that still leaves all the important stuff, like finding a cure for ice cream brain freeze, hitting Mute on the State Farm commercials before they get to the “Like a good neighbor …” song, and discovering KFC’s secret recipe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Time Bums #35

“The Frenchman said he kept skipping around in time with no control over where or when he’d land,” Lumbra continued. “It turned out the fool who built his device had hardwired it into shuffle mode. That was an easy fix.”

Jackie glared at Steve, who muttered “Yeah, what an idiot.”

“Ours has the same problem,” Jackie announced to Lumbra. “Can you fix it?”

“Of course. How strange that two such poorly made devices should arrive here? It seems a very unlikely coincidence.” Lumbra mused. “Come. We’ll take it to the lab.”

“What about AMNOZ?” Jackie asked. “We can’t leave him out there!”

“We will rejoin him at the lab,” Lumbra answered, somewhat impatiently.

“What is this place anyway?” asked Jackie as they headed for the doorway.

Lumbra replied, “This structure is but the shadow of what was once called GeoSphere. It was a foolish project centuries ago to build an artificial planet enclosing the original one.”

“It seemed so perfect!” Steve remarked. “What happened to it?”

“What always happens.” Lumbra sighed with an air of resignation. “Humans create and then neglect.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Limerick of the Day #125

In politics, fear plays a role
As with ISIS and now with Ebol-
A. Republican fear
Mong’ring this mid-term year
Could just gain them a romp at the poll.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cancer Opens Doors

There has never been a better time to have cancer. In an article titled Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer, The New York Times reports, “cancer is on the verge of overtaking [heart disease] as the No. 1 cause of death.” We’re number one! We’re number one!

It makes me want to run out and get one of those giant foam fingers.

And while cancer is becoming ever more popular, it still commands enough awe and respect to afford special privileges for cancer patients. Waiting rooms in radiation therapy offices are filled with baked goods, clothing and other items donated for the benefit of the cancer patients. (Well, not mine, but others I know of.) An organization called To Show We Care offers cancer patients free tickets to theater and musical events. Hospitals provide yoga, acupuncture and other stress reduction services.

And that’s not even counting child-oriented facilities like the Make a Wish Foundation or the Ronald McDonald House, where seriously ill kids can enjoy a respite with their families in the shadow of a junk food mascot.

So if you’ve ever considered cancer, now’s the time to jump on board. Don’t wait until it becomes last year’s thing.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Time Bums #34

“Who are you?” Jackie and Steve blurted. “How did you know we were there?”

“Call me Lumbra,” the man replied. “There are not many humans left in this zone. You were easy to detect.”

“Um … thank you?” Steve said.

“So why are you here and why are you speaking early 21st century American English?” Lumbra challenged.

“Well, for one thing, we’re from early 21st century America,” Jackie explained.

“Ah. You are time travellers.” Lumbra’s curiosity perked up. “Interesting. Is the box outside your vehicle?”

“The box outside is AMNOZ,” Steve answered, somewhat indignantly. “He’s a member of our party.”

“I should have known from the way you stepped on it to climb up here. So what device creates your openings?”

Lumbra seemed stunned as Steve drew the remote control from his vest pocket. “Astounding! That’s the second one of these I’ve seen recently.”

Now it was Jackie’s turn to be stunned. “The second?”

“Yes. The other was in the hands of a 16th century Frenchman.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Office Kitchen

Before you accept a job offer, try to hang around the office kitchen for a few hours, ideally including lunch. That will really give you a sense of the company’s culture. You should know, for example, that companies that provide free food are really saying “Don’t ever go home.” Likewise, the free coffee that most companies provide serves a corporate purpose. My current employer provides two or three different types of coffee makers in each kitchen on each of seven floors, allowing rapid, high octane caffeine uptake.

Most companies have given up on coffee pots, instead going for single serving makers. They recognize that if they depended on civic minded employees to make fresh pots of coffee, the entire staff would disappear to the nearest Starbuck’s every hour or so. Of course, the single serving coffee makers just create more opportunities for employees to scent mark their territories with a sugary, milky puddle to get on the bottom of the next person’s cup.

Many office kitchens have a sign that reads “Your mother doesn’t work here. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink,” usually posted directly above a sink full of dirty dishes. One company I know actually has the cleaning staff wash and put away all the dishes. They also provide freshly baked cookies for all the employees, so I guess they’re going for the whole mom experience.

But the best occasions, of course, are when there are leftover lunches or desserts from meetings with customers. With some kind of extra-sensory perception, employees feel the approach of these leftovers and form a procession toward them. Hot dishes, sandwiches, salads and desserts are quickly dispatched, in spite of the unwritten Xeno’s paradox of etiquette: everyone takes half of whatever’s left, until the brownies or sheet cake are reduced to scattered crumbs.

Be very careful, though, of leftovers brought in from home. Sample them discretely, or you may end up having to compliment a fellow employee on the red velvet chipotle mock apple pie.

So be sure to examine that kitchen before accepting any job offers.