Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How To's-Day

How to Correct Someone’s Grammar without Sounding Snobbish:

When it comes to knowing stuff, I consider myself an expert. So, on the subject of correcting improper grammar, I can say with full confidence that there is only one way to pull it off without sounding like an insufferable know-it-all. You must be the offender’s English teacher. And no, this can’t be a self-appointed honorary position. If you are a state certified English teacher, and a current student in your classroom uses incorrect grammar in a written assignment, you may be able to correct that student’s grammar without sounding snobbish. In all other circumstances, it is impossible.

I’m not suggesting that you never correct improper grammar. In fact, I do it quite frequently. Just be aware that, in all cases, you will be resented by the very bumpkins you are trying to help.

For those of you that harbor the compulsion to correct the grammatical maladies of others, but prefer not coming off as haughty twits, don’t despair; I have a work-around:

How to Listen to Improper Grammar without Putting a Pencil through your Eardrums:

1-Count Words
Once you have established that the person speaking has no useful information to relate, try counting his words. This is surprisingly difficult and will completely divert your attention from the meaning and context of the words themselves.

2-Pretend She’s Foreign
Even the most anal of grammar snobs can smile indulgently at a foreigner who is butchering the English language. The next time your coworker uses the incorrect form of a verb, just convince yourself that she’s from Yokelstan.

3-Pop Quiz
Fact: Your fifth grade English teacher is concerned about your grammar skills and is hiring professional actors to interact with you. After each conversation, write down all of the errors you were able to identify in cursive on ruled paper using a black pen.

4-Shin Kick
When all else fails, a sharp kick to the shin will usually convert a whole stream of incorrect grammar into a single interjection. Remarkably, the shin kick is far less damaging to a friendship than actual grammar correction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's... How To's-Day!

How to Eat Spicy Food without Looking Like a Weenie:
It is human nature (or at least “man” nature) to want the respect and admiration of one’s peers. Depending on social circle, this may be earned by exhibiting an extensive knowledge of politics, or literature. Some laud a quick wit and sharp sense of humor. Still others count athleticism and physical fitness as marks of honor.

But the ability to eat insanely spicy food, without flinching, is a ubiquitous indicator of coolness that transcends all the sundry spheres, be they social, economic, cultural, or even religious. Walk into a chicken wings establishment with your friends, down a basket of the joint’s most extreme offering with a smile on your face, and you will be forever branded a tough guy.

So, what of the faint tongued? Are they condemned to eke out a meager existence, cowering in the shadows of those more stout of mouth? Not necessarily.

The truth is; nobody actually likes those atomic chicken wings, or that center-of-the-sun chili. Sure, there are those that prefer their meals with a little kick, but when it comes to foods that literally require a hazmat suit for transportation, EVERYONE is faking it… so you can too!

While it may not be easy, by following just a few simple steps and guidelines, anyone can learn the skills necessary to enter the upper echelons of awesomeness. As one who has been a long standing member of the highly exclusive clique of spicy food consumers – and because I am truly a humanitarian at heart – I have taken it upon myself to reveal my secrets to the world:

1-Understand the Stakes
I really can’t stress this enough. When it comes to eating spicy food, there are three classes of people. At the top, of course, are those that can successfully eat spicy food while maintaining an amused, or at least an indifferent, composure. This group comprises approximately 2% of the population. The middle, and largest, group is made up of those that willingly admit to their own inadequacy and decline to eat spicy food. There is no shame in being a member of this group, which encompasses roughly 94% of all humans. The bottom group (about 4% of the population) consists of those who attempt, and fail, to consume spicy food in an acceptable manner (Exhibit A).

Be warned: there is no redemption from the bottom group. No amount of daredevilry and no exhibition of strength can ever blot out the shame of a failed attempt at spicy food. Seriously. You could pull a shark out of the water with your bare hands and chew its head off. It wouldn’t matter. The thing your friends would bring up at your funeral would be the time you ran maniacally around in circles, clawing at your tongue and begging for water.

Once you choose to leave the ranks of the middle group and partake of spicy food, you will be forever classed with either the top or the bottom. Don’t gamble with this. If you’re not 100% ready, continue to practice and wait until next time.

2-Practice Alone
There is no substitute for practice. The real secret to eating very spicy food is learning how to endure massive amounts of pain without reflecting that pain in your expression.

Get a mirror and watch yourself closely as you eat something spicy. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, such as watering eyes, running nose, and reddening face (these will be addressed later). Rather, pay attention to your general demeanor. Try smiling while eating, and work on talking naturally without choking. If your eyes tear up so much that you can’t see yourself in the mirror, a camcorder on a tripod may be required.

3-Preemptive Symptoming
There are some physiological signs of vulnerability that no amount of practice can hide. Occasionally, these symptoms can be masked. For instance, if your nose tends to run when you eat spicy food, you might excuse yourself to the restroom and stuff balls of toilet paper up your nose before your meal arrives. Unfortunately, other symptoms, such as watering eyes, face flushing, and coughing fits, are virtually impossible to conceal.

For these, I recommend preemptive symptoming. If you try to blame your tears on allergies immediately after you take a bite of something dipped in Dave’s Insanity Sauce, your friends will see right through the guise. If, however, prior to your arrival at the restaurant, you mention you have a cold and make a point of coughing, shaking, and wiping your nose incessantly, your friends will not suspect a thing when you continue the same behavior after eating.

4-Self Talk
While in the act of eating spicy food, the effective use of self talk can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. When using self talk, avoid watered down and cliché phrases such as, “You can do it!”, or “Atta boy!” Instead try, “This will not kill me.”, and “two more minutes to infinite glory!”

Also, remember that self talk should always be mental. Never actually say the above phrases out loud.

5-Avoidance
Whether you succeed or fail in your attempt, you should do all you can to avoid future situations that could afford another opportunity for spicy food eating. If you failed in your first attempt, there is no point in trying again, and being around spicy food will only remind your peers of your defeat. If you succeeded, it is likely that your associates will demand a repeat performance whenever an appropriate menu item is accessible. It is mandated by the CSFE (Coalition of Spicy Food Eaters) that such repeat performances be delivered upon request. Failure to repeat a performance for any reason is grounds for expulsion from the coalition.
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Remember, the glory of being a spicy food eater carries a heavy price tag, but it is one that is well worth paying. If you persevere, you can be counted amongst the elite, and the skills you learn along the way will benefit you throughout your life - especially if you’re ever taken prisoner and tortured for state secrets.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Demon Reborn - A Halloween Tale

A little background…

120,000 years ago I was born in the ancient kingdom of Rackhaman. As a boy, I played with my father’s dagger, pretending it was a sword, and found I had a knack for wielding the thing. I spent hours in the communal wheat fields with my little weapon, laying waste to the imaginary foes that raged against me.

Dahn Bhan, the leader of my township’s battalion, happened upon me one morning while I was thusly engaged. He saw warrior potential in me and, upon learning from my father that I had not yet been indentured, made me his apprentice. I studied the sundry arts of combat with Dahn Bhan for nine years. Under his tutelage I mastered, not only the sword, but every manner of weapon known to man. I became known as Mhal Ngat, or ‘Blessed Deliverer of Obliteration’, for no enemy could stand against me.

On my twenty fourth birthday, Dahn Bhan released me from my apprenticeship and charged me with a formidable task. For centuries my people had been abused and tormented by the demon Shahpikhart, and it became my lot to seek the monster out and destroy him.

For thirteen years I searched fruitlessly, but at last, through a series of dark negotiations with the vilest of creatures, I learned the location of the cursed stone cavity wherein Shahpikhart dwelt. Within days of my discovery, I stood at the blackened entrance of his cave and, without hesitation, shouted my battle challenge.

From deep within the cavern I heard a guttural growl that shook the earth. My eyes strained into the abyss. Two glowing green eyes slowly took shape as the creature began to emerge from the deep. The emerald eyes darted back and forth as they searched for the source of the challenging call. Finally, they locked on me, and the ground-rumbling growl became a malevolent chuckle.

“Where is your army human?” His voice was surprisingly languid.

“I am alone, and am come to vanquish you.” I held his gaze and spoke with confidence.

“Your flesh will only serve to whet my appetite boy. Many will suffer the consequence of your insolence after I have devoured you, for my hunger is not easily sated.” His grotesque head was now dimly visible as he crept nearer to me from the depths of his putrid hole.

“Never again will you feast on the flesh of man!” I screamed, and flew at him with the fury of a thousand years of unrequited offences.

Whether by luck, skill, or intervention of the gods, I danced and weaved through the onslaught of his furious attacks and found myself standing beside his outstretched neck as he craned his head around to begin another barrage of attacks. With one swift and powerful stroke, my sword flew through his neck like the wings of a falcon through a thick fog.

All four of his knees buckled sideways as his body, bereft of his tainted soul, fell suddenly limp. It was over. Yet, as I turned to leave the cavern, I heard a sickening, gurgled voice from behind me. I turned and looked upon Shahpikhart’s disembodied head, which was still glaring at me with its glowing green eyes.

“Know this;” the head choked, “though you have broken this body, my spirit will live on forever and will torment you through this and all your lives to come.”

With that, the eyes went dim and silence filled the lair of the fallen demon.

Upon returning to my village, I was immediately hailed as a hero. Word spread of my deed, and I was eventually named King of the Nine Nations. I lived in peace and luxury, but I was always vigilant. Shahpikhart’s dying threat echoed in my mind throughout the years and I often sought out spirit speakers to learn whether the demon spirit had found a way back to the natural world. Their information was always the same. Though they could sense the soul of Shahpikhart striving to find a portal to this mortal dimension, nothing on earth existed which was evil enough to embody his wicked spirit.

Now, hundreds of millennia later, Shahpikhart has at last found a host vile enough to house his soul. And, true to his ancient threat, he has returned to torment me. He is raging at me with a new ferocity and a new name. He is now called Shopping Cart, and his crimes against me are not few.

He has pulled me sharply to the right and to the left, wobbled incessantly, flattened his wheels to induce an annoying thumping effect, squeaked at me, and sometimes even refused to move at all. He is able to possess any shopping cart at will, and jumps quickly from cart to cart as I try helplessly to avoid his wrath. When I see others using problem-free carts, I often wait for them to finish and then quickly grab their carts. Alas, as soon as my fingers touch the thing, Shahpikhart immediately inhabits the new cart and resumes his assaults. In his new form, Shahpikhart is more agile and protected than he has ever been.

This is not the lament of one defeated, but rather a rallying call to arms. An eon ago, I bested the beast alone, but I cannot repeat the deed. If Shahpikhart is to fall again, all the brave and stout hearted need to act together with a pointed and sure offense. I fear the only path to success is through the utter destruction of every earthly thing that has the capacity of housing his pernicious essence. If each of us can just bring to ruin one shopping cart each time we find ourselves in a market, the world will soon be free, once again, of the demon reborn.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Step 9

Yesterday, while on my nightly run, I had an interesting thought.

Have you ever noticed that whenever people start trying to live more healthily, they invariably find surreptitious ways to broadcast their new lifestyle to anyone who will listen?

People don’t want to be perceived as braggy-pantsed-meglomaniacs, so they won’t come right out and say, “I now work out 5 times a week, I’m training for the Olympics, and I no longer eat red meat, processed sugars, or anything endorsed by Elliot (the kid from E.T.). Rather, they go fishing for acknowledgement by cleverly working not-so-subtle references to their laud-worthy activities into random, unrelated statements:

“You’ll never guess who I ran into at the gym this morning”
“I’d offer to give you a ride home, but I’ve only got my bicycle today”
“I don’t know, when’s a good time for you? I have a 5K next Thursday morning, but my afternoons are usually pretty free”
“Stupid pants! They must have expanded in the wash”

Now, let me clarify; I’m not talking about people who have been living healthily for years. This observation primarily applies to individuals (like me) that have, until very recently, been pariah to the world of fitness. It’s a condition similar to that of one who (like me) washes the dishes once a quarter and requires copious praise for the mighty feat.

Having been, many times, on the receiving end of these clumsily veiled braggings, I know how obnoxious they are. Still, being newly converted to physical vigilance, I feel compelled to participate in the very practice which I know to be so irksome. Yes, I see the eyes rolling, the feet shuffling, the ‘glance-down-at-an-invisible-wristwatch’ing, but I just can’t stop myself. I’m not even sure it’s voluntary. Perhaps a reduced calorie diet deprives nutrients to the part of the brain that regulates social judgment.

In any case, I’ve decided to take the advice of the 300 pound bodybuilder I was arm wrestling on my lunch break, and apologize to any of you whom I have bored with conversations woven with allusions to my most recent obsession.

Sorry.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Bigots Have Spoken

Left wing America, and indeed the world, is in outrage tonight as Kris Allen has stolen the American Idol crown from Luciano Pavarotti.

"This is yet more proof that Americans are just as Italianaphobic as they ever were.", said visibly distraught Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in a prepared statement. "They still see us only as pizza makers and mafia lords."

And it's not just the ERI (Equal Rights for Italians) movement that is upset with tonight's results. While considerably less vitriolic than Sr. Berlusconi, famed vampire and equal rights activist Count Dracula also addressed the media. "I would like to think that all Americans cast their votes [yesterday] based on the vocal talent of the contestants, but it seems clear that Mr. Pavarotti's unwillingness to hide the fact that he is dead, has hurt him."

Still others accuse conservative America of ignoring Pavorotti simply because he was not an 'actual' contestant on the show.

Steve Canton, a sophomore at Michigan State disigreed with accusations that Allen's victory was evidence of a 'close minded' America. "Look, I could care less that Luciano is Italian - or even dead. I just don't like his voice. Sure I think he is probably technically a better singer than Kris, but I can't stand his music. No matter what Randy Jackson says, Luciano is NOT current. I don't care if he can sing Ave Maria in seven different languages and in ten different octaves - he's not making it onto my playlist."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I Got Nothin'

A long-time aspiration of mine has been to write a novel. To create an original and engaging story filled with quirky characters that readers grow to love and care for. The problem is, it takes a long time to write a novel - sometimes years, and I just don't have the attention span to support that kind of commitment. I've considered trying my hand at short stories, but even that seems too daunting a prospect. And so here I am, writing blog posts: easily digestible bits of drivel that I can spew out in a few paragraphs and be done with.

Embarrassingly, I am often unable to come up with a topic that warrants even a single paragraph of fluff to frame it. Such is the case today. So, rather than making a futile attempt at cohesiveness, I am simply going to regail you with unrelated tidbits of thought. I've done my best to make them sound like wise sayings, in the hopes of one day finding myself cited in the "Quotes of the Day" on Google. After all, what have we, if not our dreams to cling to.

Crack: It’s killing our children and immortalizing our bells.

To everything there is a season. Except spotted owls; they’re endangered.

The surest cure for hiccups is to count to a billion by tenths.

Statistically speaking, you are much more likely to die of a heart attack than in a plane crash. Of course, that’s also true of your pilot.

Roses are red, violets are blue,
They’re eaten by horses, and turned into poo (which is kind of greenish brown).

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So, before you go grabbing a wild bird with your bare hand, think about the market value of two birds in a bush.

Tofu is like life support. It will keep you alive, but is it really worth it?

All men are created equal. All women are created greater than.

Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone - unless you’re on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

In business, the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts. In golf, the sum of all its pars is greater than the holes.

In heaven you will sing praises for eternity to the Most High while surrounded by angels. Hell is the same, only the guy next to you will be playing air guitar.

A cry for help from a proud man rarely comes in the form of words; especially if that proud man is tied up and gagged in the trunk of his kidnapper’s car.

Death is the great equalizer, but Sony makes a pretty decent one too.

I lived in Las Vegas for eight years, and never once got up the courage to try my luck at the roulette wheel. I can’t even imagine how the guys in Russia do it.

Problems are like clouds. They can be daunting, and sometimes seem to cover the whole world. But, if you can just work your way up through them, you’ll see the sun again - then fall 30,000 feet.

The ant is the strongest organism on the planet – able to lift up to 50 times its own weight. I can crush 5 ants with my pinky. Step off punk.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Saving Time

Satisfaction Guaranteed*

It has been said that time stops for no man. While that may be true, it does bounce back and forth a lot for most men – and women for that matter.

If you’ll forgive me a rant, I’d like to relate my feelings about daylight saving time.

In general, I have nothing against saving. I think it’s an important discipline that, when executed appropriately, can promote peace of mind and enrich one’s life. What I take issue with is being told how, what and when I must save – and exactly when I must withdraw and use that which I have so judiciously put away.

Once each year I am forced to extract one hour from my day and set it aside for later use. And it’s not just any hour. It’s a 2:00 AM hour. Three times out of four, I am asleep at that time. I sleep too little as it is, and for my own government to swoop in and snatch up one of my precious sleeping hours is just plain inconsiderate. If they insist on taking an hour, they should do it at 4:00 PM on a Friday. I’d be happy to offer up that hour.

Furthermore, most experts agree that the benefits of saving are best achieved by investing in long-term prospects. This philosophy is not shared by those that mandate saving time. While the method of extraction is somewhat cruel and ill thought out, I could overlook the inconvenience if my saved time was being locked away safely and gaining interest. If, in retirement, I had the option of withdrawing my youthful hours as I saw fit, I would happily cope with the hour I find missing one morning each spring. But no, I have to use my saved hour within the year on a specific date at, once again, 2:00 in the morning.

I have, in the past, voiced a strong opinion that daylight saving time should be done away with entirely. My position has changed. I think the idea has merit, but some practicality and flexibility need to be introduced into the institution.

Each of us should have complete control over what time we save, and when that time is deposited. In an emergency, saved time should be available for immediate use. Perhaps a minor penalty might be assessed for early withdrawals to discourage misuse. Also, similar to a 401K plan, a maximum yearly contribution would be appropriate.

To illustrate this plan, I’ll describe a likely scenario:

Jane is a 37-year-old woman. It is midnight on January 1, and she currently has 8,760 hours remaining in her year.

Jane has decided to participate in the time saving program. She can invest a maximum of five percent of her time in the program and therefore has 438 hours this year available to deposit.

Jane was exhausted yesterday and fell asleep at 7:00 PM, but she set her alarm clock for 11:55 PM so she could wake up to celebrate the New Year. Now it is midnight and she can’t get back to sleep. She decides to save the next 8 hours, which makes it immediately 8:00 AM, and she goes to work.

Throughout the year, Jane continues to contribute to her time fund. She is committed to the program and wants to save as much time as possible. She is able to find time to put away every time she is in a doctor’s office, on hold for customer service, turning on her computer, or watching Paula Abdul critique a contestant on American Idol. She is so successful, that by September she has stowed her maximum hours.

The time she has saved is now gaining 3% interest and will be available for penalty-free withdrawal when Jane reaches age 59.

Flash forward to Jane’s 60th birthday. She has decided to treat herself to a day at the spa and is getting a 30 minute foot massage from a 25-year-old Hungarian boy named Matthias. She is in seventh heaven and, on a whim, decides to withdraw 8 hours from her fund and insert it directly into the middle of her half-hour massage. She smiles as she begins to reap the rewards of her practical planning.

Our current daylight saving system has a grain of smart mixed with a sandbox of stupid. If we can just reverse that ratio, we’ll all be able to enjoy multi-hour foot massages in our golden years.

*This blog post is guaranteed to bring you satisfaction. If you feel unsatisfied after reading, simply contact the author for a full three minute refund.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Forever Young

English is a living language. Not living in the sense that it may one day become self-aware and attack the human race, living because it is constantly evolving, growing, and mutating - much like a cancer cell.

Due to its living nature, it’s impossible to say with any real authority what is or isn’t correct English. Grammar snobs argue over things like whether a word beginning with the letter “h” should be preceded by the article “a” or “an”, whether one should say “toward” or “towards”, and so on.

Unfortunately, for those with a propensity toward(s) grammar snobbery, the fact is; since there is no governing body for the language, the correctness of any given part of English is almost entirely a matter of opinion. It could be argued that the only incorrect English is that which does not correctly convey the intent of a communicator to his English-speaking audience. The phrase, “This food ain’t got no salt on it” may make many an English major cringe, but no English speaking person can truthfully claim ignorance as to the intent behind the phrase. Sure, there’s a double negative and a contraction that will keep you out of heaven if you say it too many times, but we are still able to clearly understand that the speaker is voicing concern about a sodium deficit in his victuals.

But, I’m tangenticating. My thoughts today aren’t actually about English grammar at all. They are about English words. The evolution of the words we use intrigues me. For instance, the “world wide web” is thus called because of the logical similarity between interconnected computers and the many intertwined points of a spider web. From this relatively new definition for the word, “web”, we already have derivatives. People started using the “web” as a medium to record and publish “logs” of their lives, but apparently the term “web log” was too much of a mouthful. Someone decided to truncate it and, voila!, “blog” popped into existence. A completely new word derived from the bastardized definition of a very old word.

Having been in the computer industry for over a decade, I could write page after horrifically boring page about new words and acronyms that owe their existence to modern technology. But, before you start clawing your own eyes out, rest assured - I’m not going to.

Rather, I’d like to point out a couple of words whose definitions have evolved in a manner that you may not be aware of; namely the words, “forever” and “never”.

There was a time when the word “forever” literally meant “for ever” or “without end”. As its counterpart, was “never” - which was originally a contraction for the words “not ever”. Unbeknownst to most English speakers, though, both of these words have evolved considerably.

Forever no longer represents an infinite amount of time. As of this writing, forever is about 16 days. This is based on the average length of time it takes for something to cease after it has been declared to last forever. A generation ago, forever was holding steady at approximately 39 months, but in recent years its value has dropped radically. This is primarily due to the advent of millions of personal computers which all take “forever” to boot.

Interestingly, never is much less volatile than forever. Never’s current average length is nearly 18 years. The disparity in values between forever and never can be attributed to the context in which each of these words is typically used. Forever is generally used to denote the presence of something, while never is more often used to describe a thing’s absence. For example, when a shopper says, “I’ve been in this checkout line forever”, he is referring to how long the phenomenon of standing idly in a line has been present in his life – which, in actuality, is probably about two minutes. Conversely, when a 90 year old woman says, “I’ve never been to Paris”, she is referring to how long the phenomenon of being in Paris has been absent from her life – in this case 90 years. In other words, people use “forever” when they are talking about how long something which already exists will continue to exist, and “never” when referring to something that does not yet exist. Obviously, it’s quite easy to speak with conviction when you’re talking about nothing, ergo “never” has a lifespan that nearly allows it to buy cigarettes.

Of course there are exceptions on both sides. Never would be even longer if not for kids whose birthdays are “never” going to get here. Forever might not last five minutes if it didn’t have the help of comets that have been circling the solar system “forever”. As a general rule though, you should always take “never” more seriously than “forever” (please note that the current value of “always” is 57 times out of 100).

So if your boyfriend tells you that he’s going to love you “forever”, don’t plan an elaborate party for his next birthday. However, if he swears that he’ll “never” stop loving you, it may be time to brush up on your state’s restraining order laws.